Freud’s Uncanny In The Real And Fictional World
For Freud, uncanny is a word that describes the relationshp someone has with something that is both familiar and unfamiliar. “Uncanny” comes from the German word “unheimlich” whose etymology is unfamiliar and uncomfortable, something unknown. “Heimlich” now, mean the familiar, loving and warm but it can also be used to mean the hidden, the forbidding, and the dangerous. It is related to a contradiction; the familiar which has positive effect on us like pleasure, warmth and comfort, and the unfamiliar which is horrifying, uncomfortable and unpleasant. Freud defines the uncanny as the feeling of discomfort.
This feeling of “uncanny” resembles the unexpected and unwelcome return of something that was once familiar but now feels foreign to us (Freud, p.220). He tries to direct us to the unknown unconsciousness. Freud shows a connection between what we find “uncanny” and an experience or memory from our infancy. He believes that the feelings that we cannot express, because we had to repress them as our consciousness developed, often come back in the form of symbols and signs. So, the feelings that we have repressed as kids and when we face a specific situation they confront us again.
He gave multiple examples of fears such as the loss of one’s eye or if an object, like a doll, is dead or alive or the opposite; whether a living person may not be animated. He also mentioned the fear of being buried alive and of doubles and twins. The uncanny comes when a person faces any of the examples above and there is an actual return of a fear that we had as infants.
Freud picks up this theme from Hoffmann’s story, which also has many motifs related to eyes and seeing. In the story “the Sandman”, there are many references in the fears that Freud mentioned in his text. In the story, we see Nathanael being haunted by memories of the mysterious death of his father. He has childhood memories when his mum was telling him a story about the sandman as a bedtime story. When he was in bed, he was hearing footsteps of a person that did not know who it was. In the scene where Coppelius and Nathaniel’s father are conducting a fire experiment. Nathaniel screams and Coppelius grabs him, threatening to put burning grains of sand into his eyes. His father begs Coppelius to spare his son and Nathaniel passes out. When Nathanael is back to his senses, days later, he learns that his father was killed in an explosion during the study and that Coppelius has left the city. It is unclear to the reader how much of this scene was delirium, influenced by the nurse’s descriptive information, and how much was real. (put citation) We can see that uncanny does not leave room for certainty. This scene as well as some other cases in the story are of delirium and it is unclear if these moments are conscious or they come from the unconscious.
Freud also talks about the ego that exists only insofar as it simulates itself. Ego is itself in a double simulation, and the only way for the ego to reassure of its survival is to double itself (Freud, p.234). This duplication is the arrival of the phenomenon, the ambiguity. The dwelling space of the Ego is the space of the Ego simulation of itself by itself. In order to survive life, you live it through someone else inside you. You become an intellectual so you can save the intermediate you.
Faucult, in his text, talks about the mirror. He believes that mirrors are a utopia. A mirror is a utopia because it is a place without place. When we look at the mirror we see ourselves where we are not. But also, a mirror could be described as a heterotopia as well because it really exists. He also talks about ourselves and our simulations. Who we are is unbearable to us so we simulate ourselves in order to survive. We think we are the simulation we created but we are not. He also expresses the thought that we become who we are only in terms of fiction. Fiction is the coming together of the utopia and heterotopia, of the familiar and unfamiliar. The becoming of the two is of other place, and that other place is fiction.
In the story “Bloodchild” of Octavia E. Butler, the unfamiliar invades the familiar. There is an unfamiliar planet, but with a familiar kind of living. Also, unfamiliarity is observed in the human dependence from alien creatures. In this story there is always fear and anxiety. They make the familiar setting unfamiliar; they disturb any sense of familiarity and comfort. T’Gatoi is a female Tlic and she protects Gan and the rest of the Terrans since she is in full control of the Preserve, because the he Terrans need her protection. ‘She stood between us and her own people, protecting, interweaving.’ Gan is a Terran teenager who is T’Gatoi’s chosen mate, but T’Gatoi was hatched in Gan’s father too, ‘She had been taken from my father’s flesh when he was my age.’ In a sense, T’Gatoi is Gan’s sister and a close family friend. T’Gatoi and Gan are involved in a strange kind of an incestuous relation.
The Terrans are hosts to Tlics’ offsprings. Tlics are parasites whose existence absolutely depends on Terran’s existence, ‘I had been told all my life that this was a good and necessary thing Tlic and Terran did together — a kind of birth. I had believed it until now, and this makes the Terrans essential for the survival of the Tlics. The Terrans and the Tlic species are involved in a love/hate relationship; They need each other in order to survive but they have a mutual desire for each other’s destruction, ‘Now T’Gatoi used four of her limbs to push me away from her onto the floor. “Go on, Gan,” she said. “Sit down there with your sisters and enjoy not being sober. You had most of the egg. Lien, come warm me.”’
The egg is what brings Terrans and Tlics together. The egg provides a dreamy world, a world where existence is viable and tolerable. It provides waking dreams, dreams of dreams, dreams that make impossible a clear distinction between dreaming and being awake, ‘It would have been better to sit and dream, better yet to find a girl and share a waking dream with her.’ The egg provides an ambivalent world where reality and fiction concur, so it is a portal for the experience of the uncanny.
