1. Introduction (2,000)
1.1 General Introduction
The dissertation that follows will centre upon a critical study of the psychoanalytical concept of ‘the uncanny’, as articulated by Sigmund Freud. At its very definitional essence-though, in some cases, resisting constraint by definition itself, on the grounds of its self-referential, semantic amorphousness-the uncanny refers to a distintive and unsettling stangeness that arises in the context of familiarity. In positing the notion of Das Unheimliche, Freud takes it upon himself to consider this existential strangeness in the specific context of aesthetics. Thusly, echoing a sense of the Romantic concept of the sublime from centuries prior (though denying that the uncanny is indicative of aesthetic pleasure, even if as terrible as the sublime), Freud opens his celebrated essay with the declaration that:
The subject ofÂ the “uncanny” is a province of this kind. It undoubtedly belongs to all that is terrible-to all that arouses dread and creeping horror; it equally certain, too, that the word is not always used in a clearly definable sense, so that it tends to coincide with whatever excites dread (Freud, 1919, p. 1).
And so, where Freud thinks the field of aesthetics has historically concerned itself with ‘what is beautiful, attractive and sublime’, the uncanny invokes a sense of ‘feelings of unpleasantness and repulsion’ (Freud, 1919, p. 1). But in the grand and boundless totality of concepts, referents, objects and modalities, why should human culture concern itself with a study of such a thing as the uncanny? Why this particular referential stake on particular, otherwise seemingly absurd and valueless phenomena? Quite simply, the concerns of kultur involve, as a constituent compoent, the concerns of aesthetics, and where, as Freud remarks elsewhere, the human being abandons its innermost primitive urges in accession to that which is referred to as ‘civilisation’; it raises itself up above animal conditions, as he so succinctly and plausible articulates, but where it continues to be bound and driven forth by an inescapable hostility towards kultur itself. It is safe to make the claim-as indeed does Freud-that a displacement (or, perhaps more accurately, a sublimation) of this internal angst is directed via one particular means into the creation of art. Thus, by way of this creative-destructive trieb, a spectrum of concepts, as the various degrees of sublimation, are formed within the boundaries of art as such.
One particular point along this aesthetic spectrum is that of the uncanny, where emotion and sense-perception engage in a stained tug-of-war between objective beauty and universal dread, or, indeed, the projection of a collective vacuousness that each and ever human being understands yet fears and represses in all of its daily motions, reflections and ideations. The uncanny, according to Freud, is explicitly bound up with familiarity, but where the experience of the possibility of familiarity is encountered as though it were indexed to some archetypical experience-but where the individual cognising and perceiving subject does not necessarily have immediate and direct access to the archetype that is rendered familiar through the simultaneous processes of recollection and ideation.
Elsewhere, in the ‘Family Romances’ essay, Freud provides an embryonic if ungainly insight into that which has later been coined as Family Systems Theory, centrying upon the primordial index of a child’s world-view that is the immediate family. The transition from childhood Innocence-if, conversely to Romantic conceptions of Innocence, somewhat symptomatic of bondage, rather than freedom-is, in Freud’s system, one of emancipation from regulatory heteronomous authority. But, this liberation also brings with feelings of angst and confusion for the child.
Thusly, how will the study at hand explore this concepts, and by what means will it unify these seemingly distinct, yet ultimately related concepts of the uncanny and the family system? As a point of investigative and analytical focus, the unifying entity that is aesthetics will bind these concepts together, that particular degrees of displacement and sublimation in the grand totality of particular displacements and sublimations in the entirety of human culture. By way of a concentration on the manifestationÂ of the uncanny, and indeed the psychological bondage of the family system, the analysis of these concepts combined within art as a point of focus, this will permit a transition to a greater understanding of that which art ultimateely represents, and is indexed to: human life itself.
1.2 Definition of the Research Problem
The dissertation will consider an analysis of the concepts of aesthetics to be akin to an analysis of the concepts of kultur; where the overarching focus will be on the definition and conceptual analysis of that which is ‘the uncanny’. By way of such a conceptual analysis and amidst the aforementioned totality, the study will provide an insight into the nature and meaning of the uncanny, both within and without the psychoanalytical system of Freud. Indeed, by way of a consideration of the uncanny in terms of the dialogical and dichotomous mutualities between child and parent, the study will also reveal new insights into not simply the psychology of the family system, but the manner by which the archetypical phenomena that the uncanny seemingly communicates with (be they resident in human memory, or indeed the unconscious as a pool of primordial memories and images) are played out between the modality that bridges art and the concept of the family. Accordingly, as a point of focus, the study will investigate, in the very essence of an enquiry such as the present one, the question of what, exactly, the uncanny is. In particular, the study will respond to the following research questions:
1. What is meant by the concept of ‘the uncanny’? Why is an understanding of this concept an important question?
2. How is the concept of the uncanny situated in the field of aesthetics?
3. What is meant by neurosis, in the psychoanalytical sense, and to what extent is the mutuality between child and parent a cause in the development of neurosis in the individual psyche?
