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Lacoursiere, R. (2017). Uncanny Similarities between the Deaths of Franz Kafka and Sigmund Freud. Am. Imago, 74(1):75-84.

(2017). American Imago, 74(1):75-84

Uncanny Similarities between the Deaths of Franz Kafka and Sigmund Freud

Roy Lacoursiere


While I hesitate to bring Franz Kafka's stories to bed owing to the risk of having nightmares, Kafka's biography can be more manageable. Yet, the circumstances of his death as recounted in a recent work seemed strange, or more specifically, strangely familiar: he was Jewish, terminally ill, and euthanized by a friend who promised to provide the lethal drug (see Stach, 2013, pp. 546-572). One encounters the same circumstances with Sigmund Freud's death, which I researched a few years ago for this journal (Lacoursiere, 2008). As I contemplated the overall situation of Kafka's death, the more elements familiar from Freud's death came to the fore. These increasingly familiar details of one death duplicated in the other made this experience seem stranger still, even peculiar, unusual, or almost weird. It might not be happenstance that Freud himself investigated this very feeling, this sense that something familiar can seem strange, almost fearful. In an essay of the same name he called it “the uncanny, “das Unheimliche(1919).1

Freud completed the essay in the unusual period soon after the Great War. At the start of the war, Freud had shared the widespread Austrian enthusiasm and optimism toward it.2 But, as Peter Gay describes, the ensuing catastrophe and its aftermath intruded profoundly on him: several family members participated in the conflict, food shortages affected their table, and psychoanalytic activities were curtailed (1988, pp. 350-357). Perhaps these circumstances explain at least in part why his essay was not one of his better-written works.

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