The “Uncanny” – Sigmund Freud

The Uncanny (1919) – by Sigmund Freud

During my symposium Shaun Hydes recommended reading Sigmund Freud’s The “Uncanny”, unfortunately I didn’t have time or space to add it in, so I briefly looked at online summaries. However it is an area I want to take forward in my final piece, my aim is to create images that are making a comment and put the audience in a reflective position. Creating an Uncanny character/image is one way of doing this. Making the audience uncomfortable enough to question the content.


This is my exploration into the text of The Uncanny.


My notes
Areas of study I derived from the text

– Aesthetics are vital to explore in regards to uncanny. Aesthetic is usually associated with theory on beauty, but it has much more to do with with the “qualities of feeling.” p.1

– “…given him and uncanny impression.” Freud talks of uncanny as a feeling, much like anyone would talk about a good impression or a bad impression. Uncanny= feeling. p1

– Freud starts by discussing previous writings on Uncanny and the limits of incomplete research, discussing E.Jentsch’s piece “Zur Psychologie des Unheimlichen” in particular.

Intellectual Uncertainty – unable to determine the human nature/ intelligence of a character. Not quite human.

– “In telling a story, one of the most successful devices for easily creating uncanny effects is to leave the reader in uncertainty whether a particular figure in the story is a human being or an automaton;” – E.Jentsch quote used. Freud openly say that he isn’t 100% accepting of Jentsch’s ideas but points out there is truth in his writings. It just cannot be used as the ONLY reason behind the uncanny feeling, he also later goes on to explore how the dead coming back to life is not always uncanny, it depends on the relationship to reality.

Hofman “The sand man” – “unparalleled atmosphere of uncanniness” Freud now refers to uncanny as an atmosphere rather than a feeling, perhaps it is both, it cannot be defined as one thing as it is not. Freud later uses the sand man to disprove Jentsch’s ideas about something new and feared being uncanny. He points out the sand man isn’t new to the man in the story, he is very familiar  and every interaction with the sand man becomes more uncanny. So perhaps it is the recollection of a feared person that casues the uncanny in this situation.

– “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… the idea of a “living doll” excites no fear at all; the child had no fear od its doll coming to life, it may even have desired it.p.9 – again freud is disproving the idea of Intellectual Uncertainty as the sole reason for uncanny feelings. A child would not feel that their doll coming to life would be fearful or uncanny because they desire it and often wish for it. It makes me think of Toy Story, none of the characters seem uncanny apart from the “bad toys” if something is animated to life but is “good” we might not fear it.

The Double 

– “Hoffmann is in literature the unrivalled master of conjuring up the uncanny.” p.9

– Twins, telepathy, reoccurring faces/events/places, mirrors and shadows – all types of double which Freud shows can evoke uncanny sensations. He then delves deeper into the meaning for this looking at psychology of childhood and self-observation.

– “The “double” has become a vision of terror, just as after the fall of their religion the gods took on daemonic shapes.”p.10 The Jeckyll and hyde effect, the fear of 2 personalities.

– “a feeling came over me which I can only describe as uncanny… an involuntary return to the same situation… feeling of helplessness and of something uncanny… fateful and inescapablep.11 – Freuds personal stories which evoke uncanny, the idea of the double, when something happens again and again within a short amount of time it makes us feel uneasy or uncanny, we recognise something familiar but know it is not meant to happen.


-” “Well, I hope he’ll have a stroke and die.” A fortnight later the old gentleman really did have a stroke. My patient though this an “uncanny” experience.p.12 Humans strive for an explanation of coincidence  some resort to supernatural explanation, religion or magic. Freud see’s this coincidence as uncanny and purely coincidence.

Involuntary repetition & repression

– “for this uncanny is in reality nothing new of foreign, but something familiar and old- established in the mind that has been estranged only by the process of repressionp.13 

– “Two things account for our conservatism: the strength of our original emotional reaction to it, and the insufficiency of our scientific knowledge about it.p.13 It is often said we fear wat we do not know, in essence Freud is saying this combined with emotional reaction to the object in question leads to uncanniness.

Reality and Imagination

– “an uncanny effect is often and easily produced by effacing the distinction between imagination and reality, such as when something we have regarded as imaginary appears before us in reality.p.15 When the line between reality and fantasy is blurred it provokes uncanny feelings.


– “We have heard that it is in the highest degree uncanny when inanimate objects – a picture or a doll – come to life… who would be so bold as to call it an uncanny moment, for instance, when Snow-White opens her eyes once more?p.16 The most powerful point I think Freud makes, it shows how hard it is to define uncanny and you cannot simply say that one act makes something uncanny. uncanny is not a fact it is a feeling and within everyone a certain combination of the themes discussed in this text are what cause uncanniness.

– “As soon as something actually happen in our lives which seems to support the old, discarded beliefs, we get a feeling of the uncanny. p17

– “Primitive beliefs are most intimately connected with infantile complexes.p.18 

Within these few pages I see a connection between the fairtytales and reality and Imagination, fairytales open with “Once upon a time in a far away land” the spectator is instantly disconnected from the story by both time and space, therefore the strange events will not effect their lives, it is too detached from reality to have an emotional effect on us.

