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Volume 8


Volume VIII:
Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious (1905)

1905C 8/3
Jokes and their relation to the unconscious (1960).
Editor’s preface.
In the course of discussing the relation between jokes and dreams, Freud mentions his own subjective reason for taking up the problem of jokes: the fact that when Wilhelm Fliess was reading the proofs of The Interpretation of Dreams in the autumn of 1899, he complained that the dreams were too full of jokes. The episode acted as a precipitating factor, and led to Freud’s giving closer attention to the subject; but it cannot possibly have been the origin of his interest in it. Quite apart from dreams, there is evidence of Freud’s early theoretical interest in jokes. There is a serious difficulty in translating this particular work, a terminological difficulty which runs through the whole of it. The German and English terms covering the phenomena discussed seem never to coincide.

1905C 8/9
Jokes and their relation to the unconscious (1905).
A. Analytic part.
I. Introduction.
Anyone who has had occasion to enquire from the literature of esthetics and psychology the nature of jokes and the position they occupy will probably have to admit that jokes have not received nearly as much philosophical consideration as they deserve in view of the part they play in mental life. The first impression one derives from the literature is that it is quite impracticable to deal with jokes otherwise than in connection with the comic. A favorite definition of joking has long been the ability to find similarity between dissimilar things, that is, hidden similarities. The criteria and characteristics of jokes include: activity, relation to the content of our thoughts, the characteristic of playful judgment, the coupling of dissimilar things, contrasting ideas, sense in nonsense, the succession of bewilderment and enlightenment, the bringing forward of what is hidden, and the peculiar brevity of wit. We are entirely without insight into the connection that presumably exists between the separate determinants (i.e. what the brevity of a joke can have to do with its characteristic of being a playful judgment).

1905C 8/16
Jokes and their relation to the unconscious (1905).
A. Analytic part.
II. The technique of jokes
(1) & (2). Jokes are similar to dreams.
The character of a joke does not reside in the thought but in the technique. Examples are given of jokes in which the thought is condensed by introducing, as a substitute, a striking composite word (e.g. anecdotage for anecdote and dotage) which is unintelligible in itself but is immediately understood in its context. In related cases the substitute is not a composite word but a slight modification (e.g. tete-a-bete for tete-a-tete). In general, the slighter the modification, the better the joke. Condensation and modification involved in these types of jokes are compared to condensation and modification which occurs in dream-work.

1905C 8/29
Jokes and their relation to the unconscious (1905).
A. Analytic part.
II. The technique of jokes.
(3). Condensations and substitutive formations in dreams.
The first thing that we want to learn is whether the process of condensation with substitute formation is to be discovered in every joke, and can therefore be regarded as a universal characteristic of the technique of jokes. Three examples are presented in which substitute formation does not occur. In each of them, a name is used twice, once as a whole and again divided up into its separate syllables, which, when they are thus separated, give another sense. The multiple use of the same word, once as a whole and again in the syllables into which it falls, is the first instance we have come across of a technique differing from that of condensation. The cases of multiple use, which can also be brought together under the title of double meaning, can easily be divided into subclasses: 1) cases of the double meaning of a name and of a thing denoted by it; 2) double meaning arising from the literal and metaphorical meanings of a word; and 3) double meaning proper, or play upon words.

1905C 8/45
Jokes and their relation to the unconscious (1905).
A. Analytic part.
II. The technique of jokes.
(4) & (5). Summary and puns.
The different joke techniques are summarized as follows: condensation, with formation of composite word or with modification; the multiple use of the same material as a whole and in parts, in a different order, with slight modification, and of the same words full and empty; and double meaning as a name and as a thing, metaphorical and literal meanings, double meaning proper (play upon words), double entendre, and double meaning with an allusion. The multiple use of the same material is only a special case of condensation; play upon words is nothing other than a condensation without substitute formation. All these techniques are dominated by a tendency to compression, or rather to saving (economy). The most numerous group of jokes is influenced by the contempt with which they are regarded. This kind is generally known as puns and passes as the lowest form of verbal joke, probably because it can be made with the least trouble. Puns make the least demand on the technique of expression, just as the play upon words proper makes the highest. Puns merely form a subspecies of the group which reaches its peak in the play upon words proper.

