Beyond the Banana Skin Review: Lacan, Psychoanalysis, and Comedy, Edited by Patricia Gherovici and Manya Steinkoler, Cambridge University Press 2016 ISBN 978-1-107-08617-3
Patricia Gherovici has a knack for producing books that sum up a moment so neatly that you hardly have to actually read them, though doing so is always a pleasure as well as importantly informative. Please Select Your Gender was one of those, and though it has a less catchy title, Lacan, Psychoanalysis, and Comedy may prove to be another. (The Freud Museum certainly thinks so, with a day conference on the subject of comedy and psychoanalysis in May 2019). However, it is a different kind of moment, and one that both Freud and Lacan have tried to capture without resounding success. This moment is the one when laughter becomes as important as dreams in psychoanalysis. Gherovici calls this the ‘paradigm swerve, a Freudian slip on a banana peel.’ The problem with prat falls, though, is when no one laughs – or no one even notices. And it has been three years now since the book was published.
Gherovici and Steinkoler have assembled a lovely collection of essays, two by themselves, one by Dany Nobus and others by psychoanalysts, literature and philosophy academics …all Lacanians. If you are looking for laughs, it has to be said that this book is no funnier than Freud’s one, unless you like the retro- and non-PC humour of Richard Prince, which is given a good airing by Simon Critchley. (I personally find the Freud one quite funny.) Other philosophers writing in this collection are Alenka Zupančič, and Geoff Boucher who engages with Žižek. In other chapters there is a strong strand of clinical material from psychoanalysts and a satisfying dialogue with literature (Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Henry James.)
It is notoriously difficult to talk interestingly about humour, because of the problem of trying to explain a joke. But then, outside the clinical setting, the same is true of dreams, surely? W.H. Auden said there is nothing more frightening than someone trying to tell you their dream. Which may be why both are so suited to the pursuit of the evanescent that is the essence of psychoanalysis.