Uneasiness in civilisation
The Freudian chorus according to which art would result from the sublimation of sexual energy is a
bit stale. As soon as art is given back the full scope that it had until the 18th century, Freud's theory
does not hold. This because even in the improbable case that this theory might be applicable to
romantic and modern art, both have evolved from the main trunk of art, in a slow and continuous
manner. Freud's problem would hence be to state where could be the border between art and plain
And for instance, it does not seem that it ever came to Freud's mind, to state that what the French
call "Les Arts de la Table" were representing a sublimation of sexual energy, which would normally
be oriented towards consumption of raw and more or less fresh meat, raw and more of less clean
roots, more of less moldy seeds, more or less rotten fruit, and more or less muddy water. And would
he have attempted to tell such a tale, that he would have had to extend psycho-analysis to apes and
monkeys, since a group of japanese macaques who were confronted to a new environment
spontaneously learned how to wash their food, showing that improvements to the art of eating could
find roots within animals.
Logics should have suggested earlier that Freud, when opposing the principle of reality with the
principle of pleasure was in the same movement stating the principle of irreality of pleasure.
Freud also states that reality is hard. A more serene point of view, or simply a less reductionist one -
such as the one of Sade, for instance - would rather consider that reality simply is (or more precisley
becomes), with a noticeable indifference, et does not care at all about being or not being hard,
which results most often into situations in which reality is hard, or pleasurable and in most
occasions neither of both.
It is quite surprising to see the old Freud going against the most talented part of the young one,
since if there is one important thing that the young Freud clearly stated, it is without any doubt that
the reality of the principle of pleasure what not something that could be forgotten without leading to
unescapable and quite unpleasant consequences. But it is important to keep in mind how deeply
such an attitude results from the 19th century and prolongates the barbary of it. Most likely, such a
thread of thinking would have made laugh even a shy libertin in the 17th or 18th century. It just
happened that after a century of victorian fatheadness no one found it ridiculous.
And as regards civilization too, Freud discussed it according to what he could see. Taking into
account the extreme savagery of workers exploitation, and considering that almost none of the
european civilizations prior to the prudish victorian 19th century had ever done worse as regarded
repression of pleasures, Freud came to the idea that repressing pleasures was the progress of
civilization itself. From there, stating pleasure as the original state, and repression as a direct and
unavoidable consequence of culture, the effects of which could be soothed by the psycho-analytic
cure, was one small step, quite in line after all with J. J. Rousseau...
The drawback was that at the same time, the quest for pleasure now looked directed towards past
rather than future, towards the return rather that towards the becoming. Such a perspective is a sort
of natural consequence of the psycho-analytic situation itself, and, in this precise situation, it is
quite certainly the only realistic perspective, or at least, the only one which is of some use.
The problem is that extending the validity of the psycho-analytic situation the to entire world was
not necessarily valid. Unless the world could be reduced to the dimensions of a very great divan,
which is the sort of vision an analyst may get out of his practice when he gets old...
However, this perspective of the old Freud is quite the opposite of Rimbaud's point of view,
according to which love must be re-invented, since it is based on the assumption that love would
have been invented long ago, and that it would be sufficient to go back there. The idea in these
pages, is hence to reverse the freudian chorus and to state art not as a derivation of the sexual
energy, but rather as the sexual energy attempting to focusing on its real goals. (Goals that cannot be
determined in advance, since incidentally, the result of sexual activity is to produce new beings, the
outcome of which is by essence highly unpredictable.
Art is certainly a symptom of a missed pleasure. But instead of being a symptom of some
impossibility or hindrance to enjoy existing pleasures, it is on the opposite, a movement by which
an existing pleasure which was actually somewhat wretched but did not know itself as such, is taken
over by an increased and deeper and richer pleasure, or most often, the movement by which an
entirely new pleasure is created.
Pierre Petiot - 1996-1997