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The Uncanny

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The Uncanny – Freud
I found this essay quite hard to read as it is quite long and repetitive, however, I found it informative. Before I read it I was aware of what the uncanny felt like but I never knew what it was that created the feeling. Freud defines the uncanny to be “that class of the terrifying which leads back to something long known to us and very familiar”. He clarifies that the uncanny can be experienced in two ways through his studies of the German words heimlich and unheimlich. His studies into this were provoked through research done previously by Ernst Jentsch into the uncanny. This is where I directed most of my attention as the research from both Jentsch and Freud was quite extensive.
Ernst Jentsch did his study on the uncanny prior to Freud and concluded the uncanny to be a fear of the unfamiliar based on intellectual uncertainty. He explains the uncanny is most easily created through writing fiction where the line between reality and fiction is blurred. Therefore, the uncanny can be understood as an uncomfortable feeling provoked in the reader through transmission of information the reader cannot distinguish as real or imaginary. I find this fascinating as the author is aware of the information being true or false so they do not encounter this feeling, but, can evoke it in another.
It seems to me that Freud took Jentsch’s research as a challenge to further distinguish and define the experience of the uncanny. It’s almost as if Freud was competing with Jenscht by taking his research one step further. He analyzed Jentsch’s conclusions and researched the words within his definition of the uncanny; familiar and intellectual uncertainty. He searched for a term to describe the uncanny in multiple languages to try and define a feeling. He concluded there are many languages without such term but he found the word heimlich. Heimlich in German means “belonging to the house, not strange, familiar” but it can also mean the opposite. The opposite being unheimlich: “concealed, kept from sight, withheld from others”. This enhanced his definition of the uncanny to include that it may be felt in two ways: familiar and unfamiliar. Specifically he insists the uncanny can be felt to what is comfortable, agreeable and familiar, but also to what is concealed, secretive, and unfamiliar.
Freud’s essay does have much more to it pertaining to uncanny fiction and the factors it requires but the research is what I found most interesting. It illustrates the complexity of the feeling as we can’t find the right words to describe it. The uncanny proves to be a feeling you can’t quite define but can easily recognize.

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