There is another world, but it is in this one.

Paul Eluard. Œuvres complètes, vol. 1, Gallimard, 1968.

Friday, November 26, 2021

My reading notes on Hugh Haughton's introduction to The Uncanny by Sigmund Freud (Penguin, 2003)

....nothing in [The Uncanny] explains the uncanny likeness of Hoffmann's story to a Freudian case history. Unless we choose to see the Freudian case-history as a transposition of a Gothic tale into everyday Viennese life.




The Uncanny by Sigmund Freud

Translated by David McLintock with an Introduction by Hugh Haughton

(Penguin, 2003)


* * *


[My notes on "The Uncanny" by Freud are here.]


My notes on the 2003 Introduction by Hugh Haughton:


The Uncanny (1919)


[....]It was at the outset of 'The Uncanny' that Freud announced 'Only rarely does the psychoanalyst feel impelled to engage in aesthetic investigations.' The uncanny is, of course, about such obscure compulsions. One of the earliest psychological investigators of the aesthetic, Edmund Burke, opposed the economy of beauty, built up around positive experience of pleasure, to the sublime, built up around the negative experiences of awe, terror and dread. In this essay Freud, like Burke, moves beyond an idea of aesthetics 'restricted to the theory of beauty', as he puts it, to explore an aesthetics of anxiety. Leaving behind the scenarios of wishful fantasy sketched out in 'Family Romances', 'The Uncanny' explores wishful fears. In this respect, it is part of the profound re-mapping of the whole psychoanalytic project during and after the First World War culminating in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920).


[....]Freud's essay on Gothic reveals the increasingly Gothic story of psychoanalysis itself as it starts to report back from the psychic underworld of the death drive.


[....]'The Uncanny' is one of Freud's strangest essays and it is about a particularly intense experience of strangeness. Hélène Cixous describes 'The Uncanny' as itself uncanny, treating it 'less like an essay than like a strange theoretical novel'.


[....]his fundamental tactic here, which, taking off from the German dictionary, is to trace the uncanny (' das Unheimlich ') back to the most familiar and homely (' das Heimlich '), and to see it as 'something that was long familiar to the psyche and was estranged from it only through being repressed'. With the death of the supernatural, it is our own and our culture's disowned past that haunts us. Setting out to unravel what he calls the 'puzzle of the uncanny' (' das Rätsel des Unheimlichen '), Freud casts himself, as is his wont, in the role of riddle-solver, and, as is his wont, sees the answers to the riddle in traces of early childhood.


[....]revolves around a vertiginous reading of a vertiginous and hallucinatory story by the romantic writer, music critic and musician E. T. A. Hoffmann.


[....]Much of it is a commentary on Hoffman's exercise in psychological Gothic, 'The Sand-Man', prompting Harold Bloom to say that 'for once Freud allows himself to be a useful practical critic of an imaginative story'.


[....]the essay on 'The Uncanny' represents an exploration of unfamiliar territory, the sublime territory of unfamiliarity itself.


[....]commentary on the power of strangeness, but one of the weirdest theoretical texts in the Freudian canon.


[....]If it re-tells Hoffmann's story, it is also, as Samuel Weber reminds us, remarkable for the multiplying 'Musterung' of allusions and examples. As a work 'The Uncanny' is an absolutely sui generis portmanteau work


[....]it is also.... to rebuff Jentsch's opening claim that 'it is a well-known mistake to assume that the spirit of languages is a particularly acute psychologist', the first section, a summary of the different definitions of the 'uncanny' in German dictionaries and in various foreign-language ones, is a virtuoso display of lexicographical research. It involves the most sustained close reading of the dictionary in all of Freud's writings.


[....]foreign-ness and familiarity that Freud treats as integral to the logic of uncanniness.


[....]the semantic structure which provides the crux of Freud's account of the relation between the Heimlich and the Unheimlich, which simply can't be domesticated into English.


[....]Freud gives a compelling summary of Hoffmann's story but makes no reference to its complex narrative structure. Indeed, elsewhere he treats dreams as much more textual constructs than he does the Romantic writer's highly self-conscious literary text.


[....]first appeared in his Nackstücke of 1816–17, a hundred years before Freud's essay, is its air of being so deeply influenced by Freud.


[....]Nathaniel is as neurotically haunted a German Romantic as one could invent, a poet with a taste for the supernatural, the melancholic and the daemonic


[....]The second letter, from Clara to Nathaniel, shows her as a shrewd secular psychologist, who argues that 'all the horrors' of which he speaks are in his 'own self, and that the real true outer world had but little to do with it'.


[....]If there is a 'dark and hostile power', she says, prophesying the reign of Freud, then 'it must assume a form like ourselves, nay, it must be ourselves'.


[....]the self-conscious narrator of the story says that 'nothing is more wonderful, nothing more fantastic than real life, and that all a writer can do is to present it as "in a glass darkly"'.


