Omniscience and the Uncanny

Freud opens The Uncanny with a vague delineation between the role of psychology and that of aesthetics, asserting that the often abstract inspiration that fuels the creative drive is somehow more restricted than the intellectual motivations behind the methods of psychoanalysis. As a man of science, he “works in other strata of the psyche and has little to do with the subject matter of aesthetics, impulses that are restrained, inhibited in their aims and dependent on numerous attendant circumstances” (123). Despite his contention, Freud then claims that he has to take an interest in particular areas of aesthetics for which science has neglected to offer any plausible explanations. Much like his work, Freud is haunted by questions and driven by the characteristically human compulsion to find meaning in the absence of understanding. This is a goal served by scientists and artists alike, and the phenomena that he and his contemporaries refer to as the uncanny represent all that defies rational explanation, thereby marking the finite but evolving limits of human comprehension that separate us from an ever-elusive state of absolute omniscience. Despite the fact that many of Freud’s theories on the human psyche have since been disproven, when applied to the realm of aesthetics, it seems that his talents for literary criticism were misdirected toward establishing an objective view of the human condition rather than focusing on the subjective nature of art and literature. 

Although Freud acknowledges the work of Ernst Jentsch as the only other significant medico-psychological contribution to the study of the uncanny that had been written prior to his own, he adamantly opposes Jentsch’s conclusion that intellectual uncertainty is the source of all that is uncanny. Nonetheless, Freud offers relatively little insight into the matter beyond his basic position that the uncanny is a result of primitive beliefs that have been repressed. This, of course, serves more as an attempt to fit an unfamiliar concept into his own pre-existing theory, which indirectly supports the idea that the uncanny involves the return of the familiar in an unfamiliar context. However, his lack of definitive explanation also inadvertently reinforces Jentsch’s theory of intellectual uncertainty, as Freud effectively illustrates the nature of the uncanny by maintaining its inability to be explained. 

Carl Jung also supports this notion by referring to the uncanny as “everything whose cause we do not know – since it is not ourselves. When it happens spontaneously, it is a spookish thing, and primitive fear seizes the naive mind” (Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious 17). Collectively, it seems then that the uncanny is an effect produced when the perception and comprehension of the individual fail to align with that person’s equally subjective view of reality. It represents the blind spots in cognition that we have sought to illuminate by means of knowledge and wisdom since we first developed the uniquely human ability to ask questions – when we began to think of ourselves as something other than animals for the simple reason that we could.

It is precisely this intellectual advancement that continues to distance us from our ancestral roots, and our perpetually evolving capabilities for abstract thought afford us the simple understanding that we will never resume our place in the animal kingdom, nor shall we ever return to the primitive safety of the cave. In a parallel argument, Freud contends that such an inclination is motivated by a subconscious desire to return to the womb, the impossibility of which serves as a perfect example of the conflict that exists between our instincts and the reality that is defined and embraced by the ego. Nonetheless, reality often maintains a direct correlation to the knowledge that exists as the fruit of civilization, and this knowledge can only be expressed and understood through the symbolic representation of language. Both of the aforementioned elements serve to promote a universally accepted comprehension of reality, and the continued reinforcement of what one accepts as truth renders any discrepancy to the scientific or theological postulates by which a person defines this reality all the more jarring. This may explain why Freud “pleads an exceptional obtuseness” in terms of his own inability to experience the uncanny firsthand (The Uncanny 124). 

As his essay on The Uncanny continues, Freud ventures into the equally uncertain realm of linguistics to present the reader with what is essentially a riddle about the often ambiguous relationship that exists between language and thought, only concluding that the scope of meaning is limited by the words through which it is conveyed (124-134). Somewhere between unheimlich and heimlich resides the elusive definition of the uncanny. It would be seventeen years until Jacques Lacan takes this a step further by reducing all meaning to the purely symbolic, the antithesis of reality (Lacan, The Mirror Stage as Formative of the I Function as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience 75-81). 

According to Freud, though, in The Creative Writer and Daydreaming, the imaginative play of children represents the opposite of real, and it is this tendency toward artistic expression that is maintained into adulthood by the creative writer (26-27). If reality is indeed an intellectual construct, then fiction provides the author – and often the reader – with a sense of omniscience over a finite reality with distinct parallels to our own. Furthermore, whereas psychologists have never been able to come to a consensus in regard to the source of the uncanny – due in part to the limitations of language, as well as the fact that if it could be explained, it would cease to be uncanny – even Freud seems to acknowledge that it can only be accurately illustrated through literary example. Indeed, despite the supposed differences between psychoanalysis and aesthetics, many of the questions they pose are fundamentally the same, and literature may in fact offer explanations of these phenomena that the social sciences cannot.

