NEMANJA: SMIRENOUMLJE

utorak, 14.08.2007.

UNHEIMLICH

Piše mi Grga o E.T.A. Hoffmannu i mačku mu Murru. To me je podsjetilo na vrtoglavu neprevedivu riječ unheimlich, kojoj smo ovdje već nekoliko puta dali da dođe do riječi, iako nismo posebno objašnjavali o čemu je u stvari riječ. A riječ je o iznimno važnoj riječi, o ambivalentnoj riječi: o riječi koja izriče ambivalentnost onog strašnog, jezovitost njegove bliskosti; prepast nam donosi ono što se kao naše vlastito promeće u strano i tuđe, recimo kao kad Dr.Jekyll, probudivši se, gledajući svoju ruku ugleda monstuoznu ruku Mr.Hydea. Ovo nekoliko tekstova o toj fascinantnoj riječi unheimlich, kojoj je uncanny samo daleki eho:

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The “Uncanny”

by Sigmund Freud


I

It is only rarely that a psycho-analyst feels impelled to investigate the subject of aesthetics, even when aesthetics is understood to mean not merely the theory of beauty but the theory of the qualities of feeling. He works in other strata of mental life and has little to do with the subdued emotional impulses which, inhibited in their aims and dependent on a host of concurrent factors, usually furnish the material for the study of aesthetics. But it does occasionally happen that he has to interest himself in some particular province of that subject; and this province usually proves to be a rather remote one, and one which has been neglected in the specialist literature of aesthetics.

The subject of the ‘uncanny’ is a province of this kind. It is undoubtedly related to what is frightening — to what arouses dread and horror; equally certainly, too, the word is not always used in a clearly definable sense, so that it tends to coincide with what excites fear in general. Yet we may expect that a special core of feeling is present which justifies the use of a special conceptual term. One is curious to know what this common core is which allows us to distinguish as ‘uncanny’; certain things which lie within the field of what is frightening. …

In his study of the ‘uncanny,’ Jentsch quite rightly lays stress on the obstacle presented by the fact that people vary so very greatly in their sensitivity to this quality of feeling. The writer of the present contribution, indeed, must himself plead guilty to a special obtuseness in the matter, where extreme delicacy of perception would be more in place. It is long since he has experienced or heard of anything which has given him an uncanny impression, and he must start by translating himself into that state of feeling, by awakening in himself the possibility of experiencing it. Still, such difficulties make themselves powerfully felt in many other branches of aesthetics; we need not on that account despair of finding instances in which the quality in question will be unhesitatingly recognized by most people.

Two courses are open to us at the outset. Either we can find out what meaning has come to be attached to the word ‘uncanny’ in the course of its history; or we can collect all those properties of persons, things, sense-impressions, experiences and situations which arouse in us the feeling of uncanniness, and then infer the unknown nature of the uncanny from what all these examples have in common. I will say at once that both courses lead to the same result: the uncanny is that class of the frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar. How this is possible, in what circumstances the familiar can become uncanny and frightening, I shall show in what follows. Let me also add that my investigation was actually begun by collecting a number of individual cases, and was only later confirmed by an examination of linguistic usage. In this discussion, however, I shall follow the reverse course.

The German word ‘unheimlich’ is obviously the opposite of ‘heimlich’ [‘homely’], … the opposite of what is familiar; and we are tempted to conclude that what is ‘uncanny’ is frightening precisely because it is not known and familiar. Naturally not everything that is new and unfamiliar is frightening, however; the relation is not capable of inversion. … Something has to be added to what is novel and unfamiliar in order to make it uncanny.

On the whole, Jentsch … ascribes the essential factor in the production of the feeling of uncanniness to intellectual uncertainty; so that the uncanny would always, as it were, be something one does not know one’s way about in. The better orientated in his environment a person is, the less readily will he get the impression of something uncanny in regard to the objects and events in it.

It is not difficult to see that this definition is incomplete, and we will therefore try to proceed beyond the equation ‘uncanny’ as ‘unfamiliar.’ We will first turn to other languages. But the dictionaries that we consult tell us nothing new, perhaps only because we ourselves speak a language that is foreign. Indeed, we get an impression that many languages are without a word for this particular shade of what is frightening. …

Latin: … An uncanny place: locus suspectus; at an uncanny time of night. …

Greek: … Eeros (i.e., strange, foreign).

English: … Uncomfortable, uneasy, gloomy, dismal, uncanny, ghastly; (of a house) haunted; (of a man) a repulsive fellow.

French: … Inquiétant, sinistre, lugubre, mal ŕ son aise.

Spanish: … Sospechoso, de mal aguëro, lúgubre, siniestro. …

In Arabic and Hebrew ‘uncanny’ means the same as ‘daemonic,’ ‘gruesome.’

Let us therefore return to the German language. In Daniel Sanders’s Wörterbuch der Deutschen Sprache (1860, 1, 729), the[re] is following entry… under the word ‘heimlich.’

“Heimlich, adj., … I. [B]elonging to the house, not strange, familiar, tame, intimate, friendly, etc. … (b) Of animals: tame, companionable to man. … (c) Intimate, friendly comfortable; the enjoyment of quiet content, etc., arousing a sense of agreeable restfulness and security as in one within the four walls of his house. Is it still heimlich to you in your country where strangers are felling your woods?’ ‘She did not feel too heimlich with him.’ … II. Concealed, kept from sight, so that others do not get to know of or about it, withheld from others. To do something heimlich, i.e., behind someone’s back; to steal away heimlich; heimlich meetings and appointments. … The heimlich art’ (magic). ‘Where public ventilation has to stop, there heimlich conspirators and the loud battle-cry of professed revolutionaries.’ ‘A holy, heimlich effect.’ … ‘learned in strange Heimlichkeiten’ (magic arts).

… Note especially the negative ‘un-’: eerie, weird, arousing gruesome fear: ‘Seeming quite unheimlich and ghostly to him.’ ‘The unheimlich, fearful hours of night.’ ‘I had already long since felt an unheimich,’ even gruesome feeling.’ ‘Now I am beginning to have an unheimlich feeling.’ … ‘Feels an unheimlich horror.’ ‘Unheimlich and motionless like a stone image.’ ‘The unheimlich mist called hill-fog.’ ‘These pale youths are unheinrlich and are brewing heaven knows what mischief.’ ‘Unheimlich is the name for everything that ought to have remained ... secret and hidden but has come to light’ (Schelling).— ‘To veil the divine, to surround it with a certain Unheimlichkeit.’ …”

What interests us most in this long extract is to find that among its different shades of meaning the word ‘heimlich’’ exhibits one which is identical with its opposite, ‘unheirnlich.’ What is heimlich thus comes to be unheimlich. (Cf. the quotation from Gutzkow: ‘We call it “unheimlich”; you call it “heimlich.”’) In general we are reminded that the word ‘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. ‘Unheimlich’ is customarily used, we are told, as the contrary only of the first signification of’ heimlich,’ and not of the second. Sanders tells us nothing concerning a possible genetic connection between these two meanings of heimlich. On the other hand, we notice that Schelling says something which throws quite a new light on the concept of the Unheimlich, for which we were certainly not prepared. According to him, everything is unheimlich that ought to have remained secret and hidden but has come to light. …

Thus heimlich is a word the meaning of which develops in the direction of ambivalence, until it finally coincides with its opposite, unheimlich. Unheimlich is in some way or other a sub-species of heimlich. Let us bear this discovery in mind, though we cannot yet rightly understand it, alongside of Schelling’s definition of the Unheimlich. If we go on to examine individual instances of uncanniness, these hints will become intelligible to us.

II

When we proceed to review things, persons, impressions, events and situations which are able to arouse in us a feeling of the uncanny in a particularly forcible and definite form, the first requirement is obviously to select a suitable example to start on. Jentsch has taken as a very good instance ‘doubts whether an apparently animate being is really alive; or conversely, whether a lifeless object might not be in fact animate’; and he refers in this connection to the impression made by waxwork figures, ingeniously constructed dolls and automata. To these he adds the uncanny effect of epileptic fits, and of manifestations of insanity, because these excite in the spectator the impression of automatic, mechanical processes at work behind the ‘ordinary appearance of mental activity. Without entirely accepting this author’s view, we will take it as a starting point for our own investigation because in what follows he reminds us of a writer who has succeeded in producing uncanny effects better than anyone else.

Jentsch writes: ‘In telling a story one of the most successful devices for easily creating uncanny effects is to leave the reader in uncertainty whether a particular figure in the story is a human being or an automaton and to do it in such a way that his attention is not focused directly upon his uncertainty, so that he may not be led to go into the matter and clear it up immediately. That, as we have said, would quickly dissipate the peculiar emotional effect of the thing. E. T. A. Hoffmann has repeatedly employed this psychological artifice with success in his fantastic narratives.’

This observation, undoubtedly a correct one, refers primarily to the story of The Sand-Man” in Hoffmann’s Nachtstücken, which contains the original of Olympia, the doll that appears in the first act of Offenbach’s opera, Tales of Hoffmann, but I cannot think — and I hope most readers of the story will agree with me — that the theme of the doll Olympia, who is to all appearances a living being, is by any means the only, or indeed the most important, element that must be held responsible for the quite unparalleled atmosphere of uncanniness evoked by the story. Nor is this atmosphere heightened by the fact that the author himself treats the episode of Olympia with a faint touch of satire and uses it to poke fun at the young man’s idealization of his mistress. The main theme of the story is, on the contrary, something different, something which gives it its name, and which is always re-introduced at critical moments: it is the theme of the ‘Sand-Man’ who tears out children’s eyes.

This fantastic tale opens with the childhood recollections of the student Nathaniel. In spite of his present happiness, he cannot banish the memories associated with the mysterious and terrifying death of his beloved father. On certain evenings his mother used to send the children to bed early, warning them that ‘the Sand-Man was coming’; and, sure enough, Nathaniel would not fail to hear the heavy tread of a visitor, with whom his father would then be occupied for the evening. When questioned about the Sand-Man, his mother, it is true, denied that such a person existed except as a figure of speech; but his nurse could give him more definite information: ‘He’s a wicked man who comes when children won’t go to bed, and throws handfuls of sand in their eyes so that they jump out of their heads all bleeding. Then he puts the eyes in a sack and carries them off to the half-moon to feed his children. They sit up there in their nest, and their beaks are hooked like owls’ beaks, and they use them to peck up naughty boys’ and girls’ eyes with.’

Although little Nathaniel was sensible and old enough not to credit the figure of the Sand-Man with such gruesome attributes, yet the dread of him became fixed in his heart. He determined to find out what the Sand-Man looked like; and one evening, when the Sand-Man was expected again, he hid in his father’s study. He recognized the visitor as the lawyer Coppelius, a repulsive person whom the children were frightened of when he occasionally came to a meal; and he now identified this Coppelius with the dreaded Sand-Man. As regards the rest of the scene, Hoffmann already leaves us in doubt whether what we are witnessing is tee first delirium of the panic-stricken boy, or a succession of events which are to be regarded in the story as being real. His father and the guest are at work at a brazier with glowing flames. The little eavesdropper hears Coppelius call out: ‘Eyes here! Eyes here!’ and betrays himself by screaming aloud. Coppelius seizes him and is on the point of dropping bits of red-hot coal from the fire into his eyes, and then of throwing them into the brazier, but his father begs him off and saves his eyes. After this the boy falls into a deep swoon; and a long illness brings his experience to an end. Those who decide in favour of the rationalistic interpretation of the Sand-Man will not fail to recognize in the child’s phantasy the persisting influence of his nurse’s story. The bits of sand that are to be thrown into the child’s eyes turn into bits of red-hot coal from the flames; and in both cases they are intended to make his eyes jump out. In the course of another visit of the Sand-Man’s, a year later, his father is killed in his study by an explosion. The lawyer Coppelius disappears from the place without leaving a trace behind.

Nathaniel, now a student, believes that he has recognized this phantom of horror from his childhood in an itinerant optician, an Italian called Giuseppe Coppola, who at his university town, offers him weather-glasses for sale. When Nathaniel refuses, the man goes on: ‘Not weather-glasses? not weather-glasses? also got fine eyes, fine eyes!’ The student’s terror is allayed when he finds that the proffered eyes are only harmless spectacles, and he buys a pocket spy-glass from Coppola. With its aid he looks across into Professor Spalanzani’s house opposite and there spies Spalanzani’s beautiful, but strangely silent and motionless daughter, Olympia. He soon falls in love with her so violently that, because of her, he quite forgets the clever and sensible girl to whom he is betrothed. But Olympia is an automaton whose clock-work has been made by Spalanzani, and whose eyes have been put in by Coppola, the Sand-Man. The student surprises the two Masters quarrelling over their handiwork. The optician carries off the wooden eyeless doll; and the mechanician, Spalanzani, picks up Olympia’s bleeding eyes from the ground and throws them at Nathaniel’s breast, saying that Coppola had stolen them from the student. Nathaniel succumbs to a fresh attack of madness, and in his delirium his recollection of his father’s death is mingled with this new experience. ‘Hurry up! hurry up! ring of fire!’ he cries. ‘Spin about, ring of fire — Hurrah! Hurry up, wooden doll! lovely wooden doll, spin about — .’ He then falls upon the professor, Olympia’s ‘father,’ and tries to strangle him.

