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Zero Limits

In: English and Literature

Submitted By mereshaw
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“Fiction presents more opportunities for creating uncanny sensations than are possible in real life” (Freud, 18). This quote comes from an essay written by Sigmund Freud in 1919 entitled “The ‘Uncanny.’” In this article, Freud discusses the subject of uncanniness and proposes what he thinks deems certain events or things to be labeled as uncanny. Freud states, “the ‘uncanny’ is that class of the terrifying which leads back to something long known to us, once very familiar” (1-2). Freud theorizes that one would find something uncanny if he had previous exposure to it, but was now viewing it in a horrifying manner. For example, a doll is not supposed to be terrifying. Dolls are loved by young children and seen as innocent or harmless. However, a fictional story about a doll that becomes possessed and kills people is frightening to people of all ages. This scenario would be considered uncanny because a doll, such a familiar thing, has deviated from the norm and turned horrific.
Freud’s essay continues to flourish around the idea that it is most frightening when something so familiar turns into something so terrible. This feeling of mixed emotions can be referred to as “cognitive dissonance.” In the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, cognitive dissonance is defined as, “psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously.” While Freud himself never mentioned this psychological term himself in his article, it is very obvious that it has correlation and can be applied to the feeling of an uncanny situation.
With a solid understanding of the word “uncanny” in mind, the previously stated quote, “Fiction presents more opportunities for creating uncanny sensations than are possible in real life,” begins to make more sense (Freud, 18). Freud describes literature as “a much more fertile province than the uncanny in real life” (18). In non-fiction work, fear and uncanniness has limits that are set by the parameter of reality. In fiction however, the uncanny can go as far as it wants. In Freud’s opinion, he believes that the realm of imagination in fiction can be so deep that an author can create a more wild and uncanny idea than one that would actually exist in reality. In fictitious literature, there is nothing to stop the mind of the author; there are zero limits. He can create scenarios so uncanny that they cannot be real. In his article, Freud states that the author “can increase his effect and multiply it far beyond what could happen in reality, by bringing about events which never or very rarely happen in fact” (18).
Freud’s stance on this issue seems to make a lot of sense and there are several places in the article that support the argument. On pages 5-7 of his essay, Freud tells the story of the “Sand-Man,” a creepy character who throws sand into children’s eyes, causing them to fall out. Freud describes the sand in the following way, “the grains of sand that are to be thrown into the child’s eyes turn into red-hot grains of coal out of the flames; and in both cases they are meant to make his eyes jump out” (6). In reality, sand is not something that is typically feared. Sand normally has pleasant connotations because it is found on a relaxing paradise such as a beach. However, in this story, all the readers fear sand. This adds an uncanny element to the story because something so familiar as sand is used by the author to instill fear into the reader.
In the same “Sand-Man” story, a doll named Olympia also had her eyes fall out due to the Sand-Man. As previously mentioned, dolls should not be scary, but with a frightening element added to the story, the doll is exactly that. Freud says, “We must admit in regard to the doll Olympia, is quite irrelevant in connection with this other, more striking instance of un- canniness.” Though sand and a doll should not be scary, they inflict fear in this story because of the familiarity. Nothing is scarier than something so normal turning into a horror. Freud’s essay makes several good points when referring to the concept of the uncanny. He proposes that uncanny situations are so terrifying because they include familiar aspects. He believes that it is scariest when something we know so well inflicts fear. In his article, Freud also points out that fictitious literature takes uncanniness to a whole new level. In reality, there is a limit to what can happen. Boundaries are set by the truth. In fiction however, Freud points out that the imagination can go as far as it wants. It can create scenarios that are not realistic, but extremely scary. Fiction gives the chance to create sensations that are so uncanny they cannot be real. “The Uncanny” by Freud perfectly describes the word “uncanny” and reveals how fiction can create more opportunities for uncanny scenarios.…...

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