[....]continues via a series of contested, unstable readings of the present in terms of the past, and an account of Nathaniel's obsessional reading of his life in terms of 'dreams' and unconscious destiny. It is shot through with the kind of shifting hesitation between psychological and supernatural interpretations


[....]The uncanniness of the story, then, has nothing to do with intellectual uncertainty

on Freud's account, but the infantile terror of castration based on 'the substitutive relation between the eye and the male member that is manifested in dreams, fantasies and myths'. It is this that explains that the Sand-Man, so mysteriously associated with the father, is also 'the disruptor of love' and, in the person of Coppola, comes between Nathaniel and Clara, precipitating his murderous violence towards her and himself at the end of the story.


[....]Hoffmann's tale about vision and blindness is indeed built up around the motive of eyes and eyelessness.


[....]we might argue that Nathaniel is a kind of automaton himself, a fictional creation which Freud takes as real, just as Nathaniel takes Olimpia to be real.


[....]Hoffmann's story is itself both a study of imaginative artifices (represented by his father's alchemical studies, the Professor's scientific interest in automata, and Coppola's eye-glasses and telescopes), and a portrait of a would-be artist in the grip of a doctrine of romantic inspiration who 'went so far as to maintain that it was foolish to believe that a man could do anything in art or science of his own accord'.


[....]When Freud treats the story as 'sober truth' in this way, without any 'intellectual uncertainty', he discounts something of the vertiginous complexity of Hoffmann's narrative machinery, with its capacity to generate material of uncertain epistemological status.


[....]clear that comparable mirror structures of the Heimlich and the Unheimlich could be read out in other Gothic works of the same period, including Coleridge's Christabel , Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre . In all of them daemonic or unheimlich encounters could be read as encounters with the repressed and heimlich familial life of their protagonists.


[....]The question Freud's essay raises but does not answer is: whose repressed childhood returns in the uncanny in works of this kind? That of fictional characters such as Nathaniel or Frankenstein, Jane Eyre or the governess in The Turn of the Screw ? Or that of their authors, Hoffmann, Shelley, Brontë or Henry James?


[....]whereas Jensen, like Schnitzler, lived in the Freudian era, nothing in the essay explains the uncanny likeness of Hoffmann's story to a Freudian case history. Unless we choose to see the Freudian case-history as a transposition of a Gothic tale into everyday Viennese life.


[....]Having discussed Hoffmann as 'the unrivalled master of the uncanny in literature', Freud leaves the Sand-Man behind. Thereafter he wanders between different textual and empirical instances of the uncanny. Though strangely, in this text of returns, he does not return to Hoffmann again, he suggests that the literary uncanny 'is above all much richer than what we know from experience' but also intensely different from it, mainly because of our historical consciousness of genre. The supernaturalism of the fairy tale does not inspire a sense of the uncanny because there is no conflict of judgement, no clash of different models of the real in it. The same, Freud argues, is true of the supernatural in Homer or Shakespeare. Since we adapt our judgement to the conditions of a writer's 'fictional reality' ('vom Dichter fingierten Realität'), 'the souls in Dante's Inferno or the ghostly apparitions in Shakespeare's Hamlet, Macbeth or Julius Caesar may be dark and terrifying but at bottom they are no more uncanny than, say, the serene world of Homer's gods'. The uncanny, that is, unlike Burke's Sublime, is a paradoxical mark of modernity. It is associated with moments when an author, fictional character or reader experiences the return of the primitive in an apparently modern and secular context. For Freud as uncanny theorist, however, this is also a survival from the abandoned psychic culture of our own childhood, bearing the Gothic signature of our own earliest terrors and desires. For the author of The Interpretation of Dreams, childhood is where the repressed, archaic pre-Enlightenment world of primitive religion, returns in perpetually re-invented home-made forms, forcing us in some sense to repeat or recapitulate such primal myths as those of Oedipus or Moses, and such beliefs as animism and 'the omnipotence of thoughts'. For Freud, though, those nightmarish myths and primitive beliefs themselves are only estranged childhood fantasies writ large. 'The Uncanny' reminds us not only that there is no place like home, but that, in another sense, there is no other place. For Freud, our most haunting experiences of otherness tell us that the alien begins at home, wherever that may be.


[....]The early uses are Scottish, and the OED 's first four senses relate to the Scottish dialect term 'canny', with 'uncanny' meaning 'mischievous', 'careless', 'unreliable' and 'not quite safe to trust to'. It is the OED's fifth sense that Freud is concerned with: 'partaking of a supernatural character; mysterious, weird, uncomfortably strange or unfamiliar (common from circa 1850)'. OED quotes Bulwer Lytton ('If men, gentlemen born, will read uncanny books… why they must resolve to reap what they sow') and Emerson, who describes visiting England's most famous prehistoric survivals at Stonehenge ('We walked in and out, and took again and again, a fresh look at the uncanny stones'). I have found no examples of 'uncanny' in this sense prior to the nineteenth century. It gains its spectral aesthetic currency after 1850, during the period in which the modern ghost story developed. Like the ghost story, born in the era of Poe, Henry James, M. R. James and Vernon Lee, the feeling of the uncanny seems to be an experience that postdates belief in the supernatural.

