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McCaffrey, P. (1992). Erasing the Body: Freud's Uncanny Father-Child. Am. Imago, 49(4):371-389.

(1992). American Imago, 49(4):371-389

Erasing the Body: Freud's Uncanny Father-Child

Phillip McCaffrey

It is not until almost two-thirds through his essay on “The Uncanny” (1919) that Freud finally turns to the category which he calls “perhaps the most striking of all,” that of “death and dead bodies [Tod … Leichen]” (Freud 1919a, 241; 1919b, 254). He says he might well have begun his investigation with this category of the uncanny, since it is so important. But in his long paragraph on the topic, Freud discusses everything except dead bodies. He considers the biological certainty of death, primitive attitudes towards it, and the role of repression in converting those primitive fears into civilized piety, but he produces no specific example of an uncanny (dead) body, a Leiche. In effect, Freud has omitted the body from his discussion of dead bodies. His omission is all the more noticeable in a text which is stuffed with specific examples. Furthermore, among the many types of the uncanny which Freud considers, one of the few he entirely overlooks is that of omission itself, the unexpected loss or surprising disappearance which can sometimes be uncanny.

This odd omission of the body from a discussion of bodies can be linked to another small peculiarity. Freud chose to begin his investigation with an etymological survey, the largest bulk of which is a three-page dictionary definition of heimlich reprinted verbatim from Daniel Sanders' Wörterbuch der Deutschen Sprache. This unedited block of material is unusual enough in itself, but it also involves a further anomaly. Sanders illustrates each variety of a word's meaning with one or more abbreviated citations drawn broadly from German literature.

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