Freud Unheimliche Essay

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Throughout his childhood, Hoffmann’s protagonist Nathanael was tormented – even traumatized – by his imaginings about the Sandman, the German version of the Norwegian Ole Lukkøye or Jon Blund [Ole or Jon Shut-Eye].

A series of popular comic books by Neil Gaiman is called , but the characters and stories have remarkably little to do with the German figure.

We soon realize that he must be the frightening creature who caused the death of Nathanael’s father.8 Coppola sells spyglasses and spectacles and, as eventually becomes clear, has manufactured the artificial eyes of the automaton Olimpia, a clockwork wooden doll in the shape of a woman, constructed by a professor Spalanzani, and introduced as the professor’s daughter.

Nathanael, who believes her to be alive, becomes so besotted by this artificial creation that he forgets all about his own fiancée, Clara (or Klara)9 and tries by every means to gain the doll’s favour – a satire with touches of absurd black comedy.

The argument is based on the premise that is conditional on not-knowing – on what Plato called doxa, i.e.

“belief not justified by knowledge” – and that the phantoms will vanish in line with the state of not-knowing (this became a widely held view, also defended by Epicurus).

[While I tumbled into the depths/ there appeared before my eyes someone/ almost voiceless as though from a long silence] What, has this thing appear’d again tonight? Sverre Dahl’s translation) – in English, “sinister; uncanny” – but the German word is something of a translator’s conundrum.

Freud is clearly very much aware of this because, quite early in the essay, he examines several European languages to find possible, if often inadequate, words that are supposedly equivalent to , before scrutinizing his native language for shades of meaning, drawing on the German dictionaries by Daniel Sanders and the Brothers Grimm.

In modern German, however, the sense of “homey cosiness” is contained within the words .

Freud’s definition of the uncanny starts at this point and his interpretation is illustrated by a quotation from Sanders’s dictionary that strongly appealed to him, and which Sander in turn quoted from the nineteenth-century writer Karl Friedrich Gutzkow’s novel is what one calls everything that should have remained secret, or concealed, but which has emerged into the open.” Indeed, to quote Freud’s own take on the word: “Generally, we are reminded that the word 2 Indeed, not only Norwegian translators struggle to find the right word to encompass the German concept.


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