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Das Unheimliche (1919) - Sigmund Freud

Related: The Sandman (1817) - E. T. A. Hoffmann - fantastic literature - uncanny - 1919 - Sigmund Freud

The Uncanny (1919) - Sigmund Freud [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Illustration by Max Ernst

Dismembered limbs, a severed head, a hand cut off at the wrist, as in a fairy tale of [Wilhelm] Hauff's, feet which dance by themselves, as in the book by [Albrecht] Schaeffer which I mentioned above--all these have something peculiarly uncanny about them, especially when, as in the last instance, they prove capable of independent activity in addition. --The Uncanny (1919) - Sigmund Freud

Description (essay by Freud)

Das Unheimliche (Eng: The Uncanny) is a 1919 essay by Sigmund Freud on the concept of the uncanny. Today it is used to define the nature of fantastic literature by theorists such as Todorov. Freud's essay was partly inspired by E. T. A. Hoffmann's tale The Sandman (1817). [Jan 2007]

Description (Freudian concept)

The Uncanny is a Freudian concept of an instance where something can be familiar, yet foreign at the same time, often being unconfortably strange. To be canny, the root of the word, is to be knowing, so therefore, uncanny is to be un-knowing.

Freud himself defines the uncanny in the following passage:

The German word 'unheimlich' is obviously the opposite of 'heimlich' ['homely'], 'heimisch' ['native'] the opposite of what is familiar; and we are tempted to conclude that what is 'uncanny' is frightening precisely because it is not known and familiar. Naturally not everything that is new and unfamiliar is frightening, however; the relation is not capable of inversion.

This concept is closely related to the concept of abject where one acts adversly to that which has been forcefully cast out of the symbolic order. Abjection can be uncanny in that the observer can recognize something within the abject, possibly of what it was before it was 'cast out', yet be repulsed by what it is that made it cast out to begin with.

Because the uncanny is familiar, yet strange, it often creates cognitive dissonance within the subject experiencing due to the paradoxical nature of being attracted to, yet repulsed by an object at the same time. This cognitive dissonance often leads to an outright rejection of the object, as one would rather reject than rationalize. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Uncanny_(Freud) [Jan 2007]

Freud sets out to trace the nature of the uncanny

Das Unheimliche is the title of a 1919 essay by Sigmund Freud.

In this essay, which has become of signal importance for psychoanalytic and critical theory, Freud sets out to trace the nature of the uncanny, “that class of the frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar” (340). In his opening remarks, Freud observes that almost nothing has been written on the uncanny in relation to aesthetics, although he refers in passing to Ernst Jentsch’s 1906 essay “The Psychology of the Uncanny”. In fact, Freud mirrors Jentsch’s approach to the subject: after an initial concern with the etymology of the uncanny, he collects “all those properties of persons, things, sense impressions, experiences and situations which arouse in us the feeling of uncanniness”, then relates these phenomena to the “primary narcissism” of early childhood and “primitive” cultures. The opening section of the essay examines the etymology of the word “uncanny”, firstly through Greek, Latin, French, Spanish and English definitions, then through a lengthy consideration of the German words “heimlich” (homely) and “unheimlich” ( “unhomely”). Loosely related to heimisch (native), heimlich can mean familiar, intimate and cherished, but its other definitions shade into apparently opposite significations, such as weird, concealed and secret: “Thus heimlich is a word the meaning of which develops in the direction of ambivalence, until it finally coincides with its opposite” (347). Linguistically, what is heimlich can thus become unheimlich, and for Freud this ambiguity is a constitutive feature of the “special core of feeling” that characterises the uncanny. --Scott Brewster, The University of Salford, first published 01 November 2002 via http://www.litencyc.com/php/sworks.php?rec=true&UID=5735 [Jan 2006]

Full text of essay

It is only rarely that a psycho-analyst feels impelled to investigate the subject of aesthetics, even when aesthetics is understood to mean not merely the theory of beauty but the theory of the qualities of feeling. He works in other strata of mental life and has little to do with the subdued emotional impulses which, inhibited in their aims and dependent on a host of concurrent factors, usually furnish the material for the study of aesthetics. But it does occasionally happen that he has to interest himself in some particular province of that subject; and this province usually proves to be a rather remote one, and one which has been neglected in the specialist literature of aesthetics. --http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/~amtower/uncanny.html [Apr 2006]

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