One of the most significant aspects concerning Freud’s The Uncanny is that it is an essay that has received a considerable amount of attention from scholars. This is especially considering that it is used as a means of making an analysis of the literary and intellectual history. In addition, it raises a number of questions concerning how the term uncanny can be used to inform other psychoanalytic terms. Addressing the term uncanny can be conducted in a manner through which it can relate to its opposite while at the same time being used as a definition of modernity. However, among the deficiencies that the analysis of the essay seems to have is that very little attention has been paid to what the term uncanny actually is. Furthermore, little attention has been paid to how it can be used to ensure that there is the definition that it actually solid. Instead, most of the issues concerning the term uncanny are taken for granted because in the essay, it seems self-explanatory. Therefore, in this paper, there will be an attempt to explore the feeling of the uncanny in order to show that it should be looked upon as an aesthetic emotion, essentially based on the fantastic, rather than being one that is essentially based on reality.
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A close reading of the essay shows that Freud’s classification of the concept of the uncanny is one that contains two major components. The first of these is that it is an emotion, while the second is that it is an object of aesthetics that can only be approached exceptionally and carefully in a psychological setting (Freud 219; Bell 43). This classification implies that the uncanny essentially belongs to a category that in the current psychological research can be termed as aesthetic emotions. A significant observation that can be made concerning the concept of the uncanny in Freud’s essay is that during its course, there is a sudden blurring of the its being used to define the real and the fantastic. Instead, there is a central aspect within them that ensures that the twofold definition is based wholly on the idea of repetition. Therefore, the uncanny comes to mark a sphere where the material and the fanciful come to be indistinguishable. The indistinguishable aspect goes to such an extent that it comes to define the position that exists between the expectable artistic surprise and the true surprise. Thus, an investigation into the concept reveals an insight concerning the relationship between the tangible and aesthetic emotions. It leads the individual reading the essay to come to the conclusion that Freud may have actually been seeking to make a more complex exploration of the concept of the uncanny. The complexity of the definition may have been done through the advancement of an understanding of the manner through which the uncanny could evolve into a definition of two essential concepts that were based on certainty, on one hand, and the fanciful, on the other. A consequence is that it leads to more questions being raised concerning the true definition of the uncanny, because under such circumstances, it is no longer a concept that is self-explanatory as used in the context of Freud’s essay.
According to Freud, the uncanny can be primarily defined as an emotion. This is especially considering that it can be referred to as an objective quality that can be used in the process of explaining the character of the uncanny. In this case, the character can be explained as a possible definition of a stimulus, while at the same time explaining a feeling. Thus, the concept of the uncanny describes such things as unpleasant persons, processes, or objects as well as the unpleasant feelings that correspond with unpleasant experiences such as being buried alive. Moreover, the concept has a level of haziness when it comes to its actual definition (Sederholm 2). However, in Freud’s essay, it is used in a manner that seeks to show its dominance as an attribute to objects or constellations, essentially being used to describe a subjective state. There are two main hypotheses in the essay that are used in defining the uncanny. The first of these is that the uncanny can be defined as unintended repetition that takes place unexpectedly. The second is that it maintains an extremely close connection with its counterpart. The latter hypothesis seems to have received the most attention from scholars of Freud and this is despite the fact that it is essentially a variation of the first (Freud 237). The result is surprising because the first hypothesis provides a more precise definition of the kind of emotion that the uncanny is. In this case, the uncanny can be defined as a particular form of fear that is derived from the return of something that has been repressed by an individual. The return of suppressed fearful emotions implies that individuals are deeply affected by their experiences. They end up in a situation where they are more emotionally affected by those experiences that inspire fear.
