Note: We are pleased to offer this brief break in our hiatus to bring to you a post by our lead editor, Esther Wolfe. Keep an eye out for the abstract to her article later in the summer.
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 Rebekah Hobbs
Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925) was written almost a century ago, but it still inspires fascination for romantics. The tragic storyline is a cautionary tale that tells us that dreams are unsubstantial, and must not be held too long. The story is still powerful because people in the modern era are not haunted solely by ghosts and spirits, but by their own failings and dashed dreams as well.
Gatsby is haunted by his desire for a life with Daisy, so he attempts to recreate the past. “Can’t repeat the past? …Why of course you can!” he says to Nick (124). But his attempts to attract Daisy are not purely the result of love—they stem from the deeper sense of self that Gatsby lost when he allowed himself to fall in love with her. “He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never again romp like the mind of God” (125). He is haunted, not because Daisy fails to meet his gilded expectations of her, but because he spent his years and striving on a dream that had stretched too far, at the cost of his potential for greatness, for all the things that a mind like the “mind of God” can achieve.
Gatsby is nothing more than a tragic striving, haunted by the very past that he claims can be repeated, and subsequently overcome. Modern life moves forward, “material without being real” (179), so we assign less importance to spirits of the dead, and instead focus on our desires and motivations, allowing our regrets more room to haunt us.
F. Scott Fitzgerald. “The Great Gatsby.” New York: Scribner. 2011. Electronic Book.
Written by Morgan Aprill
“A sudden bell rang in the house—the prayer-bell. Instantly into our alley there came, out of the berceau, an apparition, all black and white. With a sort of angry rush—close, close past our faces—swept swiftly the very NUN herself! Never had I seen her so clearly. She looked tall of stature, and fierce of gesture. As she went, the wind rose sobbing; the rain poured wild and cold; the whole night seemed to feel her” (392).
Written by Rebekah Hobbs
Since the evolution of the genre, Gothic writers have employed subtle language cues to create a sense of uncanniness. In the Western tradition, an unnatural use of language often proves that something is not as it should be, that the reader has cause for alarm. In “The Tomb” (1922), H.P. Lovecraft creates uncanny effects with references to ancient languages and texts and a general knowledge of things that should have receded from the collective unconscious long ago. In The Turn of the Screw (1898), Henry James achieves haunting effects within the structure of the narrative itself by writing in a way that summons more questions than it answers.
Written By Rachael Heffner
Society has an obsession with being scared. We constantly look for scary movies that are playing at the theatre or a haunted house to go to in the middle of October, desperate for that next scare. In E.J. Clery’s book, The Rise of Supernatural Fiction, she explores the correlation between the supernatural and consumerism. In her study, Clery concludes that when it comes to consumerism, the upper class sets the standard. The upper class is known for having a higher education, too; therefore, middle and working class members may conclude that whatever the upper class is known to believe or study must be true.
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
Written By Jared Lynch
In the introduction to her book Gothic Hauntings: Melancholy Crypts and Textual Ghosts, Christine Berthin discusses the findings of French psychoanalysts Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok. They explain that when haunting is transgenerational, it “takes the shape of a secret transmitted within a family or a community without being stated because it is associated with repressed guilt, shame or is the result of a trauma that has not been worked through” (4). When the ghost is transferred, it becomes “a lost object to the unconscious of the child, the living subject or ‘phantom carrier’” (4). This transgenerational concept of haunting is evident in Maxine Hong Kingston’s chilling essay “No Name Woman” in which Kingston learns from her mother that her father had a sister who had committed suicide after bringing shame to her family. Kingston’s mother tells her, “‘We say that your father has all brothers because it is as if she had never been born’” (2704). This transference of the No Name Woman’s story from mother to daughter marks the inheritance and continuation of a repressed specter, and Kingston becomes a “phantom carrier.”
Written By Elizabeth Palmer
Sigmund Freud writes that the uncanny is a distinct “class of…frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar.” He goes on to rhetorically ask how it is “possible…[for] the familiar [to] become uncanny and frightening.” What frightens us most are the things which we can almost recognize. Sometimes, that almost recognizable thing is memory. In Toni Morrison’s Beloved, the word “rememory” is used when the main character, Sethe, recalls moments that have been forgotten. She is faced with these uncanny re-memories—moments that are not quite familiar because they have been tucked away for so long—and at their sudden manifestation, becomes haunted by their existence.
Written by Brittany Means
Spook (2005) by Mary Roach is a detailed investigation into cultural attitudes toward the idea of the afterlife. In her other books, such as Bonk (2008) and Stiff (2003), Roach takes a scientific approach to the subjects of sex and the life of cadavers, respectively. Spook is no different, which Roach conveys in the introduction when she writes, “[T]his is a book for people who would like very much to believe in a soul and in an afterlife for it to hang around in, but who have trouble accepting these things on faith” (14).