     In fact most of the early literary examples are Scots, from Sir Walter Scott ('Now this wad be an uncanny night to meet him in'), Galt '(Hogmanae, for it was thought uncanny to have a dead corpse') and Hogg ('maist part of foils countit uncanny, had gane awa'). Thereafter it flickers through the developing literature of the uncanny itself. After figuring in Hogg's The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner , surely one of the most uncanny works in modern literature, it crops up in Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre when Jane, while learning German, feels herself transfixed by the blue eye of St John Rivers ('so keen was it and yet so cold, I felt for the moment superstitious – as if I were sitting in the room with something uncanny'). It then recurs in landmark late nineteenth-century Gothic texts such as Le Fanu's Uncle Silas ('eyeing those thievish and uncanny neighbours'), R. L. Stevenson's Kidnapped ('a picture of that uncanny instrument came into my head'), Rider Haggard's She ('the whole scene was an uncanny one'), Bram Stoker's Dracula ('all so strange and uncanny that a dreadful fear came') and Henry James's primal modern ghost story, The Turn of the Screw, where the narrator speaks of the story as being marked by 'general uncanny ugliness and horror and pain'. It also figures in the archetypal fable of colonial Gothic, Conrad's The Heart of Darkness, where the narrator Marlow finds in an old woman knitting in Belgium an eerie pre-figurement at home of the unheimlich darkness at the heart of European imperialism in Africa ('She seemed uncanny and fateful').


[....]Freud's haunted essay certainly put the uncanny onto the aesthetic map in ways not even he could have predicted. 'The Uncanny' has come back to haunt subsequent commentary on literature, film, photography and art ever since. And not only commentary. From the period of Kafka's The Trial, The Cabinet of Dr Caligari and Max Ernst's Une semaine de bonté, the Freudian uncanny has also haunted art and artists. Though written under the sign of the returning past, the Freudian uncanny, as both theory and narrative, shows every sign of persisting in new forms into the foreseeable future.


[cf also Tod Browning's film "The Unknown" (1928)]


[....]uncanny sense is intimately related to the antiquated primitive beliefs and forces that psycho-analysis identified as surviving in modern childhood and the unconscious.


[....]Starting out as a trip down a puzzling aesthetic by-way, 'The Uncanny' ends up reflecting on the eeriness of the psychoanalytic account of the world he has himself invented.


[....]Nothing in the Freudian world is ever given up and, as the double becomes 'an object of terror, just as the gods become demons after the collapse of their cult', as Heine shows in 'Die Götter im Exil', so it is the most familiar ( heimlich ) childhood fantasies, which lie behind the apparently shockingly unfamiliar ( unheimlich ) figures, that evoke the feeling of the uncanny.


[....]his familiar anthropological theory that the development of modern childhood continues to recapitulate the history of the species, Freud says: 'It appears that we have all, in the course of our individual development, been through a phase corresponding to the animistic phase in the development of primitive peoples, that this phase did not pass without leaving behind in us residual traces that can still make themselves felt, and that everything we now find "uncanny" meets the criterion that it is linked with these remnants of animistic mental activity and stimulates them to express themselves.'


[....]Alluding to Otto Rank's The Double, with its theory of the double as an insurance against the extinction of self, the essay goes on to give the uncanny idea of the double an eerily central place in the whole experience of modern selfhood: 

     In the civilization of ancient Egypt it became a spur to artists to form images of the dead in durable materials. But the ideas arose on the soil of the boundless self-love of childhood that dominates the mental life of both the child and primitive man, and when this phase is surmounted, the meaning of the 'double' changes: having once been an assurance of immortality, it becomes the uncanny harbinger of death.


[....]an 'unintentional return' may produce 'the same feeling of helplessness, the same sense of the uncanny', such as being lost in a wood but returning to a familiar spot, or 'groping around in the dark in an unfamiliar room' and colliding with 'the same piece of furniture'.


[....] ["The Uncanny"] has a distinctly personal edge. Amid a welter of literary references, for example, it includes two allusions to his personal reading. One of these is a story he had read during the war in the Strand Magazine which he had found 'extraordinarily uncanny'. The other is Arthur Schnitzler's story 'The Prophecy', which aroused a particularly keen sense of dissatisfaction in him for the way the author promises us 'everyday reality' and then goes 'beyond it'.


[....]The uncanny, that is, unlike Burke's Sublime, is a paradoxical mark of modernity. It is associated with moments when an author, fictional character or reader experiences the return of the primitive in an apparently modern and secular context.


