THE “UNCANNY” (Do insólito que subitamente faz sentido; de uma ‘protonáusea’ ou ‘nostalgia ruim’, enfim.) – Sigmund Freud

Translated by Alix Strachey, 1919.

the <uncanny> is that class of the terrifying which leads back to something long known to us, once very familiar.”

The Italian and the Portuguese seem to content themselves with words which we should describe as circumlocutions.”

BICAR-O-OLHO: “This fantastic tale begins with the childhoodrecollections of the student Nathaniel: in spite of his presente happiness, he cannot banish the memories associated with the mysterious and terrifying death of the father he loved. On certain evenings his mother used to send the children to bed early, warning them that <the Sand-Man was coming>; and sure enough Nathaniel would not fail to hear the heavy tread of a visitor with whom his father would then be occupied that evening. When questioned about the Sand-Man, his mother, it is true, denied that such a person existed except as a form of speech; but his nurse could give him more definite information: <He is a wicked man who comes when children won’t go to bed, and throws handfuls of sand in their eyes so that they jump out of their heads all bleeding. Then he puts the eyes in a sack and carries them off to the moon to feed his children. They sit up there in their nest, and their beaks are hooked like owls’ beaks, and they use them to peck up naughty boys’ and girls’ eyes with.>”

The grains of sand that are to be thrown into the child’s eyes turn into red-hot grains of coal out of the flames; and in both cases they are meant to make his eyes jump out. In the course of another visit of the Sand-Man’s, a year later, his father was killed in his study by an explosion. The lawyer Coppelius vanished from the place without leaving a trace behind.”

Uncertainty whether an object is living or inanimate, which we must admit in regard to the doll Olympia, is quite irrelevant in connection with this other, more striking instance of uncanniness. It is true that the writer creates a kind of uncertainty in us in the beginning by not letting us know, no doubt purposely, whether he is taking us into the real world or into a purely fantastic one of his own creation. He has admitted the right to do either; and if he chooses to stage his action in a world peopled with spirits, demons and ghosts, as Shakespeare does in Hamlet, in Macbeth and, in a different sense, in The Tempest and A Midsummer-Night’s Dream, we must bow to his decision and treat his setting as though it were real for as long as we put ourselves into his hands.”

The theory of <intellectual uncertainty> is thus incapable of explaining that impression.”

We know from psychoanalytic experience, however, that this fear of damaging or losing one’s eyes is a terrible fear of childhood.” Um dia alguém me disse que tocar na pupila gerava cegueira. Outro dia ouvi dizer que não podia me aproximar de sapos nem de borboletas. E em 1994 presenciei um eclipse solar que se repete de 50 em 50 anos – se eu olhasse para o Sol meus olhos se queimariam instantaneamente, a luz estaria para sempre banida de meus sentidos. Eu tinha 6 anos quando isso aconteceu, e me perguntei como eu faria para ir ao trabalho, aos 56 anos, dirigindo – seria o pára-sol prevenção suficiente?!

Imagina se… “Many adults still retain their apprehensiveness in this respect, and no bodily injury is so much dreaded by them as an injury to the eye.”

A 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.” A única existência inútil – realmente pior que a morte.

In blinding himself, Oedipus, that mythical law-breaker, was simply carrying out a mitigated form of the punishment of castration—the only punishment that according to the lex talionis was fitted for him.”

EGO SUM: eye think, ay! therefore, eye M.!

For why does Hoffmann bring the anxiety about eyes into such intimate connection with the father’s death? And why does the Sand-Man appear each time in order to interfere with love?”

the Professor is even called the father of Olympia.” Zeus, o Pai

She, the automatic doll, can be nothing else than a personification of Nathaniel’s feminine attitude towards his father in his infancy. (…) Now Spalaazani’s otherwise incomprehensible statement that the optician has stolen Nathaniel’s eyes so as to set them in the doll becomes significant and supplies fresh evidence for the identity of Olympia and Nathaniel. (…) We may with justice call such love narcissistic, and can understand why he who has fallen victim to it should relinquish his real, external object of love. The psychological truth of the situation in which the young man, fixated upon his father by his castration-complex, is incapable of loving a woman, is amply proved by numerous analyses of patients whose story, though less fantastic, is hardly less tragic than that of the student Nathaniel.”

