What does psychoanalysis have to tell us about laughter? In his Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious (1905), Freud famously illuminated the Witz’s linguistic and economic properties. Linguistically, the Witz “works” like the dream (by condensation and displacement); economically, it bypasses the “inhibiting factor” both in the teller of the joke and in the listener. Jokes are serious business for Freud: like dreams, they allow aggression an acceptable form, establishing a social tie while satisfying repressed wishes.
Jokes are serious business for Lacan too. Of necessity, the analysand speaks “à coté du vrai” (beside truth) because speech ignores the real. In the symptom, however, the real manifests itself by not stopping, just like the persistent grin of the Cheshire cat. The fact that the cat disappears shows that truth lies, that the fantasy is not all. The real remains beyond truth’s disappearance. Laughter comes from the Greek “gelos.” We read the word first in Homer when the poet describes the gods’ laughter as “Asbestos gelos,” “fireproof or inextinguishable laughter.” Similarly, Lacanian psychoanalysis, which aims at the real by way of equivocation or the half-said, is one long extended joke. And the analysand’s burst of laughter is a proof that the real is touched.
For our study weekend, APW invites papers that consider the pairing of laughter and psychoanalysis. We welcome clinical case presentations that discuss the function of laughter in a particular case or at a moment in the analytic cure, close readings of psychoanalytic texts, discussions of philosophical theorizations of laughter, and considerations of laughter in cinema, literature, sacred texts, myth, advertising, and so on. The Walt Disney quotation above begs the crucial question: is laughter a critique of ideology or its guarantee?
For further details, including on registration, please download the Laughter and Psychoanalysis Flyer