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Home » Glossary » The Uncanny

The uncanny is a concept in psychology and aesthetics that refers to a feeling of discomfort or unease that arises when something seems familiar, yet strange or unfamiliar at the same time. The term was popularized by Sigmund Freud in his essay “The Uncanny” (1919), in which he explored the psychological roots of this feeling.

According to Freud, the uncanny arises when something that is usually familiar and safe becomes strange and unsettling. This can occur, for example, when a familiar object or place is presented in an unusual or distorted way, or when something that is normally hidden or repressed is suddenly revealed.

The uncanny has been explored in a wide range of artistic contexts, from literature and film to visual art and performance. Artists often use the uncanny as a way to create an atmosphere of tension and mystery, and to explore themes such as identity, memory, and trauma.

The uncanny has had a significant impact on contemporary art and culture, and continues to be a popular and influential theme in art and literature. It is often celebrated for its ability to evoke complex emotions and ideas, and for its ability to challenge our assumptions about the nature of reality and representation.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between uncanny and sublime?

The uncanny often evokes unease, eeriness, and a sense of discomfort. The sublime, in contrast, is about awe, wonder, and sometimes fear, but in the face of overwhelming beauty, grandeur, or power.

What is the uncanny in Gothic literature?

In Gothic literature, the uncanny often manifests as an unsettling blend of the familiar and the unfamiliar, creating a sense of eeriness or discomfort. It frequently involves elements like ghosts, doppelgängers, or animate objects, which blur the lines between reality and the supernatural. This use of the uncanny in Gothic literature serves to evoke feelings of suspense and fear, while challenging the reader’s perceptions of normality and the natural order.

What does Heidegger mean by uncanny?

In Heidegger’s philosophy, the uncanny (Unheimlichkeit) refers to a fundamental existential anxiety or sense of not-at-home, highlighting the alienation from one’s usual sense of being in the world. This concept delves into the deeper, often disconcerting realization of the true nature of existence, revealing the strangeness of being itself.

What are two synonyms for uncanny?

Two synonyms for “uncanny” are “eerie” and “mysterious.”

Is uncanny typically perceived as positive or negative?

Uncanny is typically perceived as negative, often associated with feelings of discomfort, eeriness, or unease.

What is the difference between uncanny and abject?

The difference between uncanny and abject lies in their focus: uncanny refers to the unsettling strangeness in the familiar, while abject describes something deeply repulsive and fundamentally rejected by human nature.

Why is the uncanny a common theme in Gothic literature?

The uncanny is a common theme in Gothic literature because it effectively evokes a sense of eeriness and discomfort, key elements in creating the genre’s characteristic atmosphere of mystery and suspense.

Is the uncanny valley a psychological concept?

Yes, the uncanny valley is a psychological concept that explains the discomfort or eeriness people feel in response to humanoid objects that imperfectly resemble humans.

What is the uncanny valley in the context of human perception?

In the context of human perception, the uncanny valley refers to the phenomenon where humanoid objects that closely resemble humans, but are not quite lifelike, evoke feelings of eeriness or discomfort.

What is the role of the uncanny in art history?

In art history, the role of the uncanny is to evoke a sense of mysterious unease or disquiet, challenging viewers’ perceptions and eliciting strong emotional responses.

How is the uncanny described in psychology?

In psychology, the uncanny is described as an experience of something familiar yet foreign that triggers a sense of discomfort and eeriness, often linked to repressed fears or desires.

What is the fear of things that are almost human referred to as?

The fear of things that are almost human but not quite is referred to as the “uncanny valley” phenomenon.

Why did humans develop a fear of the uncanny valley?

Humans likely developed a fear of the uncanny valley as an evolutionary response to identify and avoid entities that appear nearly human but have subtle abnormalities, signaling something potentially harmful or diseased.

Can a person be described as uncanny?

Yes, a person can be described as uncanny if they evoke a sense of eerie familiarity mixed with discomfort or strangeness.

What is the opposite of uncanny?

The opposite of uncanny is typically considered to be the ordinary or familiar, characterized by a sense of normality and a lack of surprise or eeriness.

What is the closest meaning to uncanny?

The closest meaning to “uncanny” is a blend of the strange and the familiar that results in a feeling of discomfort or eeriness. It often describes situations or occurrences that are inexplicably mysterious and unsettling, yet somehow familiar or recognizable.

What is the difference between uncanny and eerie?

The uncanny refers to a familiar yet disquieting experience, where something known appears in an unsettling, unfamiliar context, often evoking discomfort or confusion. The eerie, on the other hand, pertains to a sense of mysterious, unsettling strangeness, often associated with an absence or void, where the source of unease is less identifiable than in the uncanny.