A TOY OE-TYPICAL STORY: “Now, dolls happen to be rather closely connected with infantile life. We remember that in their early games children do not distinguish at all sharply between living and lifeless objects, and that they are especially fond of treating their dolls like live people. In fact I have occasionally heard a woman patient declare that even at the age of 8 she had still been convinced that her dolls would be certain to come to life if she were to look at them in a particular way, with as concentrated a gaze as possible.” Os bichos de pelúcia de grua que dormiam comigo quando minha casa estava em reforma – como que me lembravam do meu próprio quarto.

Hoffmann is in literature the unrivalled master of conjuring up the uncanny. His Elixire des Teufels (The Devil’s Elixir) contains a mass of themes to which one is tempted to ascribe the uncanny effect of the narrative; but it is too obscure and intricate a story to venture to summarize.”

The theme of the <double> has been very thoroughly treated by Otto Rank (Del Doppelgänger). He has gone into the connections the <double> has with reflections in mirrors, with shadows, guardian spirits, with the belief in the soul and the fear of death; but he also lets in a flood of light on the astonishing evolution of this idea. For the <double> was originally an insurance against destruction to the ego, an <energetic denial of the power of death>, as Rank says; and probably the

<imortal> soul was the first <double> of the body. This invention of doubling as a preservation against extinction has its counterpart in the language of dreams, which is fond of representing castration by a doubling or multiplication of the genital symbol; the same desire spurred on the ancient Egyptians to the art of making images of the dead in some lasting material. Such ideas, however, have sprung from the soil of unbounded self-love, from the primary narcissism which holds sway in the mind of the child as in that of primitive man; and when this stage has been left behind the double takes on a different aspect. From having been an assurance of immortality, he becomes the ghastly harbinger of death.”

A faculdade da auto-crítica talvez seja uma secreta vingança contra um Outro que conhecemos desde a primeira infância muito bem: nosso Duplo.

an involuntary return to the same situation, but which differ radically from it in other respects, also result in the same feeling of helplessness and of something uncanny.”

Perder-se numa superquadra da asa norte, dentro de uma grande mansão que já havíamos visitado, em corredores do minhocão ou em estações do metrô quando esquecemos que a nossa já passou. Que horas são?

if we come across the number 62 several times in a single day, or if we begin to notice that everything which has a number—addresses, hotel-rooms, compartments in railway-trains—always has the same one, or one which at least contains the same figures.”

Aquela música. Essa música. Eu já ouvi tocar. Mas quando, onde?!?

O rosto dum estranho estranhamente familiar. O desconfortado suscitado pelo Efeito Mandela. O livro que eu estava relendo e não sabia – até chegar à metade do livro e finalmente me lembrar. O fato de eu ter perdido a folha de número 33 das minhas anotações sobre a Bíblia justamente quando tinha começado a abordar o Novo Testamento. Uma folha que eu perdi dentro de casa, e parecia inexplicável que o papel tivesse simplesmente se dissolvido no ar…

They are never surprised when they invariably run up against the person they have just been thinking of, perhaps for the first time for many months. If they say one day <I haven’t had news of so-and-so for a long time>, they will be sure to get a letter from him the next morning. And an accident or a death will rarely take place without having cast its shadow before on their minds. They are in the habit of mentioning this state of affairs in the most modest manner, saying that they have <presentiments> which <usually> come true.”

if this is indeed the secret nature of the uncanny, we can understand why the usage of speech has extended das Heimliche into its opposite das Unheimliche; 18 for this uncanny is in reality nothing new or foreign, but something familiar and old (…) This reference to the factor of repression enables us, furthermore, to understand Schelling’s definition of the uncanny as something which ought to have been kept concealed but which has nevertheless come to light.”

Many people experience the feeling in the highest degree in relation to death and dead bodies, to the return of the dead, and to spirits and ghosts. As we have seen, many languages in use today can only render the German expression. <an unheimliches house> by <a haunted house>.”

Most likely our fear still contains the old belief that the deceased becomes the enemy of his survivor and wants to carry him off to share his new life with him.”

