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The Freudian Concept of the Uncanny and Its Influence on Psycho and La Poupee

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Every person understands the feeling of underlying worry and fear without being able to pinpoint the source. Humans were designed to have emotions that they can not decipher. There was once a time that no one knew how one thought nor did they ask the question how do we think about how we think? Sigmund Freud is a psychoanalyst that picked up on these questions and feelings; he researched and wrote an extensive collection by the time he passed in 1939. He was born in 1856 in Czechia, then at the age of four, him and his family moved to Vienna where he would live, study, and work for the next 79 years before emigrating to London. He was a jew in the anti- semitism era in Austria; this led him to his interest and first studies ‘for at an early age [Freud] was made familiar with the fate of being in the opposition’ (Thurschwell 2000, p. 6). Thus, this helped him in his first ideas because his ideas were so out there he was used to people not agreeing with him. For ‘he enjoyed being the lone thinker, forging away at his revolutionary ideas without outside support’ (Thurschwell 2000, p. 6). As a young boy he was very intellectual and grew up to study medicine at the University of Vienna, however later he saw no future for himself in that course. He was more curious about human concerns like evolution. He ‘believed strongly in cause and effect and his theories indicated that every hysterical symptom he examined, every dream, every slip of the tongue, everything we say or think on a daily basis, has a cause. It may not always be possible to uncover this cause, but it is there’ (Thurschwell 2000, p. 6). His early theories included Symptoms, Dreams and Slips of the Tongue: Studies on Hysteria (1895), the Interpretation of Dreams (1900) and the Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901). Later in life, he focused much of his research on sexuality. This idea outraged society the most because he published these theories at the romantic period when writers were pushing the child as innocent. They portrayed children as being blank and not yet to have experienced anything. Moreover, Freud ‘proposed that childhood fantasies formed a continuum with sexual desires, and that all children has an innate curiosity about sex and about their own origins’ (Thurschwell 2000, p. 43). Some feel as if this claim is more or less absurd. They feel as if children do not understand and yes, they wonder where they came from and how they got here, but do not have sexual desires. People do not see how a young child at the age of ten or below could have sexual fantasies or even compare those to their own fantasies. Children are creative and have incredible imaginations but do not fantiscise their mothers womb. In addition, he wrote works on civilization and society and the idea of fetishism. Freud wanted to find an explanation for all of human psychology. He wanted to pick apart every part of the brain and wondered why humanity thought in certain ways.

