freud - the joke and its relation to the unconscious

this is kinda a makeshift reading journal, one must keep in mind this one is made hugely of snippets i posted on discord and elsewhere. i might make more proper ones for the future books i read, but when i created this one i was already in half. i decided it's still worth writing down here and saving in one place, though, because in future i can make some of these relevant or useful. prepare for great amounts of insanity and also autism. i began reading this book on 25.10, and read the first half between 25.10 and 05.11, so the first note here will contain whatever i remember of that half and then the continuation.

updated: book finished on 09.11.2023!

back to the list here


his whole point here is going to be that the same mental mechanisms that are involved in creation of dreams (condensation, unification, replacing with a symbol tied via association.... like, the processes that in dreams cause figures that have mixed characteristics of several people or like situations where some people are substituted for someone else, or where a symbol replaces something sexual... etc) are involved in creation of jokes, and he's going somewhere further in it to where there's some relation between the pleasure joking gives and the childhood psychosexuality, but in the first half of the book, which is the one i read so far, he's been analyzing the technical side of how jokes work and identifying these mechanisms in them and doing reduction of form which usually results in that when these mechanisms are removed from a joke story it stops being funny even if all elements are still included - and also identifying i.e. jokes based on revealing subconscious processes against a person's will i.e. automatism (jokes based on saying something out of habit in a context where it works against your interest and akin). he also identified that the funniest jokes tend to either have sexual undertone or be based on sarcasm, satire, snapback to a mean line or otherwise attack or defence, aka to have a "tendency" rather than just be a game of words (these are also funny but notably less). it's all genuinely interesting and very in depth, and i'm curious of the second half of this book bc that's where he'll tie the whole thing back to childhood psychosexuality.

now he's analysing sex jokes that's interesting. essentially he believes initially obscenity was a way of usually male (in general he's discussing it in heterosexual context because obvious) flirt towards a woman, as in it was supposed to reveal the arousal of the man being graphic (like, the fact they're horny and thinking about sex rn) to the woman present, who would also become aroused as response, or flustered/embarrassed which is also a form of filtered arousal response, and was often something resorted to when there were third parties present and therefore more overt flirt and sex weren't possible, so that way the man could initiate indirect contact and also "win" the third party as an ally by giving them the pleasure that resulted from laughing at it - hence why in lower classes of freud's times society (we'll get to that) presence of a woman (i.e. a waitress) would encourage the men to be graphic and obscene. another function as he sees would've been replacement for sexual aggression, as in making a woman uncomfortable with obscenity as substitute for sexual assault, especially if there was a societal or religious taboo against rape, or substitute for overt harassment towards a woman who wasn't "available", i.e. was your brother's wife and you being a sexually aggressive man couldn't assault her then you made her uncomfortable, or if you were less sexually aggressive but found her hot, would try to make her flustered in that substitute way. he thus believes being graphic asf about women and doing "swine" humour in all-male circles would've been a form of mental sexual aggression towards women in concept (from me: this is also why such jokes are often so heavily misogynistic i think). now however when it comes to analysis of upper classes - freud notes that upper class women are socialised into extreme sexual repression and thus unlikely to respond positively (by being either aroused or flustered) to sex jokes and are more likely to freak out bc they strongly repress the natural response they would've had if they had any amount of attraction to the man joking; thus upper class men act the opposite and shut down about sex around women, but often get very graphic when they end up around a lower class woman with whom they feel "allowed" (also an expression of power over her). he also notes that upper classes take well to subtle sex jokes based on implication which have an intellectual coating and the more implicit the joke is the more likely it is to be taken well even by upper class women; he thinks therefore in these circles if men want to use sex jokes to flirt indirectly by showing off their sexuality and libido, they have to dress it up in a more technical humour form so it can "pass" the repression (not trigger the negative/oppositional repression based emotional response) to achieve the same result.

now he's on the aggressive jokes part and saying the same thing as nietzsche that national laws originated from tribe laws which were never meant to include outsiders and therefore communuties don't repress their aggressive instincts towards different nations in war because the societal mechanisms that installed the repression aren't at work !!! i love it when my babygirls get to the same conclusions.

freud's observations on aggressive humour are mainly obvious but there's an interesting one which concludes that when we laugh at a sarcastic remark we don't inquire whether it's true or not, if we find it funny we assume it must have some level of truth to it so we can laugh at it or we just don't care because it's funny, and thus it wins the aggressor support of third parties because they're not inquiring whether the person whom the funny sarcasm concerns is being treated fairly and isn't being harmed

