The subject of the ‘uncanny’ is a province of this kind. It is undoubtedly related to what is frightening – to what arouses dread and horror; equally certainly, too, the word is not always used in a clearly definable sense, so that it tends to coincide with what excites fear in general. Yet we may expect that a special core of feeling is present which justifies the use of a special conceptual term. One is curious to know what this common core is which allows us to distinguish as ‘uncanny’; certain things which lie within the field of what is frightening.
As good as nothing is to be found upon this subject in comprehensive treatises on aesthetics, which in general prefer to concern themselves with what is beautiful, attractive and sublime; that is, with feelings of a positive nature; and with the circumstances and the objects that call them forth, rather than with the opposite feelings of repulsion and distress…
We – or our primitive forefathers – once believed that these possibilities were realities, and were convinced that they actually happened. Nowadays we no longer believe in them, we have surmounted these modes of thought; but we do not feel quite sure of our new beliefs, and the old ones still exist within us ready to seize upon any confirmation. As soon as something actually happens in our lives which seems to confirm the old, discarded beliefs we get a feeling of the uncanny; it is as though we were making a judgement something like this: ‘So, after all, it is true that one can kill a person by the mere wish!’ or, ‘So the dead do live on and appear on the scene of their former activities!’ and so on. Conversely, anyone who has completely and finally rid himself of animistic beliefs will be insensible to this type of the uncanny. The most remarkable coincidences of wish and fulfilment, the most mysterious repetition of similar experiences in a particular place or on a particular date, the most deceptive sights and suspicious noises – none of these things will disconcert him or raise the kind of fear which can be described as ‘a fear of something uncanny’. The whole thing is purely an affair of ‘reality-testing’, a question of the material reality of the phenomena.
Instead of wishing Freud away, we would do ourselves a lot of good in studying him in our quest for meaning. Freud prescriptively analyses horror to show us the nature of fear and loathing. One of the obstacles in the path to inner peace is the natural feeling of horror at what the mind perceives as weird. Freud provides a corrective to this and thus, is worth study.
Image: Thanks for the pic!