Sigmund Freud's essay “The Uncanny” (Das Unheimliche) stands at the center of reflections on the uncanny art of reading and the points at which the aesthetic meets the psychological. The essay, published in 1919, reflects Freud's disjointed experience of being in the world in the wake of World War I and the fall of the Habsburg empire. It is an experience that he accesses through the act of reading literature (E. T. A. Hoffmann's “The Sandman”), revealed as an emotional engagement with vague feelings of anxiety that he characterizes as “uncanny.” Freud works both with and against Ernst Jentsch's “On the Psychology of the Uncanny” from 1906, in which Jentsch describes feelings of the uncanny as “intellectual uncertainty” that results from “lack of orientation” (2). Skirting the boundaries between etymological analysis, literary criticism, theory, autobiography, and medical treatise, it is not surprising that Freud's essay continues to fascinate scholars of literature and those who relish Freud's failed attempts at cohesion for the unexpected connections they invite. By connecting the essay to theories of anxiety and trauma in Freud's other works, this essay reads the uncanny as signifying much more than simply “the return of the repressed.”

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