David Sedaris uses humor in various ways in his novel Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. His comedic wit is demonstrated throughout the novel, through his command of sarcasm, descriptions of ridiculous situations, as well as in his treatment of more serious and tragic subjects. I’m sure all of the philosophers we have read would have something to say about his sometimes malicious and rather unique use of humor, but I found myself entertained particularly by what Freud’s opinion of Sedaris would be, especially in terms of his personal method of releasing nervous energy, as demonstrated in the chapter entitled “Chicken in the Henhouse”.
Sedaris describes how his “conscience is cross-wired with [his] sweat glands,” and continues to explain in detail how he was dripping with sweat while helping a little boy carry coffee, perspiring with the fear he would be accused of being a homosexual pedophile (217). I couldn’t help but be reminded of Freud’s ideas of superfluous energy and the forms it emerges in. While many experience nervous laughter in an uncomfortable situation, Sedaris reveals the other possibilities, as he experiences nervous uncontrollable sweating, with the occasional bout of nervous head-touching.
For me this sparked an interest in what other nervous habits people may exhibit as a form of energy release, whether in a humorous or awkward situation. Clearly Sedaris’ reaction does not stem from amusement, although that is definitely what I got out of his story. I felt like perhaps the different forms of these knee jerk and uncontrollable releases speak to the personal experiences or inherent qualities of the individual. It is clear that Sedaris, who puts his life on display for others to judge and analyze, reveals painful moments of his life through humorous anecdotes. Maybe Freud would say the tendency to sweat reveals an inner insecurity that is lingering, or that the desire to touch someone’s head is an attempt to find something real to hold on to in the absurd and sometimes chaotic experiences of Sedaris’ life and childhood. Whatever the psychological reason may be behind Sedaris’ nervous perspiration problem, I think his whole memoir uses the idea of releasing something. Whether it be bad memories or leftover energy or something intangible, I imagine writing down his life with a humorous twist acted in a form of catharsis, as a channel of discharging something painful or even unconsciously repressed.