[....]a survival from the abandoned psychic culture of our own childhood, bearing the Gothic signature of our own earliest terrors and desires.


[....]repeat or recapitulate such primal myths as those of Oedipus or Moses, and such beliefs as animism and 'the omnipotence of thoughts'.


[....]For Freud.... those nightmarish myths and primitive beliefs themselves are only estranged childhood fantasies writ large.


[....]'The Uncanny' reminds us not only that there is no place like home, but that, in another sense, there is no other place.


[....]the literary uncanny 'is above all much richer than what we know from experience' but also intensely different from it, mainly because of our historical consciousness of genre. The supernaturalism of the fairy tale does not inspire a sense of the uncanny because there is no conflict of judgement, no clash of different models of the real in it.



* * *



Haughton's comments on other essays in literary observation by Freud in the same volume:


'Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of his Childhood' (1910)


[....]a study of the homosexual as scientist, and of scientific research as sublimated perversion. And how, we might ask, does this affect our own reading of Freud's passion for research, including his research into the life of Leonardo?


[....]Psychoanalysis is poised between science and art, between the natural and human sciences, and it has exponents and opponents on both fronts. Freud's study offers the first sustained experiment in psychoanalysis of an artist, but from the word go, paradoxically, it presents itself as both a quasi-scientific case history and a work of experimental fiction, a work of art. It is a quasi-scientific portrait of an artist who is not only an artist but a scientist, indeed an artist

who, despite himself (or because of himself), succumbs to science. Its subject, that is, is the problematic relationship of art and science – and of both to desire. The key in this study of 'Leonardo's double nature as artist and scientist' (' Dopelnatur als Künstler und Forscher ') is 'research' (' Forschung '). The essay is above all a piece of research into the idea of research itself, the Forschertrieb or Forscherdranges that drives artistic and, more primarily, scientific research. Its first words raise the idea of 'seelendrztliche Forschung' (psychiatric research) and the essay that follows, while embodying this ideal and legitimating it, also in a sense pathologizes it, tracing it back to infantile sexual fantasies, and in particular 'infantile sexual research' (' infantilen Sexualforschung ').


[....]'Leonardo is the Hamlet of art criticism', Kenneth Clark said at the conclusion of his study, 'each of us must recreate him for himself. 33 In his own conclusion, Freud says 'I have yielded, like others, to the fascination of this great and enigmatic [ rätselhafte ] figure.' Leo Bersani speaks tellingly of the 'theoretical turbulence' of Freud's essay and emphasizes Freud's 'inability to be conclusive in his own investigation'. 34 Freud may not have made a contribution to art historical research as usually understood. We should think of 'Leonardo' rather as a Borgesian fiction about an artist, an exercise in the theory of research, an 'imaginary portrait' of a homosexual genius, a speculative experiment in psychoanalytic biography, or a fantastic intervention in the critical literature on Leonardo comparable to Wilde's 'Portrait of Mr W.H.' in Shakespeare studies. It is also, to some degree, a self-portrait in a convex mirror.


[....]many of the early reviews were scathing, particularly that by R. K. Neumann-Lankwitz in Der Sturm entitled 'The Spat-on Genius'. It described analysts like Freud as 'necro-philes and necrophagi', calling them 'psychoanalytic hyenas' who have 'invaded the literary churchyards'. Their 'latest victim', we are told, 'is Leonardo'. He tells us furthermore, in a curious reading of the paper, that though Freud 'doesn't dare to touch his paintings, he consoles himself by touching Leonardo's genitals' (this tells us as much about the fantasies of the reviewer as the author). 36 Neumann-Lanwitz is still smarting from reading Little Hans's case-history and, while avowedly grateful for the absence of references to erections and horse shit in the new study, is particularly vexed by Freudian theories of bisexuality.


[....]he later told Lou-Andreas Salomé that 'Leonardo' was 'the most beautiful thing I have ever written'. In the final analysis, Freud ironically came to value it as much for its aesthetic beauty as its scientific truth.


* * *


'Family Romances' (1909)


[....]Freud makes us think about the centrality of the family to the development of both romance and the novel. He also makes us think about our need to displace and replace our parents, revealed by the special currency of stories of foundlings, orphans, bastards and noble lineage. It seems that children, like adults, need the idea of a double life in order to survive the family. By providing an alternative genealogy, the family romance enables the child to protest against the constitutional inadequacy of history and its real family by projecting itself into the Utopian bosom of that seductive phantasm, an elective family that confirms its own narcissistic self-evaluation. There is always, that is, an imaginary family as well as a real one. The family romance plays out and explores the discrepancies between one and the other, while confirming our 'overestimation of the earliest years of childhood' and the numinous and terrible idealizations of and disappointments with our parents which lie behind most of our stories of identity. Our desire for stories, Freud suggests, is inevitably rooted in our childhood stories of desire, not least the desire to be confirmed as someone else's child.



