The following post is by Morgan Blair, an undergraduate from the University of Louisville, and it deals with the concept of the uncanny as it is utilized by writer Georg Heym and director Robert Wiene. The uncanny itself is an important facet to consider when studying the paranormal, particularly ghosts and hauntings. Morgan’s post provides an intriguing look at Freud’s theory and presents an understanding that merits further consideration.
Written by Wendy Faunce
Almost 100 years ago, Freud analyzed the qualities of things considered uncanny. He referred to the uncanny in his study of the subject as the “Unheimlich,” saying, “‘Unheimlich’ is the name for everything that ought to have remained… hidden and secret and has become visible” (Freud 934). He later refers to the “Unheimlich” as closely associated with “ghostly.” Along with childlike tendencies and doubled reflections, he describes repetition as an essential quality. Often a part of childlike behavior and neurotic tendency, to repeat results in a “repetition-compulsion” is, “perceived as uncanny” (Freud 943).
Written by Kameron McBride
“What is a ghost? A tragedy condemned to repeat itself time and again? An instant of pain, perhaps. Something dead which still seems to be alive. An emotion suspended in time. Like a blurred photograph. Like an insect trapped in amber.”
This opening narration, spoken by the great Federico Luppi, begins Guillermo Del Toro’s 2001 film El Espinazo Del Diablo (The Devil’s Backbone), a ghost story set during the Spanish Civil War. The story centers around a 12-year-old boy named Carlos (Fernando Tielve) who is sent to an orphanage after his father dies fighting for the Reds in the war. The orphanage is run by Dr. Casares (Luppi) and Carmen (Marisa Paredes) who shelter children of the Republican militia. The orphanage itself is set in the middle of a vast desert, the nearest town miles away and filled with fascist supporters, meaning that the orphans are completely isolated in an island surrounded by danger.
Written By Ashley Starling
“You’ll finish [reading] and that will be that, until a moment will come, maybe in a month, maybe a year, maybe even several years. […] Out of the blue, beyond any cause you can trace, you’ll suddenly realize things are not how you perceived them at all. For some reason, you will no longer be the person you believed you once were. […] And then the nightmares will begin.” – Johnny Truant, introduction to House of Leaves
As written by Esther Wolfe
In his essay, “The Uncanny”, Freud famously interprets a definition of the uncanny within an examination of the German “Heimlich,” or “homely,” vs. the “unheimlich,” or “unhomely.” Using examples from the German language, Freud shows that the terms are used interchangeably to describe the uncanny—what is uncanny is both “homely” and familiar, and “unhomely” or unfamiliar. Implicitly however, Freud’s treatment of “heimlich” and “unheimlich” also provides a deeper, deconstructive orientation of the uncanny. The slippery exchange between the meaning of “heimlich” and “unheimlich” shows that what is uncanny is bound up in fundamental anxieties about the construction and instability of boundary itself. In this way, the anxiety of the uncanny is not only that it is both familiar and unfamiliar, but that it also exists in multiple dimensions, transgressing boundaries and destabilizing structures of signification.