The uncanny is “...that species of the frightening that goes back to what was once well known and had long been familiar.” (Freud, S. 124)
In order to discuss the uncanny within the realm of Art, it is necessary to understand what the uncanny is. The uncanny has been a topic of interest since the 19th Century, therefore establishing the people behind the theory entails the analysis of Freud and Jentsch with particular reference to E.T.A. Hoffmann's 'The Sand-Man'. This is where the use of the word in this context originated from. This understanding can then be applied to artists or designers that used this in their work and for what reasons they did so.
Sigmund Freud in 1919 wrote his essay 'The Uncanny', with the intention of discovering why a feeling of the uncanny can occur in some instances and not others. He felt that the uncanny was the feeling of what once had been repressed and then remembered in a new surrounding and so giving the familiar a sense of the unfamiliar. However the topic of the uncanny was first approached by Ernst Jentsch in 1906 with his essay 'On the Psychology of the Uncanny'. This was due to E.T.A Hoffmann's 'The Sand-Man', written in 1819 in German and is part of a series of short stories entitled 'The Night Pieces'. This would be classified as German Romantic literature. The story could be looked at from a modern point of view as being part of the Science-Fiction genre, with the doll Olympia and Fantasy with belief of the Sand-Man by Nathaniel.
Jentsch and Freud regard this story as being a prime example of the use of the uncanny within literature and so develop the understanding of the word henceforth. Jentsch regards the uncanny as being the intellectual uncertainty because of the reader querying whether an object is mortal or not, this thinking revolves around the character Olympia. In conclusion to this theory it would mean that the more you know and understand then there will be proportionately less uncertainty. As this is not the case, Freud develops his analysis further from what Jentsch states as “...the difficulties attendant upon the study of the uncanny, the fact that people differ greatly in their sensitivity to this kind of feeling.” (Freud, 124). Freud in his essay is aiming to disregard Jentsch's original work on the uncanny as important. He does this by removing the significance of the automaton that Jentsch attributes the uncanny feeling to and in doing so he renders the female as immaterial. In regards to the inquiry of an object being alive or not as being intellectual uncertainty and causing the uncanny for Jentsch, Freud believed that this would arouse the feeling of fear instead. The reason why the automaton Olympia creates the uncanny in the story is going back to the repressed memory of childhood here and the desire to see our toys or dolls come alive.
Freud's version of 'The Uncanny' along with his other theories, inspired the movement of Surrealism which came about in the 1920's and had emerged out of Dadaism. Started by Max Ernst, who had been involved in the Dada movement originally, he developed his own style in the direction of using his childhood memories to create the work. An area that Freud develops regularly in regards to his psychoanalytical work. Ernst had an interest in psychology and had even studied the subject for a short while so he was familiar with Freud. The Dadaists had started in around 1916 and they had no desire to create work that was pretty. They wanted to use as many different mediums as possible, questioning the way that Art should be, diverging from the more traditional view. Already there is a change in the view of Art by the beginnings of the 20th century as people were less interested in creating images that are visually appealing and laden with skill. The Art world had seen and begun to appreciate the Impressionists/Post Impressionists work who were initially rebuffed for the supposed lack of skill. For them there were...
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