This article offers a rereading of Brenner’s oeuvre with Freud, as it were, through the peeping hole furnished by the anecdotal and incongruous tale “Nerves” and its connections with the Jewish joke. Like the latter, the article argues, this story by Brenner originates in a fabric of deceit, error, and disruption, in incongruousness and a questioning of the very conditions of truth and falsity. Like the Jewish joke, Brenner’s poetics is presented as marked by disruption and disproportionateness. In lieu of the coherent and full national story, Brenner proposes the alternative poetic of the “genre of nerves.” Here, he replaces the “beautiful” with two key “artifacts”: the abject and the sublime, both involving the negative, the incongruous, and a breach with the very possibility of representation.
The article argues that a rereading of Brenner’s work with a view to Freud requires abandoning the realistic-psychological-biographical perspective and approaching the oedipal model with suspicion. “Nerves” should be read with reference to the tension between two clashing psychoanalytical perspectives: the Jewish joke, on the one hand, and the oedipal meta-narrative, on the other. Rather than uncritically adopting the latter, as is common in Brenner criticism, this article examines how Brenner subtly builds the oedipal-familial construct as a basis from which to imagine the national community. It will however to an equal extent show how Brenner punctures the over-inflated oedipal bubble by using the “double face” of the Jewish joke, disruption, and fragments of Jewish khokhmes.