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A result of the above situation is that the uncanny feeling comes to be determined by the moment of the unplanned repetition of the same experience. The experience of the repetition has to be one that is unplanned in order to ensure that the uncanny effect is developed. An experience that has been repressed is one that contains an infinite number of original effects that can end up being transformed into fear through being repressed, and later violently returning (Leonard 16). In this case, there is the implication that it is a matter of indifference whether the experience of the uncanny is what was originally frightening. Furthermore, it is also a matter of indifference whether it only carried an effect of being frightening when it actually is not frightening in itself. The uncanny can be defined as a secondary effect because it can come about because of an experience that has been repressed such as disgust, fear, or anger. Therefore, despite the origins of the emotion, it ends up developing into fear because of the repression and the return process. The latter makes the individual relieve the aftereffects of the original emotion. It is a process that can be referred to as a one where a diversity of original emotions end up being transformed into a specific emotion in what can be termed as aesthetic leveling. The aforementioned is a highly complex process which involves an individual having many different original experiences which are later repressed only to reappear of the emotion of fear (Freud 241). A consequence is that everything that the individual ends up experiencing has been developed in their mind. When these feelings are repressed, it makes the situation worse because repression involves a process where the individual does not want to have a similar experience again. Its sudden return is responded to with fear because it is not only unexpected, but it ends up bringing about memories of unpleasant experiences that are manifested in the fear emotion.
Another important aspect of Freud’s work is that parallel to his development of the concept of the return of the repressed, he also develops the concept of repetition compulsion. He comes to regard the theory of the repressed as a central concept of his work because of his belief that it is the basis upon which all psychoanalytic work is founded (Freud 243). Psychoanalytic work is that which is essentially based on the return of repressed emotions. This process goes to such an extent that it provides psychoanalysts with an opportunity to study the subject involved. During this process, it becomes possible to come up with viable conclusions concerning the origins of the problems that they are encountering. Therefore, the successful repression of emotions rarely ends up playing a role in psychoanalysis because it involves a process where the individuals involved are able to successfully overcome their fears, with the latter no longer manifesting itself. Successful repression ensures that there is no yielding of pathological consequences that may make psychoanalytic investigation necessary. In addition, it is extremely difficult to reconstruct a successful repression and in the process, it becomes impossible for a psychoanalytic investigation to take place. The concept of repressed emotions is therefore essential in the development of an understanding of psychoanalysis. This is because it allows for the creation of means that the various studies concerning how the psychoanalytic process takes place and whether it takes place successfully, can be analyzed in an effective manner. It also provides a means through which to make sure that an understanding of the origins of the fears that are manifested in unsuccessful repression is achieved. The process at the same time makes sure that there is the creation of methods that can be used to come to terms with these fears.
In a situation where psychoanalysis is mainly concerned with the unsuccessful repression process, it is essential to make sure that the main focus is that of how repressed effects return and are transformed into fear. This description has been used extensively by Freud to make a definition of the uncanny concept. The feelings of the uncanny have to have a central part in the process of psychoanalysis (Freud 241). However, the feeling of the uncanny can be undermined by the initial classificatory gesture found in Freud’s essay that states that uncanny feelings belong to the group that is classified as subdued emotional impulses. These impulses are inhibited in their aims and are dependent on a number of concurrent factors which cannot be easily determined because they are not easy to anticipate. Furthermore, there are instances where the uncanny can end up holding an extremely remote position in psychoanalysis. An example is when it comes to the instances where there are curbed and irrelevant aesthetic sensations. Thus, the study of the uncanny can be considered a province on its own, which comes about because there are numerous factors that need to be considered when it comes to the development of theories that make it relevant in most instances. The significance of this concept, however, cannot be underestimated, especially when it comes to the advancement of psychoanalytic studies because it allows for is an understanding of its various aspects. It is, however, difficult to make a further analysis of emotions that have been successfully repressed using the concept of the uncanny. To do so would involve a situation where it is difficult to unravel the origins of the repression and accompanying fears effectively.
However, the vitality of the unintended repetition for psychoanalysis is one that seems to promote the idea that a remote aesthetic is unreasonable. Only a very small number of Freud’s examples on the issue are actually derived from his own psychological practice. Instead, a majority of his concepts concerning the uncanny is taken from the literary canon that was prevalent during his lifetime (Freud 221). Therefore, rather than being based on the aesthetic qualities of the uncanny itself, Freud’s use of this concept is based on the frequency of use that this term had. While this may be the case, Freud seems to make a contradictory statement because he suggests that he begun to work on psychoanalysis because it had no scientific literature (Freud 242). He undertook psychoanalysis because he felt that it did not have enough scientific literature and because of it wanted to remedy the situation. However, he ends up doing the opposite because rather than making use of scientific sources, he ends up making use of literary sources as a means of explaining his concept of the uncanny. The first part of the essay is essentially based on a purely aesthetic concept, which creates a blur between the animated and unanimated matter. In this reading, there is a strong link between the uncanny and the skillful artistic manipulation. In other words, the major idea is that the uncanny can be generated through the use of artistic skills in such a way that it becomes possible for it to be measured by the affective reader response. In this fashion, it ends up appearing to be a technique, or what can be termed as a goal-oriented mode of production.
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One of the most significant aspects of psychoanalysis that can be derived from the essay is that it is a means through which to ensure that analytic insights that are genuine are drawn from literary contexts (Freud 233). Therefore, the concept of the uncanny is one that can be given a dual allocation as being at the center of psychoanalysis, while at the same time being in the margins of art. A consequence of this situation is that it makes it extremely difficult to determine how the uncanny works in the context of psychoanalysis. This is because it involves a process where there has to be an important analysis to determine the direction that has to be taken to determine a problem and its origins. It allows for a direct connection between the uncanny and literature because the former is essentially defined as an emotion that belongs to the realm of aesthetics. It is based on the need to ensure that there is an intrinsic link with art reception and this is especially the case when it comes to repetition as an artistic device. The concept of the uncanny can be used within the realm of psychoanalysis while at the same time being a part of the realm of art. The devices within it show that there is considerable evidence for the uncanny being a part of the margins. In this way, the uncanny is essentially an emotion or a feeling that involves a situation where there is a need to make an analysis of the various aspects of unsuccessfully repressed emotions. The process can be conducted in such a way that seeks to determine their origins so that an understanding of the psychological state of the individual can be established.
Aesthetic emotion and repetition are extremely structurally similar and this is especially considering their prevalence in classical philosophical analyses. This connection seems to have been made use of by Freud in his essay on the uncanny in a bid to ensure that there was an understanding of its role in psychoanalysis. One of the most significant results of this situation is that there uncanny is essentially an attempt to merge the real with the fantastic. It is used as a means of making sure that individuals are able to stretch the realm of reality so that they imagine what might or what will probably happen if events take a certain turn. The assessment of the uncanny is essential in building up an understanding of the manner that human beings are able to stretch their imaginations so that they produce only certain or affective responses. The concept of fear is considered to come about as a result of the uncanny. It can be considered an important method of making sure that there is the advancement of psychoanalysis because its study is based on the manner through which the emotional experiences of individuals makes them develop fantastic ideas. Therefore, under such circumstances, it becomes possible for individual to develop comic thoughts, such as imagining events that are worse than real. They can also think tragic thoughts, which essentially bring about responses that are either fearful or scary because the thoughts are at a state that would not be envisaged in reality. Individuals are able to modify reality in such a way they change it to reflect each probable or necessary reality. There is essentially an attempt to either idealize or degrade reality which results in the leveling of affective responses, and bringing about a situation where an uncanny condition is developed.
Freud’s notion of the uncanny has continued to have a prominent place when it comes to the field of psychoanalytic thinking. The notion of the uncanny is one that it has become a means through which to ensure that there is the psychoanalytic analysis of various works of literature as well as art. However the significance of the uncanny cannot be underestimated, as seen through the manner in which it is used to ensure that there is an understanding of the lives of individuals as well as their minds. The latter part essentially concentrates on making a study of the motivations behind the behaviors of individuals, and why they might not want to undertake certain activities because of their various fears. The concept of fear is one that can be analyzed through the study of the mind and the manner through which it responds to the experiences that the individual has had. The concept of the uncanny essentially refers to those experiences where those things that seem to be familiar or homely end up turning into things that are frightening and strange (Freud 247). One of the possible reasons behind the feeling of the uncanny is that despite being within a familiar environment, individuals tend not to realize that they have a number of possible conflicts or anxieties within their minds. The sense of the uncanny as described by Freud is essential in psychoanalytic thinking because it allows for the creation of an open environment where the ambiguities are accepted. In this way, this concept can be considered an indispensable part of understanding the mental state of individuals. Thus, it becomes possible to find out the reasons behind their fears can be examined and analyzed.