Rallying from a long and serious illness, Nathaniel seems at last to have recovered. He intends to marry his betrothed, with whom he has become reconciled. One day he and she are walking through the city market-place, over which the high tower of the Town Hall throws its huge shadow. On the girl’s sestion, they climb the tower, leaving her brother, who is walking with them, down below. From the top, Clara’s attention is drawn to a curious object moving along the street. Nathaniel looks at this thing through Coppola’s spy-glass, which he finds in his pocket, and falls into a new attack of madness. Shouting ‘Spin about, wooden doll!’ he tries to throw the girl into the gulf below. Her brother, brought to her side by her cries, rescues her and hastens down with her to safety. On the tower above, the madman rushes round, shrieking ‘Ring of fire, spin about!’ — and we know the origin of the words. Among the people who begin to gather below there comes forward the figure of the lawyer Coppelius, who has suddenly returned. We may suppose that it was his approach, seen through the spy-glass, which threw Nathaniel into his fit of madness. As the onlookers prepare to go up and overpower the madman, Coppelius laughs and says: ‘Wait a bit; he’ll come down of himself.’ Nathaniel suddenly stands still, catches sight of Coppelius, and with a wild shriek ‘Yes! “fine eyes — fine eyes”!’ flings himself over the parapet. While he lies on the paving-stones with a shattered skull the Sand-Man vanishes in the throng.

This short summary leaves no doubt, I think, that the feeling of something uncanny is directly attached to the figure of the Sand-Man, that is, to the idea of being robbed of one’s eyes, and that Jentsch’s point of an intellectual uncertainty has nothing to do with the effect. Uncertainty whether an object is living or inanimate, which admittedly applied to the doll Olympia, is quite irrelevant in connection with this other, more striking instance of uncanniness. It is true that the writer creates a kind of uncertainty in us in the beginning by not letting us know, no doubt purposely, whether he is taking us into the real world or into a purely fantastic one of his own creation. He has, of course, a right to do either; and if he chooses to stage his action in a world peopled with spirits, demons and ghosts, as Shakespeare does in Hamlet, in Macbeth and, in a different sense, in The Tempest and A Midsummer-Night’s Dream, we must bow to his decision and treat his setting as though it were real for as long as we put ourselves into this hands. But this uncertainty disappears in the course of Hoffmann’s story, and we perceive that he intends to make us, too, look through the demon optician’s spectacles or spy-glass — perhaps, indeed, that the author in his very own person once peered through such an instrument. For the conclusion of the story makes it quite clear that Coppola the optician really is the lawyer Coppelius and also, therefore, the Sand-Man.

There is no question therefore, of any intellectual uncertainty here: we know now that we are not supposed to be looking on at the products of a madman’s imagination, behind which we, with the superiority of rational minds, are able to detect the sober truth; and yet this knowledge does not lessen the impression of uncanniness in the least degree. The theory of intellectual uncertainty is thus incapable of explaining that impression.

We know from psycho-analytic experience, however, that the fear of damaging or losing one’s eyes is a terrible one in children. Many adults retain their apprehensiveness in this respect, and no physical injury is so much dreaded by them as an injury to the eye. We are accustomed to say, too, that we will treasure a thing as the apple of our eye. A study of dreams, phantasies and myths has taught us that anxiety about one’s eyes, the fear of going blind, is often enough a substitute for the dread of being castrated. The self-blinding of the mythical criminal, Oedipus, was simply a mitigated form of the punishment of castration — the only punishment that was adequate for him by the lex talionis. We may try on rationalistic grounds to deny that fears about the eye are derived from the fear of castration, and may argue that it is very natural that so precious an organ as the eye should be guarded by a proportionate dread. Indeed, we might go further and say that the fear of castration itself contains no other significance and no deeper secret than a justifiable dread of this rational kind. But this view does not account adequately for the substitutive relation between the eye and the male organ which is seen to exist in dreams and myths and phantasies; nor can it dispel the impression that the threat of being castrated in especial excites a peculiarly violent and obscure emotion, and that this emotion is what first gives the idea of losing other organs its intense colouring. All further doubts are removed when we learn the details of their ‘castration complex’ from the analysis of neurotic patients, and realize its immense importance in their mental life.

Moreover, I would not recommend any opponent of the psycho-analytic view to select this particular story of the Sand-Man with which to support his argument that anxiety about the eyes has nothing to do with the castration complex. For why does Hoffmann bring the anxiety about eyes into such intimate connection with the father’s death? And why does the Sand-Man always appear as a disturber of love? ** He separates the unfortunate Nathaniel from his betrothed and from her brother, his best friend; he destroys the second object of his love, Olympia, the lovely doll; and he drives him into suicide at the moment when he has won back his Clara and is about to be happily united to her. Elements in the story like these, and many others, seem arbitrary and meaningless so long as we deny all connection between fears about the eye and castration; but they become intelligible as soon as we replace the Sand-Man by the dreaded father at whose hands castration is expected. **

We shall venture, therefore, to refer the uncanny effect of the Sand-Man to the anxiety belonging to the castration complex of childhood. But having reached the idea that we can make an infantile factor such as this responsible for feelings of uncanniness, we are encouraged to see whether we can apply it to other instances of the uncanny. We find in the story of the Sand-Man the other theme on which Jentsch lays stress, of a doll which appears to be alive. Jentsch believes that a particularly favourable condition for awakening uncanny feelings is created when there is intellectual uncertainty whether an object is alive or not, and when an inanimate object becomes too much like an animate one. Now, dolls are of course rather closely connected with childhood life. We remember that in their early games children do not distinguish at all sharply between living and inanimate objects, and that they are especially fond of treating their dolls like live people. In fact, I have occasionally heard a woman patient declare that even at the age of eight she had still been convinced that her dolls would be certain to come to life if she were to look at them in a particular, extremely concentrated, way. So that here, too, it is not difficult to discover a factor from childhood. But, curiously enough, while the Sand-Man story deals with the arousing of an early childhood fear, the idea of a ‘living doll’ excites no fear at all; children have no fear of their dolls coming to life, they may even desire it. The source of uncanny feelings would not, therefore, be an infantile fear in this case, but rather an infantile wish or even merely an infantile belief. There seems to be a contradiction here; but perhaps it is only a complication, which may be helpful to us later on.
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** For a contrary view put forth by Freud himself, compare “The Taboo on Virginity,” in which Freud writes: “Whenever primitive man institutes a taboo, there he fears a danger; and it cannot be disputed that the general principle underlying all of these regulations and avoidances is a dread of women. Perhaps the fear is founded on the difference of woman from man, on her eternally inexplicable, mysterious, strange nature which thus seems hostile. Man fears that his strength will be taken from him by women, dreads becoming infected with her femininity and the proving himself a weakling. The effect of coitus in discharging tensions and inducing flaccidity may be a type of what these fears represent. … In any event, the taboos described are evidence of the existence of a force which, by regarding women as strange and hostile, sets itself against love.”

** [Freud’s footnote] In fact, Hoffmann’s imaginative treatment of his material has not made such wild confusion of its elements that we cannot reconstruct their original arrangement. In the story of Nathaniel’s childhood, the figures of his father and Coppelius represent the two opposites into which the father-imago is split by his ambivalence; whereas the one threatens to blind him — that is, to castrate him — , the other, the ‘good’ father, intercedes for his sight. The part of the complex which is most strongly repressed, the death-wish against the ‘bad’ father, finds expression in the death of the ‘good’ father, and Coppelius is made answerable for it. This pair of fathers is represented later, in his student days, by Professor Spalanzani and Coppola the optician. The Professor is even called the father of Olympia. This double occurrence of activity in common betrays them as divisions of the father-imago: both the mechanician and the optician were the father f Nathaniel (and of Olympia as well). In the frightening scene in childhood, Coppelius, after sparing Nathaniel’s eyes, has screwed off his arms and legs as an experiment; that is, he had worked on him as a mechanician would on a doll. This singular feature, which seems quite outside the picture of the Sand-Man, introduces a new castration equivalent; but it also points to the inner identity of Coppelius with his later counterpart, Spalanzani the mechanician, and prepares us for the interpretation of Olympia. This automatic doll can be nothing else than a materialization of Nathaniel’s feminine attitude towards his father in his infancy. Her fathers, Spalanzani and Coppola, are, after all, nothing but new editions, reincarnations of Nathaniel’s pair of fathers. Spalanzani’s otherwise incomprehensible statement that the optician has stolen Nathaniel’s eyes … , so as to set them in the doll, now becomes significant as supplying evidence of the identity of Olympia and Nathaniel. Olympia is, as it were, a dissociated complex of Nathaniel’s which confronts him as a person, and Nathaniel’s enslavement to this complex is expressed in his senseless obsessive love for Olympia. We may with justice call love of this kind narcissistic, and we can understand why someone who has fallen victim to it should relinquish the real external object of his love. The psychological truth of the situation in which the young man, fixated upon his father by his castration complex, becomes incapable of loving a woman, is amply proved by numerous analyses of patients whose story, though less fantastic, is hardly less tragic than that of the student Nathaniel. …
Hoffmann is the unrivalled master of the uncanny in literature. His novel, Die Elixire des Teufels [The Devil’s Elixir], contains a whole mass of themes to which one is tempted to ascribe the uncanny effect of the narrative; but it is too obscure and intricate a story for us to venture upon a summary of it. Towards the end of the book the reader is told the facts, hitherto concealed from him, from which the action springs; with the result, not that he is at last enlightened, but that he falls into a state of complete bewilderment. The author has piled up too much material of the same kind. In consequence one’s grasp of the story as a whole suffers, though not the impression it makes. We must content ourselves with selecting those themes of uncanniness which are most prominent, and with seeing whether they too can fairly be traced back to infantile sources. These themes are all concerned with the phenomenon of the ‘double,’ which appears in every shape and in every degree of development. Thus we have characters who are to be considered identical because they look alike. This relation is accentuated by mental processes leaping from one of these characters to another — by what we should call telepathy —, so that the one possesses knowledge, feelings and experience in common with the other. Or it is marked by the fact that the subject identifies himself with someone else, so that he is in doubt as to which his self is, or substitutes the extraneous self for his own. In other words, there is a doubling, dividing and interchanging of the self. And finally there is the constant recurrence of the same thing — the repetition of the same features or character-traits or vicissitudes, of the same crimes, or even the same names through several consecutive generations.

The theme of the ‘double’ has been very thoroughly treated by Otto Rank (1914). He has gone into the connections which the ‘double’ has with reflections in mirrors, with shadows, with guardian spirits, with the belief in the soul and with the fear of death; but he also lets in a flood of light on the surprising evolution of the idea. For the ‘double’ was originally an insurance against the destruction of the ego, an ‘energetic denial of the power of death,’ as Rank says; and probably the ‘immortal’ soul was the first ‘double’ of the body. This invention of doubling as a preservation against extinction has its counterpart in the language of dreams, which is found of representing castration by a doubling or multiplication of a genital symbol. The same desire led the Ancient Egyptians to develop the art of making images of the dead in lasting materials. Such ideas, however, have sprung from the soil of unbounded self-love, from the primary narcissism which dominates the mind of the child and of primitive man. But when this stage has been surmounted, the ‘double’ reverses its aspect. From having been an assurance of immortality, it becomes the uncanny harbinger of death.

The idea of the ‘double’ does not necessarily disappear with the passing of primary narcissism, for it can receive fresh meaning from the later stages of the ego’s development. A special agency is slowly formed there, which is able to stand over against the rest of the ego, which has the function of observing and criticizing the self and of exercising a censorship within the mind, and which we become aware of as our ‘conscience.’ In the pathological case of delusions of being watched, this mental agency becomes isolated, dissociated from the ego, and discernible to the physician’s eye. The fact that an agency of this kind exists, which is able to treat the rest of the ego like an object — the fact, that is, that man is capable of self-observation — renders it possible to invest the old idea of a ‘double’ with a new meaning and to ascribe a number of things to it — above all, those things which seem to self-criticism to belong to the old surmounted narcissism of earliest times.

But it is not only this latter material, offensive as it is to the criticism of the ego, which may be incorporated in the idea of a double. There are also all the unfulfilled but possible futures to which we still like to cling in phantasy, all the strivings of the ego which adverse external circumstances have crushed, and all our suppressed acts of volition which nourish in us the illusion of Free Will. [Cf. Freud, 1901b, Chapter XII (B).]

But after having thus considered the manifest motivation of the figure of a ‘double,’ we have to admit that none of this helps us to understand the extraordinarily strong feeling of something uncanny that pervades the conception; and our knowledge of pathological mental processes enables us to add that nothing in this more superficial material could account for the urge towards defence which has caused the ego to project that material outward as something foreign to itself. When all is said and done, the quality of uncanniness can only come from the fact of the ‘double’ being a creation dating back to a very early mental stage, long since surmounted — a stage, incidentally, at which it wore a more friendly aspect. The ‘double’ has become a thing of terror, just as, after the collapse of their religion, the gods turned into demons.

The other forms of ego-disturbance exploited by Hoffmann can easily be estimated along the same lines as the theme of the ‘double.’ They are a harking-back to particular phases in the evolution of the self-regarding feeling, a regression to a time when the ego had not yet marked itself off sharply from the external world and from other people. I believe that these factors are partly responsible for the impression of uncanniness, although it is not easy to isolate and determine exactly their share of it.