If, however, we are to seek an understanding of the humanities, perhaps then we should begin with our instincts, just as humanity itself began. However, since evolution only moves in a forward direction, this fundamentally abstract comprehension can only be achieved by means of intellectual explication. Again, we shall turn to Freud, who suggests that we are born with only the id, which is driven by our most primal instincts and represents the limitations of the earliest human mind. “It is everything that is inherited, that is present at birth, that is fixed in the constitution, above all, therefore, the instincts, which originate in the somatic organization and which find their first mental expression in the id in forms unknown to us” (An Outline of Psychoanalysis 14). In terms of etymological lineage, the id is a Latinized translation of the German es, meaning it

It is the source of our human identity. It is familiar and foreign, seemingly simple but often unexplainable. To primitive man, it was everything. Without an understanding of self, there was no differentiation between the senses and all that they perceived. Sandor Ferenczi, president of the International Psychoanalytical Association when Freud’s essay on The Uncanny was published, states that “It is perhaps allowable to venture the surmise that it was the geological changes in the surface of the earth, with their catastrophic consequences for primitive man, that compelled repression of favourite habits and thus ‘development’” (201). The world changed, and the first incarnations of the human form adapted by developing a means of understanding it. By recognizing the external world as the fundamental opposition to their existence, humans learned that they must therefore be something else, and henceforth began our self-imposed alienation from what undoubtedly seemed to be a strange and unwelcoming environment. This was a world in which the uncanny accounted for all that could be perceived yet failed to be understood. Even the Biblical tree of knowledge serves as a metaphor for the otherness of humanity in relation to the natural world, and Freud contends that this lack of distinction that once existed in regard to the self and all else may even explain the common feelings of universal connectedness as embodied by all of the world’s major religions (Civilization and its Discontents 47). 

This cognitive milestone in human development also corresponds to Lacan’s “mirror phase,” in which an infant first recognizes itself as an entity that exists independently of its surroundings. It becomes I and thus begins the process of assigning meaning through dialectics. This symbolic interpretation of the world as represented through language also separates us from the reality to which Lacan suggests we may never return (Lacan, The Mirror Stage as Formative of the I Function as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience 75-81). The “first truth” established by Descartes, Cogito Ergo Sum, therefore, is indeed reflective of the first understanding of primitive man in that the recognition of self was crucial in surviving the infancy of our species. 

According to Ferenczi, we develop our individualized senses of reality in four distinct stages. Based on the assumption that human consciousness begins while inside the womb, the first stage is that of unconditional omnipotence, in which all of an unborn baby’s limited wants and needs are met by the will of the fetus. According to Ferenczi, as echoed by Freud in reference to the uncanny feeling of being buried alive, we maintain this subconscious desire to return to the womb throughout our adult lives, but unlike Freud, Ferenczi believed that this comes from an innate desire to return to this fetal state of absolute omnipotence (181-203). 

In Stages in the Development of the Sense of Reality, Ferenczi suggests that from the time a child is born, it begins a process of adapting its sense of reality in an effort to maintain this illusion of control. This initially manifests itself in the stage of magical-hallucinatory omnipotence, the period in which an infant’s desires seem to be accommodated through wish-impulses. If a newborn baby is hungry, for example, it perceives that the caregiver picks up on this as though by means of extra-sensory perception. Seemingly, then, any of its desires will be fulfilled simply by imagining them to be (186).
However, as a child’s needs and wants become steadily more complex, it is again forced to adapt its sense of reality in order to maintain this feeling of omnipotence. This marks the stage of omnipotence by the help of magical gestures, in which a baby might make a suckling noise in order to be fed or reach for an object even beyond its grasp and the caregiver will provide it. This is also the stage in which the beginnings of symbolic representation begin to occur in the form of human characteristics being assigned to inanimate objects as the infant endows all of its surroundings with the illusion of life (Ferenczi, 188-189).

