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Biddle, S. (1943). The Mechanisms of Wit and Humor in Normal and Psychopathic States: A. A. Brill. Psychiatric Quarterly, XIV, Oct., 1940.. Psychoanal Q., 12:150-151.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: The Mechanisms of Wit and Humor in Normal and Psychopathic States: A. A. Brill. Psychiatric Quarterly, XIV, Oct., 1940.
Brill's paper on Mechanisms of Wit and Humor calls attention to the fact that there has been comparatively little written about the subject since Freud's publication Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious in 1905.
It is the author's custom to request of his patients the best joke or witty story that they have ever heard. After citing several such examples he shows how such anecdotes reveal important information to the analyst regarding the patient's personality with reference to conscious and unconscious trends. This is explicable on the supposition, Brill later explains, that the patient is induced to identify himself with the hero of the jest, on the basis of the well-known mechanism which Freud describes in his article on humor, that the ego identifies itself with its superego, and views with a kind of parental indulgence, its own short-comings. The mechanism is most clearly illustrated
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in Galgenhumor where the entire organism is threatened with annihilation, and in which the underlying purpose is an attempt to deny the impending danger. Somewhat similar mechanisms and reactions are manifested in other situations as for instance, the Ganzer-like reactions of certain criminals when they are caught or convicted, the inept joking of paretics, or the euphoria in certain cases of brain tumor or pernicious anæmia. Such reactions may be attended with profound emotional disturbances, detachment from reality, which serve the mechanism of denial and help to bind anxiety.
Putting aside the author's request for a joke from his patients, one may fully concur with his timely suggestion that greater attention should be devoted to the production of wit during analytic treatment, and to the requisite technique to be employed by the analyst in the utilization of such material.
In regard to the former, the author has made a passing reference to jokes which liberate genital urges and others which are based on pregenital impulses. It is to be regretted that though he has offered some interesting clinical material, he has not initiated any detailed program for further investigation of material met with in analysis, such for instance as a classification of different forms of wit as an ego defense. In regard to the latter topic which Brill does not specifically mention, one might consider how far Freud's method of the systematic reduction of wit might be employed as a separate analytic technique.