The Examination of the Uncanny in Real Life and Literature

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The Examination of the Uncanny in Real Life and Literature

Uncanny. The word itself mocks it's own paradoxical definition. This paper aims to sufficiently explain the concept of the uncanny in relation to Andrew Bennett and Nicholas Royle's An Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory – Chapter Five “The Uncanny.” In this chapter, it is suggested that there are thirteen unlucky forms that the uncanny can take. From these thirteen forms, four have stood out as striking, and those will be discussed in detail in this paper. Furthermore, in discussing the four prominent traits, a relation between personal experiences and a full understanding the concept of “the uncanny” can help an individual better understand the situation in an new way We must also note that the element of uncanny can be found not only in real life, but also in literature. Is literature uncanny, and what makes it so? Or is literature not uncanny at all? Aimed to develop an understanding of the uncanny and it's role in literature, different aspects of writings will be analyzed in order to answer these questions. Bennett and Royle state that “the uncanny has to do with making things uncertain: it has to do with the sense that things are not as they have come to appear through habit and familiarity, that they may challenge all rationality and logic” (Bennett and Royle, 36). Therefore, the main aspect of the uncanny is introducing the unknown into an occurrence that appears to be known. Uncanny circumstances deal with a sense of strangeness, eeriness, and mystery, but the main “uncanny” factor is deeper than just the unknown; it's situation in which one feels comfortable but also uncomfortable in the familiarity, or lack thereof. The “uncanny is not just a matter of the weird or spooky, but has to do more specifically with a disturbance of the familiar” (35). There is a level of discomfort that arises when faced with an experience that disrupts what one may believe is their “norm.” This acquired feeling of discomfort and anxiety is attributed to the uncanny. “In sum, then, the uncanny can be described as the thoughts and feelings that may arise on those occasions when the homely becomes unhomely, when the familiar becomes uncomfortably strange or the unfamiliar becomes strangely familiar” (40). It is important to note, however, that a situation may appear to be uncanny to one and not to another. Per our own experiences and what we believe, each individual may react differently to a situation which they may or may not describe as being uncanny. This is where the thirteen forms of uncanny factor in. Bennett and Royle suggest that these traits are found in both literature and real life, and that they create dissonance between what we want to believe and what is actually happening. They are a vital element in identifying the uncanny, and thus are imperative for this topic. The thirteen forms which the uncanny can reveal itself are as follows: repetition, odd coincidences, animism, anthropomorphism, automatism, radical uncertainty about gender identity, burial alive (or the fear of being buried alive), silence, telepathy, death, the death drive, ghosts, and language. Knowing these elements attribute to the success of identifying uncanny situations, whether in readings or reality. Focusing on the thirteen elements of the uncanny, it is not hard to pinpoint which forms stand out as more important in personal experiences. With that being said, four of the thirteen pertain to my own experiences over others, and reveal themselves as more prominent than others. These elements are that of repetition, odd coincidences, silence, and death. Discussing each element further in depth will reveal why these elements can be justified as more prominent. The first element I would like to discuss is repetition. Bennett and Royle define it as a “strange repetition of a feeling, situation, event, or character” (36). Two examples that they provide in the text are that of deja...
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