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John Theodore Zilcosky
University of Toronto (Toronto M5S 1A5 Canada)
The Concept of the "Uncanny" in 20th-Century Austro-German Thought

The concept of “the uncanny” emerged astoundingly late, only after 1900. I propose to complete a book that, for the first time, explains this belatedness. The uncanny is so modern, I argue, because its peculiar mix of foreignness and familiarity was unthinkable before three late 19th-century developments: the mapping of the world’s last “blank” spaces; the Westernization of non-Europeans through colonialism; and the arrival of tourists onto previously untrodden territory. Because the uncanny ("das Unheimliche") was first conceptualized in Germany and Austria, I focus on this context, specifically on the accounts of travelers who documented their shock at finding ‘civilized’ natives and, even worse, European doppelgangers in faraway lands. Where these travelers had expected the spectacularly foreign, they discovered the uncannily “long familiar” (Freud). In so doing, they created a secret pre-history to the famous theorizations of the uncanny in psychoanalysis and literary modernism.

[Grant products][Media coverage]

Project fields:
German Literature

Fellowships for University Teachers

Research Programs

$50,400 (approved)
$50,400 (awarded)

Grant period:
12/1/2013 – 11/30/2014