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Unconcept, The

The Freudian Uncanny in Late-Twentieth-Century Theory

Anneleen Masschelein

Publication Year: 2011

Explores the conceptualization of the Freudian uncanny in various late-twentieth-century theoretical and critical discourses (literary studies, psychoanalysis, cultural studies, art history, trauma studies, architecture, etc.). The Unconcept is the first genealogy of the concept of the Freudian uncanny, tracing the development, paradoxes and movements of this negative concept through various fields and disciplines from psychoanalysis, literary theory and philosophy to film studies, genre studies, sociology, religion, architecture theory, and contemporary art. Anneleen Masschelein explores the vagaries of this ‘unconcept’ in the twentieth century, beginning with Freud’s seminal essay ‘The Uncanny,’ through a period of conceptual latency, leading to the first real conceptualizations in the 1970s and then on to the present dissemination of the uncanny to exotic fields such as hauntology, the study of ghosts, robotics and artificial intelligence. She unearths new material on the uncanny from the English, French and German traditions, and sheds light on the specific status of the concept in contemporary theory and practice in the humanities. This essential reference book for researchers and students of the uncanny is written in an accessible style. Through the lens of the uncanny, the familiar contours of the intellectual history of the twentieth century appear in a new and exciting light.

Published by: State University of New York Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. iii-v


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pp. vii-ix

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pp. ix-x

The present book is the result of a longstanding research project that began in 1994. In 2002, the preface of my PhD began with a few lines from W. H. Auden’s “This Lunar Beauty”:

But this was never A ghost’s endeavour Nor, finished this, Was ghost at ease
These prophetic words announced an ongoing process of thinking about the uncanny that finally presents itself as a slim volume compared to the PhD text. Over the years, the uncanny has continued to flourish, to meander, and to be criticized. Steeped in new research projects and teaching, I always kept one eye open for the new forms and journeys of the concept. At the same time, I strove to really capture the dynamic core of its specific...

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Chapter 1. Introduction

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pp. 1-16

In 1965, professor Siegbert S. Prawer concluded his inaugural lecture at Westfield College, London entitled “The ‘Uncanny’ in Literature. An Apology for its Investigation,” with the following words.

I hope to have demonstrated this evening that for all the dangers which attend a too exclusive preoccupation with it, for all the crude and melodramatic and morally questionable forms in which it so often confronts us, the uncanny in literature does speak of something true and important, and that its investigation, therefore is worth our while. (Prawer 1965, 25)

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Chapter 2. The Position of the Uncanny in Freud’s Oeuvre

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pp. 17-48

It is rather remarkable that, despite the ongoing interest in the uncanny, no systematic account of the position of the concept of the uncanny within Freud’s oeuvre is available, even though partial links to other texts and notions have, of course, been examined. This is due to several reasons: the text’s generic indeterminacy, Freud’s own relative disregard of the essay after 1921, and the general confusion between the word “uncanny” as...

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Chapter 3. Preliminaries to Concept Formation

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pp. 49-71

Before the actual conceptualization of the uncanny, there is a period that can be regarded as a stage of “preconceptualization” between 1919 and roughly the mid-1960s. It is not easy to locate all the sources from this period because many are not included in indexes, although Nobus has done a lot of work in his bibliographical repertory. Following leads from the references in texts supplemented the corpus for this period. The difficulty of finding sources corroborates that the work on the uncanny...

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Chapter 4. Tying the Knot: The Conceptualization of the Uncanny

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pp. 73-123

In the last three decades of the twentieth century, the position of Freud’s essay and the concept of the uncanny within the study of literature and within psychoanalysis fundamentally changes. The year 1970 can be considered a turning point in the conceptualization process of the uncanny because of the appearance of a number of groundbreaking works in which “The Uncanny” is treated...

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Chapter 5. The Uncanny: A Late Twentieth-Century Concept

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pp. 125-153

The conceptualization of the uncanny takes off simultaneously in the French and English tradition in the mid-1970s; somewhat later, German and other languages follow. As we saw in the previous chapters, from the very start the conceptualization transgresses the disciplinary boundaries of literary studies, psychoanalysis, and aesthetics and fundamentally...

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Chapter 6. Concluding Remarks

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pp. 155-158

In order to deal with the rapidly expanding corpus of definitions and applications of the concept, this genealogy has rigorously followed the sticky path of the signifiers “uncanny—unheimlich—inquiétante étrangeté” in various indexes and search engines. This led to the most divergent themes, objects, topics, domains, associations, affiliations, deviations, and disseminations. The material constraint also entailed openness to other, non-canonical and forgotten sources on the uncanny. The material that has been...


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pp. 159-180


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pp. 181-216


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pp. 217-229

E-ISBN-13: 9781438435558
E-ISBN-10: 143843555X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781438435534
Print-ISBN-10: 1438435533

Page Count: 239
Illustrations: 1 figure
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1

OCLC Number: 733048530
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Unconcept, The

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Subject Headings

  • Fantastic, The.
  • Uncanny, The (Psychoanalysis).
  • Aesthetics, Modern -- 20th century.
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