Freud The Uncanny Essay

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In Hoffmann’s mind, the essentially kindly spirit takes on positively demonic qualities.

He describes how an old nurse convinces Nathanael that, if the Sandman finds a child who won’t go to bed, he will steal the child’s eyes to feed his own offspring (the little Sandmen usually cluster together in a nest on the Half Moon and look like peculiarly nasty birds with hooked beaks; they eat human eyes, as other young birds eat worms or insects).7 Nathanael gradually comes to identify the unscrupulous lawyer Coppelius with the Sandman.

With regard to the latter in particular, he is at least as preoccupied by what is written in the context of (Grimm), i.e.

“confiding, friendly, trusting”; other perfectly possible versions include “comfortable” and “cosy”.

In modern German, however, the sense of “homey cosiness” is contained within the words .

Freud’s definition of the uncanny starts at this point and his interpretation is illustrated by a quotation from Sanders’s dictionary that strongly appealed to him, and which Sander in turn quoted from the nineteenth-century writer Karl Friedrich Gutzkow’s novel is what one calls everything that should have remained secret, or concealed, but which has emerged into the open.” Indeed, to quote Freud’s own take on the word: “Generally, we are reminded that the word 2 Indeed, not only Norwegian translators struggle to find the right word to encompass the German concept.

Norwegian literary critic Henning Hagerup grapples with the notion of the uncanny in European language and literature.

He also considers how today Marxist thought poses an unheimlich threat to the glorified, ahistorical arrogance of the capitalistic-neoliberal establishment.

Then he comes across the lifeless doll with empty eye sockets and it finally dawns on him what has been going on.

Spalanzani throws the automaton’s eyes on the floor and declares that Coppola has stolen them from Nathanael (who alternates between seeing them as dead objects, and aglow with “moist moonbeams”).


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