The factor of the repetition of the same thing will perhaps not appeal to everyone as a source of uncanny feeling. From what I have observed, this phenomenon does undoubtedly, subject to certain conditions and combined with certain circumstances, arouse an uncanny feeling, which, furthermore, recalls the sense of helplessness experienced in some dream-states. As I was walking, one hot summer afternoon, through the deserted streets of a provincial town in Italy which was unknown to me, I found myself in a quarter of whose character I could not long remain in doubt. Nothing but painted women were to be seen at the windows of the small houses, and I hastened to leave the narrow street at the next turning. But after having wandered about for a time without enquiring my way, I suddenly found myself back in the same street, where my presence was now beginning to excite attention. I hurried away once more, only to arrive by another detour at the same place yet a third time. Now, however, a feeling overcame me which I can only describe as uncanny, and I was glad enough to find myself back at the piazza I had left a short while before, without any further voyages of discovery. Other situations which have in common with my adventure an unintended recurrence of the same situation, but which differ radically from it in other respects, also result in the same feeling of helplessness and of uncanniness. So, for instance, when, caught in a mist perhaps, one has lost one’s way in a mountain forest, every attempt to find the marked or familiar path may bring one back again and again to one and the same spot, which one can identify by some particular landmark. Or one may wander about in a dark, strange room, looking for the door or the electric switch, and collide time after time with the same piece of furniture -- though it is true that Mark Twain succeeded by wild exaggeration in turning this latter situation into something irresistibly comic.

If we take another class of things, it is easy to see that there, too, it is only this factor of involuntary repetition which surrounds what would otherwise by innocent enough with an uncanny atmosphere, and forces upon us the idea of something fateful and inescapable when otherwise we should have spoken only of ‘chance.’ For instance, we naturally attach no importance to the event when we hand in an overcoat and get a cloakroom ticket with the number, let us say, 62; or when we find that our cabin on a ship bears that number. But the impression is altered if two such events, each in itself indifferent, happen close together — if we come across the number 62 several times in a single day, or if we begin to notice that everything which has a number — addresses, hotel rooms, compartments in railway trains — invariably has the same one, or at all events one which contains the same figures. We do feel this to be uncanny. And unless a man is utterly hardened and proof against the lure of superstition, he will be tempted to ascribe a secret meaning to this obstinate recurrence of a number; he will take it, perhaps, as an indication of the span of life allotted to him. …

[I]t is possible to recognize the dominance in the unconscious mind of a ‘compulsion to repeat’ proceeding from the instinctual impulses and probably inherent in the very nature of the instincts — a compulsion powerful enough to overrule the pleasure principle, lending to certain aspects of the mind their daemonic character, and still very clearly expressed in the impulses of small children; a compulsion, too, which is responsible for a part of the course taken by the analyses of neurotic patients. All these considerations prepare us for the discovery that whatever reminds us of this inner ‘compulsion to repeat’ is perceived as uncanny.


Now, however, it is time to turn from these aspects of the matter, which are in any case difficult to judge, and look for some undeniable instances of the uncanny, in the hope that an analysis of them will decide whether our hypothesis is a valid one.

In the story of “The Ring of Polycrates,’ The king of Egypt turns away in horror from his host, Polycrates, because he sees that his friend’s every wish is at once fulfilled, his every care promptly removed by kindly fate. His host has become ‘uncanny’ to him. His own explanation, that the too fortunate man has to fear the envy of the gods, seems obscure to us; its meaning is veiled in mythological language. We will therefore turn to another example in a less grandiose setting. In the case history of an obsessional neurotic, I have described how the patient once stayed in a hydropathic establishment and benefited greatly by it. He had the good sense, however, to attribute his improvement not to the therapeutic properties of the water, but to the situation of his room, which immediately adjoined that of a very accommodating nurse. So on his second visit to the establishment he asked for the same room, but was told that it was already occupied by an old gentleman, whereupon he gave vent to his annoyance in the words: ‘I wish he may be struck dead for it.’ A fortnight later the old gentleman really did have a stroke. My patient thought this an ‘uncanny’ experience. The impression of uncanniness would have been stronger still if less time had elapsed between his words and the untoward event, or if he had been able to report innumerable similar coincidences. As a matter of fact, he had no difficulty in producing coincidences of this sort; but then not only he but every obsessional neurotic I have observed has been able to relate analogous experiences. They are never surprised at their invariably running up against someone they have just been thinking of, perhaps for the first time for a long while. If they say one day ‘I haven’t had any news of so-and-so for a long time,’ they will be sure to get a letter from him the next morning, and an accident or a death will rarely take place without having passed through their mind a little while before. They are in the habit of referring to this state of affairs in the most modest manner, saying that they have ‘presentiments’ which ‘usually’ come true.

One of the most uncanny and wide-spread forms of superstition is the dread of the evil eye, which has been exhaustively studied by the Hamburg oculist Seligmann (1910-11). There never seems to have been any doubt about the source of this dread. Whoever possesses something that is at once valuable and fragile is afraid of other people’s envy, in so far as he projects on to them the envy he would have felt in their place. A feeling like this betrays itself by a look even though it is not put into words; and when a man is prominent owing to noticeable, and particularly owing to unattractive, attributes, other people are ready to believe that his envy is rising to a more than usual degree of intensity and that this intensity will convert it into effective action. What is feared is thus a secret intention of doing harm, and certain signs are taken to mean that that intention has the necessary power at its commend.

These last examples of the uncanny are to be referred to the principle which I have called ‘omnipotence of thoughts,’ taking, the name from an expression used by one of my patients. And now we find ourselves on familiar ground. Our analysis of instances of the uncanny has led us back to the old, animistic conception of the universe. This was characterized by the idea that the world was peopled with the spirits of human beings; by the subject’s narcissistic overvaluation of his own mental processes; by the belief in the omnipotence of thoughts and the technique of magic based on that belief; by the attribution to various outside persons and things of carefully graded magical powers, or ‘mama’; as well as by all the other creations with the help of which man, in the unrestricted narcissism of that stage of development, strove to fend off the manifest prohibitions of reality. It seems as if each one of us has been through a phase of individual development corresponding to this animistic stage in primitive men, that none of us has passed through it without preserving certain residues and traces of it which are still capable of manifesting themselves, and that everything which now strikes us as ‘uncanny’ fulfils the condition of touching those residues of animistic mental activity within us and bringing them to expression.

At this point I will put forward two considerations which, I think, contain the gist of this short study. In the first place, if psycho-analytic theory is correct in maintaining that every affect belonging to an emotional impulse, whatever its kind, is transformed, if it is repressed, into anxiety, then among instances of frightening things there must be one class in which the frightening element can be shown to be something repressed which recurs. This class of frightening things would then constitute the uncanny; and it must be a matter of indifference whether what is uncanny was itself originally frightening or whether it carried some other affect. In the second place, if this is indeed the secret nature of the uncanny, we can understand why linguistic usage has extended das Heimliche [‘homely’] into its opposite, das Unheimliche (p. 226); for this uncanny is in reality nothing new or alien, but something which is familiar and old-established in the mind and which has become alienated from it only through the process of repression. This reference to the factor of repression enables us, furthermore, to understand Schelling’s definition [p. 224] of the uncanny as something which ought to have remained hidden but has come to light.

It only remains for us to test our new hypothesis on one or two more examples of the uncanny.

Many people experience the feeling in the highest degree in relation to death and dead bodies, to the return of the dead, and to spirits and ghosts. As we have seen [p. 221] some languages in use to-day can only render the German expression ‘an unheimlich house’ by ‘a haunted house.’ We might indeed have begun our investigation with this example, perhaps the most striking of all, of something uncanny, but we refrained from doing so because the uncanny in it is too much intermixed with what is purely gruesome and is in part overlaid by it. 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 our relation to death. Two things account for our conservatism: the strength of our original emotional reaction to death and the insufficiency of our scientific knowledge about it. Biology has not yet been able to decide whether death is the inevitable fate of every living being or whether it is only a regular but yet perhaps avoidable event in life. It is true that the statement ‘All men are mortal’ is paraded in text-books of logic as an example of a general proposition; but no human being really grasps it, and our unconscious has as little use now as it ever had for the idea of its own mortality. Religions continue to dispute the importance of the undeniable fact of individual death and to postulate a life after death; civil governments still believe that they cannot maintain moral order among the living if they do not uphold the prospect of a better life hereafter as a recompense for mundane existence. In our great cities, placards announce lectures that undertake to tell us how to get into touch with the souls of the departed; and it cannot be denied that not a few of the most able and penetrating minds among our men of science have come to the conclusion, especially towards the close of their own lives, that a contact of this kind is not impossible. Since almost all of us still think as savages do on this topic, it is no matter for surprise that the primitive fear of the dead is still so strong within us and always ready to come to the surface on any provocation. Most likely our fear still implies the old belief that the dead man becomes the enemy of his survivor and seeks to carry him off to share his new life with him. Considering our unchanged attitude towards death, we might rather enquire what has become of the repression, which is the necessary condition of a primitive feeling recurring in the shape of something uncanny. But repression is there, too. All supposedly educated people have ceased to believe officially that the dead can become visible as spirits, and have made any such appearances dependent on improbable and remote conditions; their emotional attitude towards their dead, moreover, once a highly ambiguous and ambivalent one, has been toned down in the higher strata of the mind into an unambiguous feeling of piety.

We have now only a few remarks to add — for animism, magic and sorcery, the omnipotence of thoughts, man’s attitude to death, involuntary repetition and the castration complex comprise practically all the factors which turn something frightening into something uncanny.

We can also speak of a living person as uncanny, and we do so when we ascribe evil intentions to him. But that is not all; in addition to this we must feel that his intentions to harm us are going to be carried out with the help of special powers. A good instance of this is the ‘Gettatore,’ that uncanny figure of Romanic superstition which Schaeffer, with intuitive poetic feeling and profound psycho-analytic understanding, has transformed into a sympathetic character in his Josef Montfort. But the question of these secret powers brings us back again to the realm of animism. It was the pious Gretchen’s intuition that Mephistopheles possessed secret powers of this kind that made him so uncanny to her.

Sic fühlt dass ich ganz sicher ein Genie, [“She feels that surely I’m a genius now, —
Vielleieht sogar der Teufel bin. Perhaps the very devil indeed!” Goethe, Faust]

The uncanny effect of epilepsy and of madness has the same origin. The layman sees in them the working of forces hitherto unsuspected in his fellow-men, but at the same time he is dimly aware of them in remote corners of his own being. The Middle Ages quite consistently ascribed all such maladies to the influence of demons, and in this their psychology was almost correct. Indeed, I should not be surprised to hear that psycho-analysis, which is concerned with laying bare these hidden forces, has itself become uncanny to many people for that very reason. In one case, after I had succeeded — though none too rapidly — in effecting a cure in a girl who had been an invalid for many years, I myself heard this view expressed by the patient’s mother long after her recovery.

Dismembered limbs, a severed head, a hand cut off at the wrist, as in a fairy tale of Hauff’s, feet which dance by themselves, as in the book by Schaeffer which I mentioned above — all these have something peculiarly uncanny about them, especially when, as in the last instance, they prove capable of independent activity in addition. As we already know, this kind of uncanniness springs from its proximity to the castration complex. To some people the idea of being buried alive by mistake is the most uncanny thing of all. And yet psycho-analysis has taught us that this terrifying phantasy is only a transformation of another phantasy which had originally nothing terrifying about it at all, but was qualified by a certain lasciviousness — the phantasy, I mean, of intra-uterine existence.


There is one more point of general application which I should like to add, though, strictly speaking, it has been included in what has already been said about animism and modes of working of the mental apparatus that have been surmounted; for I think it deserves special emphasis. This is that an uncanny effect is often and easily produced when the distinction between imagination and reality is effaced, as when something that we have hitherto regarded as imaginary appears before us in reality, or when a symbol takes over the full functions of the thing it symbolizes, and so on. It is this factor which contributes not a little to the uncanny effect attaching to magical practices. …

To conclude this collection of examples, which is certainly not complete, I will relate an instance taken from psycho-analytic experience; if it does not rest upon mere coincidence, it furnishes a beautiful confirmation of our theory of the uncanny. 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 and in the beginning. there is a joking saying that ‘Love is home-sickness’; and whenever a man dreams of a place or a country and says to himself, while he is still dreaming: ‘this place is familiar to me, I’ve been here before,’ we may interpret the place as being his mother’s genitals or her body. In this case too, then, the unheimlich is what was once heimisch, familiar; the prefix ‘un’ [‘un-’] is the token of repression.

III

In the course of this discussion the reader will have felt certain doubts arising in his mind; and he must now have an opportunity of collecting them and bringing them forward.

It may be true that the uncanny [unheimlich] is something which is secretly familiar [heimlich-heimisch], which has undergone repression and then returned from it, and that everything that is uncanny fulfils this condition. But the selection of material on this basis does not enable us to solve the problem of the uncanny. For our proposition is clearly not convertible. Not everything that fulfils this condition — not everything that recalls repressed desires and surmounted modes of thinking belonging to the prehistory of the individual and of the race — is on that account uncanny.

