Thursday, February 14, 2013


Someone sent me a link to an interesting website   

The uncanny (unheimlich) was perhaps most famously sketched out by Freud (1919). Defined as ‘”everything that ought to have remained secret and hidden but has come to light.” (Schelling), the uncanny represents that which upsets, disrupts or disturbs our engagement with the world around us. ‘The Uncanny’ was a unique work in Freud’s oeuvre; unstable, oscillating between analysis and fiction itself blurring the distinction between the real and the imaginary. The idea of the uncanny has since been revisited and reworked in numerous ways, from the architectural to the technological uncanny. At its heart there remains the question of ontological ambiguity. Where are the boundaries between the self and the environment? The uncanny demands that this question is always answered with uncertainty and dissolution.”

Oh, gosh.  They got me dead center.  I’ve been trying to frame up a Valentine’s Day post, but the difficulty has been exactly this unheimlich dimension, that it has all the qualities above, plus the resented interference of commercial interests:  boxes of chocolates, not having to say you’re sorry, and the whole thing about having to merge with or be obedient to whatever you love.  In short, give over your identity.  Forget what I WANT to do about that -- I can NOT do it.  I’ve tried.

My home territory is the boundary, in the literal sense (Canada/US) the geographical sense (mountains/prairie) and the cultural sense (indigenous/immigrant).  In theology there is a concept called “the circle of believers.”  Inside it you are faithful to the central ideas -- not in any leap, but because it seems self-evident, the way things really are.  Simple love.  Outside the circle one is analytical and looking for context, alternatives, the muchmuchmuch bigger pictures.  Uncanny love.  Theologians and anthropologists think about it.  I do it -- love a little here, a lot there.  Go in and out, like a game of “drop the handkerchief” where one skips in and out of a circle of people.  But I don’t stop anymore.  I’ve tried that, too.

On the edge of the unknown but often intensely perceived is the bit of the environment that enters the body as food and air or sex.  Then there is the mysterious interior of other people, the stranger the better.  The culturally different, the physically different, the nearly inaccessible, the criminal, the insane.  But it’s risky, so one must try to be invisible, try to flatten in the grass.  Note the exits.  Sit facing the door.

I try to evade the ones who will cling, the ones who will pursue, the ones who will exploit.  This is why I hate social media, always trying to assign an algorithm, a platform, a sales category.  Trying to make everyone the same and attach tags to everyone, especially by gifting and praising and making one dependent.  Pressing one back into childhood.  Making one into a dairy cow.

For me, learning about the “other” is the deepest love, though it is often indignantly resented by those who ARE uncanny -- at least to themselves -- and want to keep it that way.  (Also those who want desperately to be safely ordinary.)  They do NOT want to be explored. I love them the most.  But they are dangerous, fear-biters.  Offended, indignant -- those I used to say had “sun-burned souls” who only feel safe in the dark and they are right.  I can relate to them best by finding those blistered and peeling parts in myself, a painful and sometimes scarring experience.  But unless it’s related to self-as-instrument, it’s just more narcissism, a labyrinth that can be a trap.  If a boundary is a trap-wall, then one must learn to fly and hope there is no lid.

Some think “success” (whatever that is, probably something about status and power) gives a person wings so as to rise above “givens” but I think not.  What I’ve seen first hand is that it’s more addictive than cocaine and as likely to ravage.  “Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first reward.”  No quicker way to go mad (not just insane but enraged) than believing money, praise, etc. are a fast track, a sign of success, an entitlement to do what you want.  Something in our culture loves to make a person outsized, then smash them flat.  We do the same thing to our landscapes.

These are reasons why I “present” as just an old tubby lady in spectacles.  It’s strategy.  Middle-aged men around here who visit with me will begin to mention their mothers.  Old men easily grow fond of me. (I flirt with them !!)  Women from here think I’m a farm wife.   City women figure I’m a dyke.  Young sexy people can’t see me at all.  They forget that Gertrude Stein, Colette, and Sara Teasdale were tubby women in specs, as were many of the early generation of feminists. 

This is an advantage: cat-like and unseen, one gazes at the object of love but preserves one’s freedom to keep on sliding through the landscape.  (An indoor cat is not a cat.  A creature must stay where it was created.)  Cat love is hard to distinguish from quarreling.  But a rejected, neglected cat will simply disappear.  I can’t do that.  Once in love, I can negotiate but never disengage.  Again, highly resented by others, both those who seek to discard me and those who demand that I attach to THEM instead of the previous object.  Their controlling metaphor is the umbilical cord, I guess. 

Like it or not, our skin boundary is permeable, involuntarily morphing.  I’m different here than I was in Portland where I knew both downtown fancy streets (I walked through Saks at lunchtime) and dangerous places.  (Where I grew up became a gang street.)  In Hyde Park, Obama’s nabe, I was most invisible of all except at the Law School where I transcribed.  Nothing was invisible to the best professors.  In Saskatchewan I looked like prey.  In Valier they’ve mostly grown used to me.  In Browning people look, do a double-take, and then either leave or throw their arms around me.

What’s this got to do with love?  Unheimlich. Unstable, oscillating between analysis and fiction itself blurring the distinction between the real and the imaginary.”   Funny -- it sounds more like Jung than Freud -- or even Gestalt.  Definitely psychoanalytic, but almost like the opposite of a Heimlich maneuver, which is where you put your arms around someone’s rib cage and quickly compress the person by hugging them to you, to drive air and obstruction out of the throat.  So what is UNheimlich?  Standing back and letting them die?  For some, that’s exactly what they want.  I’ve done it.  Be careful.  I’m dangerous.  But isn’t it a form of love?  Non-intervention?  How is that different from ignoring, pretending not to see?  And isn’t it one of the most destructive forces in society, ignoring whole classes of people like the homeless?  Where’s the love in that?

Do you believe all this?  Do you find it upsetting, disrupting, disturbing -- uncanny?

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