Soon, though, and once again in response to the increasing complexity of its desires, this symbolic interpretation of the external world is superceded by that of language, which leads to the final stage in the development of one’s sense of reality, which is the period that Ferenczi referred to as the stage of magic thoughts and magic words. In this phase, an infant’s needs are met by vocalizing them in an increasingly complex manner, which eventually leads to the acquisition of language. It is this form of illusory omnipotence that is maintained throughout one’s adult life by the creative writer, whose very profession it is to create a semblance of reality by means of the written word. Ferenczi also suggested that the act of prayer also represents a sublimation of these earlier stages in the development of the ego (196).

If reality is defined by perception, then the ego provides a frame of reference by which to interpret the external world, which is why Freud often referred to the ego as the reality principle in contrast to the pleasure principle of the id. They literally mean I and it, respectively, which represents the original dialectical opposition that served as the beginning of human comprehension. In the closing of On the Psychology of the Uncanny, Ernst Jentsch states:

The human desire for the intellectual mastery of one’s environment is a strong one. Intellectual certainty provides psychical shelter in the struggle for existence. However it comes to be, it signifies a defensive position against the assault of hostile forces, and the lack of such certainty is equivalent to lack of cover in the episodes of that never-ending war of the human and organic world for the sake of which the strongest and most impregnable bastions of science were erected (15).

Our most primitive ancestors, much like their infantile counterparts, yearned for omniscience: the absence of the uncanny. They wanted to understand and control the forces of nature, as it was crucial to their survival, and this goal has been maintained as the central motivating force behind human evolution ever since. We are and have always been engaged in the relentless pursuit of limitless comprehension.

In Civilization and its Discontents, Freud offers an explanation regarding the predisposition of humanity to invent gods that personify our most ambitious aspirations:

Long ago, [mankind] formed an ideal conception of omnipotence and omniscience which he embodied in his gods. To these gods, he attributed everything that seemed unattainable to his wishes, or that was forbidden to him. One may say, therefore, that these gods were cultural ideals. To-day, he has come very close to the attainment of this ideal, he has almost become a god himself. Man has, as it were, become a kind of prosthetic God (75-76). 

God and death are the ultimate uncanny, the ultimate unknown, which may explain why most religions tend to equate each with an interconnectedness to the other. The human mind cannot truly comprehend that which is infinite, which is why religion often represents such meaning through symbolism as a comprehensible means of understanding. 

According to Lacan, “Truth is a value that (cor)responds to the uncertainty with which man’s lived experience is phenomenologically marked or that the search for truth historically motivates, under the heading of the spiritual, the mystic’s flights and the moralist’s rules, the ascetic’s progress and the mystagogue’s finds alike“ (Science and Truth 63). Primitive mythology undoubtedly served as the first explanations of the uncanny, but it was also the inspiration and embodiment of the first forms of literary expression. Before the sun was recognized as a cosmic furnace responsible for the nuclear fusion that created all of the elements on earth, it was a divine being that graced the world with its warmth and light. Thousands of years later, it was suggested that the sun was a celestial object that orbited the earth, which remained the most widely accepted theory until Copernicus presented a heliocentric model of the solar system that was later expanded upon by Galileo. Over the millennia, the myths of our ancestors have mutated and evolved, adapting to the culture to which they belong, as did the means of their expression. In terms of its fundamental role in society, science performs the same essential functions as the mythology that preceded it, as they both serve as a means of explaining the otherwise unexplainable

In Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Jung states that “Mankind has never lacked powerful images to lend magical aid against all the uncanny things that live in the depths of the psyche” (12). Indeed, there have been perhaps as many unexplainable phenomena in the internal world of the human mind as there have been in nature. Mythology has thus given us science, religion and literature to provide answers to even our most abstract questions, and all of these disciplines are haunted by their antecedents and driven by the quest for omniscience. 

