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Uncanny

The meaning of «uncanny»

The uncanny is the psychological experience of something as strangely familiar, rather than simply mysterious.[1] It may describe incidents where a familiar thing or event is encountered in an unsettling, eerie, or taboo context.[2][3]

Ernst Jentsch set out the concept of the uncanny later elaborated on by Sigmund Freud in his 1919 essay Das Unheimliche, which explores the eeriness of dolls and waxworks.[4] For Freud, the uncanny locates the strangeness in the ordinary.[3] Expanding on the idea, psychoanalytic theorist Jacques Lacan wrote that the uncanny places us "in the field where we do not know how to distinguish bad and good, pleasure from displeasure", resulting in an irreducible anxiety that gestures to the Real.[5] The concept has since been taken up by a variety of thinkers and theorists such as roboticist Masahiro Mori's uncanny valley[6] and Julia Kristeva's concept of abjection.[citation needed]

Philosopher F. W. J. Schelling raised the question of the uncanny in his late Philosophie der Mythologie of 1835, postulating that the Homeric clarity was built upon a prior repression of the uncanny.[7]

In The Will to Power manuscript, German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche refers to nihilism as "the uncanniest of all guests" and, earlier, in On the Genealogy of Morals he argues it is the "will to truth" that has destroyed the metaphysics that underpins the values of Western culture. Hence, he coins the phrase "European nihilism" to describe the condition that afflicts those Enlightenment ideals that seemingly hold strong values yet undermine themselves.

Uncanniness was first explored psychologically by Ernst Jentsch in a 1906 essay, On the Psychology of the Uncanny. Jentsch defines the Uncanny as: being a product of "...intellectual uncertainty; so that the uncanny would always, as it were, be something one does not know one’s way about in. The better oriented in his environment a person is, the less readily will he get the impression of something uncanny in regard to the objects and events in it."[4] He expands upon its use in fiction:

In telling a story one of the most successful devices for easily creating uncanny effects is to leave the reader in uncertainty whether a particular figure in the story is a human being or an automaton and to do it in such a way that his attention is not focused directly upon his uncertainty, so that he may not be led to go into the matter and clear it up immediately.[4]

Jentsch identifies German writer E. T. A. Hoffmann as a writer who uses uncanny effects in his work, focusing specifically on Hoffmann's story "The Sandman" ("Der Sandmann"), which features a lifelike doll, Olympia.

The concept of the Uncanny was later elaborated on and developed by Sigmund Freud in his 1919 essay "The Uncanny", which also draws on the work of Hoffmann (whom Freud refers to as the "unrivalled master of the uncanny in literature"). However, he criticizes Jentsch's belief that Olympia is the central uncanny element in the story ("The Sandman"):

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