1905C 8/47
Jokes and their relation to the unconscious (1905).
A. Analytic part.
II. The technique of jokes.
(6) & (7). Puns; absurdity as a joke technique.
There are jokes whose technique resists almost any attempt to connect it with the groups (those derived from condensation, multiple use of the same material or double meaning) that have been considered. In the case of a displacement joke, the joke itself contains a train of thought in which a displacement has been accomplished. The displacement is part of the work which has created the joke; it is not part of the work necessary for understanding it. The technique of the nonsensical or absurd jokes consists in presenting something that is stupid and nonsensical, the sense of which lies in the revelation and demonstration of something else that is stupid and nonsensical. A number of displacement and nonsensical jokes are presented and analyzed.

1905C 8/60
Jokes and their relation to the unconscious (1905).
A. Analytic part.
II. The technique of jokes.
(8) &(9). Relation of jokes to the comic; unification as a joke technique.
The uncovering of psychical automatism is one of the techniques of the comic, just as is any kind of revelation or self-betrayal. The technique of this group of jokes lies in bringing forward faulty reasoning. Unification lies at the bottom of jokes that can be described as ready repartees. Repartee consists in the defense going to meet the aggression, in turning the tables on someone, or paying someone back in his own coin, that is, in establishing an unexpected unity between attack and counterattack. Unification has another, quite specially interesting technical instrument at its disposal: stringing things together with the conjunction ‘and’. If things are strung together in this way, it implies that they are connected: understanding it as so cannot be helped.

1905C 8/70
Jokes and their relation to the unconscious (1905).
A. Analytic part.
II. The technique of jokes.
(10) & (11). Representation by opposite; conceptual jokes.
Examples are presented of jokes in which the technique employed is “representation by the opposite”, e.g. representation of ugliness through resemblances to what is most beautiful. In some cases this technique can be combined with displacement. A related technique is the use of overstatement. Representation by the opposite is not confined to jokes but may be used in irony. Representation by something similar or akin forms the basis for another category of jokes. This technique is often complicated by allusion. The replacing element may be merely a resemblance in sound but, in contrast to puns, the resemblance in sound involves whole sentences or phrases rather than just 2 words. Another kind of allusion consists in omission; this type of joke often cannot be distinguished from condensation without formation of a substitute. Allusion, which is probably the commonest and most easily used method of joking and which forms a basis for most short4ived jokes found in conversations, can be described as indirect representation. Categories of jokes discussed so far which would fall into this category include faulty reasoning, unification, and representation by the opposite.

Jokes and their relation to the unconscious (1905).
A. Analytic part.
II. The technique of jokes.
(12). Analogy as a joke technique.
Analogy is a kind of indirect representation used by jokes. There are remarkably fine and effective examples of analogies that do not strike us as being jokes. There are also analogies which contain a striking juxtaposition, often a combination that sounds absurd, or which are replaced by something of the sort as the outcome of the analogy. A strange juxtaposition or the attribution of an absurd epithet can stand by itself as the outcome of an analogy. An analogy can in itself possess the characteristics of being a joke, without this impression being accounted for by a complication with one of the familiar joke techniques. Analogy is included among the species of indirect representation used by the joke technique.

