Monday, May 17, 2010

Freud, Sigmund. "Humor" (1927). The Future of an Illusion, Civilization and Its Discontents and Other Works, Standard Edition. Vol. 21. London: The Hogarth Press, 1961, pp. 159–66.

Freud returns to the subject of humour long after his book Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious to offer several further thoughts on the subject started in his initial book. This essay's central question is summarized as follows, "In what, then, does the humorous attitude consist, an attitude by means of which a person refuses to suffer, emphasizes the invincibility of his ego by the real world, victoriously maintains the pleasure principle—and all this, in contrast to other methods having the same purposes, without overstepping the bounds of mental health" (163). Like his previous book, this essay draws on examples and those chosen to support his questions in this case are often examples of dark humour—for instance a man sentenced to death who looks up at his own hanging to say "well, the week's beginning nicely."

Freud adds four points to his initial analysis of humour in this essay. The first is that it is "not resigned; it is rebellious" (162); suggesting contra Morreall, that humour might precisely be a mode for revolution. Going further, Freud suggests that humour offers a person a defence, a means by which to "ward off possible suffering" (164). Freud adds to this the feeling of pleasure in a mutually shared enjoyment. Lastly, humour for Freud involves the superego, which, in the moment of joking reassures the ego. He writes, assuming the voice of the super-ego, "Look! Here in the world which seems so dangerous! It is nothing but a game for children—just worth making a jest about!" (166).

This later essay by Freud crystallizes many of the ideas that occur in Jokes in a more meandering form. Further, here he more pointedly accounts for instances of dark humour. At the same time, his emphasis on notions of relief theory and the psyche remain (perhaps obviously) his most prominent lines of analysis. I wonder how Freud's description of the superego/ego relationship here would relate to a subject/ideology dichotomy were one to map his analysis onto a broader reading of the subject in relation to culture. What role would humour play in such a shift?

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