NCSPP

Northern California Society for Psychoanalytic Psychology

From the Editor

by Shlomit Gorin, M.A.

Of late, we're hearing and reading more about satire than usual. What does psychoanalysis have to say about satire? Very little, it seems, despite its common position as object of satire. In Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious (1905) -- likely the most cited and extended discussion of the relationship between aggression and humor -- Freud mentions satire just once. "Hostile wit," he claims, serves "as an aggression, satire, or defense." Following the conceptual thread Freud unspooled, satire is often understood as a safe and economical expulsion of freed-up aggression -- internal repression is lifted, transformed, and released while external or political repression is averted (when the satire is subtle enough).
 
Not only is there a dearth of psychoanalytic discussions about satire, but there is also an oftentimes defensive, even rigid, posturing against its expression, especially when psychoanalysis is its object. Undoubtedly, caricatures of psychoanalysis abound. Take, for example, a cartoon showing Freud lying on the couch next to his female analysand, who's saying, "Men are always hitting on me." And then there's the title of the psychoanalyst's paper -- "The Puzzled Penis" -- in Phillip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint, a novel consisting entirely of Alex Portnoy's sessions with the persistently silent Dr. Spielvogel. Perhaps less funny (or not) are the caustic remarks of Russian writer Vladimir Nabokov, whose aversion to psychoanalysis has been described as "the grandest and most extravagant contempt for psychoanalysis known in modern literature" (Green). In one interview, Nabokov stated, "Freudism and all it has tainted with its grotesque implications and methods appears to me to be one of the vilest deceits practiced by people on themselves and on others. I reject it utterly, along with a few other medieval items still adored by the ignorant, the conventional, or the very sick." In another interview, he declared, "Let the credulous and the vulgar continue to believe that all mental woes can be cured by a daily application of old Greek myths to their private parts."
 
While we may bristle at these satirical portrayals of psychoanalysis, especially in a socioeconomic and cultural climate that challenges psychoanalysis's prosperity, can we also appreciate not only the humor but also the multiply layered undertones, rhetorical playfulness, and perspectives inherent in such satire? Satire is spacious and complex, often creating simultaneous access to multiple and at times incongruent intellectual and emotional parts. Sound familiar?
 
Sigmund Freud, Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, A. III. (1) & (2), (http://www.instituteofcfs.org/abstracts_12_08.html).
 
Geoffrey Green, Freud and Nabokov (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1988), 1.
 
Vladimir Nabokov, Strong Opinions (New York: Vintage International, 1973), 23-24.
 
Ibid., 66.