Sex: The Humor of Hostility

Those indefatigable human detergents, the censor and the prude, have utterly failed to launder, much less expunge, man's lowest literary form: the dirty joke. What accounts for its lusty and unabashed survival? Freud suggested that the smutty story verbalizes male aggressive instincts against the highly disturbing opposite sex. Somewhat embellished, this theory lies at the heart of Gershon Legman's Rationale of the Dirty Joke (Grove Press; $15), which beyond all doubt qualifies as the most bizarre book of research in recent years. Legman's study is an 811-page anthology of dirty jokes, complete...

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