Short Assignment #10: Thinking about the Uncanny in “The Sandman”

Description: This unit focuses on a new skill: viewing an object through a critical framework, or “lens”. You’ve started this unit by reading two texts that demonstrate this relationship, E.T.A. Hoffmann’s short story “The Sandman” and Sigmund Freud’s “The Uncanny.” In this case, “The Sandman” was the object and “The Uncanny” provided the framework or the lens. In this arrangement, what Freud wanted was to better understand “The Sandman” and what he used to understand it is “The Uncanny.”

The relationship between “The Sandman” and “The Uncanny” is similar is to the relationship between a primary and a secondary source, but it’s also a little bit different. When we use a secondary source to understand a primary source, it’s usually limited in range–we use it to understand a small part of the whole. For instance, we may use a secondary source to understand something about the life of the author of a primary source, or we may use a secondary source to understand something about the time in which the primary source was written, or we may use a secondary source to address a specific topic raised by the primary source. But when we use a secondary source as a critical lens, we use it to understand the whole of the primary source. We never really step outside of the critical lens, and it guides our understanding of the primary source from beginning to end. This is precisely how Freud approaches “The Sandman”–he’s always thinking about it through the lens of this idea of the uncanny.

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Instructions: While Freud’s ideas on the uncanny are perhaps especially suited to understanding “The Sandman,” critics over the years have used it to better understand all sorts of texts, especially texts that, like “The Sandman,” feature a monster or monstrous characters. For this assignment, I’d like you to try you using Freud’s ideas in “The Uncanny” as a critical lens for yourself. Pick a film or a tv show that features a monster (or monsters) and try to apply Freud’s ideas to what you see.

To start, write a paragraph that introduces the film or tv show you’ll be focusing on, and explains how it might be understood through the critical lens of the uncanny. What can Freud’s thinking tell us about this text? How can we see the uncanny in it, by using Freud’s thinking? After the first paragraph, do some analysis. Unpack a scene, a moment, an idea using something Freud says in “The Uncanny.” What does Freud help you better understand about this text and how? Finally, in the concluding paragraph, reflect on the exercise. How did viewing your chosen text through a critical lens change your perspective on it? What are the potential advantages of this kind of work? If you have concerns about this kind of thinking/writing, what are they?

Nuts and bolts: 700 words, MLA Style. At least two quotations from Freud’s “The Uncanny” and one quotation from the primary text you’ve chosen to work with.

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