Nor shall we conceal the fact that for almost every example adduced in support of our hypothesis one may be found which rebuts it. The story of the severed hand in Hauff’s fairy tale [p. 244] certainly has an uncanny effect, and we have traced that effect back to the castration complex; but most readers will probably agree with me in judging that no trace of uncanniness is provoked by Herodotus’s story of the treasure of Phampsinitus, in which the master-thief, whom the princess tries to hold fast by the hand, leaves his brother’s severed hand behind with her instead. Again, the prompt fulfillment of the wishes of Polycrates [p. 239] undoubtedly affects us in the same uncanny way as it did the king of Egypt; yet our own fairy stories are crammed with instantaneous wish-fulfillments which produce no uncanny effect whatever. In the story of ‘The Three Wishes,’ the woman is tempted by the savoury smell of a sausage to wish that she might have one too, and in an instant it lies on a plate before her. In his annoyance at her hastiness her husband wishes it may hang on her nose. And there it is, dangling from her nose. All this is very striking but not in the least uncanny. Fairy tales quite frankly adopt the animistic standpoint of the omnipotence of thoughts and wishes, and yet I cannot think of any genuine fairy story which has anything uncanny about it. We have heard that it is in the highest degree uncanny when an inanimate object — a picture or a doll — comes to life; nevertheless in Hans Andersen’s stories the household utensils, furniture and tin soldiers are alive, yet nothing could well be more remote from the uncanny. And we should hardly call it uncanny when Pygmalion’s beautiful statue comes to life.

Apparent death and the re-animation of the dead have been represented as most uncanny themes. But things of this sort too are very common in fairy stories. Who would be so bold as to call it uncanny, for instance, when Snow-White opens her eyes once more? And the resuscitation of the dead in accounts of miracles, as in the New Testament, elicits feelings quite unrelated to the uncanny. Then, too, the theme that achieves such an indubitably uncanny effect, the unintended recurrence of the same thing, serves other and quite different purposes in another class of cases. We have already come across one example [p 237] in which it is employed to call up a feeling of the comic; and we could multiply instances of this kind. Or again, it works as a means of emphasis, and so on. And once more: what is the origin of the uncanny effect of silence, darkness and solitude?

Do not these factors point to the part played by danger in the genesis of what is uncanny, notwithstanding that in children these same factors are the most frequent determinants of the expression of fear [rather than of the uncanny]? And are we after all justified in entirely ignoring intellectual uncertainty as a factor, seeing that we have admitted its importance in relation to death [p. 242]?

It is evident therefore, that we must be prepared to admit that there are other elements besides those which we have so far laid down as determining the production of uncanny feelings. We might say that these preliminary results have satisfied psycho-analytic interest in the problem of the uncanny, and that what remains probably calls for an aesthetic enquiry. But that would be to open the door to doubts about what exactly is the value of our general contention that the uncanny proceeds from something familiar which has been repressed.

We have noticed one point which may help us to resolve these uncertainties: nearly all the instances that contradict our hypothesis are taken from the realm of fiction, of imaginative writing. This sests that we should differentiate between the uncanny that we actually experience and the uncanny that we merely picture or read about.

What is experienced as uncanny is much more simply conditioned but comprises far fewer instances. We shall find, I think, that it fits in perfectly with our attempt at a solution, and can be traced back without exception to something familiar that has been repressed. But here, too, we must make a certain important and psychologically significant differentiation in our material, which is best illustrated by turning to suitable examples.

Let us take the uncanny associated with the omnipotence of thoughts, with the prompt fulfillment of wishes, with secret injurious powers and with the return of the dead. The condition under which the feeling of uncanniness arises here is unmistakable. We — or our primitive forefathers — once believed that these possibilities were realities, and were convinced that they actually happened. Nowadays we no longer believe in them, we have surmounted these modes of thought; but we do not feel quite sure of our new beliefs, and the old ones still exist within us ready to seize upon any confirmation. As soon as something actually happens in our lives which seems to confirm the old, discarded beliefs we get a feeling of the uncanny; it is as though we were making a judgment something like this: ‘So, after all, it is true that one can kill a person by the mere wish!’ or, ‘So the dead do live on and appear on the scene of their former activities!’ and so on. Conversely, anyone who has completely and finally rid himself of animistic beliefs will be insensible to this type of the uncanny. The most remarkable coincidences of wish and fulfillment, the most mysterious repetition of similar experiences in a particular place or on a particular date, the most deceptive sights and suspicious noises — none of these things will disconcert him or raise the kind of fear which can be described as ‘a fear of something uncanny.’ The whole thing is purely an affair of ‘reality-testing,’ a question of the material reality of the phenomena.**

The state of affairs is different when the uncanny proceeds from repressed infantile complexes, from the castration complex, womb-phantasies, etc.’ but experiences which arouse this kind of uncanny feeling are not of very frequent occurrence in real life. The uncanny which proceeds from actual experience belongs for the most part to the first group [the group dealt with in the previous paragraph]. Nevertheless the distinction between the two is theoretically very important. Where the uncanny comes from infantile complexes the question of material reality does not arise; its place is taken by psychical reality. What is involved is an actual repression of some content of thought and a return of this repressed content, not a cessation of belief in the reality of such a content. We might say that in the one case what had been repressed is a particular ideational content, and in the other the belief in its (material) reality. But this last phrase no doubt extends the term ‘repression’ beyond its legitimate meaning. It would be more correct to take into account a psychological distinction which can be detected here, and to say that the animistic beliefs of civilized people are in a state of having been (to a greater or lesser extent) surmounted [rather than repressed]. Our conclusion could then be stated thus: an uncanny experience occurs either when infantile complexes which have been repressed are once more revived by some impression, or when primitive beliefs which have been surmounted seem once more to be confirmed. Finally, we must not let our predilection for smooth solutions and lucid exposition blind us to the fact that these two classes of uncanny experience are not always sharply distinguishable. When we consider that primitive beliefs are most intimately connected with infantile complexes, and are, in fact, based on them, we shall not be greatly astonished to find that the distinction is often a hazy one.

The uncanny as it is depicted in literature, in stories and imaginative productions, merits in truth a separate discussion. Above all, it is a much more fertile province than the uncanny in real life, for it contains the whole of the latter and something more besides, something that cannot be found in real life. The contrast between what has been repressed and what has been surmounted cannot be transposed on to the uncanny in fiction without profound modification; for the realm of phantasy depends for its effect on the fact that its content is not submitted to reality-testing. The somewhat paradoxical result is that 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.

The imaginative writer has this license among many others, that he can select his world of representation so that it either coincides with the realities we are familiar with or departs from them in what particulars he pleases. We accept his ruling in every case. In fairy tales, for instance, the world of reality is left behind from the very start, and the animistic system of beliefs is frankly adopted. Wish-fulfillments, secret powers, omnipotence of thoughts, animation of inanimate objects, all the elements so common in fairy stories, can exert no uncanny influence here; for, as we have learnt, that feeling cannot arise unless there is a conflict of judgment as to whether things which have been ‘surmounted’ and are regarded as incredible may not, after all, be possible; and this problem is eliminated from the outset by the postulates of the world of fairy tales. Thus we see that fairy stories, which have furnished us with most of the contradictions to our hypothesis of the uncanny, confirm the first part of our proposition — that in the realm of fiction many things are not uncanny which would be so if they happened in real life. In the case of these stories there are other contributory factors, which we shall briefly touch upon later.

The creative writer can also choose a setting which though less imaginary than the world of fairy tales, does yet differ from the real world by admitting superior spiritual beings such as daemonic spirits or ghosts of the dead. So long as they remain within their setting of poetic reality, such figures lose any uncanniness which they might possess. The souls in Dante’s Inferno, or the supernatural apparitions in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Macbeth or Julius Caesar, may be gloomy and terrible enough, but they are no more really uncanny than Homer’s jovial world of gods. We adapt our judgment to the imaginary reality imposed on us by the writer, and regard souls, spirits and ghosts as though their existence had the same validity as our own has in material reality. In this case too we avoid all trace of the uncanny.

The situation is altered as soon as the writer pretends to move in the world of common reality. In this case he accepts as well all the conditions operating to produce uncanny feelings in real life; and everything that would have an uncanny effect in reality has it in his story. But in this case he can even increase his effect and multiply it far beyond what could happen in reality, by bringing about events which never or very rarely happen in fact. In doing this he is in a sense betraying us to the superstitiousness which we have ostensibly surmounted; he deceives us by promising to give us the sober truth, and then after all overstepping it. We react to his inventions as we would have reacted to real experiences; by the time we have seen through his trick it is already too late and the author has achieved his object. But it must be added that his success is not unalloyed. We retain a feeling of dissatisfaction, a kind of grudge against the attempted deceit. I have noticed this particularly after reading Schnitzler’s Die Weissagung [The Prophecy] and similar stories which flirt with the supernatural. However, the writer has one more means which he can use in order to avoid our recalcitrance and at the same time to improve his chances of success. He can keep us in the dark for a long time about the precise nature of the presuppositions on which the world he writes about is based, or he can cunningly and ingeniously avoid any definite information on the point to the last. Speaking generally, however, we find a confirmation of the second part of our proposition — that fiction presents more opportunities for creating uncanny feelings than are possible in real life.

Strictly speaking, all these complications relate only to that class of the uncanny which proceeds from forms of thought that have been surmounted. The class which proceeds from repressed complexes is more resistant and remains as powerful in fiction as in real experience, subject to one exception [see p. 252]. The uncanny belonging to the first class — that proceeding from forms of thought that have been surmounted — retains its character not only in experience but in fiction as well, so long as the setting is one of material reality; but where it is given an arbitrary and artificial setting in fiction, it is apt to lose that character.

We have clearly not exhausted the possibilities of poetic license and the privileges enjoyed by story-writers in evoking or in excluding an uncanny feeling. In the main we adopt an unvarying passive attitude towards real experience and are subject to the influence of our physical environment. But the story-teller has a peculiarly directive power over us; by means of the moods he can put us into, he is able to guide the current of our emotions, to dam it up in one direction and make it flow in another, and he often obtains a great variety of effects from the same material. All this is nothing new, and has doubtless long since been fully taken into account by students of aesthetics. We have drifted into this field of research half involuntarily, through the temptation to explain certain instances which contradicted our theory of the causes of the uncanny. Accordingly we will now return to the examination of a few of those instances.

We have already asked [p. 246] why it is that the severed hand in the story of the treasure of Rhampsinitus has no uncanny effect in the way that the severed hand has in Hauff’s story. The question seems to have gained in importance now that we have recognized that the class of the uncanny which proceeds from repressed complexes is the more resistant of the two. The answer is easy. In the Herodotus story our thoughts are concentrated much more on the superior cunning of the master-thief than on the feelings of the princess. The princess may very well have had an uncanny feeling, indeed she very probably fell into a swoon; but we have no such sensations, for we put ourselves in the thief’s place, not in hers. In Nestroy’s farce, Der Zerrissene [The Torn Man], another means is used to avoid any impression of the uncanny in the scene in which the fleeing man, convinced that he is a murderer, lifts up one trap-door after another and each time sees what he takes to be the ghost of his victim rising up out of it. He calls out in despair, ‘But I’ve only killed one man. Why this ghastly multiplication?’ We know what went before this scene and do not share his error, so what must be uncanny to him has an irresistibly comic effect on us. Even a ‘real’ ghost, as in Oscar Wilde’s Canterville Ghost, loses all power of at least arousing gruesome feelings in us as soon as the author begins to amuse himself by being ironical about it and allows liberties to be taken with it. Thus we see how independent emotional effects can be of the actual subject-matter in the world of fiction. In fairy stories feelings of fear — including therefore uncanny feelings — are ruled out altogether. We understand this, and that is why we ignore any opportunities we find in them for developing such feelings.

Concerning the factors of silence, solitude and darkness [pp. 246-7], we can only say that they are actually elements in the production of the infantile anxiety from which the majority of human beings have never become quite free. This problem has been discussed from a psycho-analytic point of view elsewhere.

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** Since the uncanny effect of the ‘double also belongs to this same group it is interesting to observe what the effect is of meeting one’s own image unbidden and unexpected. Ernest Mach has related two such observations in his Analyse der Empfindungen (1900, 3). On the first occasion he was not a little startled when he realized that the face before him was his own. The second time he formed a very unfavourable opinion about the supposed stranger who entered the omnibus, and thought ‘What a shabby-looking school-master that man is who is getting in!’ — I can report a similar adventure. I was sitting alone in my wagon-lit compartment when a more than usually violent jolt of the train swung back the door of the adjoining washing-cabinet, and an elderly gentleman in a dressing-gown and a travelling cap came in. I assumed that in leaving the washing-cabinet, which lay between the two compartments, he had taken the wrong direction and come into my compartment by mistake. Jumping up with the intention of putting him right, I at once realized to my dismay that the intruder was nothing but my own reflection in the looking-glass on the open door. I can still recollect that I thoroughly disliked his appearance. Instead, therefore, of being frightened by our ‘doubles’, both Mach and I simply failed to recognize them as such. Is it not possible, though, that our dislike of them was a vestigial trace of the archaic reaction which feels the ‘double’ to something uncanny

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Franz Kafka

Sigmund Freud, "The Uncanny"


This essay, first published in 1925, was translated by Alix Strachey. This is one of Freud's most extended pieces of 'literary criticism.'


When we proceed to review things, persons, impressions, events and situations which are able to arouse in us a feeling of the uncanny in a particularly forcible and definite form, the first requirement is obviously to select a suitable example to start on. Jentsch has taken as a very good instance 'doubts whether an apparently animate being is really alive; or conversely, whether a lifeless object might not be in fact animate'; and he refers in this connection to the impression made by waxwork figures, ingeniously constructed dolls and automata. To these he adds the uncanny effect of epileptic fits, and of manifestations of insanity, because these excite in the spectator the impression of automatic, mechanical processes at work behind the 'ordinary appearance of mental activity. Without entirely accepting this author's view, we will take it as a starting point for our own investigation because in what follows he reminds us of a writer who has succeeded in producing uncanny effects better than anyone else.

Jentsch writes: 'In telling a story one of the most successful devices for easily creating uncanny effects is to leave the reader in uncertainty whether a particular figure in the story is a human being or an automaton and to do it in such a way that his attention is not focused directly upon his uncertainty, so that he may not be led to go into the matter and clear it up immediately. 'That, as we have said, would quickly dissipate the peculiar emotional effect of the thing. E. T. A. Hoffmann has repeatedly employed this psychological artifice with success in his fantastic narratives.'

This observation, undoubtedly a correct one, refers primarily to the story of "The Sand-Man" in Hoffmann's Nachtstxcken, which contains the original of Olympia, the doll that appears in the first act of Offenbach's opera, Tales of Hoffmann. but I cannot think - and I hope most readers of the story will agree with me - that the theme of the doll Olympia, who is to all appearances a living being, is by any means the only, or indeed the most important, element that must be held responsible for the quite unparalleled atmosphere of uncanniness evoked by the story. Nor is this atmosphere heightened by the fact that the author himself treats the episode of Olympia with a faint touch of satire and uses it to poke fun at the young man's idealization of his mistress. The main theme of the story is, on the contrary, something different, something which gives it its name, and which is always re-introduced at critical moments: it is the theme of the 'Sand-Man' who tears out children's eyes.

This fantastic tale opens with the childhood recollections of the student Nathaniel. In spite of his present happiness, he cannot banish the memories associated with the mysterious and terrifying death of his beloved father. On certain evenings his mother used to send the children to bed early, warning them that 'the Sand-Man was coming'; and, sure enough, Nathaniel would not fail to hear the heavy tread of a visitor, with whom his father would then be occupied for the evening. When questioned about the Sand-Man, his mother, it is true, denied hat such a person existed except as a figure of speech; but his nurse could give him more definite information: 'He's a wicked man who comes when children won't go to bed, and throws handfuls of sand in their eyes so that they jump out of their heads all bleeding. Then he puts the eyes in a sack and carries them off to the half-moon to feed his children. They sit up there in their nest, and their beaks are hooked like owls' beaks, and they use them to peck up naughty boys' and girls' eyes with.'

Although little Nathaniel was sensible and old enough not to credit the figure of the Sand-Man with such gruesome attributes, yet the dread of him became fixed in his heart. He determined to find out what the Sand-Man looked like; and one evening, when the Sand-Man was expected again, he hid in his father's study. He recognized the visitor as the lawyer Coppelius, a repulsive person whom the children were frightened of when he occasionally came to a meal; and he now identified this Coppelius with the dreaded Sand-Man. As regards the rest of the scene, Hoffmann already leaves us in doubt whether what we are witnessing is tee first delirium of the panic-stricken boy, or a succession of events which are to be regarded in thc story as being real. His father and the guest are at work at a brazier with glowing flames. The little eavesdropper hears Coppelius call out: 'Eyes here! Eyes here!' and betrays himself by screaming aloud. Coppelius seizes him and is on the point of dropping bits of red-hot coal from the fire into his eyes, and then of throwing them into the brazier, but his father begs him off and saves his eyes. After this the boy falls into a deep swoon; and a long illness brings his experience to an end. Those who decide in favour of the rationalistic interpretation of the Sand-Man will not fail to recognize in the child's phantasy the persisting influence of his nurse's story. The bits of sand that are to be thrown into the child's eyes turn into bits of red-hot coal from the flames; and in both cases they are intended to make his eyes jump out. In the course of another visit of the Sand-Man's, a year later, his father is killed in his study by an explosion. The lawyer Coppelius disappears from the place without leaving a trace behind.

Nathaniel, now a student, believes that he has recognized this phantom of horror from his childhood in an itinerant optician, an Italian called Giuseppe Coppola, who at his university town, offers him weather-glasses for sale. When Nathaniel refuses, the man goes on: 'Not weather-glasses? not weather-glasses? also got fine eyes, fine eyes!' The student's terror is allayed when he finds that the proffered eyes are only harmless spectacles, and he buys a pocket spy-glass from Coppola. With its aid he looks across into Professor Spalanzani's house opposite and there spies Spalanzani's beautiful, but strangely silent and motionless daughter, Olympia. He soon falls in love with her so violently that, because of her, he quite forgets the clever and sensible girl to whom he is betrothed. But Olympia is an automaton whose clock-work has been made by Spalanzani, and whose eyes have been put in by Coppola, the Sand-Man. The student surprises the two Masters quarrelling over their handiwork. The optician carries off the wooden eyeless doll; and the mechanician, Spalanzani, picks up Olympia's bleeding eyes from the ground and throws them at Nathaniel's breast, saying that Coppola had stolen them from the student. Nathaniel succumbs to a fresh attack of madness, and in his delirium his recollection of his father's death is mingled with this new experience. 'Hurry up! hurry up! ring of fire!' he cries. 'Spin about, ring of fire - Hurrah! Hurry up, wooden doll! lovely wooden doll, spin about - .' He then falls upon the professor, Olympia's 'father', and tries to strangle him.

Rallying from a long and serious illness, Nathaniel seems at last to have recovered. He intends to marry his betrothed, with whom he has become reconciled. One day he and she are walking through the city market-place, over which the high tower of the Town Hall throws its huge shadow. On the girl's sestion, they climb the tower, leaving her brother, who is walking with them, down below. From the top, Clara's attention is drawn to a curious object moving along the street. Nathaniel looks at this thing through Coppola's spy-glass, which he finds in his pocket, and falls into a new attack of madness. Shouting 'Spin about, wooden doll!' he tries to throw the girl into the gulf below. Her brother, brought to her side by her cries, rescues her and hastens down with her to safety. On the tower above, the madman rushes round, shrieking 'Ring of fire, spin about!' - and we know the origin of the words. Among the people who begin to gather below there comes forward the figure of the lawyer Coppelius, who has suddenly returned. We may suppose that it was his approach, seen through the spy-glass, which threw Nathaniel into his fit of madness. As the onlookers prepare to go up and overpower the madman, Coppelius laughs and says: 'Wait a bit; he'll come down of himself.' Nathaniel suddenly stands still, catches sight of Coppelius, and with a wild shriek 'Yes! "fine eyes - fine eyes"!' flings himself over the parapet. While he lies on the paving-stones with a shattered skull the Sand-Man vanishes in the throng.

This short summary leaves no doubt, I think, that the feeling of something uncanny is directly attached to the figure of the Sand-Man, that is, to the idea of being robbed of one's eyes, and that Jentsch's point of an intellectual uncertainty has nothing to do with the effect. Uncertainty whether an object is living or inanimate, which admittedly applied to the doll Olympia, is quite irrelevant in connection with this other, more striking instance of uncanniness. It is true that the writer creates a kind of uncertainty in us in the beginning by not letting us know, no doubt purposely, whether he is taking us into the real world or into a purely fantastic one of his own creation. He has, of course, a right to do either; and if he chooses to stage his action in a world peopled with spirits, demons and ghosts, as Shakespeare does in Hamlet, in Macbeth and, in a different sense, in The Tempest and A Midsummer-Night's Dream, we must bow to his decision and treat his setting as though it were real for as long as we put ourselves into this hands. But this uncertainty disappears in the course of Hoffmann's story, and we perceive that he intends to make us, too, look through the demon optician's spectacles or spy-glass - perhaps, indeed, that the author in his very own person once peered through such an instrument. For the conclusion of the story makes it quite clear that Coppola the optician really is the lawyer Coppelius and also, therefore, the Sand-Man.

There is no question therefore, of any intellectual uncertainty here: we know now that we are not supposed to be looking on at the products of a madman's imagination, behind which we, with the superiority of rational minds, are able to detect the sober truth; and yet this knowledge does not lessen the impression of uncanniness in the least degree. The theory of intellectual uncertainty is thus incapable of explaining that impression.

We know from psycho-analytic experience, however, that the fear of damaging or losing one's eyes is a terrible one in children. Many adults retain their apprehensiveness in this respect, and no physical injury is so much dreaded by them as an injury to the eye. We are accustomed to say, too, that we will treasure a thing as the apple of our eye. A study of dreams, phantasies and myths has taught us that anxiety about one's eyes, the fear of going blind, is often enough a substitute for the dread of being castrated. The self-blinding of the mythical criminal, Oedipus, was simply a mitigated form of the punishment of castration - the only punishment that was adequate for him by the lex talionis. We may try on rationalistic grounds to deny that fears about the eye are derived from the fear of castration, and may argue that it is very natural that so precious an organ as the eye should be guarded by a proportionate dread. Indeed, we might go further and say that the fear of castration itself contains no other significance and no deeper secret than a justifiable dread of this rational kind. But this view does not account adequately for the substitutive relation between the eye and the male organ which is seen to exist in dreams and myths and phantasies; nor can it dispel the impression that the threat of being castrated in especial excites a peculiarly violent and obscure emotion, and that this emotion is what first gives the idea of losing other organs its intense colouring. All further doubts are removed when we learn the details of their 'castration complex' from the analysis of neurotic patients, and realize its immense importance in their mental life.

Moreover, I would not recommend any opponent of the psycho-analytic view to select this particular story of the Sand-Man with which to support his argument that anxiety about the eyes has nothing to do with the castration complex. For why does Hoffmann bring the anxiety about eyes into such intimate connection with the father's death? And why does the Sand-Man always appear as a disturber of love? He separates the unfortunate Nathaniel from his betrothed and from her brother, his best friend; he destroys the second object of his love, Olympia, the lovely doll; and he drives him into suicide at the moment when he has won back his Clara and is about to be happily united to her. Elements in the story like these, and many others, seem arbitrary and meaningless so long as we deny all connection between fears about the eye and castration; but they become intelligible as soon as we replace the Sand-Man by the dreaded father at whose hands castration is expected.

We shall venture, therefore, to refer the uncanny effect of the Sand-Man to the anxiety belonging to the castration complex of childhood. But having reached the idea that we can make an infantile factor such as this responsible for feelings of uncanniness, we are encouraged to see whether we can apply it to other instances of the uncanny. We find in the story of the Sand-Man the other theme on which Jentsch lays stress, of a doll which appears to be alive. Jentsch believes that a particularly favourable condition for awakening uncanny feelings is created when there is intellectual uncertainty whether an object is alive or not, and when an inanimate object becomes too much like an animate one. Now, dolls are of course rather closely connected with childhood life. We remember that in their early games children do not distinguish at all sharply between living and inanimate objects, and that they are especially fond of treating their dolls like live people. In fact, I have occasionally heard a woman patient declare that even at the age of eight she had still been convinced that her dolls would be certain to come to life if she were to look at them in a particular, extremely concentrated, way. So that here, too, it is not difficult to discover a factor from childhood. But, curiously enough, while the Sand-Man story deals with the arousing of an early childhood fear, the idea of a 'living doll' excites no fear at all; children have no fear of their dolls coming to life, they may even desire it. The source of uncanny feelings would not, therefore, be an infantile fear in this case, but rather an infantile wish or even merely an infantile belief. There seems to be a contradiction here; but perhaps it is only a complication, which may be helpful to us later on.

Hoffmann is the unrivalled master of the uncanny in literature. His novel, Die Elixire des Teufels [The Devil's Elixir], contains a whole mass of themes to which one is tempted to ascribe the uncanny effect of the narrative; but it is too obscure and intricate a story for us to venture upon a summary of it. Towards the end of the book the reader is told the facts, hitherto concealed from him, from which the action springs; with the result, not that he is at last enlightened, but that he falls into a state of complete bewilderment. The author has piled up too much material of the same kind. In consequence one's grasp of the story as a whole suffers, though not the impression it makes. We must content ourselves with selecting those themes of uncanniness which are most prominent, and with seeing whether they too can fairly be traced back to infantile sources. These themes are all concerned with the phenomenon of the 'double', which appears in every shape and in every degree of development. Thus we have characters who are to be considered identical because they look alike. This relation is accentuated by mental processes leaping from one of these characters to another - by what we should call telepathy -, so that the one possesses knowledge, feelings and experience in common with the other. Or it is marked by the fact that the subject identifies himself with someone else, so that he is in doubt as to which his self is, or substitutes the extraneous self for his own. In other words, there is a doubling, dividing and interchanging of the self. And finally there is the constant recurrence of the same thing - the repetition of the same features or character-traits or vicissitudes, of the same crimes, or even the same names through several consecutive generations.