OK FREUD IS HAVING A MARXIST MOMENT NOW?? he's saying poor people's jokes about morality that promotes sacrifices and modesty etc are an act of opposition that comes from the fact said morality is created by the rich who don't need to make sacrifices and have their needs met, but it's not allowed societally to point it out openly, and then a few paragraphs later he says "only growing unsatisfied needs can create a force that eventually changes the societal order", and then he's on about jokes about marriage and considers them to be oppositional to the institution because sexual freedom is one of the most basic human needs so it expresses itself that way??? i mean a lot of marriage jokes are misogyny but he's fr being like "the fact that marriage isn't an institution within which sexual needs can be satisfied (...) cannot be openly said therefore in the humour the truth is expressed in a roundabout way".


i'm continuing with freud and he's figured that jokes with "tendencies" referred to hereā  aka sex reference jokes or sarcastic/mean jokes are naturally found the funniest, and he's basically justifying it with "economics" since they allow for externally expressing an otherwise repressed tendency whereas repressing it takes energy and so it's like "unleashing yourself", having a moment of "freedom" in the usually leashed tendency, and thus it provokes pleasure (certain psychological relief that comes from roundabout way overcoming repression) which makes sense and then he got onto "innocent" jokes (mainly word games without "tendencies") and why they're funny (although less funny) and he did a whole analysis which he concluded with they're funny bc they're about finding a familiar but unexpected association, like finding something familiar/recognized, and there he referred to general pleasure of recognizing things one knows, and he also concludes that these jokes usually contain a buildup meant to lead associations one way to then surprise with another so that the recognizing is unexpected, and so it's like, the mind willingly creating obstacles to then defeat for the joy of defeating obstacles, and while Freud does very much endorse that he then introduces a theory about how that is related to pleasure of like, power, overcoming an obstacle, dopamine kick from that. and Freud himself thinks purely knowledge being a source of joy is enough and the power thing is secondary and not necessary to include but he introduced it regardless and IT'S SO WONDERFULLY NIETZSCHEAN I'M GOING TO CRY. the idea that the human brain is mainly a machine meant to exercise its will on the surroundings for resources to satisfy its needs, WHICH PERFECTLY HOLDS UP WITH EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY and was also introduced by nietzsche way before proper sociobiology happened.... I AM GOING TO CRYYYYYYY SO BEAUTIFUL I LOVE TO SEE MY BABYGIRLS LEND TO EACH OTHER AND MAKE SENSE TOGETHER (normal person here).

personally i love that anecdote i found the other day of a contemporary to freud and his first students woman saying she "doesn't like freudists because they think about sex all the time and just assume so does everyone else". i find it very funny, freud would have a theory why and he'd be perfectly right.


i'm reading freud and he's explaining the way mental forces that participate in creation of a joke (especially one with a tendency) kinda enforce each other in terms of causing pleasure in that they, when combined, cause more pleasure than one would get if considering them separately then adding up, because there's a certain additional benefit of combination; he thinks the same applies to aesthetic pleasure (art). he compared it to foreplay and the creation of pleasure which serves adding power to another bigger pleasure - i like the idea of something like arithmetic of pleasure being real. it's a hot concept. in this case it's the combination benefit but also apparently benefit from doing the forbidden (repressed) - benefit of following a temptation, not just from whatever desire the temptation was for and then the pleasure of resolving or creating a mental riddle but also the pleasure of following the temptation and thus going against the superego.

the idea that humans overall naturally derive pleasure from doing what is forbidden - including doing what is inappropriate or illogical - is in general interesting for two reasons.

he earlier discussed widely so called "joy of nonsense", which is essentially this.

pleasure of doing something dumb because it goes against the principle that you must make sense, which is the earliest limitation imposed on a human - when they learn proper language, communication, behaviour etc they quickly learn that they can't just say whatever and do whatever whenever and have to adjust to situations and forsee consequences and say sentences and words that are logically coherent etc, therefore it's a forbidden pleasure to go against principles of what one believes is logical and instead act on autonomy/ownership of thoughts by ignoring the superego. freud thinks this mechanism participates in creation of jokes also. which is interesting from at least two separate perspectives.

one being where humans naturally find it pleasurable to overcome whatever limitations are there including their own and situational - which is very nietzschean; plays into this idea that brains exist to subjugate surroundings to satisfy needs, act out the organism's agenda and thus their basic principle is to be able to prioritise this agenda over anything that may limit it (will to power). which i find very enciting personally.

the other pov from which it's interesting it's the pleasure of nonsense part since it may relate to art - that's my addition to freud here. part of the point of art is that it exists for itself and to play into unspecified aesthetic senses of the brain - it's not meant to be useful or practical; so i personally support miller's concept that art evolved as a courtship/mating tactic thing... but i think this joy of nonsense thing may have participated in it - joy of creating something that's not pragmatically needed and useful and doesn't have an external purpose or necessity.