1905C 8/91
Jokes and their relation to the unconscious (1905).
A. Analytic part.
III. The purposes of jokes.
(1) & (2). Innocent jokes; smut and the purpose of jokes.
The purpose of jokes is discussed. Innocent or abstract jokes (both are nontendentious) do not have the same meaning as jokes that are trivial or lacking in substance; they merely connote the opposite of the tendentious jokes. An innocent joke may be of great substance, it may assert something of value. We receive from joking remarks a total impression in which we are unable to separate the share taken by the thought content from the share taken by the joke work. Where a joke is not an aim in itself (where it is not innocent), it is either a hostile joke (serving the purpose of aggressiveness, satire, or defense) or an obscene joke (serving the purpose of exposure). The technical species of the joke, whether it is a verbal or a conceptual joke, bears no relation to these 2 purposes. A tendentious joke calls for 3 people: in addition to the one who makes the joke, there must be a second who is taken as the object of the hostile or sexual aggressiveness, and a third in whom the joke’s aim of producing pleasure is fulfilled. When the first person finds his libidinal impulse inhibited by a woman, he develops a hostile trend against that second person and calls on the originally interfering third person as his ally. Through the first person’s smutty speech the woman is exposed before the third, who, as a listener, has now been bribed by the effortless satisfaction of his own libido. Thus jokes make possible the satisfaction of instinct (whether lustful or hostile) in the face of an obstacle which stands in the way. The obstacle in the way is woman’s incapacity to tolerate undisguised sexuality. This power which makes it difficult or impossible for women, and to a lesser degree for men as well, to enjoy undisguised obscenity is termed repression. Tendentious jokes have sources of pleasure at their disposal besides those open to innocent jokes, in which all the pleasure is in some way linked to their technique.

1905C 8/102
Jokes and their relation to the unconscious (1905).
A. Analytic part.
III. The purpose of jokes.
(3), (4), (5). Hostile, cynical and skeptical jokes.
Hostile impulses against our fellow men have always been subject to the same restrictions, the same progressive repression, as our sexual urges. A joke will allow us to exploit something ridiculous in our enemy which we could not, on account of obstacles in the way, bring forward openly or consciously; here again the joke will evade restrictions and open sources of pleasure that have become inaccessible. Tendentious jokes are highly suitable for attacks on the great, the dignified and the mighty, who are protected by internal inhibition and external circumstances from direct disparagement. Among the institutions which cynical jokes are in the habit of attacking none is more important or more strictly guarded by oral regulations than the institution of marriage, at which the majority of cynical jokes are aimed. There is no more personal claim than that for sexual freedom and at no point has civilization tried to exercise more severe suppression than in the sphere of sexuality. A particularly favorable occasion for tendentious jokes is presented when the intended rebellious criticism is directed against the subject himself, or against someone in whom the subject has a share, a collective person, (the subject’s own nation, for instance). Jokes that attack not a person or an institution but the certainty of our knowledge itself are called skeptical jokes.

1905C 8/117
Jokes and their relation to the unconscious (1905).
B. Synthetic part.
IV. The mechanism of pleasure and the psychogenesis of jokes. (1).
The mechanism of pleasure and the psychogenesis of jokes is discussed. The pleasure in the case of a tendentious joke arises from a purpose being satisfied whose satisfaction would otherwise not have taken place. The techniques of jokes are themselves sources of pleasure. In one group of jokes, the technique consists in focusing our psychical attitude upon the sound of the word instead of upon its meaning. A second group of technical methods used in jokes (unification, similarity of sound, multiple use, modification of familiar phrases, allusions to quotations) has as the common characteristic the fact that in each of them something familiar is rediscovered. This is the basis for the use of another technical resource in jokes, topicality. The third group of joke techniques for the most part conceptual jokes, which comprises faulty thinking, displacements, absurdity, representation by the opposite, etc., may at first glance seem to bear a special impress and to have no kinship with the techniques of rediscovery of what is familiar or the replacement of object associations by word associations. Nevertheless the theory of economy or relief in psychical expenditure applies here. The first and third of these groups, the replacement of thing associations by word associations and the use of absurdity, can be brought together as reestablishing old liberties and getting rid of the burden of intellectual upbringing; they are psychical reliefs, which can be contrasted with the economizing which constitutes the technique of the second group. From these 2 principles all the techniques of jokes, and accordingly all pleasure from these techniques, are derived: relief from psychical expenditure that is already there and economizing in psychical expenditure that is only about to be called for.