The theme of the 'double' has been very thoroughly treated by Otto Rank (1914). He has gone into the connections which the 'double' has with reflections in mirrors, with shadows, with guardian spirits, with the belief in the soul and with the fear of death; but he also lets in a flood of light on the surprising evolution of the idea. For the 'double' was originally an insurance against the destruction of the ego, an 'energetic denial of the power of death', as Rank says; and probably the 'immortal' soul was the first 'double' of the body. This invention of doubling as a preservation against extinction has its counterpart in the language of dreams, which is found of representing castration by a doubling or multiplication of a genital symbol. The same desire led the Ancient Egyptians to develop the art of making images of the dead in lasting materials. Such ideas, however, have sprung from the soil of unbounded self-love, from the primary narcissism which dominates the mind of the child and of primitive man. But when this stage has been surmounted, the 'double' reverses its aspect. From having been an assurance of immortality, it becomes the uncanny harbinger of death.

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A Homeless Concept
Shapes of the Uncanny in Twentieth-Century Theory and Culture

Author: Anneleen Masschelein


The present special issue of Image and Narrative is devoted to a somewhat intangible topic, the concept of the uncanny and its shapes in theory and culture. The various papers originate within a series of specialised seminars1, which started from an abstract problem: what is a concept, how does it come into being and how is it as such recognised and acknowledged. We have tried to formulate a partial answer to these questions by concentrating on a particular case: das Unheimliche or the Freudian uncanny. By way of introducing the question, I would like to make some remarks concerning the relation between on the one hand, the specific content of a notion and, on the other hand, a more functionalist-discursive approach focusing on the particular historical conceptual development.2 In the case of the concept of the uncanny, we are faced with a paradoxical situation. Although the history of its conceptualisation can be clearly traced because it is a relatively young concept, the uncanny has gradually come to signify the very problem or even impossibility of clearly defined concepts as such.

1. The "origin": Freud

"Das Unheimliche" is an essay written by Freud in 1919 in which the phenomenon of the uncanny is approached from various angles: language and semantics versus experience; literature and myth versus everyday life and psychoanalytic practice; the individual feeling versus the universal phenomenon. Freud's essay is a direct response to the psychiatrist Ernst Jentsch's study "Über die Psychologie des Unheimlichen" (translated as "On the Psychology of the Uncanny"). For Freud, as for Jentsch, the uncanny is a specific - mild - form of anxiety, related to certain phenomena in real life and to certain motives in art, especially in fantastic literature. Examples of such phenomena or literary motives are the double, strange repetitions, the omnipotence of thought (i.e., the idea that your wishes or thoughts come true), the confusion between animate and inanimate, and other experiences related to madness, superstition or death. From the outset of his investigation, Freud qualifies the uncanny as an aesthetic experience. Aesthetic is here used in the broad sense of "the study of the qualities of our sentiments" as opposed to the narrow sense, "the study of the beautiful", which, according to Freud, limits its scope to positive feelings. The fact that the uncanny is related to aesthetics also accounts for the subjectivity of the experience: Freud insists that not everyone is equally susceptible to the feeling of the uncanny, and the list of phenomena is neither conclusive, nor generally accepted. Especially in literature, it depends on the treatment of the material whether a motive is uncanny or not. Nevertheless, Freud does not doubt the existence of the sentiment as such: both in everyday life and in art, the uncanny occurs, otherwise there would not be a specific word for it.

Freud's characterisation of aesthetic phenomena in terms of "the qualities of our sentiments" can be related to the peculiar grammatical form of the term das Unheimliche, which will turn out to be symptomatic for its paradoxical situation as a concept. Instead of the regular derivative substantive Unheimlichkeit (uncanniness), the title of Freud's essay consists of a substantivised adjective. Thus, grammatically speaking, the uncanny belongs to a category of concepts like the grotesque and das Erhabene (the sublime), unlike semantically related nouns like alienation (Verfremdung), or fear (Angst). The connotation of the substantivised adjective seems to lie somewhere in between the closedness and definiteness of the substantive on the one hand, which refers to a clearly demarcated entity or phenomenon, and the adjective on the other hand, which belongs to everyday language with the more versatile, indeterminate use this entails. As such, the adjective is a qualifying addition, a supplement: it is not "necessary" in the strict sense, it merely adds something to the noun it accompanies.

This qualifying or embellishing function brings the adjective closer to the realm of the poetic metaphor, rather than to the scientific concept. In The Rule of Metaphor Ricoeur draws attention to Frege's postulate concerning the specific nature of literature as "that sort of discourse that has no denotation but only connotations" (122), meaning that literature has nothing to do with reference to an outside reality, but only refers to an intratextual reality. At first sight, however, Freud clearly assumes that there is a stable referent for the uncanny in reality: the uncanny exists and hence it can be described and defined. In order to determine the "essence" of the uncanny, Freud proposes a double investigation. First, he will proceed inductively by finding the common denominator of a great many cases of the uncanny. Then, he will confront these results with a semantic and etymological study of the meaning of the adjective. The question of reference becomes problematic on both accounts. According to Kofman and Cixous, Freud's complementary investigations are circular: the dictionary is called upon to corroborate the results of the case studies, but the one has no more reality than the other, because Freud merely confirms his interpretations by another interpretation. Not only is he thus trapped in the hermeneutic circle, he is also unable to distinguish between literal meaning and metaphorical meaning, between denotation and connotation, between reality and fiction.3

Let me consider for the moment the second, etymological research, which is presented first in the essay. In the lengthy display of dictionary entries Freud reproduces, there are several difficulties which have to do with the negativity of the notion. Un-heimlich is the negation of the adjective heimlich, derived from the semantic core of Heim, home. Except, it turns out that heimlich has two meanings. The first sense is the most literal: domestic, familiar, intimate. The second meaning departs from the positive, literal sense to the more negative metaphorical sense of hidden, secret, clandestine, furtive. One might say that a certain change of perspective has taken place: in the positive sense, heimlich takes the inside-perspective of the intimacy of the home. In the negative sense, by contrast, the walls of the house shield the interior and in the eyes of the outsider, the secludedness of the inner circle is associated with secrecy and conspiracy.

Unheimlich in the sense of strange, unfamiliar, uncanny, eerie, sinister… is then clearly the negation of only the first meaning of heimlich and as such, it almost coincides with the second, negative meaning of heimlich. This peculiar etymology runs counter to the intuition and already complicates the straightforward scheme of familiar versus strange and hence frightening, proposed by Jentsch. Freud concludes his lexicographic research by stating that the specificity of the sensation of the uncanny lies in the fact that something is frightening, not because it is unfamiliar or new, but because what used to be familiar has somehow become strange. He quotes a phrase by Schelling which formulates precisely this relation: "unheimlich is that what ought to have remained hidden, but has nonetheless come to light". And yet, the reader may be left wondering whether this 'definition' correspond to an 'actual' feeling, or whether we dealing with a metaphor?

When discussing the examples of the uncanny - already problematic in themselves because of their divergent, almost incompatible nature - Freud relates the idea of the familiar which has become strange to the psychoanalytic notion of repression. What is frightening is the return of the repressed. In his view, the prefix un- is none other than the mark of repression. With this prefix we are of course but one step removed from the quintessential Freudian concept, the unconscious, which is in a way an equally 'unthinkable' concept. The very notion of the unconscious excludes the idea of a consciously thinking, rational subject which is, as Samuel Weber points out, the basis of Western thought since Descartes and Kant. Likewise, how can we think the unheimliche as the negation of an ambivalent word like heimlich, if we cannot be sure of a stable referent in the first place? According to Weber, this explains why (I quote from an excerpt of the introduction to a new edition of The Legend of Freud)

the Uncanny, das Unheimliche, remains as abseitig, as marginal a topic as it was when Freud first wrote on it. Perhaps, because it is not simply a 'topic', much less a 'concept', but rather a very particular kind of scene: one which would call into question the separation of subject and object generally held to be indispensable to scientific and scholarly inquiry, experimentation and cognition (…). (Weber 1998)

2. The conceptualisation of the uncanny: a functionalist-discursive perspective

To a certain extent, Weber is right about the marginality of the uncanny in psychoanalytic theory and practice.4 In the years following its publication, the essay was hardly noticed. Only a few attempts have been made to examine the notion from a clinical perspective: Bergler (1934), Grotjahn (1948) and Lacan in his unpublished seminar on anxiety (1962-1963). However, in the seventies and the eighties, the uncanny starts to receive more attention, especially in Lacanian circles. In 1972, Mérigot characterises the shift in the following terms:

Psychoanalytic concepts circulate on the theoretical scene. They wear out, become tired, lose their freshness. Other theoretical formulations succeed the concepts of the first hour, concepts of a second level appear. Thus it is with the unheimliche, which, although it does not occupy a central position in the Freudian development, is nevertheless, for those who pay attention to it, an important and complex concept: complex by its mode of functioning which is often allusive and subterranean in the texts inspired by psychoanalysis, important because it is situated at one of the nods of the theoretical articulation of analysis. (Mérigot: 100, my translation)

Gradually, the notion is more and more accepted as a concept. The Revue Française de la psychanalyse (1981) and the Belgian journal Psychoanalytische Perspectieven (1992) both devote thematic issues to the uncanny. Moreover, the concept is included in a number of recent psychoanalytic dictionaries.5

Yet, the bulk of the critical and theoretical reception of "Das Unheimliche" is located in the field of aesthetics: literary theory and criticism, art history, philosophy, architecture and cultural studies. The growing interest in the uncanny in literary studies first occurred in the late sixties, early seventies, and coincided with the transition of structuralism to post-structuralism. On the one hand, Todorov briefly discusses Freud's essay in his structural study of the genre of the fantastic. Thus, he insured a lasting interest in the uncanny in the context of the genre study of the fantastic, the gothic and other related genres, which is still a vivid tradition in literary theory and criticism. On the other hand, a number of important readings of Freud's essay from a post-structuralist and/or deconstructive perspective have shaped the present form of the concept, and they function as theoretical landmarks in their own right. The most important examples are Cixous, Weber, Kofman and Hertz in the seventies and early eighties, more recent instances are Moller and Lydenberg.

I refer to these studies as "rereadings" in order to stress the specific form they take. They all share an interest in the rhetorical, discursive and even literary or narrative qualities of Freud's writing, rather than a scientific or conceptual approach. Very often, the particular fictional aspect of the texts and the emphasis on reading (both Freud's reading and the critic's) is already hinted at in the titles. Let me quote a few examples: "Fiction and its Phantoms A reading of Freud's Das Unheimliche " (Cixous), The Freudian Reading, Analytical and Fictional Constructions (Moller), Reading Freud's Reading (Gilman), Quatre Romans analytiques (Kofman), Freud's Masterplot (Brooks), and "Freud's Uncanny Narratives" (Lydenberg). Other titles stress the supplementary and complementary function of the commentaries and interpretations: "The Sideshow, or: Remarks on a Canny Moment" (Weber), "L'inquiétante étrangeté. Notes sur l'unheimliche" (Mérigot) and "Quelques notes de lecture concernant "Das Unheimliche"" (Van Hoorde).

All texts seem to take the phenomenon of the uncanny for granted, but, like Weber, most critics question not just the validity of Freud's study, but the very possibility and ideal of scientific knowledge and definite concepts per se. In Freud's oeuvre - in particular his notions of the unconscious and the uncanny - critics see either a forerunner of this deconstruction of Western logocentrism (positive attitude), or an example of this mode of thought to be deconstructed (negative). Cixous's reading is the first and most influential in this respect. Through strategies of parody and mimicry, she highlights the uncertainty and elusiveness that pervade Freud's attempts to define the uncanny. She reads his essay not as a theoretical study, but as a piece of fiction. As I have pointed out before, in "Das Unheimliche", Freud was faced with the problem of the uncanny in fiction. Literary discourse offers at once more and less possibilities for the uncanny, for the effect can be either fortified or toned down at the will of the writer. So any classification of uncanny phenomena is thwarted by fiction, for literary texts provide evidence and counter-evidence for every hypothesis and category.

Cixous goes one step further when she questions whether any sharp distinction can be drawn between reality and fiction. After all, the subjectivity of reading and interpretation is not limited to fiction, it infects any attempt at interpretation, even if it presents itself as scientific. Cixous seems to agree with Ricoeur (against Frege) that it is not very fruitful to see the difference between fiction and reality in terms of reference. Fiction does speak a sort of reality6 , moreover, according to Cixous, reality is always also fictitious: so-called objective knowledge of reality is no more true than fiction is. In trying to pin down the meaning of the uncanny, Freud is only confronted with its elusiveness. Every attempt to determine its essence is doomed to failure, because it entails a necessary repression of the doubt that is inherent in the uncanny. And by Freud's own definition, the repressed always returns and thus the uncertainty that he had hoped to expel, is always reintroduced. However, in behaving like a writer of fiction, Freud does manage to convey a sense of the uncanny, not by what he says, but by what escapes him.7

Neil Hertz also reads Freud's essay along similar lines, when he analyses the problem of figurative language in speculative texts. In Freud's Jenseits des Lustprinzips and in its precursor, "Das Unheimliche", he examines the theoretical presuppositions of the repetition compulsion and the death drive. Freud is unable to provide convincing, real evidence for these hypothetical constructions, notwithstanding the fact that he was forced to posit them by the confrontation with clinical data that could not be accounted for in psychoanalytic theory at that point. Therefore, these theoretical assumptions can only be described in figurative language, they are metaphors used to circumscribe certain gaps in the theory. Hertz also draws attention to the problem of an adequate meta-language: how can one speak about problems like metaphor, model and analogy without using figurative language? Furthermore, is it at all possible to distinguish between literal and figurative language, between content and form of discourse?8 Hertz's problematisation of figurative language in Freud's theoretical speculations can be generalised to scientific language and models in general, as has been done by a.o. Ricoeur.

