1st Edition

Humor and Psyche Psychoanalytic Perspectives

By James W. Barron Copyright 1999
    246 Pages
    by Routledge

    246 Pages
    by Routledge

    Humor, a topic that engaged Sigmund Freud both early and late in his career, is richly intertwined with character, with creativity, and with the theory and practice of psychoanalytic therapy. Yet, until very recently, analysts ignored Freud's lead and relegated humor to the periphery of their concerns. Humor and Psyche not only remedies previous neglect of the role of humor in the psychoanalytic situation but opens to a broad and balanced consideration of the role of humor in psychological life.

    Section I provides historical and theoretical perspectives on the concept of humor. Contributors review Freudian and post-Freudian theories of humor, address the inseparability of humor and play, adumbrate a postmodernist perspective on humor, and focus on the unique cognitive and affective properties of humor. In Section II contributors turn to the relationship of humor to various aspects of the therapeutic process, including the relationship of humor to transference interpretation, the enlivening effects of humor on the therapeutic process, and the multiple meanings of humorous exchanges between therapists and patients. Section III concludes the volume with three fascinating essays on the relationship of humor to character and creativity. They focus, respectively, on the role of humor in the 25-year correspondence of Freud and Sándor Ferenczi, on the interweaving of D. W. Winnicott's comic spirit and theoretical innovations, and on the relationship between humor and creativity in the music of the American composer Charles Ives.

    Taken together, the contributors reestablish the importance of humor as a topic of psychotherapeutic relevance more than 70 years after Freud's final essay on the topic.  Delightfully readable from beginning to end, Humor and Psyche edifies as it entertains.

    Introduction - James W. Barron
    I.  Historical and Philosophical Perspectives
    1. The Psychoanalytic Struggle to Solve the Mystery of Humor: A Historical Survey - Martin S. Bergmann
    2. Humor and Play - Jean Sanville
    3. Cracks: On Castration, Death, and Laughter - Barnaby B. Barrett
    4. Humor and Its Relation to the Unconscious - James S. Grotstein
    II. Therapeutic Process
    5. The Delicate Balance Between the Use and Abuse of Humor in the Psychoanalytic Setting - Ronald Baker
    6. Humor, the Transitional Space, and the Therapeutic Process - Peter L. Giovacchini
    7. Humor Is a Funny Thing: Dimensions of the Therapeutic Relationship - W. W. Meissner
    III. Character and Creativity
    8. Humor in the Freud-Ferenczi Correspondence - Judith Dupont
    9. Winnicott's Laughter - Robert Rodman
    10. This Scherzo Is [Not] a Joke - Stuart Feder
    Conclusion - James W. Barron


    A graduate and faculty member of the Psychoanalytic Institute of New England, East, James W. Barron, Ph.D., has broad interests in psychoanalytic education.  Past president of the Division of Psychoanalysis of the APA, the Massachusetts Institute for Psychoanalysis, and the International Federation for Psychoanalytic Education, Dr. Barron is editor of the Psychologist Psychoanalyst and coeditor of the volume Interface of Psychoanalysis and Psychology (1992).  He maintains a private practice and is an Instructor in Psychology, Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School. 

    "In this enticing volume, editor James Barron turns our attention to humor in human psychology, that 'transformation and reorganization of experience . . . [so] valuable to the individual and society.' With a selection of leading thinkers from across the broad range of contemporary analysis, each of whom thinks seriously and deeply even when writing lightly, Barron has succeeded with a work that opens to new understanding about the role of humor in clinical work, in creativity, and in life in general. To read this profoundly thoughtful yet pleasingly delightful book is to participate in a lively conversation, one both provocative and edifying. We are in Barron's and the contributors' debt."

    - Warren S. Poland, M.D.

    "Humor in psychoanalysis and psychotherapy is a risky and complex business. It may breathe life into the process, but it may also be misconstrued as contempt. In this superb collection of essays, a group of seasoned analysts provide much wisdom about the uses and misuses of humor that will guide readers toward a thoughtful and judicious consideration of the role that humor should play in their own practices. I highly recommend this volume to beginning and experienced clinicians alike."

    - Glen O. Gabbard, M.D., The Menninger Clinic

    "It has been a long time since I have read a book that has been a source of so much pure pleasure as Humor and Psyche.  Jim Barron has done us a service with this project. He has collected a series of papers on a topic that has long been a stepchild of psychoanalytic thought but deserves a central place. Without exception, the contributors bring to bear the wit and intelligence the subject deserves. Bergmann, Sanville, and Feder were my favorites. Read the book and discover yours."

    - Arnold Richards, M.D., JAPA