Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, 1905, by Sigmund Freud
Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious is one of Sigmund Freud's less technical work. It is quite easy to understand for the common reader and does not delve too deeply into treating mental illness. This book is a bit different from his other works. This is because its focus is primarily on how societies work and the role jokes play. In this work, Freud gives detailed accounts of what he perceives to be different techniques used in creating jokes. He postulates that joking is a form of catharsis for repressed hostilities. He also claims that we can tell a lot about a society from the types of jokes they tell. In this work, Freud expresses strong belief that the same processes that relate to the creation of dreams in the unconscious mind are also at play when making jokes. The book is easily one of Freud's most easily understood work on his brief detour on social anthropology.
In the first few pages of this work, Freud examines the various preexisting theories on this topic. For instance, he examines the work of Kuno Fischer who viewed jokes as originating from man's playful nature. In addition, he looks in the work of an author who viewed jokes as being a form of metaphor. He also examines the works of various authors who talk about the brevity of jokes. These authors suggest that jokes are used to bring into the open, things that might otherwise be considered taboo in a particular society. In these first pages, Freud attempts a classification of jokes. For instance, Freud examines the concept of condensation. This technique, according to Freud occurs when one creates a joke out of two words. For instance, Freud gives an example of a joke he comes upon in his literature review. In the book, a character claims to be known famillionairely, by a rich Baron. This joke is created by combining the term millionaire and familiar. However, Freud notes that there are many other techniques, which a person may use to create a joke. In his work, Freud notes that most jokes tend to be short. In other words, there is great tendency towards economy when people try to create jokes.
For the explanation as to why people, find jokes funny, Freud views this as some sort of release. He postulates that people tend to laugh because they want to get rid of pent up energy. Freud postulates that this energy results from repression. It is his assertion that all aspects of the joke including the laughter are a catharsis for stored up sexual and hostile energy. However, this theory is quite faulty. For instance, Freud does not give an explanation as to how exactly this energy is stored up. In essence, although we do know that people have a way of finding release for repressed energy, there is no detail of exactly how emotional energy is released.
Later on in the book, Freud tries to explain how exactly a person is able to derive pleasure from a joke. He suggests that the mind through a joke is able to find work around for nasty, repressed emotions. These emotions could not otherwise be expressed without some sort of punishment. For instance, aggression and general hostilities about an ethnicity in a society can be freely expressed through the joke. In addition, Freud suggests that recognition, appreciation, and the play pleasures could be other sources of pleasure in the joke. In addition, Freud points out jokes play an important part in creating cohesion in society. He notes this may be the main reason that most people tend to tell jokes in groups. He suggests that a joke is society's way of dealing with societal aggression. Consequently, it is the minds unconscious way of diffusing tension in society to ensure its own survival.
Towards the end of his book, Freud delves more deeply into the theory of how jokes work. For his explanation, Freud falls back on his work on the subconscious mind's influence on dreams of people. He explains that dreams are nothing more than an expression of unfulfilled desires. By experiencing dreams, the subconscious helps the conscious mind to deal with repressed desires. In his work with mental patients, Freud observes he can find the source of a neurosis by examining a patient's dreams. Consequently, Freud notes that just like dream, which seem to come from nowhere, jokes too originate in the subconscious. He claims it is an avenue the human mind uses to release pent up energy. However, in this case, the source of the energy is from complex society wide repressions. That is why most jokes appear to have a societal origin. Towards the end of the book, Freud gives a detailed analysis of some of the themes used in creating jokes. For instance, he talks about caricatures.
Freud's work is essentially a bridge between the earlier theories on how jokes originate. He successfully managed to link these theories and jokes and the theory of a catharsis. Before his work, nobody else had attempted to give such a detailed explanation on this relationship.
The theories contained in this book have yet to be proved or disproved. This is unlike much of his earlier work on sexual drive in man. Nevertheless, the book has received a lot of criticism. However, most of those who criticize his work only examine the last chapter of the work. In this section Freud gives a detailed theory on how jokes work. However, his first chapter of the book is an examination of work from scholars who had dealt with the topic before him. As a result, before one criticizes Freud's work, it important for one to examine it adequately. For instance, he proposes that a joke is one way of ensuring cohesion in society. To some extent, this is true. For instance, roasts held by various societies are used to express pent up emotions. As a result, the complexities of a society are dealt with in a fun way. In addition, although everyone gets to release his or her anger, no one is injured.