A Homeless Concept Shapes of the Uncanny in Twentieth-Century Theory and Culture

Author: Anneleen Masschelein
Published: January 2003

Abstract (E): This article sketches the framework underlying the present thematic issue. A functionalist-discursive analysis of the linguistic form and evolution of the Freudian concept of the uncanny in the late twentieth century reveals a paradox: as a concept, the uncanny problematises the very act of conceptualisation and theory formation. And yet, as the various contributions to this issue show, precisely because of its structural vagueness/openness, the concept seems particularly suited to articulate certain tendencies in late twentieth-century thought and art.

Abstract (F): Cet article esquisse le cadre théorique des contributions de ce numéro. L’analyse discursive et fonctionnaliste des formes et de l’évolution du conception freudien d’ « unheimlich » (« inquiétante étrangeté », selon la traduction en usage) fait apparaître un paradoxe : le concept même d’unheimlich s’oppose en effet à sa propre conceptualisation et, plus généralement, à toute approche théorique du phénomène. Toutefois, les articles réunis dans ce numéro montrent aussi que l’ambivalence du concept d’ « unheimlich », qui reste à la fois flou et ouvert, le rend particulièrement approprié à l’analyse de certaines tendances artistiques et philosophiques de la fin du vingtième siècle.

Keywords: the uncanny, Freud, re-readings, discourse analysis, conceptualization

The present special issue of Image and Narrative is devoted to a somewhat intangible topic, the concept of the uncanny and its shapes in theory and culture. The various papers originate within a series of specialised seminars1, which started from an abstract problem: what is a concept, how does it come into being and how is it as such recognised and acknowledged. We have tried to formulate a partial answer to these questions by concentrating on a particular case: das Unheimliche or the Freudian uncanny. By way of introducing the question, I would like to make some remarks concerning the relation between on the one hand, the specific content of a notion and, on the other hand, a more functionalist-discursive approach focusing on the particular historical conceptual development.2 In the case of the concept of the uncanny, we are faced with a paradoxical situation. Although the history of its conceptualisation can be clearly traced because it is a relatively young concept, the uncanny has gradually come to signify the very problem or even impossibility of clearly defined concepts as such.

1. The “origin”: Freud

“Das Unheimliche” is an essay written by Freud in 1919 in which the phenomenon of the uncanny is approached from various angles: language and semantics versus experience; literature and myth versus everyday life and psychoanalytic practice; the individual feeling versus the universal phenomenon. Freud’s essay is a direct response to the psychiatrist Ernst Jentsch’s study “Über die Psychologie des Unheimlichen” (translated as “On the Psychology of the Uncanny”). For Freud, as for Jentsch, the uncanny is a specific – mild – form of anxiety, related to certain phenomena in real life and to certain motives in art, especially in fantastic literature. Examples of such phenomena or literary motives are the double, strange repetitions, the omnipotence of thought (i.e., the idea that your wishes or thoughts come true), the confusion between animate and inanimate, and other experiences related to madness, superstition or death. From the outset of his investigation, Freud qualifies the uncanny as an aesthetic experience. Aesthetic is here used in the broad sense of “the study of the qualities of our sentiments” as opposed to the narrow sense, “the study of the beautiful”, which, according to Freud, limits its scope to positive feelings. The fact that the uncanny is related to aesthetics also accounts for the subjectivity of the experience: Freud insists that not everyone is equally susceptible to the feeling of the uncanny, and the list of phenomena is neither conclusive, nor generally accepted. Especially in literature, it depends on the treatment of the material whether a motive is uncanny or not. Nevertheless, Freud does not doubt the existence of the sentiment as such: both in everyday life and in art, the uncanny occurs, otherwise there would not be a specific word for it.

