Freud defines the ‘uncanny’ by examining the definition of the German word “Unheimliche” — “the opposite of what is familiar” (220); uncanny, however, cannot be defined in the same way. Freud continues with examples that define uncanny as a relationship to things that are known. In true Freudian fashion, uncanniness is inextricably derived from the fear of losing one’s penis. Finally, Freud finds that that which could be considered uncanny is often not due to the situations of a story.
Three Important Aspects
- “Uncanny” is not something that is unfamiliar. It is more likely something that is known, but “knowledge does not lessen the impression of uncanniness in the least degree” (230). In this way, uncanny things are known entities that do not seem to fit their known definitions — something is just not quite right.
- Literature has the ability to affect what is seen as uncanny or not. Certain things in “The Sandman” are considered uncanny because of how they are presented. Freud paraphrases Jentsch: “a particularly favourable condition for awakening uncanny feelings is created when there is intellectual uncertainty whether an object is alive or not, and when an inanimate object becomes too much like an animate one” (233).
- Uncanny can also be that which is repressed. Freud states that “is in reality nothing new or alien, but something which is familiar and old-established in the mind and which has become alienated from it only through the process of repression” (241).
Two Misunderstood Aspects
- Freud relates uncanniness and repression, but, throughout the essay, defines uncanny as a derivation of that which is known. Is something repressed inherently known, or does it become uncanny once it is recovered?
- It’s always about sex with Freud. How does the fear of castration or the uterus help define the uncanny?
I’d imagine that at some point, attempting to make future reading technologies resemble books could delve into the uncanny, or, in the case of “House of Leaves,” the book itself could almost not resemble enough what we think of as a book. Could the changes within reading media become just removed enough from the book that they become uncanny?