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c h a p t e r 8 It Walks: The Ambulatory Uncanny Susan Bernstein Samuel Weber’s work has a remarkable range. He has written on Freud and Lacan, Nietzsche and Heidegger, Balzac and Hoffmann. His work addresses all the crucial issues of critical theory, from questions of hermeneutics and deconstruction to problems of professionalism and the structure of the university. Weber is one of the most timely writers in the field on literary studies, able to articulate issues of tradition with contemporary cultural and critical polemics. He is tremendously active in the professional community; he has lectured in France, Germany, Holland, Australia , Singapore, and of course the United States. He has taught in Berlin and Frankfurt, Paris and Strasbourg, as well as at Northwestern, Johns Hopkins, and other American universities. This list is not meant to invoke authority; rather, Weber’s facility of motion reflects his commitment to a practice of translation and interpretation with a social and political dimension . His careful and lucid readings, whether of ‘‘the uncanny,’’ the political , or media technology and aesthetics, always keep critical topics alive, refusing the tendency toward reification or programmatic phrases. His work continues to open questions and is, as he has suggested, ‘‘criticism underway.’’1 Insofar as his critical engagement is timely, one might also say, invoking Nietzsche, that it is untimely as well, in its ability to sidestep the unfortunately common hunger for novelty, and to remain instead PAGE 183 183 ................. 16645$ $CH8 10-10-07 15:01:31 PS 184 Susan Bernstein committed to repetitions and rehearsals that continue to translate and transmit, to open discourse and make it available for fresh readerships. I would like here to follow in his footsteps a bit and take this book reflecting upon his work as an opportunity to revisit the topic of the uncanny. Weber’s essay ‘‘The Sideshow, or: Remarks on a Canny Moment,’’ first published in 1973 and reprinted in the expanded edition of The Legend of Freud in 2000, is now a classic in the literature of the uncanny. Reading Freud’s essay ‘‘Das Unheimliche,’’ along with Hoffmann’s ‘‘Sandman’’ and Villier de l’Isle-Adam’s novel l’Eve future, Weber makes an important intervention in arguing against the many prior approaches to this topic which had tended to understand it solely as an ‘‘emotive phenomenon’’ identified with feelings of fear, anxiety, weirdness, and the like. ‘‘Such a position,’’ he writes, ‘‘misconstrues the peculiar structure of the uncanny, or more precisely, ignores the fact that the uncanny has a particular structure , which, however intimately bound up with subjective feelings—above all anxiety—is nonetheless determined by a series of ‘objective’ factors that in turn stand in a certain relation to literary discourse’’ (208).2 He thus joins in the discussion that begins to understand Freud’s text as itself a case of the uncanny,3 and indeed of the literary uncanny. Weber points to Freud’s failure to define the uncanny in a final or complete way, suggesting that this is not an error on Freud’s part, but rather tells us something about the uncanny itself. At the same time, Weber steers clear of defining the uncanny as an ‘‘object.’’ Rather, what characterizes the uncanny is precisely the impossibility of looking it ‘‘straight in the eyes, as it were . . . peeling and paring away its external layers to get at the ‘conceptual kernel’ within and yet unable to ever eliminate the (growing) shadow of doubt— all this indicates that even if the uncanny is not conceived as an irreducibly subjective sentiment, its objective structure cannot be determined solely in thematic terms’’ (1115). The uncanny calls not for a definition, a collection of thematic terms, but rather, as a ‘‘‘formal,’ textual structure,’’ it demands reading. This insistence on reading, foregrounding the textuality of the uncanny, points to the ways in which the uncanny functions as a critique of identity. ‘‘The reading that I now propose to undertake,’’ Weber writes, ‘‘seeks . . . to avoid the impasse of interpretations which— like Freud’s Musterung—conceive and organize their own activity, consciously or unconsciously, in terms derived from a notion of perception (‘vision’) which in turn is based upon ontological presuppositions that the problematic of castration precisely and decisively dislocates: namely, upon the presence and identity of the ‘object’ in question’’ (1115). PAGE 184 ................. 16645$ $CH8 10-10-07 15:01:31 PS 185 It Walks: The Ambulatory Uncanny Since Weber’s article...


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