This essay sets out to explore the unexpected but amusing entanglement of three Jewish writers—Harry (“Heinrich”) Heine, Sigismund (“Sigmund”) Freud, and Jackie (“Jacques”) Derrida. You will not often find a reference to Heine in the work of Jacques Derrida, but you will find
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This essay sets out to explore the unexpected but amusing entanglement of three Jewish writers—Harry (“Heinrich”) Heine, Sigismund (“Sigmund”) Freud, and Jackie (“Jacques”) Derrida. You will not often find a reference to Heine in the work of Jacques Derrida, but you will find a Heine joke in Derrida’s discussion of forgiveness in Le parjure et le pardon (1998–1999)
, where the name Heine is invoked precisely in order to recall the scandalous automaticity, the machine-like quality of forgiveness. Beginning with Derrida’s surprising reference to the man George Eliot called a “unique German wit”, this essay will begin by arguing that there is something about Heine’s jokes, his Witze
, his mots d’esprit
, that not only plays up, but also paradoxically takes seriously, what Derrida, echoing Nietzsche in Of Grammatology
, describes as the “play of the world.” The second part of this essay will engage Freud’s particular and quite special relation to Heine: Heine is the third most cited German writer in all of Freud’s work (after Goethe and Schiller). Neither Homer nor Sophocles is cited more often than Heine. Indeed, a bon mot from Heine is always ready-to-hand in the face of theoretical obstacles (e.g., “Observations on Transference Love”, “On Narcissism”, etc.). But perhaps nowhere is Freud’s affinity with Heine more apparent and more striking than in Jokes and Their Relation to the
Unconscious (1905), where Heine’s witticisms offer the best and most canonical examples of jokes. In conclusion, this essay will argue that Heine’s wit can be read as a playbook—not only for psychoanalysis’s economic understanding of jokes, but also, more radically, for deconstruction’s thinking of play.