The origin of the title of this post is a throw away from my fellow fixer, but the origin is a genuine apprehension of  the Uncanny

The limen between writing/art and reality is much overrated, but perhaps it exists in some sort alignment with the limen between home and not home.  The latter we cling to most tenaciously. Freud’s Uncanny makes more sense in the original German, where the twin concept is Heimliche and Unheimliche, literally homely and unhomely.  Forget the Anglo connotation of homely – Freud is talking about what is most comfortable and safe, which is of course a heartbeat away from what is most terrifying and strange.

The most common apprehension we have of the Uncanny is the ghost story.  What do ghosts do that is so Unheimliche?  They pass through walls.  The essence of Heimliche is the impermeability of walls and doors, the certainty of shutting out all that is strange.  But then there are windows through which we are watched, and the thinness of walls and the unpredictability of the darkness outside. And as Freud points out, there need only be one small element to make the shift. What if we suddenly find something in our space which we’ve never seen before?  That would be enough.

I’m yet to experience the superstition of writing. I think I like the idea of writing as an engagement with the Uncanny. Writers such as Borges and Pirandello have written about this, but probably never experienced it.

Perhaps the Unheimliche most actively engages with the  ear. We can shut out all sight of the unpredictable, but we find it much harder to shut out the sounds that pass like ghosts through the walls and doors. When I lived in St Kilda, I was prey to all manner of sounds; sometimes from the special accom house next door, sometimes from my own block of flats, other times from random conflict in the street. Once, I was woken by a booming broadcast of Vaughan Williams Job: A Masque for Dancing.  This was already a work I could only listen to in daylight hours, and often did.  I haven’t been able to listen to it since…

Our radio play turned out to be a ghost story, but in engagement with the forest.  Perhaps our next work in sound might be closer to home.

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3 Responses to On the Superstition of Writing (and The Uncanny)

  1. Tom Kazas says:

    Patrick, writing as an engagement with the Uncanny is a terrific idea. Yet more subversive is the idea that the unhomely engages most with the ear. I’m beginning to really appreciate your rather radical stance of privileging sound in narrative processes and in the creation of place. This is reassuring to someone who has been listening since the age of three. It just now occurs to me, ‘what of silence in this schema’? Silence would seem, at various times to be both heimliche and unheimliche, a source of both comfort and of fear…Might go off and think on this for a bit.

  2. Humberto Nunez says:

    Patrick, this is very interesting. I wonder whether you could expand a bit more the idea that Borges wrote about the uncanny “but probably never experienced it”? As you know, Borges became blind (he was already in his late forties), but this must have forced him to depend more on his sense of hearing (to link it with what Tom says). In addition, he does speak about having experienced a couple of “mystical” raptures in his life, which might as well be an experience of the uncanny. Thinking about the link between sound and the uncanny, I recommend Cortazar’s “Casa tomada” (House Taken Over), an excellent sample of the genre.

    • Patrick says:

      Thanks Humberto,
      I’ve managed to find a plot run down of Casa Tomada, but not sure there’s an English translation. I like the story already.. Jo and I are working on a film script which is working in similar territory. H’mm, re Borges – I actually don’t know what I meant. I think this might be worth further thought. Any ideas?
      ps. Are you Argentinian? Had an Argentinian houseguest last Christmas who was very surprised to find I had a whole lot of books written by ‘auntie Luisa’ (Valenzuela)…

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