The “uncanny” is what Freud calls the ambiguous thing that frightens people. What he aims to do in this article is figure out what exactly it is that can drive a person to madness. To set this up, he tells a story of a young man who was traumatized as a child and was driven to madness in his adult life.

Important Aspects

1. Before Freud tells the story mentioned above, he explores ideas of the uncanny as interpreted by both himself and other scholars. There is one idea that states that the uncanny comes from the unknown. Something new and novel can easily spark feelings of dread. However, Freud feels this definition is “incomplete” and therefore attempts to “go beyond” the unfamiliar. He argues that the uncanny can come from the familiar by exploring the roots of the word uncanny in different languages and concluding that the word is ambiguous and has multiple meanings. This is important because it gives us readers the basis of what to expect when thinking about the uncanny.

2. From the scary story, Frued develops many different theories. The first is that the uncanny comes from the anxieties rooted in childhood concerning inanimate objects coming to life. Another is that idea of a “double” brings fear because of man’s inherent narcissism.  The last I will mention is the “omnipotence of thought.” These aspects are important for us to study as we read House of Leaves because the main character is experiencing these uncanny feelings of dread and fright. Through Freud’s research, we can examine what Johnny is feeling more deeply.

3. The third important aspect of Freud’s “The Uncanny” is that the dread could be a conditioned reaction. The uncanny feelings we may experience that are seemingly triggered by a certain event could actually be triggered by repressed memories and feelings instead. This goes back to Freud’s argument that the uncanny comes from anxieties rooted in childhood. This idea applies to our reading because it brings up the question: what is Johnny really afraid of? Is he afraid of the events surrounding Zampanó, or is it something more?

Confusing Aspects

1. Something that I would like to be explained more is the idea of “omnipotence of thought.” Freud mentions it as one of his main thoughts about the uncanny, yet it is not explained and illustrated as extensively as his other ideas.

2. The second thing I would like more explanation about is the section beginning on page 225 where the definition of uncanny is explored. Much of it goes untranslated and readers are left using context clues to guess what Freud is trying to mean by giving a definition. The main word he focuses on in section I is heimlich. I do not understand German so I was left totally clueless for a section of the reading.


The question I would like to pose to the class is this: Which of the aspects, if any, of the uncanny as described by Freud are exhibited by Johnny Truant in House of Leaves? Is it possible that he can overcome the uncanny?