Two Pathways: Thinking Sublimation with David Jones

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This paper returns to the unfinished Freudian concept of sublimation, exploring two contrasting postwar efforts to finish it theoretically – by Winnicott and by Lacan – in the light of questions raised by the work of modernist poet-artist David Jones on how to relate trauma, sexuality and art. Winnicott’s theory of culture as a medium for playful self-realisation is explored as one response to the ambiguous Freudian notion of a pathway from the sexual to the non-sexual, alongside a reading of parts of Jones’s In Parenthesis that represent the wartime trenches as a sacred, redemptive space, a sublime opening at odds with conventional understandings of wartime experience and war trauma. It is noted that this idea of the poem as a sublimation of war trauma is consistent with many accounts of Jones as redemptive or self-therapeutic. This, however, it is argued, is to misrepresent the power of Jones’s art, to overlook its anti-hermeneutic dimension. It is that dimension, the argument concludes, that the Lacanian approach to sublimation, where it is linked to the late Freudian problematic of the death drive, makes uncannily visible and allows us to gain a fuller sense of Jones’s significance.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)191-209
Number of pages18
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 01 Dec 2021


  • sublimation, trauma, play, reparation


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