The Jokes of Sig­mund Freud: A Study in Humor and Jew­ish Identity

Elliot Oring
  • Review
By – February 20, 2012
Sig­mund Freud had a well known pen­chant for the use of humor to illus­trate a psy­cho­an­a­lyt­ic con­cept, to express his sen­ti­ments about a par­tic­u­lar per­son, group, or sit­u­a­tion and to con­vey his own emo­tions about aspects of his strug­gles as a Jew and as the orig­i­na­tor of psy­cho­analy­sis. Eliott Oring, a pro­fes­sor of anthro­pol­o­gy and expert on folk­lore, uses themes that occu­pied Freud, and were a source of his beloved Jew­ish jokes, as a vehi­cle for orga­niz­ing this work. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the results of this endeav­or are mixed, as the vol­ume focus­es much more on a broad range of themes con­nect­ed with Jew­ish iden­ti­ty in anti-Semit­ic Aus­tria. The author, an obvi­ous­ly gift­ed schol­ar, with a copi­ous body of research to work with, leaves the read­er with mul­ti­ple digres­sions, innu­mer­able lengthy quotes and ref­er­ences but, alas, with­out ade­quate clar­i­ty and cohe­sion. The choice of title does not help this dilem­ma. This book goes far beyond the jokes told and referred to by Freud in his writ­ings. The work is the equiv­a­lent of a tast­ing menu at a fine restau­rant. It will be use­ful for stu­dents of fin de siè­cle Euro­pean Jew­ish his­to­ry, stud­ies in Jew­ish iden­ti­ty, and those seek­ing ref­er­ences to some of Freud’s favorite jokes and bio­graph­i­cal vignettes that under­score his pride and ulti­mate refusal to dis­avow his Jew­ish iden­ti­ty despite his rejec­tion of the reli­gion of his peo­ple. For the gen­er­al read­er seek­ing to under­stand Freud, humor, and psy­cho­analy­sis the best and clear­est sources remain the master’s orig­i­nal work: Jokes and Their Rela­tion­ship to the Uncon­scious and Ernst Jones’s The Life and Work of Sig­mund Freud. Freud‘s speech to his brethren in Vien­na at the B’nai Brith remains the most impor­tant state­ment regard­ing his Jew­ish iden­ti­ty and it is lam­en­ta­ble that it was not men­tioned or dis­cussed in the work under review. Abbre­vi­a­tions, index, notes.
Steven A. Luel, Ph.D., is asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of edu­ca­tion and psy­chol­o­gy at Touro Col­lege, New York. He is a devel­op­men­tal psy­chol­o­gist and psy­cho­an­a­lyst in pri­vate prac­tice. He is co-edi­tor (with Paul Mar­cus) of Psy­cho­an­a­lyt­ic Reflec­tions on the Holo­caust: Select­ed Essays.

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