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.