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Rosen, V.H. (1963). Variants of Comic Caricature and their Relationship to Obsessive-Compulsive Phenomena. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 11:704-724.

(1963). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 11:704-724

Variants of Comic Caricature and their Relationship to Obsessive-Compulsive Phenomena

Victor H. Rosen, M.D.


Obsessive-compulsive individuals are constantly engaged in relationships of varying degrees of intensity in which their roles as victims or aggressors are successfully obscured by the ambiguities imposed by disturbances of distance of the observing function. Thus they apologize when they are victimized and feel martyred when they are aggressors. The device of comic caricature when successful allows the aggressor to insult his victim without malice and the victim to feel some pride in being insulted. The byproduct of pleasure for the observing function in both of them serves to reinforce the device and to give a glimmering insight into the primary-process mechanism which is distorting the critical use of judgment. The capacity for comic caricature may be a way station on the road to more mature critical abilities in which sadomasochistic needs are minimized. A disturbance of the sense of the comic may produce obsessive-compulsive symptoms through changes in the defensive equilibrium, while its restoration may make it possible for the individual to deal with his difficulties. Problems of distance of the observing function which distort the importance or lack of importance of aggression in human relationships prevent identification of the elements of a potentially comic scene and interfere with its synthesis and comprehension. Laughter is both the result of such comic synthesis and the catalyst which may be necessary under certain circumstances to make it possible. The obsessional individual seems to have to learn to insult and be insulted gracefully before his social development can proceed.

This formulation suggests that the genetic derivatives of an obsessional neurosis can be more clearly defined and their infantile sources more easily reconstructed when they have first been restored to their comic context (see also Jacobson [16]). Some consequences for therapeutic technique have been tentatively suggested.

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