You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Friday, May 27, 2011


Rationale of the Dirty Joke: An Analysis of Sexual HumorRationale of the Dirty Joke: An Analysis of Sexual Humor by Gershon Legman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For years I had the old, mass-market paperback copy of this book on my shelf. It was ugly, blue, overstuffed for its format with tiny print and margins that disappeared into the seam. Generally, except for its subject matter, it was uninviting. When I saw this trade paperback reprint, with decent type and margins, I thought it would be a good chance to finally settle down and enjoy this classic intellectual tour of off-color humor.

For some reason I had never picked up on the fact that Gershon Legman was a crank. The book is unreadable cover-to-cover, but the jokes themselves are set off by italics so you can skim for those. Legman's commentary, on the other hand, alternates from the smugly academic to the downright snide Question: For which of the following groups does Legman show the most disdain? Hippies, Women, or The Negro? I'd have to go with women. His Freudian emphasis on penis envy may be a little out of date, but the disgust he feels for everything from equal rights to short haircuts could only come from the mind of someone at sea in the world of the 1960's, the time when the book first appeared.

Most of the insights he has on humor come straight from Freud's Jokes and their Relation to the Uncouncious. The only thing his book has over Freud's is the hundreds of categorized dirty jokes and his own sometime amusing but often repulsive social attitudes. It turns out there is a second volume I didn't know about, but since I knew most of the jokes in this first volume I do not thing reading further would add much to my repertoire.

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