All so-called educated people have ceased to believe, officially at any rate, that the dead can become visible as spirits, and have hedged round any such appearances with improbable and remote circumstances; their emotional attitude towards their dead, moreover, once a highly dubious and ambivalent one, has been toned down in the higher strata of the mind into a simple feeling of reverence.”

Sie ahnt, dass ich ganz sicher em Genie,

Vielleicht sogar der Teufel bin.”

To many people the idea of being buried alive while appearing to be dead is the most uncanny thing of all. (…) phantasy, I mean, of intra-uterine existence.”

I read a story about a young married couple, who move into a furnished flat in which there is a curiously shaped table with carvings of crocodiles on it. Towards evening they begin to smell an intolerable and very typical odour that pervades the whole flat; things begin to get in their way and trip them up in the darkness; they seem to see a vague form gliding up the stairs—in short, we are given to understand that the presence of the table causes ghostly crocodiles to haunt the place, or that the wooden monsters come to life in the dark, or something of that sort.”

whenever a man dreams of a place or a country and says to himself, still in the dream, <this place is familiar to me, I have been there before>, we may interpret the place as being his mother’s genitals or her body. In this case, too, the unheimlich is what was once heimisch, homelike, familiar; the prefix un is the token of repression.”

Who would be so bold as to call it an uncanny moment, for instance, when Snow-White opens her eyes once more?”

In fairy-tales, for instance, the world of reality is left behind from the very start, and the animistic system of beliefs is frankly adopted. Wish-fulfillments, secret powers, omnipotence of thoughts, animation of lifeless objects, all the elements so common in fairy-stories, can exert no uncanny influence here; for, as we have learnt, that feeling cannot arise unless there is a conflict of judgement whether things which have been <surmounted> and are regarded as incredible are not, after all, possible; and this problem is excluded from the beginning by the setting of the story. And thus we see that such stories as have furnished us with most of the contradictions to our hypothesis of the uncanny confirm the first part of our proposition—that in the realm of fiction many things are not uncanny which would be so if they happened in real life.”

The story-teller can also choose a setting which, though less imaginary than the world of fairy tales, does yet differ from the real world by admitting superior spiritual entities such as daemonic influences or departed spirits. So long as they remain within their setting of poetic reality their usual attribute of uncanniness fails to attach to such beings. The souls in Dante’s Inferno, or the ghostly apparitions in Hamlet, Macbeth or Julius Caesar, may be gloomy and terrible enough, but they are no more really uncanny than is Homer’s jovial world of gods.” “The situation is altered as soon as the writer pretends to move in the world of common reality. In this case he accepts all the conditions operating to produce uncanny feelings in real life; and everything that would have an uncanny effect in reality has it in his story. But in this case, too, he can increase his effect and multiply it far beyond what could happen in reality, by bringing about events which never or very rarely happen in fact. He takes advantage, as it were, of our supposedly surmounted superstitiousness; he deceives us into thinking that he is giving us the sober truth, and then after all oversteps the bounds of possibility. We react to his inventions as we should have reacted to real experiences; by the time we have seen through his trick it is already too late and the author has achieved his object; but it must be added that his success is not unalloyed. We retain a feeling of dissatisfaction, a kind of grudge against the attempted deceit; I have noticed this particularly after reading Schnitzler’s Die Weissagung and similar stories which flirt with the supernatural. The writer has then one more means he can use to escape our rising vexation and at the same time to improve his chances of success. It is this, that he should keep us in the dark for a long time about the precise nature of the conditions he has selected for the world he writes about, or that he should cunningly and ingeniously avoid any definite information on the point at all throughout the book. Strictly speaking, all these complications relate only to that class of the uncanny which proceeds from forms of thought that have been surmounted. The class which proceeds from repressed complexes is more irrefragable and remains as powerful in fiction as in real experience, except in one point. The uncanny belonging to the first class—that proceeding from forms of thought that have been surmounted—retains this quality in fiction as in experience so long as the setting is one of physical reality; but as soon as it is given an arbitrary and unrealistic setting in fiction, it is apt to lose its quality of the uncanny.”

Concerning the factors of silence, solitude and darkness, we can only say that they are actually elements in the production of that infantile morbid anxiety from which the majority of human beings have never become quite free.”

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