Freud's Work On Defining The Uncanny
The concept of the uncanny is explored through Sigmund Freud's 1919 essay, Das Unheimliche. In this essay, Freud wishes to investigate not only the meaning behind the word 'uncanny' but to also explore the aesthetic of what makes something uncanny. Freud asserts that the concept of the uncanny is best described as being related to what is frightening but is never used in an easily definable sense. Freud defines it as "something that arouses dread and horror," but expresses that there would have to be a common core that can be used to distinguish what is just uncanny apart from what is just creepy.
Section I of the essay is devoted to listing all the available definitions of the word from a multitude of languages. The languages with Latin origin proved to have the most diverse definitions ranging from meaning uncomfortable to also meaning ghastly. The semantics proved to yield very little significance on the overall nature of what is uncanny as the different definitions only emphasize what he mentioned earlier as that it relates to dread and horror. The German word for uncanny is unheimlich making it the opposite of heimliche which means comfortable and familiar.
In Section II, Freud begins to explore the concept of familiarity and its correlation to ambiguity. Freud mainly highlights familiarity as a key factor in what makes something uncanny. It can be described as a psychological feeling that something is strangely familiar. The experience can be discomforting and can result in outright rejection of the object in question that causes the feeling of uncanny. Freud uses various pieces of literature to help further his point such as referencing E. T. A Hoffmann's The Sandman, before providing a summary of the short story. The largest point of interest for Freud is, "the idea of being robbed of one's eyes," as the "more striking instance of uncanniness" in the tale. This stems from an early childhood fear of losing one's eyes. The eyes are the most susceptible and vulnerable sensory organ that one possesses. The character Olympia is also used to help further his point about the uncanny feeling of when an object is familiar. The familiarity comes from the fact that Olympia is an inanimate object made to resemble a human; an automaton. When he relates uncanniness to an object it can take on a whole new meaning. The automaton's eyes were the focal point of...