1905C 8/128
Jokes and their relation to the unconscious (1905).
B. Synthetic part.
IV. The mechanism of pleasure and the psychogenesis of jokes.
(2). The purpose and functions of jokes.
Before there is such a thing as a joke, there is something that we may describe as play or as a jest. Play with words and thoughts, motivated by certain pleasurable effects of economy, are the first stages of jokes. This play is brought to an end by the strengthening of a factor described as the critical faculty or reasonableness. Next a second preliminary stage of jokes sets in, the jest. it is now a question of prolonging the yield of pleasure from play, but at the same time silencing the objections raised by criticism which would not allow the pleasurable feeling to emerge. The psychogenesis of jokes reveals that the pleasure in a joke is derived from play with words or from the liberation of nonsense, and that the meaning of the joke is merely intended to protect that pleasure from being done away with by criticism. If what a jest says possesses substance and value, it turns into a joke. The tendentious jokes use the pleasure from jokes as a fore-pleasure to produce new pleasure by lifting suppressions and repressions.

1905C 8/140
Jokes and their relation to the unconscious (1905).
B. Synthetic part.
V. The motives of jokes-Jokes as a social process.
Jokes are discussed as a social process. Although the joke work is an excellent method of getting pleasure out of psychical processes, it is nevertheless evident that not everyone is equally capable of making use of that method. The impression is given that the subjective determinants of the joke work are often not far removed from those of neurotic illness. The great majority of jokes, and especially those that are constantly being newly produced in connection with the events of the day, are circulated anonymously. The motive force for the production of innocent jokes is not infrequently an ambitious urge to show one’s cleverness, to display oneself. In laughter, the conditions are present under which a sum of psychical energy which has hitherto been used for cathexis is allowed free discharge. Since laughter is an indication of pleasure, we shall be inclined to relate this pleasure to the lifting of the cathexis which has previously been present. If a quota of cathectic energy capable of discharge is to be liberated, there are several conditions which must be fulfilled or which are desirable in order to act as encouragement: 1) it must be ensured that the person is really making this cathectic expenditure; 2) it is necessary to guard against the cathectic expenditure, when it is liberated, finding some other psychical use instead of offering itself for motor discharge; and 3) it is an advantage if the cathexis which is to be liberated in the third person is intensified beforehand.

1905C 8/159
Jokes and their relation to the unconscious (1905).
C. Theoretic part.
VI. The relation of jokes to dreams and to the unconscious.
The relation of jokes to dreams and to the unconscious is discussed. Thought transformation with a view to the possibility of representation, condensation and displacement are the 3 major achievements that may be ascribed to the dream work. The characteristics and effects of jokes are linked with certain forms of expression or technical methods, among which the most striking are condensation, displacement, and indirect representation. Processes, however, which lead to the same results have become known to us as peculiarities of the dream work. Jokes are formed as a preconscious thought is given over for a moment to unconscious revision and the outcome of this is at once grasped by conscious perception. The characteristics of jokes which can be referred to their formation in the unconscious are presented: 1) the peculiar brevity of jokes; 2) displacements; 3) representation by the opposite; and 4) the use of nonsense. Dreams serve predominantly for the avoidance of unpleasure, jokes for the attainment of pleasure; but all our mental activities converge in these 2 aims.

1905C 8/181
Jokes and their relation to the unconscious (1905).
C. Theoretic part.
VII. Jokes and the species of the comic. (1).
Jokes are a subspecies of the comic. The comic, which behaves differently socially from jokes; is concerned with 2 persons, (the first who finds what is comic and a second in whom it is found) while a third person intensifies, but doesn’t add to the comic process. A joke is made, the comic is found. The type of the comic which stands nearest to jokes is the naive. The comic arises as an unintended discovery derived from human social relations. It is found in people, in their movements, forms, actions and traits of character, originally in all probability only in their physical characteristics but later in their mental ones as well or in the expression of those characteristics. Nonsense and stupidity, which so often produce a comic effect, are nevertheless not felt as comic in every case. The comic that is found in someone else’s intellectual and mental characteristics is the outcome of a comparison between him and self, though a comparison which has produced the opposite result to that in the case of a comic movement or action. A person appears comic to us if, in comparison with ourselves, he makes too great an expenditure on his bodily functions and too little on his mental ones. It can not be denied that in both these cases our laughter expresses a pleasurable sense of the superiority which we feel in relation to him.

