6. The Relation of Jokes to Dreams and to The Unconscious


Freud returns to the ideas in chapter II concerning the technique of jokes and their similarities with dreams. Namely that the processes of condensation, with or without the formation of substitutes, of representation by nonsense and by the opposite, of indirect representation and so on show much agreement with the processes of the 'dream-work'.

Freud then proceeds to re-iterate the fundamental ideas behind dreams and the 'dream-work'. Namely that what we remember, the 'manifest content' is an indication of a disordered and dissociated activity of the nervous elements - the 'latent dream-thoughts'. Transformation with a view to the possibility of representation, condensation and displacement are the three major achievements of the dream-work, in proceeding from the latent dream-thoughts into the manifest dream content. Furthermore Freud distinguishes three stages in the formation of a dream: 1) the transplanting of the pre-conscious day's residues into the unconscious 2) the dream-work proper in the unconscious and 3) the regression of the dream material, thus revised, to perception, in which form the dream becomes conscious.

He then identifies four forces in the formation of dreams. 1) the wish to sleep 2) the cathexis of energy that still remains in the day's residues after it has been lowered by the state of sleep 3) the psychical energy of the dream-constructing unconscious wish and 4) the opposing force of the 'censorship', which dominates daytime life and is not completely lifted during sleep. The task of dream-formation is to overcome the inhibition from censorship - which is solved by the displacements of psychical energy within the material of the dream-thoughts.

Thus the similarities between the dream-work and the joke-work become apparent. However on further comparison, differences are revealed: the most important being their social behaviour. Dreams are asocial, remaining unintelligible to the subject and uninteresting to other people. A joke, on the other hand, is the most social of all mental functions in producing pleasure, and in its need for (generally) three people, its very completion requiring the participation of someone else - so intelligibility is (conversely to dreams) a binding factor. Furthermore dreams and jokes have grown in different regions of mental life - a dream remains a wish (despite being unrecognisable) and a joke is developed play. Dreams seek to fulfil needs through their regressive hallucination and are permitted to occur for the sake of one important one - the need to sleep. However jokes aim to produce pleasure, with no regard for the needs of our mental apparatus. Dreams serve mainly for the avoidance of unpleasure while jokes are for the attainment of pleasure - but it seems that it is in these two aims that our mental activities converge.

Freud then looks at jokes and their relation to the unconscious - seeing jests as springing from a cheerful mood, characterized by an inclination to diminish mental cathexes, in innocent jokes, that are linked to the expression of a valuable thought, the encouraging effect of mood no longer applies, rather a 'personal aptitude' affects the ease with which the preconscious cathexis is dropped and exchanged for a moment for the unconscious one. Finally joke-works receive their most powerful stimulus when strong purposes reaching into the unconscious are present - hence the frequent fulfilment of the determinants of jokes in neurotic people. So, in summary, the relation of the joke-work and its determinants with the unconscious can be seen to differ slightly from that of the dream-work and the unconscious.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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