The eggshell is the environment where the Terran Ego lives; it is Ego’s enveloping reality. The Terran Ego is caught between the morality principle (Super Ego / Thanatos) and the pleasure principle (Id / Eros) as they were mentioned in Freud’s text, the“Uncanny”. In the first case, in the morality principle, the Terrans want to keep dreaming where they feel secured and familiar and in the pleasure principle (Id / Eros) they want to do the logical thing, kill the Tlic oppressor and find an unfamiliar sense of freedom that they need. As mentioned before, there is a conflict between the relationship of the Terran Ego and the Tlic Ego. The Terran Ego wants the Tlic Ego as its lover and partner. On the other hand, the Terran Ego sees the Tlic Ego as its death, that which it wants to keep at maximum distance, that which it wants to kill and turn into a corpse, an inanimate, ineffective object.
Another aspect of uncanny in the “Bloodchild” is the Terrans’ sexuality, which is other and this leads to more fear and anxiety for them. We see that Gan loses his masculinity because he is forced to be impregnated by T’Gatoi. In thisTerran planet, there is no distinction between masculinity and femininity because all Terrans are let to be alive for the purpose giving birth to Tlics; all Terrans are potentially N’Tlics. The fact that all male Terrans are potentially N’Tlics brings a state of anxiety to them since they realize they no longer have a dominating and powerful penis. This brings forth a penis envy.
In “The dreams of the witch house”, the whole narrative is driven either by a dream sequence or by high fever. The dreams were so intense and traumatic that they brought fever, or the fever was so high that it brought dreams. The narrative could be described as a dreamlike sequence in which the border between reality and dream becomes indistinguishable. The dream sequence takes place in an attic room in the so-called ‘old Witch House’. The attic room provides the ground upon which the dreams are visualized. The dream house is the experiential space of the perception of dreams. The dreams cause intense fear and anxiety and sometimes they are so powerful that the dreamers are certain they really happened. Dreams are full of ambiguities, discontinuities, and they feature bizarre, inexplicable content which seems odd in real life.
The main character is Walter Gilman. Possibly Gilman ought not to have studied so hard. “Non-Euclidean calculus and quantum physics are enough to stretch any brain, and when one mixes them with folklore, and tries to trace a strange background of multidimensional reality behind the ghoulish hints of the Gothic tales and the wild whispers of the chimney-corner, one can hardly expect to be wholly free from mental tension.” Gilman is a student at Miskatonic University of both mathematical sciences (discourses of the rational/logical) and folklore (discourses of the myth). He tries to bridge the conflicting discourses between mathematics and mythology against the recommendations of his college professors.
Faucalt in his text “Of Other Spaces”, talks about the outer space, the space of the other. This other space is the space in which we live in and it is a relation of relations. The Other space is where oppositions are simulated into a different reality which is unknown to oppositions. Gilman’s dreams consisted limitless abysses whose material and gravitational properties and whose relation to his own entity, he could not even begin to explain. The coming together of the two spaces he is in between creates this uncanny feeling which he has to live with. For Faucalt, space is the experiential space of our primary internal perception. Our internal perceptual space can contain and uphold oppositions. “It is a space that can be flowing like lively water, or it is a space that is fixed, solidified, like stone or like crystal.’ Lovecraft writes that the abysses of Gilman were crowded with alien-hued substance. Some objects that he was able to see, tended to awake memories in his mind, though he could form no conscious idea of what they mockingly resembled or suggested.
In both stories the is a disorder of simulation, as the familiar and unfamiliar come together. In both the “Bloodchild” and the “Dreams of the witch house” there is a notion of distortion; simulations exist, and they cause an uncomfortable and unpleasant feeling to the ones that face this distortion. Uncanny is the reason of this anxiousness and fear as it produces ambivalent and disordered simulations. This disorder creates an in between space between the space and the outer space. Both stories are in a reflective relationship as the coming together of familiarity and unfamiliarity is paradoxical. The environment of the two stories is paradoxical familiar and unfamiliar at the same time, yet neither familiar nor unfamiliar. The space is always unknown, and this relation puts us in a place in which is a place of fiction.
In both stories there is a great role of the idea of the dream. In “Bloodchild” Terrans exist because of the eggs provided by T’Gatoi and they become hosts of the eggs. When a Terran eats the egg, he/she goes into a dream. The unfamiliar comes to the form of a dream. In order of Terrans to be alive they need to consume the egg and live in a dream. In “The dreams in the witch house” we are never sure if we are in a dream or not. There is a constant confusion. There is always fear, anxiety and eternal displacement. Both stories end with an aporia. In “Bloodchild” the Terrans want to survive so they compromise and “The dreams in the witch house” ends with ruins and the end of the protagonist. Unfamiliarity, discomfort, uncertainty and restlessly are the main feelings of the protagonists of the two stories.
To conclude, there is a difference when it comes to uncanny in real life and uncanny in fiction. His opinion about why this difference exists is that fantasy is different from reality because it does not undergo reality-testing. Therefore, events that would be uncanny if we would have experienced them in real life are not experienced as such in fiction. Fairy tales, for example, give many instances of uncanny events that are not experienced by the reader as uncanny; that is because the readers adjust their sensibility to the fictional world. In other words, since uncanny events seem ‘normal’ in the fairy-tale world, and we adjust our expectations to the ‘normal’ state of this fictional reality, we as readers do not gain a sense of the uncanny. Since the characters in the fictional world of fairy tales do not find fantastic events as uncanny, but take them as a reality, the reader also finds the fictional world as existent and possible.
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