In Métaphore et concept Claudine Normand (a linguist working in the field of the French analyse du discours in the seventies) specifically tackles these questions from the perspective of discourse analysis. She denounces the problem of a clear-cut distinction between metaphor and concept as somehow beside the point. In her view, psychoanalysis and discourse analysis may lead to a new perspective on science and the problem of metaphor and reference. Psychoanalysis as an overtly metaphorical science renders the opposition between metaphor and concept obsolete, because tropes and analogies function in a specific way. On the one hand, metaphorical psychoanalytic concepts like e.g., repression, the unconscious and the drive, are illustrations of phenomena. They are images used for didactic purposes, but at the same time they also have a heuristic function. They stimulate the development of a science and make it dynamic. The tension between subjectivity and objectivity that is created cannot be settled in terms of the classical hierarchical opposition of proper/figurative or in terms of the traditional scientific ideal of univocal meaning, for the opposition between conscious and unconscious allows for the simultaneous existence of ambivalent meanings in their own right, without cancelling each other out.

Thus the possibility of a new theory of representation is open, by putting into question the very "common and comfortable distinction between a term of reality and its representation" because "one and the same text, or better still, one and the same letter, at the same time constitutes and represents the unconscious desire". (Normand: 127)

Like Cixous, Weber and Hertz, Normand also deconstructs the classical opposition between science and fiction, however, less radical than Cixous, she does not want to destroy the possibility of science and meta-language. Rather, she advocates a new type of theoretical discourse, in which the subject of scientific discourse clearly comes to the fore. That is, the sense of metaphoricity and subjectivity need not be repressed, because a certain ambiguity and indefiniteness are tolerated. More concretely, Normand proposes to distinguish between the level of production of discourse and the level of function. On the level of production of scientific language, the play of metaphor and its endless displacement are accounted for and the process of signification is perceived as ambiguous, open and indefinite on the one hand and rooted in a subject on the other hand. Nevertheless, the polysemy on this level does not prevent a concept from functioning, from producing effects, both intersubjective (the emergence of the truth of a subject), and in a socio-historically determined formation (ideological truth). Following Althusser, Normand states that the production of knowledge by scientific discourse is the result of a complex process, or the "synthesis of a multiplicity of determinations". The fact that knowledge is also metaphorically determined "does not invalidate the real historical effects of this discourse". (Normand: 142)

How are we to relate this back to the conceptual history of the uncanny? What is attractive in Normand's proposal, is the possibility to approach the uncanny as a concept from a functionalist-discursive perspective, without obliterating its semantic complexity. Unlike Cixous or Weber, I am not inclined to characterise the notion in terms of a "coreless concept" or a "particular, marginal kind of scene". In the light of the current state of thought, I believe that the distinction between metaphor and concept in terms of content, origin and a traditional, monosemic view of science is highly problematic. Formulating the question in terms of either/or may, to a certain extent, have lost some of its pertinence. From a functionalist perspective, the uncanny is a concept because it is identified as such, as is testified by the numerous entries for the uncanny in various dictionaries and vocabularies, by its listing in indices and tables of content, by its inclusion as key word or subject category in bibliographical instruments and search engines on the internet, and lastly, by its occurrence in titles.

I agree with Martin Jay that "in the 1990's the uncanny has become a master trope available for appropriation in a wide variety of contexts" and that it is so because, as Jay rightly points out, "by common consent, the theoretical inspiration for the current fascination with the concept is Freud's 1919 essay" (Jay: 20). Freud's text may provide an anchoring point for the history of the conceptualisation, but it only functions as a beginning or arche by common consent, by an unspoken agreement among a community of users of the concept. As Freud demonstrated in his article, the uncanny is, like many other concepts, a word taken from common language, which is metaphorically charged with a certain meaning. Therefore, it is impossible to reduce the origin of these kinds of concepts to just one text or to just one usage. On the other hand, there must always a "first" one to lift such a word from its ordinary context, and to put it forward as a topic for reflection, in this case Freud.9 In order to survive, however, a concept must also take on a life of its own. A number of identifiable procedures in a body of texts may testify to that independent existence. I will briefly sum up three of these discursive procedures, the list is certainly not conclusive.

A first strategy is the reduction of the concept to standard formulations which eventually get to function as definitions. For instance, many critics refer to Schelling's phrase ("what ought to have remained hidden, but has nonetheless come to light") as a kind of definition, even if this was not the case in the original text. Other such formulations are "the familiar which has become strange", or "the return of the repressed". Moreover, certain topoi associated with the concept may trigger its use. One such topos is the isotopy of home and homelessness, which has resulted in an alternative translation for unheimlich, namely unhomely (especially in architecture and postcolonial discourse). Another common association is the semantic field of haunting, ghosts, spectres and the return of the dead. Finally, the access to the founding text becomes mediated: for instance, when Homi Bhaba uses the concept, he no longer directly refers to Freud's essay, but to Cixous's and Weber's readings of it.

3. The Uses and Shapes of the Uncanny

The uncanny is thus in practice a concept which paradoxically thematises the impossibility of conceptualisation in the traditional sense of a self-contained entity. Like the concept of the unconscious, it is a negative concept and hence internally contradictory, for by virtue of its negativity, it indicates something which cannot be rationally and consciously thought. Like the sublime, the substantivised adjective denotes not an entity but a quality, which is why it is an aesthetic concept: it expresses a subjective sentiment which cannot be captured in words, for the generality of language always in a way betrays the individuality of experience. And yet, the problematic content of these concepts does not prevent them from functioning. For as humans, we are both individuals and social beings, we need a common language to communicate our experiences. All the articles in the present issue address various ways in which the concept of the uncanny has been "used" – performed, theorised and applied – in the twentieth century, be it in theory, in criticism and in art.

In "A Trail of Disorientation" Michiel Scharpé has extensively compared Freud's and Sarah Kofman's readings of Hoffmann's seminal story "Der Sandmann", ultimately bringing the uncanny home to the story itself and to the essay that led Freud to Hoffmann, Ernst Jentsch's "On the Psychology of the Uncanny", in which the notion of doubt or intellectual uncertainty was posited as one of the main sources of the uncanny. Pieter Borghart and Christophe Madelein have undertaken a similar endeavour for another important aspect of the current concept of the uncanny in literary theory, its relation to the fantastic, as it has been developed in Tzvetan Todorov's study of the fantastic. They posit a structural relation between the uncanny and the fantastic, which hinges on the notion of hesitation. They conclude their elaboration with a brief reading of Adam Villiers de l'Isle-Adam's "Véra" in order to draw attention to some of the ambiguities in Todorov's theoretical model. Alex de Meulenaere follows the trail of the uncanny in the work of another French thinker, Michel de Certeau, who has dealt with the relation between historiography and psychoanalysis. Certeau's punning use of signifiers that play on the French term "inquiétante étrangeté" is symptomatic for his questioning of stable concepts and fits in with a proposal for a different kind of historiography.

Anthony Vidler has successfully introduced the concept of the uncanny in the deconstructive theory of architecture, renaming it as "the unhomely". In his survey of various architects discussed by Vidler, Bart Van der Straeten examines how the concept of the uncanny has, in some cases very explicitly, shaped the practices and realisations of a number of the most important representatives of the deconstructive movement in architecture: Bernard Tschumi, Peter Eisenman, Coop Himmelblau and Daniel Libeskind. In "Exploration # 6", Nele Bemong analyses Mark Danielewski's cult novel House of Leaves, a post-modern experiment, not only because of its intricate plot and radical formal experiment, but also because of its radically self-reflexive and meta-literary character. Incorporating many references, both to real and fictional theoretical works, the theory of the uncanny plays an important role in the novel. Starting from the uncanny, Bemong presents a post-Lacanian psychoanalytic reading of the novel addressing themes like feminity and the death drive.

The link between the uncanny and (post-)Lacanian has also proved fruitful in a number of critical approaches to works of art, especially in the case of film theory. Joyce Huntjens offers a "close viewing" of Hitchcock's classic Vertigo focussing on the relation between the protagonist John Ferguson and Madeleine/Judy in which the uncanny is related to the Lacanian conception of "the Woman" and the "object a". Maarten de Pourcq tackles Zizek's reading of another masterpiece of the cinematographic uncanny, David Lynch's Lost Highway in order to critically examine if and where the notion of the "object a" can be located in the film. Lost Highway is also juxtaposed to the Greek tragedy Medea in which the complex notion of "oikos" or home is examined. Both Trees Depoorter and Laurens de Vos have turned to Greek cultural history as well. They offer divergent perspectives on a motive that has often been associated with the uncanny: the snake-head Medusa, who with her deadly gaze petrifies the beholder.10 Trees Depoorter tackles the question from a philosophical perspective, trying to analyse Medusa both as an art-historical motive and as an experience. The "Medusa-experience" is characterised in two ways: as frontality and as detour, and as such it is related to other concepts, like "suddenness", "immediacy" and metaphor. Laurens de Vos takes Freud's analysis of "Das Medusenhaupt" as his starting point and stresses the ambiguity of Medusa. After an excursion to mythology, he brings the motive home to a novel by Harry Mulisch, The Procedure, where it is intricately linked to another traditional literary motive, the golem. The last contribution of this issue, Lisa Copin's "Looking Inside Out", offers an analysis of the problem of vision in Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's graphic novel From Hell. The problem of vision and the gaze guides not merely the analysis of the story and the graphic realisation of the novel, it is also examined from a psychoanalytical perspective, in the terms of the relation of the subject to the outside world.

Footnotes

1. The seminars were taught in collaboration with Prof. D. de Geest within the inter-university programme on literary theory, the GGS Literatuurwetenschap, in 2000-2001 and 2001-2002. I would also like to thank Michael Boyden for his help in editing a few papers in this issue.
2. This has been further elaborated in my Mosaic-article (2002).
3. As Cixous puts it, "Freud declares that it is certain that the use of the Unheimliche is uncertain. The indefiniteness is part and parcel of the "concept." The statement and its enunciation become rejoined or reunited. The statement cannot be encircled: yet Freud, arguing for the existence of the Unheimliche, wishes to retain the sense, the real, the reality of the sense of things. He thus seeks out "the basic sense". Thus the analysis is anchored, at once, in what is denoted. And it is a question of a concept whose entire denotation is a connotation". (Cixous: 528)
4. Weber explains "why the notion has remained marginal even to psychoanalysis itself. For psychoanalysis, today as to the time of Freud, has always sought to establish itself in stable institutions, grounded both in a practice and in a theory that rarely question the criteria of truth and value that dominate the societies in which it is situated."
5. See for instance Psychoanalytic Terms and Concepts (A.P.A, 1990) and Elizabeth Wright's Feminism and Psychoanalysis: a critical dictionary (1992)
6. "Fiction is connected to life's economy by a link as undeniable and ambiguous as that which passes from the Unheimliche to the Heimliche: it is not unreal; it its the "fictional reality" and the vibration of reality." (Cixous: 546)
7. "If we experience uneasiness in reading Freud's essay, it is because the author is his double in a game that cannot be dissociated from his own text: it is such that he manages to escape at every turn of the phrase. It is also and especially because the Unheimliche refers to no more profound secret than itself: every pursuit produces its own cancellation (…) "Basically" Freud's adventure in this text is consecrated to the very paradox of the writing which stretches its signs in order to "manifest" the secret that it "contains"." (Cixous: 547)
8. "But we know that the relation between figurative language and what it figures cannot be adequately grasped in metaphors of vision; and we might well doubt that the forces of repetition can be isolated - even ideally - from that-which-is-repeated. The wishfulness inherent in the model is not simply in isolating the forces of repetition from their representations, but in seeking to isolate the question of repetition from the use of figurative language itself." (Hertz: 320)
9. On the question of priority: see Hertz, Nobus and Morlock, who put forward Jentsch as another possible "origin" of the concept. Another candidate might be Schelling, but Vidler has demonstrated that Schelling's use of the term was never conceptual. Although the question of origin and priority is an interesting debate, it does not really significantly change the debate and the fact remains that in general, the concept is attributed to Freud.
10. See for instance the word of Clair, Coates and Lloyd-Smith.

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Boris Buden

U Kninu 1990.