Jay

26 November 2021


Thursday, November 25, 2021

Reading notes: Freud's 1919 essay "The Uncanny"

….fiction affords possibilities for a sense of the uncanny that would not be available in real life.


One-off essays by leaders or writers outside the normal scope of their expertise often have unique sparking-power and insight. (Examples are plentiful, for instance, in the history of the Marxist movement.)


Freud's 1919 "The Uncanny" is an example. A thinker and leader of real historical weight employs his reading experience, work of colleagues, and dictionaries from his own shelves, to minute his understanding of an intersection of art and science. 


I think it would be useful to lead-off my notes with Freud's precis of "The Sand-Man."


     A student named Nathaniel, with whose childhood memories this fantastic tale opens, is unable, for all his present happiness, to banish certain memories connected with the mysterious and terrifying death of his much-loved father. On certain evenings his mother would send the children to bed early with the warning 'The Sand-Man is coming.' And sure enough, on each such occasion the boy would hear the heavy tread of a visitor, with whom his father would then spend the whole evening. It is true that, when asked about the Sand-Man, the boy's mother would deny that any such person existed, except as a figure of speech, but a nursemaid was able to give him more tangible information: 'He is a bad man who comes to children when they won't go to bed and throws a handful of sand in their eyes, so that their eyes jump out of their heads, all bleeding. He then throws their eyes in his bag and takes them off to the half-moon as food for his children. These children sit up there in their nest; they have hooked beaks like owls, and use them to peck up the eyes of the naughty little boys and girls.'

     Although little Nathaniel was old and sensible enough to dismiss such grisly details about the Sand-Man, fear of this figure took root even in him. He resolved to find out what the Sand-Man looked like, and one evening, when another visitation was due, he hid in his father's study. He recognized the visitor as a lawyer named Coppelius, a repulsive person of whom the children were afraid when he occasionally came to lunch. He now identified Coppelius with the dreaded Sand-Man. In the remainder of this scene the author leaves us in doubt as to whether we are dealing with the initial delirium of the panic-stricken boy or an account of events that must be taken as real within the world represented in the tale. The boy's father and the visitor busy themselves at a brazier that emits glowing flames. Hearing Coppelius shout 'Eyes here! eyes here!' the little eavesdropper lets out a scream and reveals his presence. Coppelius seizes him and is about to drop red-hot grains of coal in his eyes and then throw these into the brazier. The father begs him to spare his son's eyes. This experience ends with the boy falling into a deep swoon, followed by a long illness. Whoever favours a rationalistic interpretation of the Sand-Man is bound to ascribe the child's fantasy to the continuing influence of the nursemaid's account. Instead of grains of sand, red-hot grains of coal are to be thrown into the child's eyes, but in either case the purpose is to make them jump out of his head. A year later, during another visit by the Sand-Man, the father is killed by an explosion in his study, and the lawyer Coppelius disappears from the town without trace.

     Later, as a student, Nathaniel thinks he recognizes this fearful figure from his childhood in the person of Giuseppe Coppola, an itinerant Italian optician who hawks weather-glasses in the university town. When Nathaniel declines to buy one, Coppola says, 'So, no weather-glass, no weather-glass! I've got lovely eyes too, lovely eyes.' Nathaniel is at first terrified, but his terror is allayed when the eyes he is offered turn out to be harmless spectacles. He buys a pocket spyglass from Coppola and uses it to look into the house of Professor Spalanzani, on the other side of the street, where he catches sight of Olimpia, the professor's beautiful, but strangely silent and motionless daughter. He soon falls so madly in love with her that he forgets his wise and level-headed fiancée, Clara. But Olimpia is an automaton, for which Spalanzini has made the clockwork and in which Coppola – the Sand-Man – has set the eyes. The student comes upon the two quarrelling over their handiwork. The optician has carried off the eyeless wooden doll; the mechanic, Spalanzani, picks up Olimpia's bleeding eyes from the floor and throws them at Nathaniel, from whom he says Coppola has stolen them. Nathaniel is seized by a fresh access of madness. In his delirium the memory of his father's death is compounded with this new impression: 'Hurry – hurry – hurry! – ring of fire – ring of fire! Spin round, ring of fire – quick – quick! Wooden doll, hurry, lovely wooden doll, spin round –'. Whereupon he hurls himself at the professor, Olimpia's supposed father, and tries to strangle him.