Freud’s characterisation of aesthetic phenomena in terms of “the qualities of our sentiments” can be related to the peculiar grammatical form of the term das Unheimliche, which will turn out to be symptomatic for its paradoxical situation as a concept. Instead of the regular derivative substantive Unheimlichkeit (uncanniness), the title of Freud’s essay consists of a substantivised adjective. Thus, grammatically speaking, the uncanny belongs to a category of concepts like the grotesque and das Erhabene (the sublime), unlike semantically related nouns like alienation (Verfremdung), or fear (Angst). The connotation of the substantivised adjective seems to lie somewhere in between the closedness and definiteness of the substantive on the one hand, which refers to a clearly demarcated entity or phenomenon, and the adjective on the other hand, which belongs to everyday language with the more versatile, indeterminate use this entails. As such, the adjective is a qualifying addition, a supplement: it is not “necessary” in the strict sense, it merely adds something to the noun it accompanies.

This qualifying or embellishing function brings the adjective closer to the realm of the poetic metaphor, rather than to the scientific concept. In The Rule of Metaphor Ricoeur draws attention to Frege’s postulate concerning the specific nature of literature as “that sort of discourse that has no denotation but only connotations” (122), meaning that literature has nothing to do with reference to an outside reality, but only refers to an intratextual reality. At first sight, however, Freud clearly assumes that there is a stable referent for the uncanny in reality: the uncanny exists and hence it can be described and defined. In order to determine the “essence” of the uncanny, Freud proposes a double investigation. First, he will proceed inductively by finding the common denominator of a great many cases of the uncanny. Then, he will confront these results with a semantic and etymological study of the meaning of the adjective. The question of reference becomes problematic on both accounts. According to Kofman and Cixous, Freud’s complementary investigations are circular: the dictionary is called upon to corroborate the results of the case studies, but the one has no more reality than the other, because Freud merely confirms his interpretations by another interpretation. Not only is he thus trapped in the hermeneutic circle, he is also unable to distinguish between literal meaning and metaphorical meaning, between denotation and connotation, between reality and fiction.3

Let me consider for the moment the second, etymological research, which is presented first in the essay. In t
he lengthy display of dictionary entries Freud reproduces, there are several difficulties which have to do with the negativity of the notion. Un-heimlich is the negation of the adjective heimlich, derived from the semantic core of Heim, home. Except, it turns out that heimlich has two meanings. The first sense is the most literal: domestic, familiar, intimate. The second meaning departs from the positive, literal sense to the more negative metaphorical sense of hidden, secret, clandestine, furtive. One might say that a certain change of perspective has taken place: in the positive sense, heimlich takes the inside-perspective of the intimacy of the home. In the negative sense, by contrast, the walls of the house shield the interior and in the eyes of the outsider, the secludedness of the inner circle is associated with secrecy and conspiracy.

Unheimlich in the sense of strange, unfamiliar, uncanny, eerie, sinister… is then clearly the negation of only the first meaning of heimlich and as such, it almost coincides with the second, negative meaning of heimlich. This peculiar etymology runs counter to the intuition and already complicates the straightforward scheme of familiar versus strange and hence frightening, proposed by Jentsch. Freud concludes his lexicographic research by stating that the specificity of the sensation of the uncanny lies in the fact that something is frightening, not because it is unfamiliar or new, but because what used to be familiar has somehow become strange. He quotes a phrase by Schelling which formulates precisely this relation: “unheimlich is that what ought to have remained hidden, but has nonetheless come to light”. And yet, the reader may be left wondering whether this ‘definition’ correspond to an ‘actual’ feeling, or whether we dealing with a metaphor?

