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FREUD'S "JOKES AND THEIR RELATIONSHIP TO THE UNCONSCIOUS"
First, I dedicate this bi-lingual edition to a few persons that with reference to this book have influenced me greatly: Joseph Klein, Mandel Berlinger, Mottl Steinberg, Moyshe Shualy-Fuchs, Richard Goldstein, and Alex Greenspan.
Secondly, I have divided this introduction into 3 parts: Freud’s text, Jewishness, and the significance of this text for me.
I have used Vol. VIII of the Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud for the English text, and Band IV of the Studienausgabe of Freud for the German text. I would have liked to have used the Gesammelte Werke edition of Freud for the German text for certain aesthetic reasons, the Sperrdruck or double-spacing used in German for italics, for instance. However, because of the greater accuracy of the Studienausgabe, coupled with the fact that some of the Standard Edition’s footnotes have been translated into German made it seem like a better text to work with.
The Strachey translation of this book happens to be the second translation of this work. The first was translated in 1916 by Abraham A. Brill as ‘Wit and its Relation to the Unconscious. The third translation of this book was published in 2003 by the retired London Germanicist, Joyce Crick, as The Joke and Its Relation to the Unconscious, as part of a series of new translations of Freud under the general editorship of Adam Phillips. The fourth translation, is supposedly being done right now and will be part of the entire New Standard Edition under the general editorship of Mark Solms and is not published yet.
This bi-lingual edition puts the reader in an interesting position. One can, for instance, take the recent translation of Joyce Crick and compare it page by page with the original German text and the Strachey translation. I myself have not done this yet, but I have done it with Joyce Crick’s recent translation of the Interpretation of Dreams and found that in many instances the Strachey translation was adequate, if not better. Also, the footnotes in the Strachey translation are at the bottom of the page, not at the end of each chapter like she has done. And her translation unfortunately has no index.
I would definitely recommend the Translator’s Preface to her new translation, concerning translation issues and problems such as how to deal with the theoretical language that Freud has uneasily adopted from the discourse of idealist aesthetics and how to deal with the jokes, of which only the Jewish jokes have stood the test of time. However, one of the things that she did not mention at all is Freud’s use of the German word ‘Verblüffung’ meaning bewilderment (perhaps related to etourdi or sideration in French). (Joyce Crick has translated it as ‘bafflement’) To show you that I’m not bluffing you can look this term up in the Konkordanz zu den Gesammelten Werken von Sigmund Freud. He used this term in his entire opus, only twenty-one times. Twenty of which are in this book and one in his Leonardo book of 1910. What conclusion can one draw from this? Perhaps, that the bewildering, stunning, shocking aspect of the Unconscious revelation has been repressed, suppressed, or just plain neglected. As has been pointed out by Paola Mieli and Alain Didier-Weill, it’s this stunning surprise element that gives a possibility to free oneself from the automatism of repetition.
Other problems of the Strachey translation are his arbitrarily making new paragraphs in the English translation and not conforming to the original text’s paragraphs. This is done quite frequently and one can see that I have had to cut and reposition the German text to conform to this. (New paragraphs in the Studienausgabe edition are not indented and if you see an indented paragraph, it’s a sign that I have had to change the beginning of a paragraph to conform with Strachey’s transgression of altering the paragraphs so that it will be easier to read the two texts together.) An example of this is on page 112 of the English translation. Out of fairness to the new Joyce Crick translation, I see that she has not made new paragraphs and has conformed to the German text’s paragraphs. Another glaring example of this is on page 234 where Strachey has packed three different sentences from the German into one paragraph in English! Again, Joyce Crick’s translation has conformed to the German text’s paragraphs.
On the bottom of page 163
of the Strachey translation, the last paragraph, Strachey has changed the
order of the sentence so drastically that it was almost impossible to follow
it from the original German. The German sentence is “Dieselbe äussert
sich darin, daß im manifesten Traum zentral steht und mit großer
sinnlicher Intensität auftritt, was in den Traumgedanken peripherisch
lag und nebensächlich war; und ebenso umgekehrt.”
The Strachey translation reads “ This is exhibited in the fact that
things lie on the periphery of the dream-thoughts and are of minor importance
occupy a central position and appear with great sensory intensity in the
manifest dream, and vice versa.” .
In the Joyce Crick translation, page 159, reads: “It shows itself in this way: taking centre-stage in the manifest dream and appearing with great sensory intensity is what lay on the periphery of the dream-thoughts and was quite unimportant: and likewise vice-versa.”
Here, I find that the Joyce Crick translation is less confusing.