     Having recovered from a long, serious illness, Nathaniel at last seems to be cured. He finds his fiancée again and plans to marry her. One day they are out walking in the town with her brother. The tall tower of the town hall casts a huge shadow over the market-place. Clara suggests that they go up the tower together while her brother remains below. At the top, her attention is drawn to the curious sight of something moving along the street. Nathaniel examines this through Coppola's spyglass, which he finds in his pocket. Again he is seized by madness and, uttering the words 'Wooden doll, spin round', he tries to cast the girl down from the tower. Her brother, hearing her screams, comes to her rescue and quickly escorts her to the ground. Up above, the madman runs around shouting out 'Ring of fire, spin round' – words whose origin is already familiar to us. Conspicuous among the people gathering below is the lawyer Coppelius, who has suddenly reappeared. We may assume that it was the sight of his approach that brought on Nathaniel's fit of madness. Some of the crowd want to go up the tower and overpower the madman, but Coppelius says laughingly: 'Just wait. He'll come down by himself.' Nathaniel suddenly stands still, catches sight of Coppelius and, with a cry of 'Yes! Lovely eyes – lovely eyes', throws himself over the parapet. Moments later he is lying on the pavement, his head shattered, and the Sand-Man has vanished in the milling crowd.


* * *




"The Uncanny" by Sigmund Freud (1919)


I


[····]There is no doubt that this belongs to the realm of the frightening, of what evokes fear and dread. It is equally beyond doubt that the word is not always used in a clearly definable sense, and so it commonly merges with what arouses fear in general. Yet one may presume that there exists a specific affective nucleus, which justifies the use of a special conceptual term. One would like to know

the nature of this common nucleus, which allows us to distinguish the 'uncanny' within the field of the frightening.


[····]we find virtually nothing in the detailed accounts of aesthetics, which on the whole prefer to concern themselves with our feelings for the beautiful, the grandiose and the attractive.... [ about] feelings of repulsion and distress.


[····]Jentsch stresses, as one of the difficulties attendant upon the study of the uncanny, the fact that people differ greatly in their sensitivity to this kind of feeling.


[····]the uncanny is that species of the frightening that goes back to what was once well known and had long been familiar.


[····]under what conditions the familiar can become uncanny and frightening.... it seems obvious that something should be frightening precisely because it is unknown and unfamiliar.


[····]All one can say is that what is novel may well prove frightening and uncanny; some things that are novel are indeed frightening, but by no means all. Something must be added to the novel and the unfamiliar if it is to become uncanny.


[····]For [Jentsch] the essential condition for the emergence of a sense of the uncanny is intellectual uncertainty....


[····]We will therefore try to go beyond a mere equation of the uncanny with the unfamiliar and turn first to other languages.


[····]we gain the impression that many languages lack a word for this particular species of the frightening.


[····]LATIN (K. E. Georges, Kleines Deutsch-Lateinisches Wörterbuch 1898): 'ein unheimlicher Ort' ['an eerie place'] – locus sus-pectus; 'in unheimlicher Nachtzeit' ['in the eerie night hours'] – intempesta nocte.


[····]ENGLISH (from the dictionaries of Lucas, Bellows, Flügel and Muret-Sanders): uncomfortable, uneasy, gloomy, dismal, uncanny, ghastly , (of a house): haunted , (of a person): a repulsive fellow.


[····]In Arabic and Hebrew the 'uncanny' merges with the 'demonic' and the 'gruesome'.


II


*The study of dreams, fantasies and myths has taught us also that anxiety about one's eyes, the fear of going blind, is quite often a substitute for the fear of castration. When the mythical criminal Oedipus blinds himself, this is merely a mitigated form of the penalty of castration, the only one that befits him according to the lex talionis....*


[····]Let us relate this finding, which still has to be explained, to Schelling's definition of the uncanny. Separate investigations of cases of the uncanny will enable us to make sense of these hints.


[····]review the persons and things, the impressions, processes and situations that can arouse an especially strong and distinct sense of the uncanny in us

an appropriate example to start with.


[····]In this connection he refers to the impressions made on us by waxwork figures, ingeniously constructed dolls and automata.


[····]arouse in the onlooker vague notions of automatic – mechanical – processes that may lie hidden behind the familiar image of a living person.


[····]he goes on to remind us of one writer who was more successful than any other at creating uncanny effects.


[····]'One of the surest devices for producing slightly uncanny effects through story-telling,' writes Jentsch, 'is to leave the reader wondering whether a particular figure is a real person or an automaton, and to do so in such a way that his attention is not focused directly on the uncertainty, lest he should be prompted to examine and settle the matter at once, for in this way, as we have said, the special emotional effect can easily be dissipated. E. T. A. Hoffmann often employed this psychological manoeuvre with success in his imaginative writings.'


[····]Hoffmann's story 'The Sand-Man' ....in Hoffmann's tale the sense of the uncanny attaches directly to the figure of the Sand-Man, and therefore to the idea of being robbed of one's eyes – and that intellectual uncertainty, as Jentsch understands it, has nothing to do with this effect. Uncertainty as to whether an object is animate or inanimate, which we were bound to acknowledge in the case of the doll Olimpia, is quite irrelevant in the case of this more potent example of the uncanny.


[····]If [the author] chooses, for instance, to set the action in a world in which spirits, demons and ghosts play a part, as Shakespeare does in Hamlet, Macbeth and Julius Caesar and, rather differently, in The Tempest and A Midsummer Night's Dream, we must yield to his choice and treat his posited world as if it were real for as long as we submit to his spell.


