In Freud’s article on The Uncanny, he focuses on the unusual and it’s role in affecting the human mind. He stresses the importance of anything that is different from the norm and how that affects our way of thinking.
Three main points:
- Freud focuses first on the German word heimlich. _Freud states, “In general we are reminded that the word ‘_heimlich’ is not unambiguous, but belongs to two sets of ideas, which, without being contradictory, are yet very different: on the one hand it means what is familiar and agreeable, and on the other, what is concealed and kept out of sight” (page 225). It is to my understanding that Freud wants us to see that words such as Heimlich and uncanny can mean multiple things or have entirely different meanings. He goes on to point out the word “unheimlich,” which means the unfamiliar instead of its opposite form of “Heimlich” meaning the familiar.
- Freud also focuses his attention of the concept of how stories that are told to us as children can interfere in our minds if it provokes fear. This fear would be the unfamiliar and not of the norm. Freud states, “We know from psycho-analytic experience, however, that the fear of damaging or losing one’s eyes is a terrible one in children” (page 231). Freud’s statement is true, but I feel that anyone would be fearful of a story such as The Sand Man coming at night to steal your eyes. This fear of The Sand Man would then turn towards fear of the night since he is said to come at night only. The fear and the unfamiliar plays on the mind and turns to the fear of the unknown.
- For Freud’s third point, I want to talk about his view of fairy tales. He states, “In fairy tales, for instance, the world of reality is left behind from the very start, and the animistic system of beliefs is frankly adopted” (page 250). Freud means the fact that fairy tales are fictional, or made up, plays on our mindset of what is real and what is fake. We start to take in the unfamiliar thoughts about what is and what is not. Perhaps someone was raised to believe in fairy tales and then encounters a person who was not. They would be foreigners to each other for the separate set of ideas and norms they were brought up on.
Two aspects that were confusing:
- I had trouble figuring out the following quote, “We can only say that what is novel can easily become frightening and uncanny; some new things are frightening but not by any means all. Something has to be added to what is novel and unfamiliar in order to make it uncanny” (page 221). I might have read it wrong or just didn’t fully understand it but I’m not sure what Freud means here. How is a novel frightening if it’s been apart of history for so long? How can it be “new” as Freud states it is? Or is he saying the concept of uncanny is the “new” and “frightening” aspect to novels of present?
- I honestly started to get confused by the overuse of defining Heimlich and found it overwhelmingly hard to keep up with his reasoning behind it. I had to go back several times to understand what he was getting at. I think that threw me off of his point about Heimlich a little.
Question to the author:
My question to Freud is about the word “uncanny” itself. What would you say is the concrete definition of the word uncanny? You give many examples, but what is the concrete definition?