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Eidelberg, L. (1945). A Contribution to the Study of Wit. Psychoanal. Rev., 32(1):33-61.

(1945). Psychoanalytic Review, 32(1):33-61

A Contribution to the Study of Wit

Ludwig Eidelberg, M.D.

Since Freud published his basic paper, “Wit and its Relation to the Unconscious,” psychoanalysis has made such progress that the resumption of investigation of this subject appears justified. The application and examination of the new analytical findings promise an enlargement of Freud's basic formulations. This introduction does not attempt to avoid the responsibility for the result of this investigation, nor does it attempt to obtain the goodwill of the reader by a pseudo-modesty. We propose rather to gain this goodwill, which is essential for the success of this paper, by declaring that the main reason for our decision to investigate the subject of jokes was the realization that the results could be used for the examination and demonstration of many clinical findings. We are under the impression that it may be possible to use Wit as an experimental approach which has hitherto played a small role in psychoanalysis. While none will deny the advantages of an experimental approach for the exchange of our experiences and a control of our findings, it is equally true that the lack of an experiment cannot be used as an argument against the scientific truth of our formulations. Wit as expressed in jokes seems to be suitable for an experimental work because it produces by means of a rather simple technique similar emotional reactions in a great majority of people.

We discontinue a further enumeration of the advantage of the use of jokes for scientific purposes and present the following example of a joke as the start of our examination: “Mae West returns home and finds ten sailors in her bedroom. She says: ‘I am tired, two must go.’” As we assume that nobody will deny that this short story represents a joke, we begin at once with its division into parts, an act which usually leads to the destruction of the object, but sometimes also enlarges our knowledge. This jest can be divided into three parts: (A) Mae West returns home and finds ten sailors in her bedroom. She says: (B) I am tired (C) Two must go. (Part C, it may be noted, is usually called the point of the joke.)

We will begin now with our experiments in telling this story to a number of people and proceed then to separate those who laughed from those who did not.

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