Monday, June 05, 2006

kristeva on freud

While in Birmingham, we stayed at a hotel with a indoor pool and windows in its ceiling. Swimming at night, I could see myself in the windows when I would float on my back. After feeling uncertain about our Alabama project ( and uncomfortable with being an outsider coming into the small town of York, I desperately needed the slight sensory deprivation that floating in a pool can provide. Something about that moment, body alone, suspended in the quietness, moving and fragmented in the ceilings window panes—the image haunted me and is now the inspiration for the piece I'm doing for Supersonic 2006 this summer in LA. (


Recent readings seem to resonate with the initial vision. Still in Kristeva's Strangers to Ourselves, on page 183, she writes the following about Freud's "Heimlich / Unheimlich"—the Uncanny Strangeness:

...Freud's Das Unheimliche (1919) surreptitiously goes beyond that framework and the psychological phenomenon of "uncanny strangeness" as well, in order to acknowledge itself as an investigation into anguish generally speaking and, in a fashion that is even more universal, into the dynamics of the unconscious. Indeed, Freud wanted to demonstrate at the outset, on the basis of a semantic study of the German adjective Heimlich and its antonym unhemlich that a negative meaning close to that of the antonym is already tired to the positive term Heimlich, "friendlily comfortable," which would also signify "concealed, kept from sight," "deceitful and malicious," "behind someone's back." Thus, in the very word Heimlich, the familiar and intimate are reversed into their opposites, brought together with the contrary meaning of "uncanny strangeness" harbored in unheimlich. Such an immanence of the strange within the familiar is considered as an etymological proof of the psychoanalytic hypothesis according to which "the uncanny is a class of the frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar," which, as far as Freud was concerned, was confirmed by Schelling who said that "everything is unhemlich that ought to have remained secret and hidden but has come to light"

Consequently therefore, that which is strangely uncanny would be that which was (the past tense is important) familiar and, under certain conditions (which ones?), emerges. A first step was taken that removed the uncanny strangeness from the outside, where fright had anchored it, to locate it inside, not inside the familiar considered one's own and proper, but the familiar potentially tainted with strangeness and referred (beyond its imaginative origin) to an improper past. The other is my ("own and proper") unconscious.

What "familiar"? What "past"? In order to answer such questions, Freud's thought played a strange trick on the esthetic and psychological notion of "uncanny strangeness," which had been initially posited, and rediscovered the analytical notions of anxiety, double, repetition, and unconscious. The uncanny strangeness that is aroused in Nathaniel (in Hoffman's tale, The Sandman) by the paternal figure and its substitutes, as well as references to the eyes, is related to the castration anxiety experienced by the child, which was repressed but surfaced again on the occasion of a state of love.


Why the image of myself floating, passing, fragmented in the windows above as I witness a double of myself? Not only was it a seductive sight absorbed in such a relaxed state, but in retrospect, perhaps it relates to the these things:

1) again, approaching people in York and being seen as an other and the awkwardness that followed
2) being recently divorced and imagining falling from grace in the eyes of another
3) seeing myself in the eyes of a new love a year after the divorce and concerns for repeated behavior
4) continuing with the female expat project which involves an uncanny strangeness in others both in:
a) how the women feel when the move to a new culture, and
b) how I feel when I recall my memories of that experience as they tell their expat tales
5) going through the job search and projecting a self
6) soon moving to Tallahassee to teach at Florida State and considering how colleagues, students, and other new friends will perceive me

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