When discussing the examples of the uncanny – already problematic in themselves because of their divergent, almost incompatible nature – Freud relates the idea of the familiar which has become strange to the psychoanalytic notion of repression. What is frightening is the return of the repressed. In his view, the prefix un- is none other than the mark of repression. With this prefix we are of course but one step removed from the quintessential Freudian concept, the unconscious, which is in a way an equally ‘unthinkable’ concept. The very notion of the unconscious excludes the idea of a consciously thinking, rational subject which is, as Samuel Weber points out, the basis of Western thought since Descartes and Kant. Likewise, how can we think the unheimliche as the negation of an ambivalent word like heimlich, if we cannot be sure of a stable referent in the first place? According to Weber, this explains why (I quote from an excerpt of the introduction to a new edition of The Legend of Freud)

the Uncanny, das Unheimliche, remains as abseitig, as marginal a topic as it was when Freud first wrote on it. Perhaps, because it is not simply a ‘topic’, much less a ‘concept’, but rather a very particular kind of scene: one which would call into question the separation of subject and object generally held to be indispensable to scientific and scholarly inquiry, experimentation and cognition (…). (Weber 1998)

2. The conceptualisation of the uncanny: a functionalist-discursive perspective

To a certain extent, Weber is right about the marginality of the uncanny in psychoanalytic theory and practice.4 In the years following its publication, the essay was hardly noticed. Only a few attempts have been made to examine the notion from a clinical perspective: Bergler (1934), Grotjahn (1948) and Lacan in his unpublished seminar on anxiety (1962-1963). However, in the seventies and the eighties, the uncanny starts to receive more attention, especially in Lacanian circles. In 1972, Mérigot characterises the shift in the following terms:

Psychoanalytic concepts circulate on the theoretical scene. They wear out, become tired, lose their freshness. Other theoretical formulations succeed the concepts of the first hour, concepts of a second level appear. Thus it is with the unheimliche, which, although it does not occupy a central position in the Freudian development, is nevertheless, for those who pay attention to it, an important and complex concept: complex by its mode of functioning which is often allusive and subterranean in the texts inspired by psychoanalysis, important because it is situated at one of the nods of the theoretical articulation of analysis. (Mérigot: 100, my translation)

Gradually, the notion is more and more accepted as a concept. The Revue Française de la psychanalyse (1981) and the Belgian journal Psychoanalytische Perspectieven (1992) both devote thematic issues to the uncanny. Moreover, the concept is included in a number of recent psychoanalytic dictionaries.5

Yet, the bulk of the critical and theoretical reception of “Das Unheimliche” is located in the field of aesthetics: literary theory and criticism, art history, philosophy, architecture and cultural studies. The growing interest in the uncanny in literary studies first occurred in the late sixties, early seventies, and coincided with the transition of structuralism to post-structuralism. On the one hand, Todorov briefly discusses Freud’s essay in his structural study of the genre of the fantastic. Thus, he insured a lasting interest in the uncanny in the context of the genre study of the fantastic, the gothic and other related genres, which is still a vivid tradition in literary theory and criticism. On the other hand, a number of important readings of Freud’s essay from a post-structuralist and/or deconstructive perspective have shaped the present form of the concept, and they function as theoretical landmarks in their own right. The most important examples are Cixous, Weber, Kofman and Hertz in the seventies and early eighties, more recent instances are Moller and Lydenberg.

I refer to these studies as “rereadings” in order to stress the specific form they take. They all share an interest in the rhetorical, discursive and even literary or narrative qualities of Freud’s writing, rather than a scientific or conceptual approach. Very often, the particular fictional aspect of the texts and the emphasis on reading (both Freud’s reading and the critic’s) is already hinted at in the titles. Let me quote a few examples: “Fiction and its Phantoms A reading of Freud’s Das Unheimliche ” (Cixous), The Freudian Reading, Analytical and Fictional Constructions (Moller), Reading Freud’s Reading (Gilman), Quatre Romans analytiques (Kofman), Freud’s Masterplot (Brooks), and “Freud’s Uncanny Narratives” (Lydenberg). Other titles stress the supplementary and complementary function of the commentaries and interpretations: “The Sideshow, or: Remarks on a Canny Moment” (Weber), “L’inquiétante étrangeté. Notes sur l’unheimliche” (Mérigot) and “Quelques notes de lecture concernant “Das Unheimliche”” (Van Hoorde).