[····]clear that the author wants us too to look through the spectacles or the spyglass of the demon optician, and even, perhaps, that he has looked through such an instrument himself. For, after all, the conclusion of the tale makes it clear that the optician Coppola really is the lawyer Coppelius and so also the Sand-Man.


[····]clear knowledge in no way diminishes the impression of the uncanny. The notion of intellectual uncertainty in no way helps us to understand this uncanny effect.


[····]The study of dreams, fantasies and myths has taught us also that anxiety about one's eyes, the fear of going blind, is quite often a substitute for the fear of castration. When the mythical criminal Oedipus blinds himself, this is merely a mitigated form of the penalty of castration, the only one that befits him according to the lex talionis.


[····]substitutive relation between the eye and the male member that is manifested in dreams, fantasies and myths; nor can it counter the impression that a particularly strong and obscure emotion is aroused by the threat of losing the sexual organ, and that it is this emotion that first gives such resonance to the idea of losing other organs.


[····]why is this fear for the eyes so closely linked here with the death of the father? Why does the Sand-Man always appear as a disruptor of love? He estranges the unfortunate student from his fiancée, and from her brother, his best friend; he destroys the second object of his love, the beautiful doll Olimpia, and even drives him to suicide just when he has won back his fiancée and the two are about to be happily united. These and many other features of the tale appear arbitrary and meaningless if one rejects the relation between fear for the eyes and fear of castration, but they become meaningful as soon as the Sand-Man is replaced by the dreaded father, at whose hands castration is expected.


[····]We would therefore venture to trace back the uncanny element in the Sand-Man to the anxiety caused by the infantile castration complex.


[····]we have particularly favourable conditions for generating feelings of the uncanny if intellectual uncertainty is aroused as to whether something is animate or inanimate, and whether the lifeless bears an excessive likeness to the living. With dolls, of course, we are not far from the world of childhood.


[····]children, in their early games, make no sharp distinction between the animate and the inanimate, and that they are especially fond of treating their dolls as if they were alive.


[····]there is no question of fear in the case of a living doll: children are not afraid of their dolls coming to life – they may even want them to. Here, then, the sense of the uncanny would derive not from an infantile fear, but from an infantile wish, or simply from an infantile belief. This sounds like a contradiction, but possibly it is just a complication, which may further our understanding later on.


[····]this is detrimental, not to the impression made by the whole, but to its intelligibility. One must content oneself with selecting the most prominent of those motifs that produce an uncanny effect, and see whether they too can reasonably be traced back to infantile sources. They involve the idea of the 'double (the Doppelgänger ), in all its nuances and manifestations – that is to say, the appearance of persons who have to be regarded as identical because they look alike.


[····]The double was originally an insurance against the extinction of the self or, as Rank puts it, 'an energetic denial of the power of death', and it seems likely that the 'immortal' soul was the first double of the body.


[····]But these ideas arose on the soil of boundless self-love, the primordial narcissism that dominates the mental life of both the child and primitive man, and when this phase is surmounted, the meaning of the 'double' changes: having once been an assurance of immortality, it becomes the uncanny harbinger of death.


[····]concept of the double need not disappear along with this primitive narcissism: it may acquire a new content from later stages in the evolution of the ego.


[····]Anyone who possesses something precious, but fragile, is afraid of the envy of others, to the extent that he projects on to them the envy he would have felt in their place.


[····]the principle that I have called 'the omnipotence of thoughts', a term suggested to me by a patient. We can no longer be in any doubt about where we now stand. The analysis of cases of the uncanny has led us back to the old animistic view of the universe, a view characterized by the idea that the world was peopled with human spirits, by the narcissistic overrating of one's own mental processes, by the omnipotence of thoughts and the technique of magic that relied on it, by the attribution of carefully graded magical powers (mana) to alien persons and things, and by all the inventions with which the unbounded narcissism of that period of development sought to defend itself against the unmistakable sanctions of reality. It appears that we have all, in the course of our individual development, been through a phase corresponding to the animistic phase in the development of primitive peoples, that this phase did not pass without leaving behind in us residual traces that can still make themselves felt, and that everything we now find 'uncanny' meets the criterion that it is linked with these remnants of animistic mental activity and prompts them to express themselves.


[····]two observations in which I should like to set down the essential content of this short study. In the first place, if psychoanalytic theory is right in asserting that every affect arising from an emotional impulse – of whatever kind – is converted into fear by being repressed, it follows that among those things that are felt to be frightening there must be one group in which it can be shown that the frightening element is something that has been repressed and now returns. This species of the frightening would then constitute the uncanny, and it would be immaterial whether it was itself originally frightening or arose from another affect. In the second place, if this really is the secret nature of the uncanny, we can understand why German usage allows the familiar ( das Heimliche, the 'homely') to switch to its opposite, the uncanny ( das Unheimliche, the 'unhomely') (p. 134), for this uncanny element is actually nothing new or strange, but something that was long familiar to the psyche and was estranged from it only through being repressed.


