The Uncanny – Ernst Jentsch & Sigmund Freud

On the Psychology of the Uncanny by Ernst Jentsch

Translator’s preface

“In his famous essay on the uncanny, first published in 1919, Sigmund Freud begins by complaining that aesthetics has hitherto not paid much attention to the aberrant and the repulsive. This complaint is also an expression of anticipatory pleasure on the part of Freud the writer, in so far as the uncanny in particular has no “literature” with which to contend – but he has to admit that there is one exception, namely the essay translated below (“The ‘Uncanny’” 219). Jentsch emphasises that the uncanny arises from a certain experience of the uncertain or undecidable, and this seems intolerable to Freud. Freud decides, in other words, that the undecidable cannot be tolerated as a theoretical explanation, but it nonetheless recurs in his own essay, undecidably (see221 and 230-31). He also pays close attention to Jentsch’s argument about the uncanniness of automata (226-27 and 233). Dr. Ernst Jentsch was born in 1867. The diversity of his cultural and psychological interests can be seen in his published works. His study of mood (1902)4includes a sympathetic account of affect in the Studien über Hysterie of Freud and Breuer (Die Laune49-51); in his two-part Musik und Nerven (1904 and 1911),5 he notes how uncanny effects are readily produced in music (2: 56-57); and, amongst other works, he produced German translations of Havelock Ellis and Cesare Lombroso. Reference has often been made to Jentsch’s essay on the uncanny, in the vast secondary literature of psychoanalysis after Freud, as if its content were already known, familiar and thus not requiring to be read. The essay had never before been translated into English; inasmuch as it now appears both familiar and unfamiliar, its reappearance here can be called ‘uncanny.’ This translation first appeared in Angelaki 2.1 (1995), and I remain deeply grateful to SarahWood, the issue editor and one of the founders of the journal. For their advice, I would also like tothank Peter Krapp, Robert White, and especially Forbes Morlock – whose “Doubly Uncanny,”which immediately followed my translation on its first publication,6remains a good starting point for further research.” – Roy Sellars

Full article here

THE UNCANNY – Sigmund Freud


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