Each of these respective fields has historically served to provide knowledge meant to displace the uncanny, and due to the fact that knowledge is an intangible commodity, unless it is shared, it dies with its creator, so for the benefit of self, humans began to work together, first as families, then as tribes, thus setting the stage for civilization. According to Freud, this is responsible for the development of the super-ego, which is the mental process programmed to counter-balance the impulses of the id and to internalize the values and demands of the culture to which we belong. In short, our instincts are suppressed for the benefit of the masses. Freud argues that this conflict between the id and the super-ego, which he believes leads to the inhibition of our true nature, is the fundamental source of all unhappiness. However, he also states that “Sublimation of instinct is an especially conspicuous feature of cultural development; it is what makes it possible for higher psychical activities, scientific, artistic or ideological, to play such an important role in civilized life” (Freud, Civilization and its Discontents 84). Civilization promotes the acquisition and development of knowledge, but it also serves to deny us of our primitive instincts for the sake of its own preservation of order, which is, in itself, an uncanny compulsion to repeat. If the id is reflective of human nature and the ego is represented by the individual, then the super-ego is analogous to civilization and gives us a means by which to quantify reality in conjunction with the ego. 

Parallel to virtually any other aspect of human development, primitive science almost certainly began with the most elementary of principles, building ideas upon ideas, expanding over the course of thousands of years into the many branches of science that we have today. All science, including psychology, was created as a means of understanding the nature of the world and of ourselves, each offering fragments of accepted knowledge as modest contributions to a collective reality and to an absolute truth that is infinite and therefore beyond the limitations of the individual human mind. According to Freud, “We shall never completely master nature; and our bodily organism, itself a part of that nature, will always remain a transient structure with a limited capacity for adaptation and achievement” (Civilization and its Discontents 67). 

In a similar respect, Lacan suggests that the role of science should be recognized as a pursuit of knowledge and not misconstrued as representative of an absolute truth. According to him, there is no absolute truth; there is only perception. He also claims that “We no longer have anything with which to join knowledge and truth together but the subject of science” (Science and Truth 737). His inclusion of the words “no longer have” suggest that knowledge and truth were once unified but have since parted ways.

Although the precursors to contemporary religion were born from the seeds of mythology and akin to what would become literature, in the “Age of Enlightenment,” as it came to be known, the ideas of the scientific community were positioned in diametrical opposition to religion, and each of these conflicting perspectives offered its own perception of reality. If we are to consider the countless human lives that have been lost in defense of certain ideologies and beliefs, it becomes evident that conflicting views of reality are responsible for the vast majority human conflict, literary or otherwise. Reality is defined by popular opinion, and in a broad sense, civilization aims to impose a uniformity in how each individual perceives the world at large, beginning with language.

According to Jung, “Ultimate truth, if there be such a thing, demands the concert of many voices” (Jung and Neumann, The Origins and History of Consciousness xiii). These voices often take shape in literature, where the uncanny familiarity of our human identity is relayed through the unfamiliar voice of the individual. This is analogous to the archetypes of the collective unconscious as illustrated through archetypal images, as well as Lacan’s theory of the signifier as representative of that which it signifies. Once it has been displaced by the symbolic, reality becomes an abstract concept. Suffice to say, try as we might, we cannot define the human condition, but it nonetheless defines us and all that we create as an expression of such.

In “Beyond the Pleasure Principle,” Freud suggests that the id is driven by two basic motivations: Eros and the death drive. The former accounts for our inclination toward procreation and self-preservation, whereas the latter is responsible for the self-destructive nature of humankind (40-53). In Jung’s contribution to this discussion, he claims that this is due to the innate sense through which we, as part of nature, are driven toward becoming our opposites (The Relations Between the Ego and the Conscious 93). There is also a great deal of overlap in what Freud called the id and what Jung referred to as the collective unconscious. They both address the inborn characteristics of the human mind, which are therefore also the elements that lead us to a modest understanding of that which is common to our species. 

Literature serves as a culturally acceptable expression of the id. Eros and the death drive, in turn, can be thought of as sex and violence, compassion and conflict. These factors are not only the driving force behind our instincts, but also the two principle components without which literature would not exist. A reader must empathize with the protagonist, who is subjected to a rising dramatic conflict through the progression of the narrative, which is drawn from the basic structure of classical mythology.  

With that point noted, the fundamental difference between literature and most of the world’s religions is the fact that literature embraces its own subjectivity and therefore avoids any claims to an absolute truth. Despite the ideologies imposed by civilization, literature relates to the individual on a humanistic level, favoring an inward view of the psyche over an explication of the machinery that moves the universe. If religion is about a perception of truth that is based on faith and science is about a different perception that is based on facts, then literature is about analyzing the basic motivations of humanity, not unlike the fundamental role of psychology. According to Lacan: 

Psychical phenomena are thus granted no reality of their own: those that do not belong to the ‘true’ reality have only an illusory reality. This true reality is constituted by the system of references that are valid in already established sciences – in other words, mechanisms that are considered tangible in the physical sciences, to which may be added the motivations considered utilitarian in the natural sciences. The role of psychology is merely to reduce psychical phenomena to this system and to verify the system by determining through it the very phenomena that constitute our knowledge of it. It is insofar as this psychology is a function of this truth that it is not a science (Science and Truth 63).