i'm now also considering whether freud having been raised in judaism (later being an atheist) rather than christianity impacted his philosophy.

he would still inevitably be exposed to christian influence in general "public sphere". but also, judaism has more materialism in theology, less neoplatonism and therefore less idealism. i think it may be that, lacking the platonic influence to the levels it was present in people from christian backgrounds, and so without the christian concept of the spirit printed into his head that much he could've been less interested in examining "human nature" in the christiancoded way where it's the conscious and free will above everything else and the mind is a coherent spiritual thing and humans are strongly different to other animals, and more likely to deconstruct the way humans think.

i've been inspired/enriched some by a close friend who's into theology here, and pointed out a catholic influence in me applying the nonsense aspect to art - my family were jews converted to christianity and i did indeed grow up catholic. this is all highly interesting.


freud exhibiting frustration that people didn't appreciate his book on the mechanisms of dreaming enough but he will "either wait for the audience to catch up or for the critics to prove his reasoning was flawed eventually" - it seems all the great people trusted themselves to be right and assumed people were just too dumb or not ready to get it. "i'll just wait until yall get why i'm right lol".

he believes there's basically 4 elements of processing a dream (that is, producing them on the unconscious level):

  • regressive movement from thought to images
  • deconstruction of relations between the elements of the thought (only the elements that show up in it remain, not the causations etc)
  • condensation - which is using all possible similarities including far fetched associations and similarly sounding names - to minimise the remaining "raw material" to minimal symbolics (hence i.e. figures who are more than one person at once etc in dreams)
  • subversion - focus on the less significant elements of what used to be a thought - it's portrayed through a symbolic association, some detail not very relevant to it but connected, etc, instead of the actual thing
  • all that is so thoughts are processed that way instead of interrupting the process of sleeping.

    he also claims the general principle of dreams is often based around repressed wishes, and he claims dream analysis works when one approaches all elements on a dream as separate and then follows chains of association from them as absurd as they seem, in that after a few positions in it the conscious mind is usually able to grasp a relation to some conscious thoughts because recognises them in it; dreaming provides a way to unrepress something and thus use the saved mental energy to keep the attention from interrupting the process of falling asleep.

    he is now analysing how similar processes (sans #1) lead to creation of jokes, representation of things through associations and similarities, "cutting up" a context into separate elements that only reveal themselves as connected by the end etc, and provokes joy which manifests in "siphoning off" the saved energy as laughter. it sounds batshit at times but he's argumenting it very coherently.

    he's exploring the idea of elements in jokes that draw attention away from their actual point so that it gets processed subconsciously and can bypass the "censorship" in the audiences. also discussing formation of dreams and especially how dreams often operate by replacing "internal" associations (similarity, causation etc) by "external" (coinciding in space or in time, similarity in words etc). it's all very interesting. he's basically defining the unconscious (as compared to subconscious which to him is a different thing) to childhood/infantile mental processing which is why it's easier to create jokes on what level. he thinks we naturally find funny any childish processing we find in ourselves because we take joy from not having to process unconscious processing. also, by the end of the book he goes in depth into how comedy works in general - he believes situational comedy to be based in comparison between own infantile behaviours from the childhood period with the traits the adult is exhibiting due to cicumstances. generally, i found that part less interesting, but it was very good classic freud psychoanalysis with going in depth into childhood processing analysis. a very interesting element he points out is that adults find i.e. a person slipping funny "situationally" while in small children it tends to be open schadenfreude ("you slipped and i didn't!"), so the development of sense of comedy and humour is to a degree based in adapting the affects to socialisation.

    he also explores the idea of gallows humour, and finds it to be "the noblest of defense mechanisms", he also called it "keeping loyalty to yourself" despite being in circumstances that could otherwise break you - clearly his own opinion seeping through in this case, once again very nietzschean, i'm seconds removed from calling freud a closet nietzschean, though i can believe he said he never read nietzsche - he simply approached schopenhauer with the same predispositions; i find it very likely, because while he exhibits in general the same leanings his reasoning and arugmentations behind them tend to differ from nietzsche's. still, a times i'm not certain how much i believe him.

    he mentioned bergson, and what he quoted was interesting, although freud's criticism of it exhausted the topic much more than what bergson tried for - he might be worth looking into sometime; not anytime soon, but when i have a while, i've taken certain interest in him in the past already. being quoted by freud and having freud refer to him with respect as much as he "corrected" certain takes is endearing me to him in potential.

    however, i'm reading merleau-ponty and foucault now, and also more nietzsche, freud and schopenhauer, so bergson can wait.

    overall wonderful book and i very much recommend it! it was enriching and freud remains an ever loved babygirl.

    trace your footsteps home...