[····]we have heard that in some modern languages the German phrase ein unheimliches Haus ['an uncanny house'] can be rendered only by the periphrasis 'a haunted house'. We might in fact have begun our investigation with this example of the uncanny – perhaps the most potent – but we did not do so because here the uncanny is too much mixed up with the gruesome and partly overlaid by it. Yet in hardly any other sphere has our thinking and feeling changed so little since primitive times or the old been so well preserved, under a thin veneer, as in our relation to death. Two factors account for this lack of movement: the strength of our original emotional reactions and the uncertainty of our scientific knowledge.


[····]Since nearly all of us still think no differently from savages on this subject, it is not surprising that the primitive fear of the dead is still so potent in us and ready to manifest itself if given any encouragement.


[····]having considered animism, magic, sorcery, the omnipotence of thoughts, unintended repetition and the castration complex, we have covered virtually all the factors that turn the frightening into the uncanny.


[····]intent to harm us is realized with the help of special powers.


[····]The uncanny effect of epilepsy or madness has the same origin. Here the layman sees a manifestation of forces that he did not suspect in a fellow human being, but whose stirrings he can dimly perceive in remote corners of his own personality. The Middle Ages attributed all these manifestations of sickness consistently, and psychologically almost correctly, to the influence of demons.


[····]Severed limbs, a severed head, a hand detached from the arm (as in a fairy tale by Hauff), feet that dance by themselves (as in the novel by A. Schaeffer mentioned above) – all of these have something highly uncanny about them, especially when they are credited, as in the last instance, with independent activity. We already know that this species of the uncanny stems from its proximity to the castration complex. Some would award the crown of the uncanny to the idea of being buried alive, only apparently dead. However, psychoanalysis has taught us that this terrifying fantasy is merely a variant of another, which was originally not at all frightening, but relied on a certain lasciviousness; this was the fantasy of living in the womb.


[····]an uncanny effect often arises when the boundary between fantasy and reality is blurred, when we are faced with the reality of something that we have until now considered imaginary, when a symbol takes on the full function and significance of what it symbolizes, and so forth. This is at the root of much that is uncanny about magical practices.


[····]During the isolation of the Great War, I came across a number of the English Strand Magazine . In it, among a number of fairly pointless contributions, I read a story about a young couple who move into a furnished flat in which there is a curiously shaped table with crocodiles carved in the wood. Towards evening the flat is regularly pervaded by an unbearable and highly characteristic smell, and in the dark the tenants stumble over things and fancy they see something undefinable gliding over the stairs. In short, one is led to surmise that, owing to the presence of this table, the house is haunted by ghostly crocodiles or that the wooden monsters come to life in the dark, or something of the sort. It was a quite naïve story, but its effect was extraordinarily uncanny.


[····]'I know this place, I've been here before', this place can be interpreted as representing his mother's genitals or her womb. Here too, then, the uncanny [the 'unhomely'] is what was once familiar ['homely', 'homey']. The negative prefix un - is the indicator of repression.


III


[····]It may be that the uncanny ['the unhomely'] is something familar ['homely', 'homey'] that has been repressed and then reappears


[····]Not everything that reminds us of repressed desires, or of superannuated modes of thought belonging to the prehistory of the individual and the race is for that reason uncanny.


[····]for anyone who has wholly and definitively rejected these animistic convictions, this species of the uncanny no longer exists.


[····]It is thus solely a matter of testing reality, a question of material reality.


[····]It is rather different when the uncanny derives from repressed childhood complexes, the castration complex, the womb fantasy, etc. – though there cannot be many real-life experiences that give rise to this variety of the uncanny.


[····]we must not let our preference for tidy solutions and lucid presentation prevent us from acknowledging that in real life it is sometimes impossible to distinguish between the two species of the uncanny that we have posited. As primitive convictions are closely linked with childhood complexes, indeed rooted in them, this blurring of the boundaries will come as no great surprise.


[····]The uncanny that we find in fiction – in creative writing, imaginative literature – actually deserves to be considered separately. It is above all much richer than what we know from experience; it embraces the whole of this and something else besides, something that is wanting in real life. The distinction between what is repressed and what is surmounted cannot be transferred to the uncanny in literature without substantial modification, because the realm of the imagination depends for its validity on its contents being exempt from the reality test. The apparently paradoxical upshot of this is 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.


[····]fiction affords possibilities for a sense of the uncanny that would not be available in real life.


[····]The other species of the uncanny, deriving from superannuated modes of thought, retains its character in real-life experience and in writings that are grounded in material reality, but it may be lost where the setting is a fictive reality invented by the writer.



Jay

25 November 2021