All texts seem to take the phenomenon of the uncanny for granted, but, like Weber, most critics question not just the validity of Freud’s study, but the very possibility and ideal of scientific knowledge and definite concepts per se. In Freud’s oeuvre – in particular his notions of the unconscious and the uncanny – critics see either a forerunner of this deconstruction of Western logocentrism (positive attitude), or an example of this mode of thought to be deconstructed (negative). Cixous’s reading is the first and most influential in this respect. Through strategies of parody and mimicry, she highlights the uncertainty and elusiveness that pervade Freud’s attempts to define the uncanny. She reads his essay not as a theoretical study, but as a piece of fiction. As I have pointed out before, in “Das Unheimliche”, Freud was faced with the problem of the uncanny in fiction. Literary discourse offers at once more an
d less possibilities for the uncanny, for the effect can be either fortified or toned down at the will of the writer. So any classification of uncanny phenomena is thwarted by fiction, for literary texts provide evidence and counter-evidence for every hypothesis and category.

Cixous goes one step further when she questions whether any sharp distinction can be drawn between reality and fiction. After all, the subjectivity of reading and interpretation is not limited to fiction, it infects any attempt at interpretation, even if it presents itself as scientific. Cixous seems to agree with Ricoeur (against Frege) that it is not very fruitful to see the difference between fiction and reality in terms of reference. Fiction does speak a sort of reality6 , moreover, according to Cixous, reality is always also fictitious: so-called objective knowledge of reality is no more true than fiction is. In trying to pin down the meaning of the uncanny, Freud is only confronted with its elusiveness. Every attempt to determine its essence is doomed to failure, because it entails a necessary repression of the doubt that is inherent in the uncanny. And by Freud’s own definition, the repressed always returns and thus the uncertainty that he had hoped to expel, is always reintroduced. However, in behaving like a writer of fiction, Freud does manage to convey a sense of the uncanny, not by what he says, but by what escapes him.7

Neil Hertz also reads Freud’s essay along similar lines, when he analyses the problem of figurative language in speculative texts. In Freud’s Jenseits des Lustprinzips and in its precursor, “Das Unheimliche”, he examines the theoretical presuppositions of the repetition compulsion and the death drive. Freud is unable to provide convincing, real evidence for these hypothetical constructions, notwithstanding the fact that he was forced to posit them by the confrontation with clinical data that could not be accounted for in psychoanalytic theory at that point. Therefore, these theoretical assumptions can only be described in figurative language, they are metaphors used to circumscribe certain gaps in the theory. Hertz also draws attention to the problem of an adequate meta-language: how can one speak about problems like metaphor, model and analogy without using figurative language? Furthermore, is it at all possible to distinguish between literal and figurative language, between content and form of discourse?8 Hertz’s problematisation of figurative language in Freud’s theoretical speculations can be generalised to scientific language and models in general, as has been done by a.o. Ricoeur.

In Métaphore et concept Claudine Normand (a linguist working in the field of the French analyse du discours in the seventies) specifically tackles these questions from the perspective of discourse analysis. She denounces the problem of a clear-cut distinction between metaphor and concept as somehow beside the point. In her view, psychoanalysis and discourse analysis may lead to a new perspective on science and the problem of metaphor and reference. Psychoanalysis as an overtly metaphorical science renders the opposition between metaphor and concept obsolete, because tropes and analogies function in a specific way. On the one hand, metaphorical psychoanalytic concepts like e.g., repression, the unconscious and the drive, are illustrations of phenomena. They are images used for didactic purposes, but at the same time they also have a heuristic function. They stimulate the development of a science and make it dynamic. The tension between subjectivity and objectivity that is created cannot be settled in terms of the classical hierarchical opposition of proper/figurative or in terms of the traditional scientific ideal of univocal meaning, for the opposition between conscious and unconscious allows for the simultaneous existence of ambivalent meanings in their own right, without cancelling each other out.

