Frued’s Concept Of The Uncanny Freuds Concept of the Uncanny When a person experiences chills or goose bumps as a reaction to something strange or unusual, they are being affected by a sense of uncanniness. The psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud endeavored to explain this feeling of uncanniness in his essay entitled The Uncanny. Freuds theory focuses around two different causes for this reaction. Freud attributes the feeling of uncanniness to repressed infantile complexes that have been revived by some impression, or when primitive beliefs that have been surmounted seem once more to be confirmed. The first point of his theory that Freud discusses in the essay is the repression of infantile complexes that cause an uncanny experience.
Freud uses E.T.A. Hoffmans short story, The Sandman, to explain the idea of repression of infantile complexes. The story centers around the character of the Sandman, who steals the eyes of children. Freud states that the fear that the character Nathaniel feels towards the Sandman has more to due with an infantile castration complex than with the actual fear of losing his eyes. In Freuds theory he states that the Study of dreams, phantasies and myths has taught us that a morbid anxiety connected with the eyes and with going blind is often enough a substitute for the dread of castration(Freud 383). If Freuds belief is true, than it is Nathaniels fear of castration that causes him in the end to go mad and throw himself from parapet.
Nathaniels fear is embodied in the character of the Sandman, whom Freud says represents Nathaniels father, and thus is the cause of his fear of castration. The Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex would also be affected by Freuds theory. When examining Oedipus action of blinding himself once he hears the truth about his parentage, it would have to be determined that he blinds himself as a symbolic castration. This statement is supported by the laws of ancient Greek society which would have called for his castration due to the incest with his mother. While the infantile castration complex is the only one Freud goes into detail with in the essay, there are many others that would cause uncanniness if they were revived. The reason for this is that once the child grows up these complexes are hidden deep within the subconscious and are totally without logical reason.
The adult does not realize that he fears castration, instead he can only rationally explain his fear as that of being blinded. The feelings of childhood remain with us throughout adult life but they are only faintly perceptible, and this too can cause uncanniness. The foggy remembrance of a sensation that can no longer be grasped but still affects our emotions in ways that we can not explain to ourselves. The second point of Freuds theory states that uncanniness is experienced when primitive beliefs which have been surmounted seem once more to be confirmed. These surmounted beliefs are usually beliefs concerning the after-life, magic, and other such supernatural things that were once part of early mans belief system. This part of his theory is closely connected to superstition.
For example, most modern individuals do not believe in the existence of ghosts, yet some religions bless houses. The question arises then, why would a blessing be necessary without the fear of an evil or simply supernatural presence in the house? To explain this part of his theory Freud focuses a great deal on our relation to death. He states that there is scarcely any other matter..upon which our thoughts and feelings have changed so little since the earliest times, and in which discarded forms have been so completely preserved under a thin disguise(Freud 395). A modern day example of the idea of death causing uncanniness can be found in the recent film, The Sixth Sense. This film deals with ability of a little boy to see the spirits of dead people all around him. The source of the viewers uncanniness is a result of more than simply fear, it is as Freud states due to primitive beliefs that have been surmounted, which are now being confirmed.
The audience which this film targeted most likely do not believe in the spirits of the dead walking among the living, yet many generations ago this was considered a valid belief. For instance, an ancient Middle Eastern society that existed in what is modern day Syria sometime around the Neolithic era would bury dead relatives under the floor of their houses because they believed that this would keep the family member with them. They felt that the close proximity of the corpse would enable the spirit of the deceased to reside in the house. The belief in spirits can also be found in the origin of the holiday, Halloween. This holiday was created because people believed that they could appease the spirits and demons around them by offering candy, and also they felt that by dressing their children up as these spirits and demons the children would be safe from the supernatural forces.
The feeling of uncanniness inspired by the reconfirmation of these primitive beliefs occurs because we are not confident enough in our modern conceptions to completely disregard our old belief systems. Freuds purpose for writing this essay was to explain the psychological influences behind our reactions to those things or events which we consider abnormal and uncanny. While both the components of his theory are true, they are not the exclusive reasons for a feeling of uncanniness, and Freud admits this himself. For instance, the feeling that deja vu causes is most surely one of uncanniness, yet it is not a result of infantile complexes or from the resurfacing of primitive beliefs. The reason that deja vu causes uncanniness is because it is the knowledge of something in the recesses of our memory that is unattainable in any definite sense.
Freud does indeed succeed in explaining two very important causes of uncanniness, and they are easily identified in literature and in society. Freud believes that uncanniness is a result of repressed infantile complexes and also the confirmation of primitive beliefs. Freuds observations are important because they help us better understand our reactions and our fears, which in turn help us better understand ourselves. As long as people continue to gain some sort of pleasure from enduring this sense of uncanniness, writers and film makers will continue to use Freuds methods to bring about the uncanny. Psychology Essays.