The main topic of discussion within this text is whilst trying to define Uncanny we cannot define it. Freud taking a psychological stand point looks at examples of uncanny and what evoked the emotion within that case. Each example has to be taken individually as it could use one or multiple reasonings. The text has made me understand the uncanny a lot more and now instead of seeing a photograph and thinking something is strange about it I might have more hope at breaking down what is making it uncanny to me and possibly to others.

Tokyo Clash: Japanese pop culture by Ralf Bahren

Tokyo clash was published in 2010 by h.f.ullman and is written by Ralf Bahren. Ralf explores the mass culture in Tokyo and depicts through images and writing how we are “exposed to sensory stimulation beyond anything you have ever experienced”. I ordered this book when i was considering just looking at Japanese pop culture, obviously I have widened my ideas back out to Pop culture in general but that doesn’t mean this book won’t be useful. let’s see what it has to say.

Its multitude of parellel cultures and styles blurs the boundaries between colourful chaos and retained tradition. It is a culture of NOW, an immediate presence that often lasts only the blink of an eye, changing faces as you advance, with yesterday and tomorrow somehow condensed into the moment.
-Page 7

Each exploration of the city comes under a title, I will look at these individually.

Flowers p12

Massive, earthquake-proof buildings cover up almost all the finer, flourishing details that make up its lively spirit.

Cute p16

Cute does not only apply to living beings, but even more inanimate objects.

Print Club p98

Like our photo booths but the booths allow you to add cute decorations and effects to your images.

Cosplay p106

Cos(tume)-play and masquerade are widely accepted as expressions of personal and emotional freedom.

Doll p123

If you can’t get it in real life, just get it in plastic.

Advertising p138

Escape is not an option. Commerce is lurking everywhere and it’s by far the major cause of colors stimulating your retina… It brightens up the daily grind

I found this book a decent brief look at all aspects in Japanese culture, however I was expecting it to be a depper analysis/look into things like otaku, colour, packaging  manga and consumerism. And whilst it did cover these topics it didn’t explain anything about them, just a short paragraph about what they are. There was no context or information, it just showed me about Japaense culture rather than explain it to me.

‘Bullshit and the art of Crap detection’ by Neil Postman – 1969

These are my thoughts and notes on ‘Bullshit and the art of Crap detection’ by Neil Postman…

Crap Detecor = originated from Ernest Hemmingway interview, he was asked is there one thing needed to be a good writter, and answered, “Yes, a built in, shock proof, crap detector.”

types of bullshit…


When people use fancy words and phrases to make the reader think they are clever when they are really incapable.


“It has almost no tolerance for any data that do not confirm its own point of view” here the fanaticism is shown through the idea of a WWII Jewish man trying to spare children from the gas chamber, and the executioner replying “If we do it for one, We do it for all”


A form of talk, harmless. From the essay I gather that this is has been blow up by the mass media, people who have little knowledge of something are now in a position where there opinion can be heard and registered, even though they have no understanding of the subject. The reminds me of youtube videos, people spreading their opinions online and having them read and quoted all over the shop.


“Superstition is ignorance presented in the cloak of authority” this is what Postman described superstition as, I chose to quote it because I think it is great. The idea that someone who is highly regarded can be seen as always being right because of their position has always ben a joke to me. This makes me think of the Pope, he was born into his religion and made his way up the food chain, so therefor he has the power to tell me how to live my life? I don’t think so. Superstition Bullshit at it’s worst.

I think i love this guy. Usually I find it so hard to read allocated text because  I have to google every other word and get headaches interpreting it, it’s great to know someone is using their authority and position to stop the Bullshit, instead of conforming to the educated and their way of writing.

I really want to follow up on postmans work it’s very refreshing.

Tekken Review

Anyone who likes gaming will know about Tekken. With iconic characters and hours of button bashing it’s one of the best fighting games. And now it’s a film. Released in 2010 Tekken surprisingly is an American film, even though the original game was built via Namco a japanese company, this american identity is lost through the british cast. Usually i would see this as a plus, but i’m a little disappointed Japan didn’t get their first. It would be interesting to see how their approaches differ. The story follows Jin, in a world which has been corrupt, and divided into continents dictated by corperations, America being run by Tekken. Each year the world holds an iron fist game, a fight between the best fighters in the world, Jin makes it into Iron Fist and represent Tekken as the peoples choice. But he is not supporting Tekken. He wants to met and kill the Man that raped and killed his mother, the head of Tekken. But as his journey goes on he finds out more then he bargained for and is followed by twists and turns. In terms of fighting it’s top notch, not bruce-lee standards but pretty amazing. It could have followed the game more;  there are are a few iconic charters that feature like Yoshimitsu and Jin himself, but masters like King have been forgotten. As a film it is amazing, but when considered as an adaptation of the game it doesn’t quite fulfil the expectations.