Thus the possibility of a new theory of representation is open, by putting into question the very “common and comfortable distinction between a term of reality and its representation” because “one and the same text, or better still, one and the same letter, at the same time constitutes and represents the unconscious desire”. (Normand: 127)

Like Cixous, Weber and Hertz, Normand also deconstructs the classical opposition between science and fiction, however, less radical than Cixous, she does not want to destroy the possibility of science and meta-language. Rather, she advocates a new type of theoretical discourse, in which the subject of scientific discourse clearly comes to the fore. That is, the sense of metaphoricity and subjectivity need not be repressed, because a certain ambiguity and indefiniteness are tolerated. More concretely, Normand proposes to distinguish between the level of production of discourse and the level of function. On the level of production of scientific language, the play of metaphor and its endless displacement are accounted for and the process of signification is perceived as ambiguous, open and indefinite on the one hand and rooted in a subject on the other hand. Nevertheless, the polysemy on this level does not prevent a concept from functioning, from producing effects, both intersubjective (the emergence of the truth of a subject), and in a socio-historically determined formation (ideological truth). Following Althusser, Normand states that the production of knowledge by scientific discourse is the result of a complex process, or the “synthesis of a multiplicity of determinations”. The fact that knowledge is also metaphorically determined “does not invalidate the real historical effects of this discourse”. (Normand: 142)

How are we to relate this back to the conceptual history of the uncanny? What is attractive in Normand’s proposal, is the possibility to approach the uncanny as a concept from a functionalist-discursive perspective, without obliterating its semantic complexity. Unlike Cixous or Weber, I am not inclined to characterise the notion in terms of a “coreless concept” or a “particular, marginal kind of scene”. In the light of the current state of thought, I believe that the distinction between metaphor and concept in terms of content, origin and a traditional, monosemic view of science is highly problematic. Formulating the question in terms of either/or may, to a certain extent, have lost some of its pertinence. From a functionalist perspective, the uncanny is a concept because it is identified as such, as is testified by the numerous entries for the uncanny in various dictionaries and vocabularies, by its listing in indices and tables of content, by its inclusion as key word or subject category in bibliographical instruments and search engines on the internet, and lastly, by its occurrence in titles.

I agree with Martin Jay that “in the 1990’s the uncanny has become a master trope available for appropriation in a wide variety of contexts” and that it is so because, as Jay rightly points out, “by common consent, the theoretical inspiration for the current fascination with the concept is Freud’s 1919 essay” (Jay: 20). Freud’s text may provide an anchoring point for the history of the conceptualisation, but it only functions as a beginning or arche by common consent, by an unspoken agreement among a community of users of the concept. As Freud demonstrated in his article, the uncanny is, like many other concepts, a word taken from common language, which is metaphorically charged with a certain meaning. Therefore, it is impossible to reduce the origin of these kinds of concepts to just one text or to just one usage. On the other hand, there must always a “first” one to lift such a word from its ordin
ary context, and to put it forward as a topic for reflection, in this case Freud.9 In order to survive, however, a concept must also take on a life of its own. A number of identifiable procedures in a body of texts may testify to that independent existence. I will briefly sum up three of these discursive procedures, the list is certainly not conclusive.

A first strategy is the reduction of the concept to standard formulations which eventually get to function as definitions. For instance, many critics refer to Schelling’s phrase (“what ought to have remained hidden, but has nonetheless come to light”) as a kind of definition, even if this was not the case in the original text. Other such formulations are “the familiar which has become strange”, or “the return of the repressed”. Moreover, certain topoi associated with the concept may trigger its use. One such topos is the isotopy of home and homelessness, which has resulted in an alternative translation for unheimlich, namely unhomely (especially in architecture and postcolonial discourse). Another common association is the semantic field of haunting, ghosts, spectres and the return of the dead. Finally, the access to the founding text becomes mediated: for instance, when Homi Bhaba uses the concept, he no longer directly refers to Freud’s essay, but to Cixous’s and Weber’s readings of it.

