Honor, Power and the Love of Women

From Freud, General Theory of the Neuroses Part XXIII. “The Development of the Symptoms”

“Before I leave you today I should like to have your attention for a while for an aspect of imaginative life which is worthy of the most general interest. For there is a way back from imagination to reality and that is—art. The artist is an incipient introvert who is not far from being a neurotic. He is impelled by too powerful instinctive needs. He wants to achieve honor, power, riches, fame and the love of women. But he lacks the means of achieving these satisfactions. So like any other unsatisfied person, he turns away from reality, and transfers all his interests, his libido, too, to the elaboration of his imaginary wishes, all of which might easily point the way to neurosis. A great many factors must combine to present this termination of his development; it is well known how often artists especially suffer from a partial inhibition of their capacities through neurosis. Apparently their constitutions are strongly endowed with an ability to sublimize and to shift the suppression determining their conflicts. The artist finds the way back to reality in this way. He is not the only one who has a life of imagination. The twilight-realm of phantasy is upheld by the sanction of humanity and every hungry soul looks here for help and sympathy. But for those who are not artists, the ability to obtain satisfaction from imaginative sources is very restricted. Their relentless suppressions force them to be satisfied with the sparse day dreams which may become conscious. If one is a real artist he has more at his disposal. In the first place, he understands how to elaborate his day dreams so that they lose their essentially personal element, which would repel strangers, and yield satisfaction to others as well. He also knows how to disguise them so that they do not easily disclose their origin in their despised sources. He further possesses the puzzling ability of molding a specific material into a faithful image of the creatures of his imagination, and then he is able to attach to this representation of his unconscious phantasies so much pleasurable gratification that, for a time at least, it is able to outweigh and release the suppressions. If he is able to accomplish all this, he makes it possible for others, in their return, to obtain solace and consolation from their own unconscious sources of gratification which had become inaccessible. He wins gratitude and admiration for himself and so, by means of his imagination, achieves the very things which had at first only an imaginary existence for him; honor, power, and the love of women.”

From my position, Freud underestimates the role of sexuality in art. But his ideas are obviously important to both Feminists and Marxists, because in this passage sex is entirely social. For an artist sex may be more connected with productivity than status. This Rubens and the one in an earlier post owe a lot to Michelangelo’s Slaves, and channel the eroticism of those works, while society is another word for torment. Back to reality?

vortsterman-st-lawrence

Lucas Vorsterman after Rubens, The Martyrdom of St. Lawrence

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