"The Uncanny" Summary
The structure of the essay is divided into three sections: the first section defines the uncanny, the second section examines the short story titled "The Sandman" of Hoffmann, and the last section deliberates on the effect of the uncanny.
- "The Uncanny" is Freud's essay published in 1919 is an important work of psychoanalytic criticism that moved away from an analysis of authors to focus on themes present in literature that make the reader uneasy.
- The essay elaborates and defines the word "uncanny" and he states this word as "something that is at once frightening, yet familiar."
- He examined and adopted the etymology of the word "unheimlich" and its opposing word "heimlich," which means familiar and congenial. Freud used "unheimlich" as the contrast of the first meaning but not the second. It is considered that "everything is unheimlich which ought to have remained concealed but has come to light."
- The structure of the essay is divided into three sections: the first section defines the uncanny, the second section examines the short story titled "The Sandman" of Hoffmann, and the last section deliberates on the effect of the uncanny.
Definition of the Uncanny
- Freud stated that "uncanny effect is produced by effacing the distinction between imagination and reality." It explains that humans assume fairy tales are an imagined world and completely separate from their own. Consequently, these fairy tale events do not make humans uneasy.
- He also mentioned that being uncanny is "when an inanimate object becomes too much like an animate one." A great example of this is that children usually pretend that their toys and dolls are alive because they do not distinguish clearly between what is living and what is dead. Besides, without any fear, they often wish that their toys would come alive, or believe they do.
- Freud also mentioned that uncanny is "class of the terrifying, which leads back to something long known to us, once very familiar." The two examples for this line are involuntarily returning to the same place and encountering a scene that has seen before but does not recall when.
- He listed that uncanny is "dismembered limbs, a severed head, a hand cut off at the wrist, feet which dance by themselves." Whether animate or inanimate, each of these gives an uncanny effect.
Significant Quotations Explained
- "Thus heimlich is a word the meaning of which develops towards an ambivalence, until it finally coincides with its opposite, unheimlich." This line starts his explanation of what is uncanny and why with an exploration of the German word unheimlich. Because Heimlich indicates "familiar," he states "that what is 'uncanny' is frightening precisely because it is not known and familiar."
- "There is scarcely any other matter, however, upon which our thoughts and feelings have changed so little since the very earliest times, and in which discarded forms have been so completely preserved under a thin disguise, as that of our relation to death." This line believes that fear of mortality is a primitive fear shared by all humans. This belief traces back to "the old belief that the deceased becomes the enemy" of the survivor.
Section 1: Definition of the Uncanny
- Freud first tackled an etymological analysis of the word uncanny and applied the word unheimlich for German, which can be defined as unfamiliar and unconcealed.
- After his discussion, Schelling defines uncanny as "what was meant to remain secret and hidden has come into the open," which is associated with "in some way a species of the familiar."
Section 2: Examination of "The Sandman"
- The second part of the essay discusses and analyzes the short story titled "The Sandman" of Hoffmann where he debated against Jentsch that the sense of uncanny linked "to the idea of being robbed of one's eyes" rather than the "intellectual uncertainty" as to "whether a particular figure is a real person or an automaton."
- This section also made a connection to the idea of the uncanny with "the fateful and the inescapable", "the dominance of a compulsion to repeat in our unconscious mind", and "the omnipotence of thoughts." He stated that uncanny is long being familiar to the psyche and the difference from it now returns.
Section 3: Deliberations on the Effect of the Uncanny
- In the last section, Freud makes a contrast between "the uncanny, which a person knows from experience and the uncanny that a person only fancies or reads about."
- He suggests that "many things that would be uncanny if they occurred in real life are not uncanny in literature, and that in literature, there are many opportunities to achieve uncanny effects that are absent in real life."
- Lastly, he is not completely contented with his own conclusion. It considered that "Not everything that returns from repression is uncanny. Return of the repressed is a necessary condition for the uncanny, but not a sufficient one. Something else must also be at play here in order to create the experience of the uncanny."
The Rise of "The Uncanny"
- The exploration and examination of Benett and Royle started due to the consideration of Freud's essay 'The Uncanny.' In their book 'An introduction to literature, criticism and theory.' both Benett and Royle discuss the likeness with Freud's essay that made quotation to the etymological analysis, which portrays the point that uncanny is not something solely about the unfamiliar but instead related to the idea of the familiar.
- The concept of Sigmund Freud is adopted in the experiment done by Dr.Masahiro Mori where he concluded that if a robot more and more similar to a human in form, the affinity to this robot steadily increases as realism increased or would there be dips in the relationship between affinity and realism.
- Other literature mentions uncanny characters and events such as Dracula by Bram Stoker, The Lifted Veil by George Eliot, Mrs.Dalloway by Virginia Woolf and 1984 by George Orwell.