4. The Mechanism of Pleasure and The Psychogenesis of Jokes


1. Freud proceeds to look for the mechanism of the pleasurable effect, beginning with tendentious jokes. He argues that pleasure can be said to arise from a purpose being satisfied whose satisfaction would not otherwise have taken place. The manner in which a joke leads to this satisfaction can be distinguished into two classes: 1) the satisfaction of the joke where the purpose is opposed by an external obstacle which is evaded by the joke and 2) the satisfaction of the joke where the purpose is opposed by internal impulses. On comparing these two, and finding that the latter class generally provide more pleasure, since they involve lifting an existing inhibition, whereas the former class involves avoiding the erection of a new inhibition. On this basis, Freud proposes that the yield of pleasure (in tendentious jokes) corresponds to the psychical expenditure that is saved, and thus we arrive at the principle of economy.

On looking for the mechanism of the pleasurable effect in innocent jokes, Freud concludes that the technique itself is the source of pleasure. Can this also be traced to economy in psychical expenditure?

i) In jokes which are a 'play upon words', where our attention is focused on the sound rather than the meaning of the word, we use the external associations of the word, rather than the internal associations, and the mistakes that we arrive at in this way, which provide pleasure, can therefore be associated with economy in psychical expenditure.

ii) In jokes involving methods such as unification, similarity of sound, multiple use, modification of familiar phrases, allusions to quotations etc., they all share the characteristic of a rediscovery of something familiar where we might have expected something new. This is easy to recognize as pleasure corresponding to economy in psychical expenditure.

iii) In jokes (mainly conceptual jokes) involving faulty thinking, displacements, absurdity, representation by the opposite etc., economy can be related to the fact that it is easier to diverge from a line of thought than to keep to it - more accurately the pleasure is derived when it is associated with relief from the compulsion of criticism - (which would have otherwise cost us much psychical expenditure in terms of inhibition and suppression).

In conclusion, relief from psychical expenditure that is already there and economizing in psychical expenditure that is only about to be called for, are the principles behind all joke techniques and the pleasure they derive.

Freud then looks at the evolution or 'psychogenesis' of jokes. He proposes that tin the development of jokes, arguing that they begin as play, in order to derive pleasure from the free use of words and thoughts. As we age our 'critical faculty' or 'reasonableness' puts and end to this play with words as being senseless and thoughts as being nonsensical, so it changes into jest so that it may retain the source of this pleasure and achieve fresh pleasure from the liberation of nonsense. Next, as a joke proper, but still a non-tendentious one, it gives its assistance to thoughts and strengthens them against the challenge of critical judgment. Finally it comes to the help of major purposes, which are combating suppression in order to lift their internal inhibitions by the 'principle of fore-pleasure'. Reason, critical judgment and suppression are the forces against which it fights in succession - retaining the original sources of verbal pleasure and from jest onwards opening new sources of pleasure by lifting inhibitions. The pleasure produced by either of these sources can then in turn be seen to be an economy in physical expenditure.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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