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J., E. (1922). General: Sylvia Bliss. The Origin of Laughter. American Journal of Psychology, April 1915, p. 236.. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 3:342-343.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: General: Sylvia Bliss. The Origin of Laughter. American Journal of Psychology, April 1915, p. 236.

(1922). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 3:342-343

General: Sylvia Bliss. The Origin of Laughter. American Journal of Psychology, April 1915, p. 236.

E. J.

In a footnote to this article the authoress writes: 'The writer has learned that the argument in this article is similar in some respects to that used by Freud in his treatise on wit. Her investigation was independent of that of the latter'. It is hardly likely, however, that it

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was quite uninfluenced, even indirectly, by the wide-spread knowledge of Freud's theory of repression.

In a word, the authoress' theory is that laughter is an expression of the pleasurable release of repressed, unconscious emotions. Her argument is as follows: 'In the evolution of humanity those instincts that are inimical to the progress of civilisation are theoretically transformed into qualities and acts less at variance with social and ethical laws, but in reality the substitution is far from perfect and entire. Man is not yet completely evolved; he is but partly adjusted to a civilised environment, and a portion of his nature lags far behind at a primitive, savage level. The human being, from childhood up, must curb, repress, skulk, hide, control. From the mother's "no, no" to the thundering "Thou shalt not" from Mount Sinai there is a constant denial of instinct. So accustomed are we to regard this as pure benefit that we are blind to the accompanying disservice. Nature confined is not entirely quiescent. With all the outlets, transformations and substitutions which physical and mental activities afford there still remains a large residue of repressed primal instinct which results in discordant and tense conditions in the subconscious life.' 'Laughter is the result of suddenly released repression, the physical sign of subconscious satisfaction. Our primitive man saw, it may be, another do the thing reprobated by the tribe and his own nascent conscience. The sight relieved the tension occasioned by his own repressed wish to do the self-same thing—and he laughed; the laughter sprang from unconscious sympathy with the reactionary act'. 'The secret of laughter is in a return to nature. Civilisation and culture are late additions and we are living to a great extent in artificial conditions. Even common sense is an effort. Psychology makes plain the fact that our present mental equipment has been slowly and painfully acquired, and a certain strain in maintaining that high altitude is inevitable. This tension is relieved by nonsense and by the portrayal in humorous anecdotes and on the stage of evasions of convention and infractions of the prevailing code of manners and of morals'. The smile of the subject entering the hypnotic state is explained by reference to Jastrow's description of the hypnotic consciousness as 'a release from the restraining influences of fear, hesitation, and the ideals of reason and propriety.' The theory is illustrated by a number of examples, and the article concludes with the words: 'Perceiving the function of laughter-provoking agencies we shall be slow to condemn even the broadest and coarsest humour, for this, furnishing an indirect outlet for suppressed instincts, may be more beneficial than we know'.

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Article Citation

J., E. (1922). General. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 3:342-343

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