Just entering adolescence, just leaving what they call “adrenarche” which is what Freud and others called “latency,” a time of life when one has left babyhood, can read/write/count, but is still “straight-sided” because the adrenals have not yet kicked the sexual aspects into being — the curve of hip, the swell of chest, are still missing — a boy moved in across the street.
Well, it was a family with a boy in it, of course. Next door was a family of girls. The boy’s family came from Iowa and his dad was a lunch-bucket blue-collar worker who sat on the front porch every evening to have a few beers. My family was teetotallers. The boy said that in Iowa the snow drifts were as high as telephone poles. We didn’t believe that, but he had an air of adventure and impossibility about him and a certain amount of swagger, which I’m sure was defensive. One of the family of girls, my best friend, and I mounted a counter-offence of spying, teasing, and generally being obnoxious. But I was snake-bit.
It has taken me all this time to understand what was happening: the displacement or sublimation of sexual eroticism into something much safer, like romantic fantasy, horses, religion or books. Deborah Kerr or Audrey Hepburn providing physical contact and nudity in the name of innocent nursing. It’s very strong and has served me well, taking me into ministry and writing, even after ten years of the “real thing” in marriage and barely outside it. The drive comes from molecules programmed before hominins separated from the other mammals. It makes hot little junior high girls go gaga over Michael Jackson, entirely safe because he’s so weird. He overlaps with little pink unicorns named “Sparkle.” Which are most labial.
There is a kind of morality that objects to any displacement or romanticism, that wants only the true raw encounter of de-cultured animalhood. Scary stuff. Sometimes they have the idea that drugs or violence are this same kind of directness. Those are also displacements of the human yearning for each other as expressed in bonding. That mingles with safety and nurturing. It’s not simple but it is life-making, intended for the creation of children.
But I have heard the testimony of those who were slammed into actual sex by rape, often by family, often repeated for years, even before adrenarche, still children with no capacity to sublimate at that point. They were also snakebit and carried the intoxication on into adolescence where it did not sublimate but exploded into rainbows of adrenaline and testosterone, then left behind the ashes of a desert until the next explosion, the person hooked on explosions, struggling for explanations in the desert sand.
It is an experienced life that can only be conveyed in image and poetry. I am not qualified to provide those and would be trespassing if I did. But those I see affect me powerfully. They relate to the goth/werewolf/vampire/sci-fi world of adolescence.
I do not enter this world — in part because I stubbornly hang onto adrenarche without obeying any Puritan impulses. I want to be the “straight” witness — in the sense of vanilla if you wish, if that’s your “take.” It puts me in a position between extremes where I can sometimes interpret or even mediate. Not always. Not without some anguish, which is partly the reason for a protected life.
But my JJ syndrome gripped me without my understanding. It was my drug, half way between dissociation and obsession. The kind of explanation people make up in split-brain research where they try to account for two different perceptions, one rational and one felt.
Here’s a scientific use of the word sublimation:
“Sublimation is the phase transition of a substance directly from the solid to the gas phase without passing through the intermediate liquid phase. Sublimation is an endothermic process that occurs at temperatures and pressures below a substance's triple point in its phase diagram.”
Here’s the psych version:
“Sigmund Freud believed that sublimation was a sign of maturity and civilization, allowing people to function normally in culturally acceptable ways. He defined sublimation as the process of deflecting sexual instincts into acts of higher social valuation, being "an especially conspicuous feature of cultural development; it is what makes it possible for higher psychical activities, scientific, artistic or ideological, to play such an important part in civilised life”.
If you apply the principle of relativity — as in physics — both “higher” and “civilized” become fluid in actual application. Is being a nun “higher” than coitus? (Ask Saint Theresa.) Is painting more civilized or just another version of intimacy, like Lucian Freud’s work? What is maturity? Isn’t it always relative along the spectrum, a waystation on the path to death?
(wiki) The first thinker to use the word in a psychological sense was the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. In the opening section of Human, All Too Human entitled 'Of first and last things', Nietzsche wrote:
"There is, strictly speaking, neither unselfish conduct, nor a wholly disinterested point of view. Both are simply sublimations in which the basic element seems almost evaporated and betrays its presence only to the keenest observation. All that we need and that could possibly be given us in the present state of development of the sciences, is a chemistry of the moral, religious, aesthetic conceptions and feeling, as well as of those emotions which we experience in the affairs, great and small, of society and civilization, and which we are sensible of even in solitude. But what if this chemistry established the fact that, even in its domain, the most magnificent results were attained with the basest and most despised ingredients? Would many feel disposed to continue such investigations?”
I’ll accept “basest” in the sense of primal/basic but not “despised”. Why would anyone despise orgasms when babies have them in the womb? And yet a person in society can’t go around having orgasms all the time. These days people do try. They would do well to learn sublimation so they don’t have to go out by torchlight, inflamed with hate, hoping for violence. Stay home and “root,” which is an Aussie euphemism I just learned from watching “Rush.” “Root” is also a word for an infant’s attempt get his mouth around his mother’s nipple, the First Love.
As a kid, every day I knelt on the front room sofa facing backwards so I could watch through the window whatever Jimmy Jeffers was doing. I got a rush from it. Now I understand. I tried googling the real person, but there are too many of him.