Kao knjizevni prevoditelj imao sam velikih problema s rijecima. Neke od njih me u mom intelektualnom iskustvu prate kao nerjesive zagonetke. Jedna takva je i njemacka rijec unheimlich. Prema njoj osjecam isto sto je i Faust osjecao prema prirodi kada je uskliknuo: "Gdje da te zgrabim silna prirodo?" Da li u nekom nasem rjecniku? U njima ce se za tu rijec naci izraza kao sto su neprijatno, strasno, neugodno, jezivo, itd., ali, to ipak nije to. Od pomoci nisu ni tzv., sinonimi u drugim jezicima. Ni grcki, ni latinski, ni engleski ni francuski, pa cak ni arapski i hebrejski ne rjesavaju zagonetku. Ostaju pri losoj deskriptivnosti od koje se ne zna maknuti ni nas hrvatski. Dakle, idemo ispocetka. Unheimlich je ocigledno negacija od heimlich, sto isprva znaci nesto domace, prisno, poznato. Prema tome, unheimlich bi bio izraz za ono sto u covjeku izaziva strah upravo zato sto mu je strano i nepoznato. Ali, jos smo daleko od rjesenja. O tom problemu Sigmund Freud je 1919. napisao esej. Naslov: Das Unhemliche. Ondje nasiroko raspravlja o etimoloskim nedoumicama koje prate ovu rijec. U Sandersovom Rjecniku njemackog jezika navodi se tako jedan slucaj koji mozemo prepricati u najkracim crtama ovako: Govoreci o nekoj obitelji jedan covjek kaze: S njima je kao s nekim zatrpanim bunarom ili isusenom barom. Covjek ne moze preko toga prijeci, a da ga pritom ne prati osjecaj kako ce se iznova pojaviti voda. Sugerira se da ta obitelj nesto taji, nesto skriveno i nedopusteno. Taj osjecaj, prema navedenom Rjecniku, moguce je ravnopravno opisati pojmovima heimlich i unheimlich. Dakle, jedna rijec i istodobno njena negacija oznacuju jedno te isto stanje. Problem pojasnjava Schelling za koga rijecju unheimlich nazivamo sve sto je trebalo ostati skriveno, tajna, ali je izislo na svjetlo dana. Tu zagonetnu rijec u svoju teoriju preuzeo dakako i Freud. Za njega ona oznacuje onu nelagodu i strah covjeka koja nastaje kada se susretne s njemu tudjim i neprijateljskim silama, cije izvore medjutim duboko osjeca u sebi. Das Unheimliche je ono sto je jednom bilo blisko i posve prisno, ali je potisnuto, te se sada izazvano nekim dojmom vraca iz te potisnutosti u liku tajnovitog i stranog. To je osjecaj koji nas dovodi na trag Nietzscheova vjecnog vracanja istog, a u Freuda nam razotkriva filogenetski duboko usadjene strahove kao sto je onaj pred mrtvacima. Rijec je o prastarim animistickim uvjerenjima da je mrtvac postao neprijatelj zivog covjeka i da ga namjerava povesti sa sobom. Premda je civilizirani covjek napustio takva vjerovanja, neki dojmovi su u stanju ponovo ih ozivjeti i naizgled cak potvrditi. Onaj svima tako dobro poznat osjecaj koji nas, narocito u nasim snovima, navodi da za neko mjesto ili neki pejsaz pomislimo: to mi je poznato, tu sam vec bio, poznati déjŕ vu-efekt, jednako zasluzuje da bude opisan rijecju unheimlich. Naposljetku, ista rijec odgovara i onom drhtaju duse kad se suoci s istinom ljubavi tako jasno izrazenom u njemackoj uzrecici: Liebe ist Heimweh (Ljubav je ceznja za zavicajem, nostalgija). Ukratko, rijec unheimlich prati covjeka na njegovu putovanju kao zagonetna slutnja neke univerzalne Itake, i jeziva i lijepa u isti cas, kao i sve ono sto na sebi nosi nerazdvojive znake Erosa i Thanatosa. Ambivalentna je, jer iznosi na vidjelo ambivalentnost stvari same. Dozivjeti se mozda moze, ali prevesti nikada. Eto, ta i takva rijec pala je u razgovoru koji sam s prijateljem Ernstom vodio na jednom putovanju. Bilo je to u noci, negdje otprilike na pola puta izmedju Bosanskog Petrovca i Bihaca. Ernst je vozio kroz gustu zavjesu od kise i mraka, a ja sam vec iscrpio sve teme kojima sam do tada razbijao monotoniju voznje. Nakon podulje sutnje, on sâm je poceo pricati o svojim dozivljajima u Jugoslaviji, o krajevima kojima smo prosli, o tome da ga sve to na neki cudan nacin privlaci, da se svakako, pod drugim okolnostima mora vratiti i da je sve to, krajevi i ljudi, zanimljivo, cak lijepo, ali nekako unheimlich. Tu sam se ja nasmijao, a on je rekao da zna kako je to zagonetna rijec, ali da ne zna bolje kojom bi opisao svoj dozivljaj. Ernst je novinar, urednik u vanjskopolitickoj redakciji jednog uglednog beckog magazina. Te noci, polovicom listopada, vracali smo se iz Knina. On je bio na radnom zadatku, a ja u ulozi njegova prevoditelja. Nastavak puta do Zagreba uglavnom smo odsutjeli. On je, pretpostavljam, u glavi vec slagao svoj tekst, a ja sam pretresao svoje reminiscencije pokusavajuci dokuciti sto ga je navelo da upotrebi onu rijec. Unaprijed priznajem da to nisam u stanju racionalno obrazloziti. Mogu tek navesti neka prisjecanja, opisati pokoju sliku, nadovezati na nju vlastite slobodne asocijacije i mozda malo spekulirati. Dakle, prva stvar koja mi je tada pala na pamet, je jedna krcma na Ostrelju. Ondje u tom mjestu na pola puta izmedju Drvara i Bosanskog Petrovca bili smo se nakratko zaustavili. U krcmi osvijetljenoj skrtim zuckastim svjetlom bilo je hladno i vlazno. Sedam do osam muskaraca razmjestilo se po nevelikoj prostoriji. Od nekolicine njih dopirao je priguseni zamor, dok je vecina samo sjedila i sutjela. Neobicnost situacije pojacavao je i poseban vonj tog prostora. Neka mjesavina rekao bih smrada prljavih, zamascenih ovnujskih kozuha i onog zadaha koji neizvjetrivo struji kasarnskim hodnicima u kojima se nocu vonj mokrace mijesa s isparavanjima mokrih vojnickih cizama. U jednom trenutku zamijetio sam kako covjeku za susjednim stolom viri iz dzepa drska pistolja. Tiho sam to rekao Ernstu. Odgovorio je da on to ne vidi. Pistolj je medjutim ubrzo bio na stolu. Covjek, antipaticni debeljko, igrao se njime. Pravio sam se da to ne primjecujem, iako sam znao da se predstava izvodi zbog nas. Pistolj se vratio u dzep, ali je u drugoj ruci zazveckao svezanj kljuceva. Iz duguljastog privjeska iskocio je mali noz skakavac. Zurno smo sazvakali nase sendvice i izasli van. U mrkloj, kisnoj i hladnoj bosanskoj noci cak se i monotoni zvuk mjesalice za beton doimao nekako jezivo. I prvi puta toga dana u skiljavom svjetlu atomobilske lampice na Ernstovom licu jasno se mogla zamijetiti sjena nesigurnosti. Ispocetka njegovu samouvjerenost nista nije moglo pokolebati. Toga jutra na prilazu Gracacu pokazivao sam mu kamenje nakupljeno uz rub ceste. Tu su bile barikade. Ne, za njega su to samo odroni. Ta ipak je on profesionalac koji znade razlikovati rat od mira. Rat, to je Basra pod vatrom iranske artiljerije, to su marsevi kroz prasume Kambodze, to su tesko naoruzani Armenci na granici s Azerbejdzanom. Ja, za razliku od njega, nisam nesto takvo dozivio i mora da sam mu izgledao kao kakav prestraseni paranoik.
"Eto vidis da sve to skupa nije nista", uvjeravao me kad smo prosli barikadu na ulazu u Knin. U medjuvremenu, razgovarali smo s ljudima po gostionicama, a oni su bili ljubazni, spremni pomoci, a na politicka pitanja odgovarali su posve razumno, upuceno, bez ikakve zagrizenosti i agresivnosti. Tako je bilo i u Radio Kninu i u razgovoru s potpredsjednikom kninske opcine Macurom. Sve je to ukratko podrzavalo osnovni dojam kako je cijela situacija napuhana, kako su politicki sukobi predimenzionirani i kako stvarna opasnost uopce ne postoji. Ali tada se pojavio Milan Babic. Nastupio je kao osvijestena medijska zvijezda. Srdacno se pozdravio i pracen nekim gorostasom, vjerojatno njegovim tjelohraniteljem uveo nas dvojicu, novinara talijanskog Messagera, njegova prevoditelja i potpredsjednika Macuru, u jednu malu prostoriju u kojoj je otpocelo nesto sto je trebalo liciti na intervju. Pritom nije vazno sto je receno, nego kako je sve to izgledalo. Razgovor su svojim upadicama neprestano prekidali ogromni tjelohranitelj i Macura. Suflirali su Babicu sto da kaze, ispravljali ga, domisljali efektne izraze i zajedno s njim proizvodili iritirajucu kakofoniju. Prevoditelj na talijanski, jedan onizak stariji covjek, zivo je gestikulirao pretvarajuci Babiceve iskaze u citave price ciji bi se sadrzaj ukratko mogao opisati kao Jugoslavija za pocetnike. Talijan se ispocetka trudio oko svojih pitanja i inzistirao na preciznim odgovorima, a potom se stao gubiti okrecuci se cas prema jednom cas prema drugom sugovorniku, dok su mu ovi u jedan glas tumacili sve glasnije i glasnije svatko svoje i to na razlicitim jezicima. Njegova je zbunjenost na kraju poprimila crte ocajanja. Bespomocno je zasutio izgledajuci kao covjek koji nista ne razumije, koji ne zna zasto je dosao ovamo, a jos manje umije upotrebiti to sto je cuo. Za to vrijeme Babic je naglaseno prepotentno nizao svoje izjave. Njegov nastup na trenutke se pretvarao u puko egzerciranje bahatosti. Ta bahatost djelovala je na njegovoj osobi upadljivo autenticno, pristajala mu je cak toliko da se doimala poput kakvog prirodnog dara, talenta pomocu kojeg s lakocom ostvaruje superiornost nad svojom okolinom. Taj dojam samo je pojacavalo njegovo djecacko lice, istinski ozareno samozadovoljstvom zbog potpune neupitnosti i nedvojbenosti kakvu poznaje samo blazena instinktivnost. U svojoj grotesknoj prirodnosti izgledao je kao covjek koji je postao identican sa svojom zeljom, kao otjelovljeni, hodajuci day dream, kao fantazma koja govori. Taj intervju ili bolje, dozivljaj s tog intervjua, ucas su zbrisali sve pozitivne dojmove koje je Ernst sakupio za naseg posjeta Kninu. Njegova reakcija na Babica mogla se opisati samo kao srdzba. Ona je najjasnije dosla do izrazaja u epitetima, zapravo psovkama kojima je okrstio Babica. Dorfkaiser, balkanski Trottel, idiot itd. Ali vec tada osjetio sam da se ta srdzba i te psovke ne odnose samo na Milana Babica, da pogadjaju mnogo sire podrucje no sto je ono Kninske krajine ili ono cak same politike kao takve. Sve razgovjetnije sam osjecao da se one u krajnjoj konzekvenciji odnose i na mene. Iza te srdzbe skrivala se naime mnogo sira odbojnost koja ce u onoj krcmi na Ostrelju biti dopunjena osjecajem nesigurnosti, zapravo straha, da bi svoj jasni izraz nasla naposljetku u upotrebi rijeci unheimlich. To unheimlich odnosilo se na Balkan ili bolje, na pojam Balkana cije carstvo za prosjecnog Evropljanina pocinje odmah vec na suncanoj strani Alpa. Ernst, Evropljanin, navikao se kretati u svijetu kao u svojem svijetu, uredjenom, dobro poznatom i dostatno osmisljenom. Sada se medjutim nasao suocen sa svijetom kojim vlada nepredvidivost, u kojem poredak stvari u trenu moze izmaknuti kontroli, u kojem krhki sloj civiliziranosti svaki cas moze regredirati na bestijalnost. Sa svijetom cudesno pomijesanih zanrova i izmirenih suprotnosti u kojem glupost potvrdjuje svoj prestiz nad pamecu, u kojem ruglo djeluje neodoljivo, a zlo se ogrce najnevinijim izrazima. Njegova reakcija na taj svijet i sama je medjutim pripadala tom svijetu. On je unaprijed odustao od pokusaja da ga shvati svojim svjesnim misljenjem. Iza njegove srdzbe skrivala se abdikacija njegova razuma. Odbojnost je odavala tajnu, nepriznatu privlacnost, a nesigurnost i strah najmanje su bili znaci bacenosti u nepoznato i tudje. Naprotiv, svjedocili su o dubljem prepoznavanju iskonski bliskoga, razotkrivali su dozivljaj ovoga balkanskog svijeta kao potisnutog dijela vlastitog evropskog identiteta. Tada sam mu citirao jednu misao Egona Erwina Kischa iz daleke 1913. godine: Sada cu je ponoviti, jer mislim da ce dobro doci svakomu tko se nadje u gomili Balkanaca koja pijana od jeftine europolatrije zaziva Europu u onom istom ritualnom kodu u kojem urodjenici u susnim razdobljima zazivaju kisu.
Ona glasi:
S potcjenjivanjem gleda sa na Balkan s onog uzasnijeg Balkana koji sebe naziva Evropom.

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