In 1919, Sigmund Freaud wrote The Uncanny. He wrote this later in his life for he died twenty years later in 1939. The writing has the purpose of ‘uncovering the meanings of an aesthetic concept – the feeling of the uncanny’ (Thurschwell 2000, p. 117). Freud describes the uncanny as an eerie feeling we have when we read literature and in everyday life and that ‘when we encounter the uncanny we are left feeling spooked and perhaps, uncertain of the exact source of that fear’ (Thurschwell 2000, p. 117). Every person will have their own uncanny feelings. Freaud explores the dictionary definition of the german word heimlich and its opposite, unheimlich (the uncanny). Heimlich means house and therefore meaning a familiar and safe place; this is contrasted with its antonym of unheimlich which would mean the opposite. He describes it as ‘that species of the freightening that goes back to what was once well known and had long been familiar’ (Freud 2008, p. 124). Interpreted, this sounds contradictory; because it is. It’s in human nature that something familiar is not frightening, but here Freud says it can be. It depends on the situation; the cause can produce an uncanny effect. Even though the word heimlich means ‘homely’ and the opposite would mean ‘unhomely’, this is not always the case. Unheimlich means something is new and unfamiliar but not everything new is frightening. Sometimes things that are new are good and people are excited about it. Again, the uncanny is different for everyone and what one might think is unsettling, another may not. For instance, a modern example could be starting at a new job; one may think about the new things they will learn and the people they will meet while others may think of the copious amount of times they will miscalculate their work. From here, Freud goes into a long excerpt of Daniel Sanders Wörterbuch der Deutschen Sprache (1860) and concludes that ‘heimlich is not unambiguous, but belongs to two sets of ideas, which are not mutually contradictory, but very different from each other — the one relating to what is familiar and comfortable, the other to what his concealed and kept hidden’ (Freud 2008, p. 132). This may be interpreted by a new definition of the uncanny. People may find an uncanny sense in something that was meant to be hidden but is now in the open. Something that is not meant to be known but somehow, the secret was leaked. The second part of the article is about the feelings and situations and people and things that evoke the uncanny. Freud analyzes E.T.A. Hoffman’s “The Sand- Man” in which a young boy has a fear of losing his eyes – symbolizing castration (the removal of the testicals of a male). Here, Fread is ‘using a heavy symbolic and sexual interpretation to uncover the one true (sexual) meaning of the story’ (Thurschwell 2000, p. 118). This is a very Freudian way of thinking – to think that everything has an underlying sexual meaning to it. After this, Freud goes on to talk about the double and the fear that some have about the doppelganger. The fear ‘is intensified by the spontaneous transmission of mental processes from one of these persons to the other –what we would call telepathically– so that the other one becomes co-owner of the others knowledge, emotions and experience. Moreover, a person may identify himself with another and so become unsure of his true self; or he may substitute the other’s self for his own’ (Freud 2008, p. 141-142). This implies that people are in fear of annihilation and the fear of making a double in case the first human becomes damaged. As well, an identical twin could be a doppelganger and some say that they can read each other’s thoughts and feelings. This fear of the double relates to the fear of repetition and ‘the factor of unintended repetition that transforms what would otherwise seem quite harmless into something uncanny and forces us to entertain the idea of the fateful and the inescapable, when we should normally think of chance’ (Freud 2008, p. 144). Here, Fread is talking about the uncanny emotion we feel when we encounter something similar within a day. For example, they may not have any effect at first but once we see, say a number, multiple times a day, one may feel that uncanny feeling. That feeling that we are being watched or asking ourselves why we keep seeing this number or if it has a secret meaning that we need to take note of? That may evoke the uncanny in us. In the third and final part of the discussion, Freud gives an overview of all the things he has discussed. He talks about the uncanny in real experience versus what we read or see. Freud concluded that ‘the uncanny element we know from experience arises either when repressed childhood complexes are revived by some impression, or when primitive beliefs that have been surmounted appear to be once again confirmed’ (Freud 2008, p. 155). Sigmund Freud was – and still is – a pinnacle leader in the move to understanding psychoanalysis. He influenced a multitude of artists including being recognized in the Surrealist Manifesto. In particular, he has influenced Alfred Hitchcock and his film Psycho as well as Hans Bellmer and his series on La Poupee.

