Uncanny. The key theoretical source for this concept is Sigmund Freud's essay, 'The Uncanny' (1919). Freud explores the etymologies of the German terms unheimlich (uncanny, unfamiliar, frightening) and heimlich (homely, familiar) to discover that at a certain point the meanings of these opposite terms are very close, since the sense of heimlich as 'belonging to the house' produces also the associated meanings of being concealed, made secret, or kept from sight. "'Unheimlich",' Freud comments, 'is in some way or another a subspecies of "heimlich"' (1974h, Vol. 17: 226). Freud further relates the uncanny, first, to the survival in the unconscious of a 'primitive' and subsequently repressed animistic mythological and mystic view of the world and, second, to the occurrence of repetitions, coincidences and doubles. This latter form he understands as the result of repressed experiences in infancy. The 'unheimlich', he concludes, 'is what was once "heimisch", familiar; the prefix "un" [un-] is the token of repression' (1974h, Vol. 17: 245).

The uncanny has an obvious relevance therefore for an understanding of fictional narratives, especially of science fiction, horror, fantastic and gothic genres (Jackson 1981; Botting 1996) where the figure of the alien, or other, proves to be the projection of a repressed inner self and unsettles notions of a unified personality. See also abject; transgression.