Monday, June 16, 2008

The Uncanny

I have decided to revisit "Cinema and Its Doubles," a course I took back in college, while I was studying writing at Johns Hopkins University. At the time, I was much more interested in embarrassing the cute professor than in studying the films or texts involved in the course. That being said, the course introduced me to Fassbinder for the first time, and to German silent film, ... the first screening involving excerpts from "The Golem."

I was able to locate most of the films on Netflix and am set to screen the first one tomorrow night - "The Student of Prague." The companion text is Freud's "The Uncanny." By now, I have studied a significant amount of Freud, and find it difficult to read without his skewed perceptions glaring through the text.

Freud presents a theory of the uncanny as the resurgence of something that has been repressed, and/or the recurrence of an idea that has been previously surmounted. I can appreciate a notion of the uncanny as something we have proven to be false rearing its head once again, but am more drawn to the idea of the uncanny as a hinting (or illusion) of omnipotence.

The most telling example I can readily pull from my own experience recalls a moment from high school, after dropping acid and wandering through town with a slew of friends. Two of us broke off from the group, attempting to gain a bit of sanity. I was attempting to articulate an all-pervading awareness I had of everything that was about to happen, and my feeling of being able to control reality. I remember sitting at a table, and developing the example that if I moved a salt shaker on the table, all of our friends would re-appear. After explaining my intuition and debating whether or not to interrupt our haven, the only way to test and prove my ridiculous theory was to move the salt shaker.

The moment I did, the door to the room burst open and our friends flooded the space, loud, and chaotic. My friend lept to the floor, backed into the corner, both of us screaming with the physical reality of our mental wanderings. The experience was unsettling, to say the least.

My gut interpretation of the uncanny is something that reaches beyond common experience - it points towards the existence of a power much greater than our current perception. The uncanny presents itself as the unreal made real. It knows and takes refuge in our soft spots.

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