4. What is the relationship of displacement and sublimation, instint and repression, to art and, especially, the uncanny in art?
5. To what extent are aesthetic representations of the uncanny indexed to material instances of the uncanny? Can an understanding of the uncanny yield important insights into the family system?
1.3 Aims, Objectives and Rationale
The overarching rationale for the study is, first and foremost, regulated by an antipositivist epstiemic and ontological approach to the concepts of human culture; whilst this will be accounted for in greater detail in a later methodology chapter, for now, it is simply necessary to note that amongst the infinite attempts at description, amongst the potentially infinite modal totalities that attempt to appropriate and make sense of reality, the present study will offer but oneÂ perspective on the research questions. Thus, despite slow disintegration of the credibility of psychoanalysis as a plausible means of accessing that which might be understood to be the ‘truths’ of human nature (where any such truth is perspectivally constrained), the study at hand will rescue it from its exile in the shameful confines of Literary Criticism and permit it to stand triumphant alongside the attempted hegemony of empirical psychology. From its distant Elba, psychoanalsysis will be understood as offering a compelling perspective on the neuroses inspired by the family system, together with a re-imagining of that attempted description of a peculiar and seemingly ever-recurring strangeness that is ‘the uncanny’.
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Thusly, as an associated rationale, the study will be guided by the proposition that by way of an analysis of art, the modality between art and life can be bridged and so conceptualised in a new way. There exists over a century of secondary literature on Freud, ranging from texts that take his ideations as being indicative of serious insights into the human condition, to others that impose Freudian conceptual architectonics onto all manner of literary and aesthetic works. Mediating between these two forms of approach, the study will also avoid the fallacy of simply viewing art through a ‘Freudian lens’-as is the practice of the aforementioned charlatan discusive formation (to utilise a Foucauldian term momentarily) that is English Literature-whilst proffering the plausibility of one particular set of subjective perspectives, over others. In essence, this will involve the seizing of psychoanalysis for the investigative ends of a suitable probing into the human psyche and, ultimately, that complex array of responses, reciprocities, attachments, and trauma that-beyond the idealistic facades of cultural depictions of apotheosised ‘family life’-are ultimately bound up as posssible tyrannies within the psychological matrix of the family system.
1.4 Thesis Overview
Before formally venturing into the project itself, it would be a useful strategy to provide an overview of the thesis as a whole, to better guide the reader and to provide for a map by way of which the central research questions will be arrived upon. First and foremost, and immediately following this introductory chapter, a literature review serve as the next logical progression of the thesis. Indeed, the provision of a literature review will not simply set the research in context, but it will also serve as a partial component of what will unfold as a qualitative study of art, psychoanalysis, and the key concpepts that have been raised. The end of this is to justify the space for a re-imagining of previous treatments of these concepts by way of the provision of new insights, together with describing such treatments in new ways that modifies them in accordance with perspective. The literature review will be tripartite in nature, with three sections on psychoanalysis as such, psychoanalyss and art, and indeed Freud and the uncanny.
Following this, the subsequent chapter will detail the distinctive methodology that will be employed by study. Being of a qualitative nature, the chapter will justify both the ontological and epistemic basis of the chosen analytical methodologies of a literature review, a critical discourse analysis, and indeed a philosophical analysis, as suitable means of gaining an insight into the reseearch questions. Attention will also be given to the projected plausibility of the research by way of a defense of its qualitative validity, whilst also offering some modest space for its limitations, which can, then, be suitable addressed by way of future studies. With the methodology chapter having been articulated, the chapter that follows will comprise an analysis of particular works of art. These will, specifically, be the film 45 Years, and the the phenomenon of the family photograph as a an indicative instance of uncanny and which may, of course, be indeed to the psychological dynamics of the family system. To set these art-works in context, recourse will be given to Walter Benjamin on photography to complement the position of Freud. Then, a Discussion chapter will bridge the psychoanalytical insights that emerge in the literature review-and indeed across the thesis as a whole-with the art-works discussed in the preceding Analysis chapter. The key aims will be to assimilate the findings of the disserttion, with a view to presenting a compelling picture of the concepts that are up for consideration in the concluding chapter.