3. The Uses and Shapes of the Uncanny

The uncanny is thus in practice a concept which paradoxically thematises the impossibility of conceptualisation in the traditional sense of a self-contained entity. Like the concept of the unconscious, it is a negative concept and hence internally contradictory, for by virtue of its negativity, it indicates something which cannot be rationally and consciously thought. Like the sublime, the substantivised adjective denotes not an entity but a quality, which is why it is an aesthetic concept: it expresses a subjective sentiment which cannot be captured in words, for the generality of language always in a way betrays the individuality of experience. And yet, the problematic content of these concepts does not prevent them from functioning. For as humans, we are both individuals and social beings, we need a common language to communicate our experiences. All the articles in the present issue address various ways in which the concept of the uncanny has been “used” – performed, theorised and applied – in the twentieth century, be it in theory, in criticism and in art.

In “A Trail of Disorientation” Michiel Scharpé has extensively compared Freud’s and Sarah Kofman’s readings of Hoffmann’s seminal story “Der Sandmann”, ultimately bringing the uncanny home to the story itself and to the essay that led Freud to Hoffmann, Ernst Jentsch’s “On the Psychology of the Uncanny”, in which the notion of doubt or intellectual uncertainty was posited as one of the main sources of the uncanny. Pieter Borghart and Christophe Madelein have undertaken a similar endeavour for another important aspect of the current concept of the uncanny in literary theory, its relation to the fantastic, as it has been developed in Tzvetan Todorov’s study of the fantastic. They posit a structural relation between the uncanny and the fantastic, which hinges on the notion of hesitation. They conclude their elaboration with a brief reading of Adam Villiers de l’Isle-Adam’s “Véra” in order to draw attention to some of the ambiguities in Todorov’s theoretical model. Alex de Meulenaere follows the trail of the uncanny in the work of another French thinker, Michel de Certeau, who has dealt with the relation between historiography and psychoanalysis. Certeau’s punning use of signifiers that play on the French term “inquiétante étrangeté” is symptomatic for his questioning of stable concepts and fits in with a proposal for a different kind of historiography.

Anthony Vidler has successfully introduced the concept of the uncanny in the deconstructive theory of architecture, renaming it as “the unhomely”. In his survey of various architects discussed by Vidler, Bart Van der Straeten examines how the concept of the uncanny has, in some cases very explicitly, shaped the practices and realisations of a number of the most important representatives of the deconstructive movement in architecture: Bernard Tschumi, Peter Eisenman, Coop Himmelblau and Daniel Libeskind. In “Exploration # 6”, Nele Bemong analyses Mark Danielewski’s cult novel House of Leaves, a post-modern experiment, not only because of its intricate plot and radical formal experiment, but also because of its radically self-reflexive and meta-literary character. Incorporating many references, both to real and fictional theoretical works, the theory of the uncanny plays an important role in the novel. Starting from the uncanny, Bemong presents a post-Lacanian psychoanalytic reading of the novel addressing themes like feminity and the death drive.

