In Sigmund Freud’s _The Uncanny, _he explores different definitions, translations, synonyms, and antonyms of the word that we now as “uncanny.” Ultimately, Freud points out that one of the definitions of “unheimlich”–the German word for “uncanny”–actually contradicts itself with another definition which means the exact opposite, “heimlich.” Therefore, Freud argues that uncanny things, feelings, experiences, thoughts, etc. come from things that we actually once knew but that we now repress.
One important aspect of Freud’s argument rests upon his employment of different translations of “uncanny” or “unheimlich” and “heimlich.” This is how he allows the reader to understand that there is both a definition of “heimlich” and “unheimlich” that mean the same thing. How can this set of opposite words mean the same thing? Freud explains, “…’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” (224-225).
Another important aspect of Freud’s argument is the extensive lists of examples that he uses. From the Sand Man, to epileptic seizures, to the evil eye, to castration, to perhaps the most disturbing example of all–a mother’s genitals–Freud works to help the reader view uncanniess as being something that can be experienced because of repressed emotions, feelings, and experiences. Freud describes, “It often happens that neurotic men declare that they feel there is something uncanny about the female genital organs. This unheimlich place, however, is the entrance to the former Heim (home) of all human beings, to the place where each one of us lived once upon a time in the beginning” (245).
Additionally, Freud’s concept of the “double” also aids in his argument that an experience can be described as both “heimlich” and “unheimlich” if the reader is able to distinguish between the ego and what is unconscious and repressed. Freud says, “…so that he is in doubt as to which his self is, or substitutes the extraneous self for his own” (234). Freud then goes on to list some different examples of how this is commonly manifested: reflections in mirrors, shadows, guardian spirits. Heimlich and unheimlich can both be experienced just like a physical body and a shadow can both be present.
On page 241, I was confused with the differences between Freud’s two considerations. He attributes the first consideration to the trueness of psychoanalytic theory with specific references to memory repression. He describes frightening things as “uncanny” because they reoccured (assuming that they have occurred before but the person experiencing them repressed those memories). The second consideration explains uncanny as familiar by referencing the fact that both “heimlich” and “unheimlich” share one of the same definitions. I am just confused about the differences between these two considerations. Ultimately, isn’t Freud saying that uncanny things can be both frightening and familiar either because of repressed memories or experiences or because the set of opposite words actually shares a definition?
I was also confused about the Sandman/doll example. Was Freud using this example to reference repression of childhood memories or was he using it to give an example of an uncanny experience caused by the Sandman, or both, or how the repression of childhood memories with the doll played a huge part in causing the uncanny experience?
As we’ve begun reading House of Leaves and reading about the uncanny events that unfolded there, should we also be experiencing uncanniness as we read the book?