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The Exploring Freud’s “Uncanny”


The main argument laid out by Freud in The Uncanny is that there is strangeness in the ordinary. Psychoanalysts rarely investigate the subject of aesthetics understood as a feeling of the qualities of feeling. However, the uncanny interested Freud as something belonging to all that is terrible, which arouses horror but cannot be used in a definable sense. The German etymology served as one of the core aspects of Freud’s analysis of the uncanny while the understanding of his theory was based on an overlooked explanation of why certain phenomena are uncanny. It had to do with the apparent confirmation of surmounted primitive beliefs (Freud 2003). According to Freud’s theory of the uncanny, the collective and individual pasts influenced the development of specific beliefs in magical and animistic phenomena, which would affect the feeling of the uncanny.

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To support the theory, Freud expanded his exploration of language. In German, unheimlich, which is the opposite of Heimlich, means native, familiar, or belonging to one’s home. Uncanny is frightening because it is unfamiliar and unknown, given the circumstance that something else is added to what is unfamiliar and novel to make it uncanny (Freud 2003). A person should be first presented with something familiar, then bring the unfamiliar to get the feeling of the uncanny. Therefore, the self is familiar when placed in situations where the self is perceived in an anomalous way. Then, one’s true self can only have the impulse to protect the self.


To explore the concept of the uncanny, Freud sought evidence in language and the meanings that are placed on the term. Beyond the opposition of Heimlich and unheimlich as terms denoting familiar and unfamiliar, the author finds new meanings of Heimlich such as obscure and inaccessible to knowledge (Freud 2003). The barrier is what later brings Heimlich and unheimlich together to form the uncanny, as something unfamiliar gets added to which is familiar. Through the analysis of different uses of Heimlich in the German language, Freud concluded that the meaning of the word develops toward an ambivalence until it would finally coincide with its opposite, unheimlich.

The analysis of language further prompts the idea of the double, which appears as a degree of development. This degree of development is linked to Freud’s theory regarding narcissism, or self-love, of a child. It occurs when a child creates different projections of themselves to develop an ego (Freud 2003). The double comes into play when the narcissism of the child emerges later in adult life, which causes them to return to the primitive state, causing the uncanny.


If the psychoanalysis of Freud is correct that any emotional effect can transform into anxiety through repression, it followers that there are kinds of anxiety resulting from something that has reappeared. Such feeling anxiety seems uncanny and is being discovered again as its repression has made it strange and unfamiliar. Put simply, Freud’s uncanny is a phenomenon that should be kept hidden, but it is being discovered. The uncanny reminds people of their id (ego, super-ego), which has repressed their impulses. The importance of Freud’s theory of the uncanny is that the phenomenon applies to everyday life during which triggers bring back past conflicts and primitive beliefs that receive renewed affirmation.


Freud, Sigmund. 2003. Uncanny. London: Penguin Books.

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