The link between the uncanny and (post-)Lacanian has also proved fruitful in a number of critical approaches to works of art, especially in the case of film theory. Joyce Huntjens offers a “close viewing” of Hitchcock’s classic Vertigo focussing on the relation between the protagonist John Ferguson and Madeleine/Judy in which the uncanny is related to the Lacanian conception of “the Woman” and the “object a”. Maarten de Pourcq tackles Zizek’s reading of another masterpiece of the cinematographic uncanny, David Lynch’s Lost Highway in order to critically examine if and where the notion of the “object a” can be located in the film. Lost Highway is also juxtaposed to the Greek tragedy Medea in which the complex notion of “oikos” or home is examined. Both Trees Depoorter and Laurens de Vos have turned to Greek cultural history as well. They offer divergent perspectives on a motive that has often been associated with the uncanny: the snake-head Medusa, who with her deadly gaze petrifies the beholder.10 Trees Depoorter tackles the question from a philosophical perspective, trying to analyse Medusa both as an art-historical motive and as an experience. The “Medusa-experience” is characterised in two ways: as frontality and as detour, and as such it is related to other concepts, like “suddenness”, “immediacy” and metaphor. Laurens de Vos takes Freud’s analysis of “Das Medusenhaupt” as his starting point and stresses the ambiguity of Medusa. After an excursion to mythology, he brings the motive home to a novel by Harry Mulisch, The Procedure, where it is intricately linked to another traditional literary motive, the golem. The last contribution of this issue, Lisa Copin’s “Looking Inside Out”, offers an analysis of the problem of vision in Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s graphic novel From Hell. The problem of vision and the gaze guides not merely the analysis of the story and the graphic realisation of the novel, it is also examined from a psychoanalytical perspective, in the terms of the relation of the subject to the outside world.


Bergler, Edmund. 1934. “The Psycho-Analysis of the Uncanny.” International Journal of Psychoanalysis 15: 215-244.

Bhabha, Homi K. 1994. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge.

Brooks, Peter. 1984. Reading for the Plot. Design and Intention in Narrative. Cambridge (Ma): Harvard UP.

Cixous, Hélène. 1976. “Fiction and its Phantoms: A Reading of Freud’s ‘Das Unheimliche’ (‘The Uncanny’).” New Literary History 7: 525-548.

Clair, Jean. 1989. Méduse. Contribution à une anthropologie des arts visuels. Paris: Gallimard.

Coates, Paul. 1991. The Gorgon’s Gaze. German Cinema, Expressionism and the Expression of Horror. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.

Freud, Sigmund. 1964. “The ‘Uncanny’.” The Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Standard ed. Vol. 17. London: The Hogarth Press: 217-256.

Gilman, Sander, a.o., eds. 1994. Reading Freud’s Reading. New York: New York UP.

Grotjahn, Martin. 1948. “Some Clinical Illustrations of Freud’s Analysis of the Uncanny.” Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic 12: 57-60.

Hertz, Neil. 1985. “Freud and the Sandman.” The End of the Line: Essays on Psychoanalysis and the Sublime. New York: Columbia UP: 296-321.

Jay, Martin. 1995 “Forcefields: The Uncanny Nineties.” Salmagundi: 20-29.

Jentsch, Ernst. 1995. “On the Psychology of the Uncanny.” Trans. Roy Sellars. Angelaki 2: 7-16.

Lloyd-Smith, Allan. 1989. Uncanny American Fiction. Medusa’s Face. London: MacMillan.

Masschelein, Anneleen. 2002. “The Concept as Ghost: Conceptualization of the Uncany in Late-Twentieth-Century Theory.” Mosaic 35.1: 53-68.

Mérigot, Bernard. 1972. “L’inquiétante étrangeté: Note sur l’unheimliche.” Littérature 8: 100-106.

Moller, Lis. 1991. The Freudian Reading. Analytical and Fictional Constructions. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P.

Moore, Burness E. and Bernard D. Fine, eds. 1990. Psychoanalytic Terms and Concepts. New Haven: APA and Yale UP.

Morlock, Forbes. 1995. “Doubly Uncanny. An Introduction to “On the Psychology of the Uncanny”.” Angelaki 2: 17-21.

Nobus, Dany. 1993. “Freud versus Jentsch: een kruistocht tegen de intellectuele onzekerheid.” Psychoanalytische Perspektieven 19-20.

Normand, Claudine. 1976. Métaphore et concept. Bruxelles: Complexe.

Ricoeur, Paul. 1978. The Rule of Metaphor: Multi-Disciplinary Studies of the Creation of Meaning in language. London: Routledge.

