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March 18, 2007

EL312: Uncannable Freud

I thought that the long etymological section at the beginning of this reading would explain to me what "canny" meant (since the focus is on the uncanny). But it didn't. It came close, though, since Freud explained the German words heimlich and unheimlich. (Meanwhile, I couldn't help thinking about stopping someone from choking (heimlich) vs. watching someone choking (unheimlich?). Yeah, I guess the way Freud explained it though, it's familiarity and homelike (heimlich) and security, secrecy, and unknowing, which ultimately become the same definition for both words... so there's no choking involved except on the German pronunciations.)

I was excited when, at the end, Freud finally got around to explaining the connection of the uncanny to literature (that he implied on page 368).

...in the first place a great deal that is not uncanny in fiction would be so if it happened in real life; and in the second place that there are many more means of creating uncanny effects in fiction than there are in real life. (404)

This is really how I've always thought about the uncanny, to be honest, since I never considered it much in reality but always drew the examples from literature out into reality to dissect them as plausible or implausible, and by what circumstances. It is in this way that I can determine the differences between my reality and the literary reality and (although it might seem really elementary to say so) this is how I like to define the two as separate but equally deserving of my attention in accordance to literature.

Freud, ''The Uncanny'' -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

Posted by KarissaKilgore at March 18, 2007 3:20 PM


I really like your last sentence. I think that I got more out of that sentence than I did out of the whole article. I tend to try and make my reality fit the literature that I am reading, but forget that that is not how it works. I have to try and realize that there are two separate realities and try to analyze it accordingly. I also think that your quotation is helpfu. I read that line and thought that the whole article just snapped into place for me.

PS: I too couldn't stop thinking of someone choking when Freud used his German words. Glad it wasn't just me.

Posted by: Tiffany at March 19, 2007 10:07 PM

Haha, thanks, Tiffany! I'm glad I was able to help you out. :) I really do try to make sure that I'm separating realities because if I don't, it gets quite confusing. Maybe this is why I'm not really the biggest fan of fantasy? Oh well.

Posted by: Karissa at March 20, 2007 7:57 AM

I think what you have to remember when you are reading fantasy is that there is often nothing realistic about it except that the characters may be human (which most often they are not). I'm not sure why I struggle with the idea of separating realities, but maybe it has something to do with just separating realities that are based in reality. If you follow my meaning.

Posted by: Tiffany at March 20, 2007 8:30 AM

I wrote about the heimlich thing im my rough draft since I'm presenting this! I figured heimlich manuever can be related, so here's my silly stretch: It's defined as feeling "free from fear" on p. 387. When you do the heimlich you are freeing the chicken wing, the apple (apple of my eye, tada), or whatever fun object that was lodged in there in the first place :) In all seriousness, I found the article helpful because I had only the story book view and when we encounter it in our lives, we get a fuller definition of it. What was nice, was he defined each one of his ideas and gave alot of textual examples. If not, I might not have been able to sit through the Asian/Unicorn/Eye extravaganza we nicely call Blade Runner. It made me realize that perhaps I could condense Freud's points and have a little fun. I also appreciated your quotes, you are good at the pickin'! Tiffany, as always, I'm impressed with the way you can break things down. Thank you both :)

Posted by: Erin at March 21, 2007 6:28 PM

I love when sports commentators make statements like, "Jack Wilson really has an uncanny ability to deliver the baseball chest-high to the second baseman." I think Freud's "The Uncanny" should be required reading for all sports journalism majors.

Posted by: Dave Moio at March 22, 2007 7:32 AM

No problem Erin. Really it is all just a bunch of thoughts that I string together into something coherent have the time. My ramblings really aren't that impressive, but thank you nonetheless.

Posted by: Tiffany at March 22, 2007 8:11 AM

Can someone explain to me the concept of the Uncanny in Freudian theory? Can't quite grasp it...

Posted by: melissa at August 19, 2008 8:32 AM

Melissa, that really depends on how much detail you want, and in what context. I'm not a Freudian expert, but in literary theory, it's a sudden encounter with the familiar in the last place you'd expect to find it (like realizing your arch-enemy is very much like yourself, or when a robot seems to behave like a human, or a human behaves like a robot).

Something that's uncanny is not only weird, but recognizable. We're both attracted to and repulsed by the resulting tension between the strange and familiar. Dark doubles (evil twins) and repeating patterns (with variations that follow some different pattern) are part of Freud's conception of the uncanny.

Robotics and interactions with computer-simulated people often refer to "the uncanny valley" (a related term that describes the tension we feel as our brains respond to those elements of the simulation that seem convincingly life-like and those that are still obviously fake -- things that don't trouble us at all when we look at R2-D2 or a smiley face, which don't try to resemble real living humans). But Freud rejected the idea that this tension is an important source of the uncanny. See his essay, "The Uncanny," and ideally if you can also read English translations of the literary works he refers to:


Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at August 19, 2008 10:27 PM

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