Brendan Staunton – Anxiety, Art and Aufhebung – Sublation, Manet and Anxiety

THE LETTER 06 (Spring 1996) pages 74-78

It is a characteristic of our minds to be ever engaged in passing judgement.

John Henry Newman

The performance of the function of judgement is not made possible until the creation of the symbol of negation has endowed thinking with a first measure of freedom from the consequences of repression, and, with it, from the compulsion of the pleasure principle.

Sigmund Freud

The thesis of this paper is that anxiety is a phenomenon that appears when the new is negated rather than sublated; that anxiety happens when a trauma is experienced and something is repressed. (We know from Freud’s critique of Rank that the birth trauma is not the sole determinant of anxiety, without denying that birth is traumatic)) To unpack the abstract terms, and bring out the distinction and relationship between repression, negation and sublation, I will tease out a parallel between an event in art history, and what Freud and Lacan say about anxiety, the permeating immediacy of which is self-evident in our work, but whose recognition is problematic, due to it being the prime affect, that is linked to and different from, fear, anger and hate.

The painting I’ve selected is Le Dejeuner sur L ‘Herbe, by Edouard Manet. Originally, it was called The Picnic, then The Bathers. Its present title is an apt one, as it is lunch time, between the breakfast of Courbet, the father of Realism, and the dinner of Monet, the high point of Impressionism. In 1849 Courbet painted his Burial at Ornans, which is about the burial of…

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