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My Research

My research involves the incorporation of psychoanalytic theory, particularly theories of drives and their vicissitudes, into a discussion and analysis of aesthetics and ethics. My Thesis focuses predominantly on the works of Sigmund Freud and Friedrich Nietzsche, and I use each to expand upon what is insufficiently delineated by the other. With regard to psychoanalytic theory, I also make use of more contemporary analysts, such as Jean Laplanche and Hans Loewald, further supplementing the research with an inclusion of findings arrived at in the emerging field of neuro-psychoanalysis.

I use a combination of Immanuel Kant and Arthur Schopenhauer to situate a discussion of aesthetics, particularly that of Beauty and Sublimity in their relation to pleasure, but also to properly contextualize a discussion of aesthetics as it is found in Nietzsche’s work. I demonstrate how Shopenhauer expands upon a Kantian aesthetics by attempting to show how the Will (or drives in general) are also very much a part of the a priori, in addition to space, time, and causality. In that sense, not only do the categories and the faculties of the mind determine what is perceived or how it is perceived, but also drives, which demand satisfaction by what is perceived. It is in this sense that Schopenhauer psychologizes Kant. From this point, Nietzsche picks up the discussion of aesthetics arguing against a purely ‘objective’ analysis that is solely concerned with art as it appears to a spectator, a fault of both Kant and Schopenhauer, and emphasizes the need to look at art and the aesthetic as it relates to an artist.

An example of Nietzsche's appraoch that brings together a discussion of drives and an aesthetic relation to one's self is found in Daybreak. He writes:

One can dispose of one's drives like a gardner and, though few know it, cultivate the shoots
of anger, pity, curiosity, vanity as productively and profitably as a beautiful fruit tree on
a trellis; one can do it with the good or bad taste of a gardener and, as it were, in the
French or English or Dutch or Chinese fashions, one can also let nature rule and only attend
to a little embellishment and tidying up here and there; one can, finally, without paying any
attention to them at all, let the plants grow up and fight their fight out amongst themselves
-- indeed, one can take delight in such a wilderness, and desire precisely this delight,
though it gives one some trouble, too. All this we are at liberty to do: but how many know we
are at liberty to do it? Do the majority not believe in themselves as in complete fully-
developed facts? Have the great philosophers not put their seal on this prejudice with
the doctrine of the unchangability of character? (Daybreak, §560)

This passage illustrates a relation to one’s drives that can involve both sublimation and/or repression and denial. I argue that some possible ways for the death-drive to express itself (psychically and socially) are found in the defense mechanisms and in sublimation – egodystonically and egosyntonically.

My work tends to find agreements and disagreements in numerous places, particularly concerning the reconceptualization of drive-theory. Also, contrary to work done by Ken Gemes and Jean Laplanche on sublimation, Freud’s psycho-biography of Leonardo da Vinci cannot be used as an archetypal example of sublimation. The reason for this is that sublimation is basically an egosyntonic vicissitude. Leonardo, on the other hand, is described by Freud as largely egodystonic, displaying symptoms of ‘obsessional neuroses’ that indicate not only a lack of sublimation but also a failure of repressions. In this sense, my research finds some agreement with Hans Loewald. Contra Jonathan Lear’s assertion in Happiness, Death, and the Remainder of Life, I argue that psychoanalytic theory, concerning drives and their vicissitudes, can be used not only to enhance an ethical understanding but also as a foundation for a positive ethical theory centered on the health and well-being of individuals and the communities to which they belong. Like Lear, however, I find the idea of 'Happiness' to be suspect, and I argue that the proposition of its possibility is an illusion or delusion -- a light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. By focusing instead on 'well-being', I seek to argue along Nietzschean lines for a means of bringing light into the metaphircal tunnel rather than vainly aspiring to get out of it.

Peripherally, I seek to address social problems (such as school shootings, terrorism, genocide, poverty, crimes of power such as rape, etc.) as being not merely the results of developmental deficiencies of individuals but also, and often more importantly, communal deficiencies that exacerbate and give rise to the conflicts of the individual. A community (family, city, nation, culture in general) that is itself egodystonic promotes egodystonic development of individuals.

Main Supervisor:

Keith Ansell-Pearson

Contact Details

k dot j dot ansell-pearson at warwick dot ac dot uk