Van Hoorde, Hubert. 1986. “Quelques notes de lectures concernant “Das Unheimliche“.” Rondzendbrief uit het Freudiaanse veld 5: 55-58.

Vidler, Anthony. 1992. The Architectural Uncanny. Essays in the Modern Unhomely. Cambridge (Ma): MIT P.

Weber, Samuel. 2000. The Legend of Freud. Expanded ed. Stanford: Stanford UP.
—. “Excerpt from the introduction to The Legend of Freud.” http://www.javari.com/book.weber.intro.html

Wright, Elizabeth. ed. 1992. Feminism and Psychoanalysis. A Critical Dictionary. Oxford: Blackwell.


1. The seminars were taught in collaboration with Prof. D. de Geest within the inter-university programme on literary theory, the GGS Literatuurwetenschap, in 2000-2001 and 2001-2002. I would also like to thank Michael Boyden for his help in editing a few papers in this issue.
2. This has been further elaborated in my Mosaic-article (2002).
3. As Cixous puts it, “Freud declares that it is certain that the use of the Unheimliche is uncertain. The indefiniteness is part and parcel of the “concept.” The statement and its enunciation become rejoined or reunited. The statement cannot be encircled: yet Freud, arguing for the existence of the Unheimliche, wishes to retain the sense, the real, the reality of the sense of things. He thus seeks out “the basic sense”. Thus the analysis is anchored, at once, in what is denoted. And it is a question of a concept whose entire denotation is a connotation”. (Cixous: 528)
4. Weber explains “why the notion has remained marginal even to psychoanalysis itself. For psychoanalysis, today as to the time of Freud, has always sought to establish itself in stable institutions, grounded both in a practice and in a theory that rarely question the criteria of truth and value that dominate the societies in which it is situated.”
5. See for instance Psychoanalytic Terms and Concepts (A.P.A, 1990) and Elizabeth Wright’s Feminism and Psychoanalysis: a critical dictionary (1992)
6. “Fiction is connected to life’s economy by a link as undeniable and ambiguous as that which passes from the Unheimliche to the Heimliche: it is not unreal; it its the “fictional reality” and the vibration of reality.” (Cixous: 546)
7. “If we experience uneasiness in reading Freud’s essay, it is because the author is his double in a game that cannot be dissociated from his own text: it is such that he manages to escape at every turn of the phrase. It is also and especially because the Unheimliche refers to no more profound secret than itself: every pursuit produces its own cancellation (…) “Basically” Freud’s adventure in this text is consecrated to the very paradox of the writing which stretches its signs in order to “manifest” the secret that it “contains”.” (Cixous: 547)
8. “But we know that the relation between figurative language and what it figures cannot be adequately grasped in metaphors of vision; and we might well doubt that the forces of repetition can be isolated – even ideally – from that-which-is-repeated. The wishfulness inherent in the model is not simply in isolating the forces of repetition from their representations, but in seeking to isolate the question of repetition from the use of figurative language itself.” (Hertz: 320)
9. On the question of priority: see Hertz, Nobus and Morlock, who put forward Jentsch as another possible “origin” of the concept. Another candidate might be Schelling, but Vidler has demonstrated that Schelling’s use of the term was never conceptual. Although the question of origin and priority is an interesting debate, it does not really significantly change the debate and the fact remains that in general, the concept is attributed to Freud.
10. See for instance the word of Clair, Coates and Lloyd-Smith.

Anneleen Masschelein has recently finished her Ph.D on the conceptualization of the Freudian uncanny in 20th-century theory and is currently employed at the department of literary theory at the K.U.Leuven. She is teaching seminars on literary theory and on psychoanalysis and literature. She has published on the uncanny, film, Julia Kristeva etc.

Web Source: http://www.imageandnarrative.be/uncanny/anneleenmasschelein.htm

Satu Tanggapan to “A Homeless Concept Shapes of the Uncanny in Twentieth-Century Theory and Culture”

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