In Freud’s The Uncanny, he discusses the term “uncanny” and how it translates fear due to its uncertainty. He applies this term in relation to literature and how it effects its readers. He explains this notion by saying, “The subject of ‘uncanny’ is a province of this kind. It is undoubtly related to what is frightening─to what arouses dread and horror; equally certainly, too, the word is not always used in a clearly definable sense, so that it tends to coincide with what excites fear in general” (219).
The first important aspect I found is on page 220. Freud gives his readers to options when it comes to the definition and history of “uncanny.” He states that there are two ways we can go about it. The first is “…Either we can find out what meaning has come to be attached to the word ‘uncanny’ in the course of its history; or we can collect all those properties of persons, things, sense-impressions, experiences and situations which arouse in us feeling of uncanniness, and then infer the unknown nature of the uncanny from what all these examples have in common” (220). This is important because this is where Freud actually begins his argument and gives his reader a peak into what they will be looking into throughout the rest of the article. This is important to our class because we need to know what exactly “uncanniness” is, so we can apply it to our reading of House of Leaves.
The second important aspect I found is on page 221. Freud introduces Jentsch and his definition of “uncanniess.” Jentsch believes uncanniess is uncertainty. Freud compare Jentsch’s “…production of the feeling of uncanniness to intellectual uncertainty; so that the uncanny would always, as it were, be something one does not know one’s way about in” (221). This is important to Freud’s overall argument because there will always be some confusion or doubt when trying to clearly define “uncanniness.” Freud later goes on to say that “It is not difficult to see that this definition is incomplete, and we will therefore try to proceed beyond the equation ‘uncanny’= ‘unfamiliar’ (221). Both statements can apply to our class when trying to think of the effects uncanniness has on its readers. How can we properly apply it to literature when there is not one clear definition? It seems to be misconstrued in itself…Uncanniness is uncertainty itself.
The last important aspect is on page 233. Freud states that Jentsch believes that there are favorable conditions to explaining uncanniness. These conditions are “…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). This is important to the overall argument because it brings a new element into the equation. The fact that now we can view dolls (in a child’s mind) as being alive. This is uncanniness according to Jentsch because children like to make their dolls (or other toys) “come to life” in a way. This is important for our class to remember because although it may seem bizarre, it can be applied to literature because everything we read we make it “come to life” in a way as well. We bring stories to life, and that is uncanniness.
This reading is particularly difficult, and the first difficult aspect I found is on page 224. Freud discusses Heimlich and the different ways the word is meant to be used in certain context in different cultures; however, I do not understand this approach and how it helps build is argument. I cannot seem to find the correlation between the word and uncanniness.
The other difficult aspect of the text is on pages 227-230 when he discusses the Sand-Man. I find this confusing because like previously mentioned, I cannot seem to find how it connects to uncanniess. In my opinion, this does not help Freud’s argument. It seemed like he got off track when writing this and started throwing out random children’s (gruesome) stories.
My question to the class would be do you see any uncanniness in the House of Leaves?