I’m a little confused about repressive desublimation. I’m reading Marcuse and other neo-Marxists right now, and while I think I understand the main points I want to make sure I am totally stable on the concept of repressive desublimation. I thought I had it, then a colleague (a Marcuse specialist) explained it to me differently.
What I thought I knew:
Sublimation is when a natural human drive (i.e. sex) gets transformed into a more socially acceptable form (i.e. music or religion). Desublimation, then, would be when rather than being encouraged to make music or go to church you are urged to give in to your drives and just go have sex. Repressive desublimation would be when this desublimation happens in a form that instead of giving you freedom, restricts it. Yes, go out and indulge your sex drive, but do it by purchasing porn and other consumables.
How it was explained to me:
Sublimation is when you make something sublime. Put it on a pedestal, understand it as special, unique, and precious. Desublimation would be taking it off that pedestal, making it touchable, profane. A New York 9oz steak is a pretty incredible meal – to go to a nice restaurant and sit down with a dish like that is an experience. You savour the meal, enjoy the atmosphere, have an experience not just a feed. If grocery stores started selling New York 9oz steaks in eight packs for $10, everything would change. Everyone could eat it, any time they want. Eating this would no longer be an experience, no more than eating Kraft Dinner is. It would be desublimated, and in this desublimation the emphasis would go off of the quality of the experience and onto the quantity of consumption. This is how it is repressive. Rather than a precious experience, mass consumption changes it into a matter of speed and quantity. We gain the freedom to eat whatever we want whenever we want to, but we lose the meaning.
Both explanations essentially come down to how the material relations of production effect how we live and thing (well, duh. This is Marxism), so I can see how they connect. They are different, though, and I think it matters. Is this a combination of Marxism and Freudianism? Does “sublimation” come from “sublimate” meaning to transform or from “sublime?”