If then we are to consider psychology as a discipline that exists outside of the realm of science, I would like to reiterate the fact that it may actually have more in common with literature. Literary scholars have long recognized that a text can be deconstructed by means of psychoanalysis if the narrative is thought to possess an equivalency to that of the human psyche. I would like to expand upon this analogy by suggesting that the individual elements of both a human psyche and a literary narrative each maintain the same basic function and corresponding dynamics with each of its three primary components therein. In the case of literature, character represents the ego, plot represents the super-ego, and theme represents the id. 

One basic point of consensus within the psychological community is the need for balance between the elements of the psyche. Freud recognized this and attributed most neuroses to the sublimation of the instinctual impulses of the id into an expression that conforms to the demands of the super-ego. The concept of balance was also present in nearly all of the major works of Carl Jung. It is traditionally understood that a mentally stable human being maintains a healthy equilibrium between the id, the ego and the super-ego, just as a well-realized work of fiction has a similar balance between the elements of theme, character and plot. If we are to think of either scenario of this analogy visually, represented by a triangle, it may not necessarily be equilateral, but where one side is longer, the other two compensate, and there is a distinct interrelationship between the corresponding elements therein. Almost without exception, the canonical works of Western literature have an even distribution of each of the aforementioned components. If there is a unifying theory that relates to everything in the universe, it probably has something to do with balance. 

Perception defines individualism. What makes each of us unique is the perspective through which we see the world. Character is also defined in this manner. In order for a character to be believable, which in turn allows the reader to empathize with the work, he or she must possess the psychological dimension of an actual human being, complete with the flaws and contradictions that provide the texture that is inherent to personality. A reader must identify with any and all of the characters in a literary work to some degree, so these figures must embody a certain degree of believability in their motivations, even if the context is completely removed from any otherwise recognizable reality. Characters must present a realistic illusion of being real. 

This is not to say that the protagonist in a literary work is actually the author in disguise, but rather, this character may in fact be representative of a certain persona of the author, a complex of the ego, possibly even one that had been discarded long ago that nonetheless reflects a particular way of understanding the fictional world of a literary narrative. A character may also be a composite of several real physical and psychological attributes that belong to people of whom the author is familiar, but these characteristics are thus rendered unfamiliar through the filter of the writer’s imagination. In a similar respect, the character arc that a protagonist traditionally goes through in the course of a narrative is reflective of Jung’s theory that people become their opposites as they progress through life. In literature, which in many ways serves as a microcosm for life itself, we usually see this one hundred and eighty degree change in perspective occur in an almost mechanical series of stages within the story. 

Furthermore, it is by no means a coincidence that authors have historically favored an omniscient narrator to relay the story to the reader. First person narratives are a relatively modern construct, reflective of the fact that our culture has become more introspective in recent centuries and consequently tends to be increasingly interested in questions that relate to the constants in our human identity as exemplified by the individual. However, literature has traditionally provided a sense of omniscience not necessarily by expanding the scope of understanding, but rather, by limiting the parameters of its invented reality.

Continuing along this line of thought, the super-ego directly relates to the plot of a story in that they are both internalizations of the values and demands of the societies from which they were born. The plot and super-ego also both serve to counterbalance their interrelated elements. This analogy is perhaps most clearly witnessed in historical and cultural movements in style and genre that have directly impacted the narrative elements of a literary work. Gothic literature, for example, often included uncanny motifs as part of their storyline, factoring in characteristics drawn from the sinister side of romanticism. In a similar respect, realism, embraced by authors such as Tolstoy or Dostoevsky, includes narrative elements that concern the common man, whereas modernism favors conveying meaning through form as opposed to content and post-modernism often features stories that highlight the contradictions in societal priorities. In a broad sense, each of these movements represents a manner in which the demands of society were internalized into the work, thus reflecting the values of the civilization from which they were born. 

