On the Psychology of the Uncanny  

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The Birth of Venus (detail), a 1486 painting by Sandro Botticelli
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The Birth of Venus (detail), a 1486 painting by Sandro Botticelli

"Zur Psychologie des Unheimlichen" (Psychiatrisch-neurologische Wochenschrift. 22 (1906)) (On the Psychology of the Uncanny) is an essay on the uncanny by German psychiatrist Ernst Jentsch.

The essay was the first to establish das unheimliche, the uncanny as a philosophical notion and is referenced in Freud's essay on the uncanny, which was published in 1919. Jentsch defines the uncanny as: "doubts whether an apparently animate being is really alive; or conversely, whether a lifeless object might not be in fact animate", and expands upon its use in fiction:

"In telling a story one of the most successful devices for easily creating uncanny effects is to leave the reader in uncertainty whether a particular figure in the story is a human being or an automaton and to do it in such a way that his attention is not focused directly upon his uncertainty, so that he may not be led to go into the matter and clear it up immediately.

Incipit

"Es ist bekanntlich verfehlt, den Geist der Sprachen ohne weiteres als einen besonders starken Psychologen zu betrachten. Krasse Irrthümer und erstaunliche Naivitäten, die theils in dem kritiklosen Erscheinungstaumel der Beobachter, theils in dem beschränkten Material des Wortschatzes der einzelnen Sprache wurzeln, sind durch ihn oft ganz ohne Noth verbreitet oder wenigstens gefördert worden."

English translation:

It is a well-known mistake to assume that the spirit of languages is a particularly acute psychologist. Thanks to this spirit, gross errors and astonishing naiveties are often quite readily disseminated, or at least supported – errors and naiveties which are rooted partly in the uncritical tendency of observers to become caught up in their own projections, and partly in the limited lexical material of a particular language. (tr. Roy Sellars, originally appeared in ANGELAKI 2.1 (1993))




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