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Svenaeus, F. (1999). Freud's philosophy of the uncanny. Scand. Psychoanal. Rev., 22(2):239-254.

(1999). Scandinavian Psychoanalytic Review, 22(2):239-254

Freud's philosophy of the uncanny

Fredrik Svenaeus, Ph.D.

This paper is an attempt to uncover and bring to a coherent interpretation Freud's thoughts on the phenomenon of uncanniness. Starting out with the essay “The uncanny” the author wants to show that uncanniness plays an important rôle in the turn that Freud's thinking goes through at this time, and that the concept can serve as a springboard for a critical, phenomenological reading of Freud's thoughts on the development of the ego. The analysis of the phenomenon of uncanniness itself tends to disrupt the coherence of Freud's earlier views and pushes him towards his later thinking. “Unheimlich” in German has the double meaning of uncanny and unhome-like, and what is not at home in itself in an uncanny sense, according to Freud, is precisely the human ego. Freud in “The uncanny” links the interpretation of uncanniness to compulsive repetition and thus makes the connection to trauma and birth anxiety discussed in later works such as “Beyond the pleasure principle” and “Inhibitions, symptoms and anxiety”. The origin of our general sensitivity to the uncanny is thus, according to Freud, the loss of the mother suffered by the child as a kind of a priori traumatic experience, which is also the very event that makes the child into an ego. The understanding of traumatic neurosis and other forms of mental illness is consequently linked to an analysis of this primal uncanniness of life.

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