In an even broader connotation, Western narratives tend to present the reader with a beginning, a middle and an end, with corresponding plot points in a relatively specific sequence along the way. We tend to expect good to triumph over evil and for the lovers to be united by the end of the story in spite of the odds that are stacked against them. Society instills certain expectations into its readers and audiences that reflect the values of that particular culture, and it is the role of literature to not only adhere to these narrative patterns, but to help shape them as well, which thereby helps to establish and define a cultural identity. Parallel to the manner in which the super-ego relates to the ego and the id, the plot also serves to work against the character in order to create the dramatic conflict with the central characters in an effort to substantiate the theme. This is the basic formula for virtually any dramatic work. 

Theme as it relates to the id is a bit more complicated, but it is arguably the most crucial element of any literary narrative. The id, as I have previously mentioned, directly corresponds to many of Jung’s theories on the collective unconscious, as they are both about our inborn human instincts and the aspects of the psyche that are common to the human condition. In an almost identical sense, theme is the manner in which a literary work maintains its relevance regardless of context. It is where the truth in fiction lies. 

In The Art of Dramatic Writing, Lajos Egri suggests that “premise,” as he calls it, should be the starting point in the creation of any dramatic work. Thematic statements such as “Ruthless ambition leads to its own destruction,” or “Poverty encourages crime,” or “Great love defies even death” are the means by which an author as well as a reader are able to connect to a work and identify with some element of truth in even the most imaginative works of fiction (1-31). Although much attention has been given to the manner in which the collective unconscious relates to character archetypes, it seems that this is a concept that is more closely related to theme. Indeed, I would like to propose that thematic archetypes are the primary criteria of what constitutes a work of literature to be classified as such.

In his essay On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to Poetry, Jung states that the creative impulse is an autonomous complex (313) which Jentsch refers to as being among the most uncanny phenomena that exists (10). The act of creative writing is essentially a disembodied voice in the mind of the author that blurs the boundaries between the real and the unreal, as well as those that exist between the conscious and the unconscious mind. According to Jung, “These works positively force themselves upon the author; his hand is seized, his pen writes things that his mind contemplates with amazement. He can only obey the apparently alien impulse within him and follow it where it leads, sensing that his work is greater than himself, and wields a power which is not his and which he cannot command” (310-311). When a writer speaks in the symbolic language of the collective unconscious with archetypes that are embedded into the theme of a literary narrative, the work is no longer about a character in a story or even the story itself, but rather, it is telling us something about the nature of our human identity. Jung continues, “At such moments, we are no longer individuals, but the race; the voice of all mankind resounds in us” (320).   

Literature as a form of art is uncanny in itself, as the return of the familiar in an unfamiliar context. Art must always surprise us, otherwise it is a cliché. Not only will the most basic structural elements of a work of literature likely be familiar in much the same way that a painting tends to be rectangular and contained within a frame, but the content will also illustrate something that is familiar, though presented through the unfamiliar perspective of the author. The id is expressed through the ego and made accessible to society through the super-ego. 

In 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke gave us a fictionalized account of the realizations which mark the stages of human evolution, just as the stories of Shakespeare embodied familiar human conflicts. Writers do not reinvent literature with each work that they create. However, in order for their work to transcend the time, place and socio-political climate in which it is written, authors must contribute something new to a conversation that humanity has been engaged in for thousands of years, and since we all live in different variations of the same basic world, this originality is almost always provided by means of a unique perspective. According to Harold Bloom, this literary conversation is perpetually haunted by all that came before it, and as suggested by Jung, Derrida and Lacan, meaning is assigned through differences. The theme of good versus evil is in no way an original conceit, but writers are constantly finding new ways incorporate this common theme into a story, and although the elements that make it unique are by far outweighed by those which render it familiar, it is the unfamiliar elements that tend to define a work in the minds of its readers. This is also why theme often goes unnoticed, generally residing in the “unconscious” of the narrative.

Just as a work of literature must offer some surprises to its reader, it may also surprise its author. Writers that speak in the language of the collective unconscious through thematic archetypes may very well be sculpting narratives with a certain depth that is beyond the immediate recognition of even the author. Jung posits that:

A symbol is the intimation of a meaning beyond the level of our present powers of comprehension… we have often found that a poet who has gone out of fashion is suddenly rediscovered. This happens when our conscious development has reached a higher level from which the poet can tell us something new. It was always present in his work but was hidden in a symbol, and only a renewal of the spirit of the time permits us to read its meaning” (On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to Poetry 315). 

