2/28: The Uncanny

Please post a question about the assigned readings. Try to give equal time to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Freud’s essay on the uncanny. Be sure to post a few hours before class time so that I can include your ideas as I prepare for discussion.


Pierre Huyghe, Untitled (Human Mask), 2014. Film, color, sound, 19 minutes. Courtesy the artist; Marian Goodman Gallery, New York; Hauser & Wirth, London; Esther Schipper, Berlin; and Anna Lena Films, Paris. © Pierre Huyghe.



  1. What can we draw from Shelley’s description of Elizabeth in terms of the lasting role of media’s anglicizing of lightness and the degradation of darkness [Ex: Shelley’s portrayal of Elizabeth and her adopted-siblings’]?

    – “The four others were dark-eyed, hardy little vagrants; this child was thin and very fair. Her hair was the brightest living gold, and despite the poverty of her clothing, seemed to set a crown of distinction on her head.” (Shelley, 30).

    – “She continued with her foster parents and bloomed in their rude abode, fairer than a garden rose among dark-leaved brambles.” (Shelley, 31).

  2. (I posted this in the Frankenstein tab first on accident)

    I did not finish the whole book but I hope to get somewhat close by the time I get to class. But! from what I have read it made one question in particular pop into my head. Throughout Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, we see how important the aspect of family is. When the monster was made he was abandoned and left to fend for himself. What I thought of was if Frankenstein would have turned out differently if he hadn’t been abandoned? Would he have been seen as less of a monster? And even if he was surrounded by a family like environment, would society have been able to accept him into their world like the Frankensteins family did?

  3. Freud refers to uncanny as a moment when one experiences something in their life that reminds them of their subconscious past. In “The Uncanny”, Freud discusses the concept of experiencing uncanny within literature. Using the story of ‘The Sand-Man’, Freud promotes the idea that uncanny literature is based upon the fictional world hypocrisy between real-life events and fantasy incidents.

    How can we use Freud’s concept of uncanny to describe Victor Frankenstein’s relationship with the monster he created? How can the uncanny conflict between the real-life events and fantasy incident be explained throughout Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein?

  4. While Freud is explaining the story of The Sandman, he says, “This short summary leaves no doubt, I think, that the feeling of something uncanny is directly attached to the figure of the Sand-Man, that is, to the idea of being robbed of one’s eyes…” (Freud 230). I feel that Freud has an abstract view of uncanniness and that something foreign is frightening to the human eye. If this is true, can we define everything we see as “new” to us as uncanny?

  5. When discussing the uncanny, what is your initial definition of the word (maybe that you have acquired during life experience or through school)? Does it match up with the definition provided in the reading, partly that it involves the unknown? What could be some examples of something uncanny? Would we qualify the monster in Frankenstein as uncanny?

  6. Freud’s argument regarding the “uncanny” forced me to analyze the our world and experiences in binaries; either you understand something and it feels like home, or you’re uncomfortable with something and it feels foreign to you. How does this limit our agency as the viewer to make decisions on our own? Does this shape how our society comes to understand our world today?

  7. Reading Freud’s arguments about the uncanny and the unfamiliar, I am reminded of the term “uncanny valley” describing something that is familiar yet “off” somehow (like in a 3-D animated movie or video game that tries to be realistic rather than cartoonish, but doesn’t get some detail on human characters right such as eyes or body movement, and the effect is extremely off-putting. Examples would be Polar Express, or any time some non-proffesional person tries to draw a portrait of somebody they know. It may have many familiar traits, but the fact it isn’t perfect makes it disturbing/unsettling. Is there some biological or evolutionary anthropology reason for this fear of something being slightly “off”? An image of an uncanny valley person, to us, is more unsettling than a picture of a bear or tiger(which would actually eat is in the wild). Why is there this deep seated fear response?

  8. Freud says there is no counter argument to his theory that eye anxiety is a substitute for castration complex. Why would women have a castration complex? Does this reflect the Victorian sexist attitude of the times?

  9. Freud defines the uncanny as, “…what is frightening- to what arouses dread and horror…what excites fear in general” (219). I was interested in definition just because later Freud examines how the unfamiliar is what we initially believe to be “uncanny” but at the same time there are “…circumstances [where] the familiar can become uncanny and frightening” (220).

    While reading this I was wondering what in our lives has been familiar and comforting, but later turned uncanny to us at a later point? Why does this change occur? I think this same thing occurs between Victor and the monster when Victor’s thirst for knowledge and creation tragically shifts to despair and guilt.

  10. Freud argues that uncanny marks the emergence of the repressed and the subconscious. In the book Frankenstein, Shelley depicts birth as both creative and destructive. Taking into account her past experiences with failed pregnancies and childbirth, could one say that Frankenstein is her uncanny?

    How do most experience these repressed subconscious memories, and are they always fearful?

  11. “The Uncanny” provides us with a partial look at the dialectical relationship between uncomfortability and the unknown. Initially, Freud defines The Uncanny by separating instances of what is known/comfortable and unknown so therefore uncomfortable. Then, in the reading, we see some discussion on instances that grow to later become uncomfortable although they have been familiar to the individual for a lengthy period of time. How does this happen? I can see minimal relations to epistemic and ontological changes, but can it go beyond that?

  12. The uncanny is the mark of the return of the repressed. (P. 217). If the Uncanny, is a representation of what is hidden from others and the self, what relationship does that have with Freud’s theory about “the double” (211-212) and the super ego?

  13. Freud describes the revulsion for the uncanny as the result of cognitive dissonance. Is Victor Frankenstein’s monster really paradoxical? Why is Victor Frankenstein’s monster considered “Uncanny” if it is such a grotesque resemblance of a human being?

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