1905C 8/199
Jokes and their relation to the unconscious (1905).
C. Theoretic part.
VII. Jokes and the species of the comic.
(2). Psychical location distinguishes jokes from the comic.
It is possible to produce the comic in relation to oneself in order to amuse other people. To make other people comic, the principal means is to put them in situations in which a person becomes comic as a result of human dependence on external events, particularly on social factors, without regard to the personal characteristics of the individual concerned. This putting of someone in a real comic situation is called a practical joke. Other means of making things comic which deserve special consideration and also indicate fresh sources of comic pleasure include mimicry, caricature, parody, and travesty. Contact with the comic is not to be found in all jokes or even in the majority of them and, in most cases, a clear distinction is to be made between jokes and the comic. The pleasure in jokes is located in the unconscious while there is no justification for making the same localization in the case of the comic. Jokes and the comic are distinguished in their psychical localization: the joke is the contribution made to the comic from the realm of the unconscious.

1905C 8/208
Jokes and their relation to the unconscious (1905).
C. Theoretic part.
VII. Jokes and the species of the comic.
(3) & (4). Differences between jokes and comic.
The comic of mimicry is permeated with caricature, the exaggeration of traits that are not otherwise striking, and also involves the characteristic of degradation. Jokes present a double face to their hearer, force him to adopt 2 different views of them. In a nonsense joke, the one view regards it as nonsense; the other view passes through the hearer’s unconscious and finds an excellent sense in it. Every theory of the comic is objected to by its critics on the score that its definition overlooks what is essential to the comic: The comic is based on a contrast between ideas. The most favorable condition for the production of comic pleasure is a generally cheerful mood in which one is inclined to laugh. A similarly favorable effect is produced by an expectation of the comic, by being attuned to comic pleasure. Unfavorable conditions for the comic arise from the kind of mental activity with which a particular person is occupied at the moment. The opportunity for the release of comic pleasure disappears, too, if the attention is focused precisely on the comparison from which the comic may emerge. The comic is greatly interfered with if the situation from which it ought to develop gives rise at the same time to a release of strong affect. The generating of comic pleasure can be encouraged by any other pleasurable accompanying circumstance as though by some sort of contagious effect.

1905C 8/221
Jokes and their relation to the unconscious (1905).
C. Theoretic part.
VII. Jokes and the species of the comic.
(5), (6), (7), (8). Comic things are not proper in jokes; relation of humour to jokes.
The comic of sexuality and obscenity are discussed using the starting point of exposure. A chance exposure has a comic effect on us because we compare the ease with which we have enjoyed the sight with the great expenditure which would otherwise be required for reaching this end. Every exposure of which we are made the spectator by a third person is equivalent to the exposed person being made comic. The comic difference is found either by a comparison between another person and oneself, or by a comparison entirely within the other person, or by a comparison entirely within oneself. The first case includes the comic of movement and form, of mental functioning and of character. The second case includes the most numerous possibilities, the comic of situation, of exaggeration, of mimicry, of degradation, and of unmasking. The comic of expectation, the third case is the remotest in children. The release of distressing affects is the greatest obstacle to the emergence of the comic. Humor is the most easily satisfied among the species of comic. It completes its course within a single person. An economy of pity is one of the most frequent sources of humourous pleasure. The pleasure in jokes arises from an economy in expenditure upon inhibition, the pleasure in the comic from an economy in expenditure upon ideation (upon cathexis) and the pleasure in humor from an economy in expenditure upon feeling.

1905C 8/237
Jokes and their relation to the unconscious (1905).
Appendix: Franz Brentano’s riddles.
In 1879 Franz Brentano published a booklet of some 200 pages with the title New Riddles.This book included specimens of various different types of riddles, the last of which was described as fill-up riddles. According to him, this type of riddle was a favorite pastime in the Main region of Germany, but had only recently reached Vienna. The booklet includes 30 examples of the fill-up riddles, among them 2 that are quoted by Freud. These 2 examples are presented along with the following English specimen: Burglars had broken into a large furrier’s store. But they were disturbed and went off without taking anything, though leaving the show room in the greatest confusion. When the manager arrived in the morning, he gave instructions to his assistants:

“Never mind the cheaper goods. The urgent thing is to get the ______.”

Answer: ‘first rate furs straight.’

Abstracts of the Standard Edition of 
the Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud

Carrie Lee Rothgeb, Editor

 

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