Form and Content
Sigmund Freud’s specific plans for a psychoanalytic study of wit and verbal humor probably began when his friend and confidant Wilhelm Fliess, after reading the proofs of Die Traumdeutung (1900; The Interpretation of Dreams, 1913), complained that the dreams in the book were too full of jokes. It is probable, however, that Freud had considered the importance of jokes even before the publication of the dream book. In an earlier letter to Fliess, Freud had mentioned that he had been putting together a collection of Jewish anecdotes and humorous stories; it was a form to which he was naturally drawn because of his father’s fascination with such tales.
Like The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud’s Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious (which has also been translated as Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious) is a classic example of his ability to perceive the psychological significance of those aspects of human life which many people ignore as trivial, common, or obvious. The book combines formal scholarly research with Freud’s unrelenting, although often informal, Socratic technique of analyzing data and formulating hypotheses, which are then either dismissed for lack of clarity or polished until theoretically and empirically sound. Thus, the book often reads more like a recapitulation of Freud’s thought processes than a flat statement of the conclusions themselves.
The study is divided...
(The entire section is 499 words.)