Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious Critical Context - Essay

Sigmund Freud

Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious is not one of Freud’s most famous or influential books. It is considered a minor contribution compared to the epoch-making The Interpretation of Dreams, although it appeared shortly after the famous dream book and makes use of many of the same discoveries. Ernest Jones, one of Freud’s biographers, says that Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious is perhaps the least known of Freud’s works. Freud claimed, however, that his study of jokes was the first example of the application of psychoanalytic thinking to the issues of aesthetics, and several critics, including Ernst Kris in Psychoanalytic Explorations in Art (1952), have argued that it is the model for anyone who wishes to focus on artistic creation along Freudian lines.

In spite of the scope of this study, it has not carried the impact of such less ambitious but seemingly more suggestive studies as “The Relation of the Poet to Day-Dreaming” and “The ’Uncanny.’” Even the relatively esoteric “The Antithetical Sense of Primal Words” has received more consideration, at least by structuralist critics, than Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious.

Those critics and psychoanalysts who have made the most of Freud’s joke theories, although with varying degrees of success, are the famous art critic and historian E.H. Gombrich, the psychoanalyst Silvano Arieti, and the literary critic Norman...

(The entire section is 521 words.)