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The first work I will explore in the 1960s film Psycho directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The film follows a real estate secretary from Phoenix, Arizona named Marion Crane. Marion needs money to bail her boyfriend (Sam Loomis) out of debt so that they can marry each other. When a client comes in one day and pays $40,000 cash for a property, she sees this as her open door and decides to run with the money to Los Angeles. She doesn’t get far before she stops to stay the night at the Bates Motel. That night, she is murdered in the shoewer by Mrs Bates, Norman Bates’s mother. After she had been missing for a couple days, Lila (Marion’s sister) and Sam send an investigator out to look for her. He is dissatisfied with Normans answers about where Marion is so he goes to the house to talk to the mother but doesn’t make it to the top of the stairs before he is murdered. Lila and Sam finally go and tell the sheriff that Marion is missing and is at the Bates motel when the sheriff reveals that Norman’s mother has been dead for ten years. They go to investigate themselves and while Sam talks to Norman, Lila tries to find the mother. She finds the mothers corpse in the basement and at that moment, Norman runs in with a knife in his hand, dressed just like his mother. A detective reveals that Norman actually murdered his mother and the man she was seeing and that now Norman believes he is his mother. Norman and his mother clung to each other (because his father died when he was young) until she got a new man. Norman got extremely jealous of the man, so he killed them both. Once he did that, he had to erase the crime in his mind so he stole her corpse. She was there, but a corpse- so he gave her half his life. He could be both personalities and have a conversation with himself but as her. He was never all Norman, but many times all mother. He was so pathologically jealous of his mother, he assumed she was the same jealous about him so if he felt an attraction to any other woman than his mother, the mother side of him would go wild. When he met Marion, he was attracted to her -so mother killed Marion because she was jealous. After the crime, he was convinced that his mother killed Marion. He was keeping alive the reality that his mother was alive. He tried to be his mother. There is always a conflict when the mind holds two personalities. Sigmund Freud has had a multitude of influence of Alfred Hitchcock’s movie. For a start, there is Normans sexul obsession with his mother. Freud recalls in The Uncanny that feeling of attachment to the mother and that all young boys long for the ‘entrance to the old man’s home’ (Freud 2008, p. 151). He is talking here about the female genitals and how it is ‘the place where everyone onced lived’ (Freud 2008, p. 151) as a fetus. That feeling is uncanny to think about. It is a nurturing feeling as well thinking about the mother and being fed and looked after and once you grow up you do not have that luxury anymore. As well, the feeling of the uncanny comes up when the viewer realizes that Norman and Marion are opposites of each other. Marion lives the normal life and Norman lives the hermit life alone. It brings up the Freudian theme of the doppelganger except being complete opposites instead of the exact same. Marion and Norman mirror each other – quite literally by Hitchcock using mirrors throughout the movie to show Marion in front, and in the mirror – like an uncanny foreshadow to the future of her death and how no one saw it coming. The Freudian theme of three come into play in this film as well. Freud introduced the three levels of the human consciousness: the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious; just like the three levels of the Bates house and the three parts to the uncanny. In addition, there are numerous uncanny scenes in Psycho. These include the last scene where norman’s mother is talking inside Normans brain and the viewer can see how kooky he really is. The uncanny feeling comes when her skull is flashed over Normans smiling face. The viewer feels a drop in their stomach because how unknown Normans psyche is.

The second work I will analyze is Hans Bellmer and La Poupee. He was born in 1902 in Katowice when it was part of the German Empire. He is best known for his sculptures and photographs of erotic dolls. He grew up in the Nazi regime but was ‘against the relentless rise of National Socialism with its ostility towards ‘degenerate’ bodies’ (Smith 2013, p. 303). Instead, he was for femininity and wanted women to be able to express themselves and did not believe that there was one way people needed to look. The Nazi’s belived that the Aryan race was the master race. He begun la poupee when his ‘mother sent him a box of his childhood toys, including broken dolls, and this reawakened nostalgic and melancholic feelings for is adolescence’ (Smith 2013 p. 303). He worked with the female dolls and broke off limbs and part of their bodies and reassembled them using ball joints. He created them because he didnt belive in the Nazi Regime’s goal of so-called physical perfection. Bellmer held that the female body was calling on him to rearrange it and he could create endless forms o how a woman could look. The dolls he created were influenced by surrealism and evoke a sense of the uncanny. The dolls were made to ‘invoke a fetishist relation between the sexual(ised) fragments of a female corporeality and the producer/ viewer. Nurtured by an obsessive fixation on a model of androynous love and schizophrenic sensitivities his ‘new perspective organism’ seek to communicate sexuality with/ through the whole body with the aim to banish and dispel anxieties about male subjectivity, wholeness and power” (Mey 2006, p. 16). He made the dolls as oppositions to the male gaze and thus go against how men should look at women. This was monumental for his time being these ideas were unknown -and uncanny- for women were confined to the house. The viewer sees it and asks why he has a fetish with the female form. It is an uncanny feeling because it is liked to pedophilia and that feeling of wanting a young women like that is uneasy and uncanny to most. In current day, these dolls he creates look more like sex dolls and ones yoou would see in pornography. This idea can be linked to other works such as in Psycho, Norman is obsessed with his mother. This portrays the Freaudian theme that he mentions in the Uncanny about ‘there is something uncanny about the female genitals. But what they find uncanny is actually the place where everyone onced lived’ (Freud 2008, p. 151). Bellmer is interested in the psychological unconscious in the way that he uses dolls. Dolls have been a mechanism for the feeling of the unknown.

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