This suggests that even the writer may not be fully aware of the metaphorical significance of his or her own work and such symbolism represents ideas that a literal exposition would fail to convey. As Jung continues with the essay, he elaborates on this point: 

Whoever speaks in primordial images speaks with a thousand voices; he enthralls and overpowers, while at the same time he lifts the idea that he is seeking to express out of the occasional and the transitory into the realm of the ever-enduring… That is the secret of great art, and of its effect upon us. The creative process, so far as we are able to follow it at all, consists in the unconscious activation of an archetypal image, and in elaborating and shaping this image into the finished work. By giving it shape, the artist translates it into the language of the present, and so makes it possible for us to find our way back to the deepest springs of life. Therein lies the social significance of art: it is constantly at work educating the spirit of the age, conjuring up the forms in which the age is most lacking (321). 

At its most fundamental, the uncanny represents the questions pertaining to the nature of reality that remain unanswered in the mind of the individual. It is therefore in constant flux and every bit as subjective as the sense of reality that renders it uncanny in the first place. Much of the physical phenomena that must have seemed uncanny thousands of years ago can now be explained by the doctrines of science or religion, and even these ideologies will likely outgrow themselves at some point and need to adapt to shifting perceptions of reality. In a similar respect, there are undoubtedly phenomena that occurred thousands of years ago that people could explain according to the laws of their accepted reality but which now elude our comprehension. 

In continuing with the triangular motif established earlier, let us consider for a moment the pyramids of Egypt. The precision of their design, the sheer magnitude of their size, the reason for their being, and the fact that similar structures were created in unfamiliar parts of the world render these architectural marvels uncanny within the limits of our understanding. However, when they were built, they undoubtedly seemed no more uncanny to their creators than the construction of our tallest skyscrapers seems to us, which in turn, would almost certainly seem uncanny to the citizens of ancient Egypt. It is all about perception and reality and the discordance therein.

Along this same line of thought, much like Freud, I would now like to step outside of the limits of my expertise for a moment to offer speculation in regard to the basic design of such pyramids as created by ancient civilizations around the world. We can even include in this discussion the American one-dollar bill, which contains an uncanny image on the reverse side of a pyramid with the top cut off and what appears to be an all-seeing eye hovering above it. 

The pyramids are representative of thematic archetypes. They symbolize at their base the broad and eclectic ideas of humanity, spread to the corners of the world. Countless generations have passed in which ideas were built upon these ideas, thereby bringing humanity closer together, upward toward a single unified point, which represents a universally accepted comprehension of reality. This process has been in the works for thousands of years, just as it will likely continue ad infinitum, seemingly growing ever closer to a state of absolute omniscience that we can never quite reach but continue to strive for nonetheless. It is the eye that hovers above the pyramid, part of the same basic design, but separate nonetheless.

The contribution that literature makes to our current breadth of knowledge and wisdom often takes the form of introspect, offering insight into the uncanny nature of our being, our innate motivations and desires, and the unexplainable phenomena that haunt our perception. It serves much the same fundamental role as psychology in this regard, and each of these disciplines maintains numerous parallels to the other in terms of form, function and content. 

Edgar Allen Poe or E.T.A. Hoffmann, two names that are synonymous to most analyses of the uncanny that I have neglected to mention until now, might just as well have written: 

Only rarely does the creative writer feel impelled to engage in psychoanalytic investigations, even when psychoanalysis is not restricted to the theory of repression, but described as relating to the qualities of neurosis. He works in other strata of the psyche and has little to do with the intellectual impulses that provide the usual subject matter of psychology, impulses that are restrained, inhibited in their aims and dependent on numerous attendant circumstances. Yet now and then it happens that he has to take an interest in a particular area of psychology, and then it is usually a marginal one that has been neglected in the specialist literature.

One such is the uncanny.

Works Cited 
Egri, Lajos. The Art of Dramatic Writing (1942). New York: Touchstone, 2004.  

Ferenczi, Sandor. "Stages in Development of the Sense of Reality (1913)." Sex in Psycho-Analysis. Trans. Ernest Jones. New York: Dover Books, 1956. 181-203.  

Freud, Sigmund. Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1922). Trans. James Strachey. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1961.

Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and Its Discontents (1930). Trans. James Strachey. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2005.  

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