Freud’s concept of the uncanny is one that promotes the idea that individuals are not the masters of their own minds and that there are feelings or impulses that are often beyond their control (Freud 218). This is the case when it comes to the experiences that these individuals have, because these experiences have to be of extraordinary character in order to have a lasting effect on them. The experience of the uncanny is essentially an alien one because it is one that invades the minds of individuals and brings them into a situation where they are unable to react normally to familiar conditions. Instead, they end up being forced into situations where they react irrationally, and this is because they act on those suppressed impulses, which often come in the form of fear, that have developed because of a diversity of extraordinary experiences. This concept can be related to the artistic techniques that are associated with the aesthetic emotions that are concerned with the human mind. Therefore, when it comes to the advancement of psychoanalysis, it is essential to make sure that the concept of the uncanny is put into consideration as a means of bringing about an understanding of the patient’s experiences. The uncanny has to be considered because it enables the psychotherapist to not only understand their patient, but also help them to talk about and express themselves. By learning about everything that is in the mind of these individuals, the psychotherapist can be able to create a psychological environment that is beneficial for them. However, being too hasty in their interventions can lead to the further devastation of the patient’s mind because rather than the sense of the uncanny going away, it might end up prevailing over the patient’s life. It is therefore essential to make sure that during the psychoanalytic process, the patient is pushed towards becoming more whole through encouraging them to talk more about their uncanny experiences.
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In conclusion, in his essay, Freud essentially uses the concept of the uncanny to draw a distinction between the real and the fantastic. The latter is related to aesthetics and the distinction is made in such a way that it refers to psychoanalysis itself. The uncanny, despite Freud’s initial belittling of it, plays a central role when it comes to make psychoanalytic assessments. This is especially considering that the unsuccessful suppression and the fear effect associated with it are at the very center of psychoanalysis, and the latter can be considered a means through which to ensure that there is the production of techniques that can be used to analyze uncanny phenomena. The use of such techniques is in line with Freud’s other writings that essentially link psychoanalysis to literary pretexts. Therefore, psychoanalysis is basically a means through which to assess those uncanny moments that come about because of experiences that should have remained hidden but end up being brought to light. There also seems to be a link between Freud’s psychoanalysis and romanticism in the essay, as seen in the manner through which the techniques of producing uncanny feelings tend not to be easily classifiable as being either real fear or aesthetic pleasure. However, in this situation, Freud should have made use of more scientific rather than literary texts when providing examples concerning the sense of the uncanny. It therefore becomes essential to ensure that there is the creation of methods through which to bring about a better understanding of the concept of the uncanny in psychoanalysis because it allows for the development of a definition concerning whether the uncanny is based on a sense of discomfort or artful pleasure. Finally, based on the arguments and analyses made above, the experience of the uncanny can be considered a fantastical idea that comes about because of repressed emotions.
- Bell, John. “Playing with the Eternal Uncanny: The Persistent Life of Lifeless Objects.” The Routledge companion to puppetry and material performance (2014): 43-52. Print.
- Freud, Sigmund. “The Uncanny.” Fantastic Literature: A Critical Reader (2004): 217 – 56. Print.
- Leonard, Kendra. “From ‘Angel of Music’to ‘That Monster’: Music for the Human Uncanny in the Phantom of the Opera (1925/1929).” Studies in Gothic Fiction 3.1 (2014): 1-35. Print.
- Sederholm, Carl H. “Bodies out of Place: Poe, Premature Burial, and the Uncanny.” FORUM: University of Edinburgh Postgraduate Journal of Culture & the Arts.24 (2017): 1-7. Print.