One last thing that has always bothered me about the paperback editions of Freud, especially the Norton paperback edition, is that terrible photograph of Freud when he was older (when he was about sixty-five). Why couldn’t Norton have used a photograph of Freud that was taken from the same time as the book was originally published? The new Adam Phillips editions in paperback are also a bit strange-looking. The cover of The Joke and Its Relation to the Unconscious has a Magritte looking balloon with a little face on it. It’s more worthy for a cover of Frank Herbert’s Dune in my opinion. (Adam Phillips might say about this introduction, “tu quoque Herr K.!”) Now, if you take a magnifying glass and look at the reproduction of the cover of the original edition of Der Witz, that I have used for the cover of this bi-lingual edition, you will see three loops or non-knots above and an interesting topological figure below. I have not been able to identify it yet, but it is interesting to note that approximately seventy years later, Jacques Lacan will be speaking about such a topological figure, perhaps this very one!
As a collector of books on Jewish humor, I am amazed at the amount of Jewish jokes in this book. It could stand by itself as a book of Jewish jokes, as mentioned in letters 65 and 69 to Fliess. More than once I have been tempted to trace the history of each Jewish joke in this book. Even though each joke is written in German, each of these jokes was probably originally in Yiddish. The title itself, Der Witz… has led me to consider the number of Witz’s that Freud was acquainted with: Darkeschewitsch, Horowitz, Kassowitz and Plowitz.
Perhaps we should keep in mind that according to Ernest Jones, in 1905 Freud was writing Jokes and Their Relationship to the Unconscious at the same time (simultaneously) he was writing the Three Essays on Infantile Sexuality and kept the manuscripts on adjoining tables. How strange it is that the first book has over 100 jokes in it and in a way, is quite serious, and the other book, on sexuality, has absolutely no jokes. But as philosophers have often pointed out, what could be funnier than the topic of sexuality anyway? It’s as if there were a Moebius strip between these two books. Or could we say that one book is the anamorphosis of the other?
I have taken the liberty,
or shall I say chutzpah, to include a joke in Yiddish that I think Freud
would have liked:
Az me dartseylt a maysse a poyer, lacht er dray mol. Dem ershtn mol lacht er, ven men dartseylt em di maysse, dem tsveytn mol, ven men darklert em, un dem dritn mol, ven er farsteyt di maysse.
A porets lacht tsvey mol. Eyn mol lacht er, ven men dartseylt em un a tsveytn mol, ven men darklert em, vorem farshteyt er zi say-vi-say nit.
An ofitser lacht nor eyn mol, b’shas me dartseylt em, vorem darklern losst er zach nit, un farshteyn farshteyt er nit.
A id az me dartseylt em a maysse, macht er: “Veys ich vos! Alte maysses!”, un er ken di maysse besser dartseyln. (from Röyte Pomerantsen by I. Olsvanger, Schocken Books, New York, 1947)
It goes something like this:
When you tell a story to a farmer, he laughs three times. The first
time he laughs when you tell him the story, the second time, when you explain
it to him and the third time, when he understands the story.
A Gentile landowner laughs two times. One time he laughs when you tell him and a second time when you explain it to him, he wouldn’t understand it anyway.
An officer laughs only once, when you tell him, he won’t let you explain it to him and he won’t understand it anyway.
A Jew, when you tell him a story, he says “You know what, it’s an old story!” and he can tell the story better.
Actually, I myself have heard a better version where the four characters are an Englishman, a Scotchman, a German, and Jew.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS BOOK TO ME
Although you may find this
story a bit too personal, I will proceed anyway. On January 24, 1949
when I was three and a half years old, my mother suddenly died. In
addition to this I grew up in the Midwest, a depressing place and in the
1950’s, a depressing time. Some of the best moments at that time
for me were watching the Milton Berle show on television together with
my father. He would always point out to me how Milton Berle would
push the other people away from the television camera and explained to
me that Milton Berle would do anything for a laugh. So, naturally,
taking up the desire of the Other, I wanted to be a comedian. I progressed
through pretty much all of my life trying to make people laugh. My
father gave me Freud’s book on jokes when I was sixteen. I think
I stole, just like Milton Berle, the ‘thief of bad-gag’, every joke in
that book. After I would tell a joke or two, or more I would always
follow it with Milton Berle’s phrase “those are the jokes folks, I’ve got
a million of them!” Well, after several years of repeating “those
are the jokes folks” and after several years of analysis and having become
just a bit more reflective, it suddenly occurred to me, that another way
of saying “those are the jokes folks” is “those are the joke lines!”
In other words, I was sustaining or creating a version of the Name of the
Father, literally, because, my father’s name was Joe Klein. Those
are the joke lines folks!
Richard G. Klein
January 1, 2004
New York City
for: Maia Pumphrey
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