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Title: What is the uncanny? : a philosophical enquiry
Author: Windsor, Mark
ISNI:       0000 0004 6347 4940
Awarding Body: University of Kent
Current Institution: University of Kent
Date of Award: 2016
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From Edgar Allan Poe's macabre tales of mystery, to David Lynch's nightmarish visions of American suburbia, to Rachel Whitread's haunting casts of interior spaces, the uncanny represents a significant aspect of art and culture. Following Freud's famous essay on the topic, the uncanny is typically characterised as an unsettling ambivalence between the familiar and the unfamiliar. But beyond this broad characterisation, it seems that no one is able to say exactly what the uncanny is. This thesis aims to plug this gap by offering an original account of the uncanny. While I reject Freud's theory of the uncanny in terms of the 'return of the repressed', I develop aspects of Freud's more often overlooked theory of 'surmounted primitive beliefs'. I use philosophy of emotion to provide a framework for defining the uncanny-specifying the way that an object is experienced by the individual such that it elicits the emotion of uncanniness. What all uncanny phenomena share in common is that they are incongruous relative to what is believed to be possible: waxwork figures appear to be both animate and inanimate; doppelgangers and twins appear to be the same individual; strange coincidences appear to not merely be coincidences. This incongruity causes an uncertain threat to one's grasp of reality. I define the uncanny as an anxious uncertainty about what is real caused by an apparent impossibility. I elaborate the definition by examining in detail each of the four key concepts that comprise it: reality, impossibility, uncertainty, and anxiety. I discuss fictional cases where the object is not experienced as real, but rather fictionally experienced as real. I discuss two subsets of uncanny phenomena, which I call 'uncanny narratives' and 'uncanny pictures'. And finally, by way of conclusion, I offer some brief remarks on the 'paradox of the uncanny'- the question of why, when the uncanny is essentially a negative emotion, it is also something that we often find attractive.
Supervisor: Newall, Michael ; Friday, Jonathan Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral