Marcuse's idea fed into the student activism of the 1960s, as well as being debated at a more formal level by figures such as Hannah Arendt and Norman O. Brown. A decade later, Ernest Mandel took up Marcuse's theme in his analysis of how dreams of escape through sex (or drugs) were commodified as part of the growing commercialisation of leisure in late capitalism.
The core logic of his thought regarded "repression" in late capitalism, which operates not through control and denial, but allowance and expression. Here the social "no" is eliminated, wherein all pleasures become allowed - in commodified form - leading to the controlled expression of all desires and wants, as the presentation and manipulation of these into prefabricated commodified forms becomes the crucial tool of recuperation and control in post-industrial capital. False consciousness is perpetuated and the free exercise and pursuit of pleasure becomes a strategy of containment, as individuals find the vector of their desires, wants, drives, etc., become part of the Culture Industry. The actual material unfreedom of individuals (vis-a-vis a Marxist analysis of the means of production and labor's exploitation/alienation/reification) passes by unnoticed - as the "negative is sublated."
The key is that the well or reservoir of revolutionary energy (dissatisfaction, frustrated desire, truncated fulfillment, bastardized actualization of wants, failed cathexis, etc.) which historically has served as the catalyst for revolutionary action no longer exists, as late capitalism has learned to allow for the controlled expression of all desires, whence the experience of frustration (negation) is erased, leading to the seeming appearance of capitalism as an "affirmative" culture - where never faced with denial, negation, or curtailment in their cultural life, the proletariat feels no desire or drive for revolutionary action. Individuals thus pursue instantaneous and non-mediated desire satisfaction which dissipates the energies and drivers of critique and negative thinking. "The world is no longer perceived as hostile" wherein the status quo is perpetuated through the proliferation of comforts, consumerism, and commodification; where the concept of repressive desublimation highlights the desire-production and control dynamics of these processes.
Marcuse's idea has been criticized for utopianism in seeking to envisage an alternative to the happy consciousness of repressive desublimation that permeates postmodern culture, as well as for modernist elitism in his appeal for critical leverage to an 'autonomous' sphere of high culture.
Foucault expanded the concept into 'hyper-repressive desublimation', and simultaneously criticized it for ignoring the plurality and extent of competing sexual discourses that emerged from the sexual revolution.
In psychology, sublimation is a mature type of defense mechanism, in which socially unacceptable impulses or idealizations are transformed into socially acceptable actions or behavior, possibly resulting in a long-term conversion of the initial impulse.
Sigmund Freud believed that sublimation was a sign of maturity and civilization, allowing people to function normally in culturally acceptable ways. He defined sublimation as the process of deflecting sexual instincts into acts of higher social valuation, being "an especially conspicuous feature of cultural development; it is what makes it possible for higher psychical activities, scientific, artistic or ideological, to play such an 'important' part in civilized life." Wade and Travis present a similar view, stating that sublimation occurs when displacement "serves a higher cultural or socially useful purpose, as in the creation of art or inventions."
In Freud's psychoanalytical theory, erotic energy is allowed a limited amount of expression, owing to the constraints of human society and civilization itself. It therefore requires other outlets, especially if an individual is to remain psychologically balanced.
Sublimation (German: Sublimierung) is the process of transforming libido into "socially useful" achievements, including artistic, cultural, and intellectual pursuits. Freud considered this psychical operation to be fairly salutary compared to the others that he identified, such as repression, displacement, denial, reaction formation, intellectualisation, and projection. In The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence (1936), his daughter, Anna, classed sublimation as one of the major 'defence mechanisms' of the psyche.
Freud got the idea of sublimation while reading The Harz Journey by Heinrich Heine. The story is about Johann Friedrich Dieffenbach who cut off the tails of dogs he encountered in childhood and later became a surgeon. Freud concluded that sublimation could be a conflict between the need for satisfaction and the need for security without perturbation of awareness. In an action performed many times throughout one's life, which firstly appears sadistic, thought is ultimately refined into an activity which is of benefit to mankind.
Sexual sublimation, also known as sexual transmutation, is the act, especially among some religious traditions, to transform sexual impulses or "sexual energy" into creative energy. In this context, sublimation is the transference of sexual energy, or libido, into a physical act or a different emotion in order to avoid confrontation with the sexual urge, which is itself contrary to the individual's belief or ascribed religious belief. It is based on the idea that "sexual energy" can be used to create a spiritual nature which in turn can create more sensual works, instead of one's sexuality being unleashed "raw." The classical example in Western religions is clerical celibacy.
As espoused in the Tanya, Hasidic Jewish mysticism views sublimation of the animal soul as an essential task in life, wherein the goal is to transform animalistic and earthy cravings for physical pleasure into holy desires to connect with God.