Lacanian Sublimation and Verticality

This is a study of the relationship between sublimation and verticality in architecture – specifically Gothic architecture – and in psychoanalysis – more precisely, the Lacanian formula that sublimation “raises an object to the dignity of the Thing” (Lacan, 1986 [1959-1960]: 133). We begin the analysis of this relationship from Freud’s assertion in Civilization and Its Discontents that the “verticality” of man (“die Aufrichtung des Menschen“) is “the beginning of the inevitable process of civilization” (Freud, 1930a [1929]). We will then study the logic of dissatisfaction, as a producer of the big push towards the Top, whilst demonstrating that the circle established between the building of civilization and the operation of sublimation is not just a beneficial, but also a dissolute, circle. This circle shows the link between sublimation and the death drive (Freud, 1923b), thus implying the danger of the operation (Lacan, 1994 [1956-1957]; Lacan, 1986 [1959-1960]). We will also try to show that Freud’s thesis about verticality is related to sublimation, working to change the order of the drive whilst making it higher, “höheres Ziel” (Freud, 1908a). The “höheres Ziel” of Freudian psychoanalysis is connected to the “quanto altius” of architecture, the latter having been pioneered by Suger, abbot of Saint-Denis. We will conclude our study by showing what post-Freudians did with the verticality of Freudian sublimation, and what the art historian Worringer (1967 [1927]), did with Gothic verticality.

The Logical Times of Sublimation and Architecture

This article begins by analyzing Lacan’s famous formula from the seminar The ethics of psychoanalysis: sublimation “elevates an object to the dignity of the Thing” (Lacan, 1986 [1959-1960]: 133). Our hypothesis is that this operation has a logical sequence. We will demonstrate that Gothic architecture can account for the logic of sublimation and we will articulate the difference between “primitive sublimation” and sublimation as “elevation”: the former describes a sublimation that works without the imaginary – we shall refer to this as the creation of “holy (sacred) void” of architecture – the latter works with the imaginary but through a symbolic elevation that puts us in an indirect relationship with the real.

Sublimation in Lacan: The Creative Destruction of the Subject

We will try to demonstrate that the experience of Abbot Suger de Saint-Denis, creator of Gothic architecture, based on the logic of Lacanian sublimation, comes from the elevation of an object to the dignity of the Thing (Lacan, 1986 [1959-1960]: 133). On the one hand, this experience is a misguided elevation: Suger arrives (Lat. “surgit”) at the truth via material things, but also Suger (Lat. “surgit”), in architectural terms, ascends as the subject of desire. On the other hand, this experience illustrates the dichotomous relation between elevation/descent and creation/destruction in the sublimation that we call “sujerienne”. The architecture of Abbot Suger innovates and this singular experience allows us to address the choséité (thingness) of the architectural object: the void. It also allows us to relate the elevation of sublimation to elevation in architecture. And this highlights the correspondence between elevation of sublimation and the development of the imaginary representation of the Thing. This development cannot take place without an act of creative destruction of the Subject.

 

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