The joke envelope: A neglected precursor of the psychic envelope concept in Freud's writing

Moshe Halevi Spero

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


The concepts of the primeval skin ego, psychic envelope, and related pre-ego containing and wrapping functions elaborated respectively by Esther Bick, Didier Anzieu, and Francis Tustin occupy an important position in contemporary psychoanalytic theory and clinical practice. The psychic envelope begins as a virtual mental protostructure ("proto" because it is not yet based on fully symbolized representations) that holds the budding mind together pending further developments. With maturity, the enveloping functions adopt symbolized, metaphoric form (for example, the aesthetic use of cloth, the analytic framework), but can regress to more concrete and pathological forms. The aforementioned authors based their ideas on a cluster of specific allusions to the idea of a psychic covering, barrier, or envelope in Freud's work. Yet they neglected one reference, hidden in Freud's analysis of the structure of jokes and humor: the "joke envelope" - die witzige Einkleidung. The present essay explores Freud's use of the term Einkleidung, including his intriguing idea that a joke requires three people whereas a dream does not and the fact that Freud nowhere speaks of a "dream envelope." I take the "joke envelope" beyond its original context and posit a relationship between laughter and the early, normative traumas of breathing, crying, and loss, and the dawn of rhythmic envelopes that enable mentalization. Jokes and joking symbolically repeat the early rupture and rapture of breathing and self-other dif ferentiation and the internalization of maternal containing and envelopment.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Psychoanalytic Study of the Child
Subtitle of host publicationVolume 64
PublisherYale University Press
Number of pages26
ISBN (Print)9780300153293
StatePublished - 2010


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