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Products for grant FA-57426-13

The Concept of the "Uncanny" in 20th-Century Austro-German Thought
John Zilcosky, University of Toronto

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“Hermann Hesse’s Colonial Uncanny: *Robert Aghion*, 1913” (Article)
Title: “Hermann Hesse’s Colonial Uncanny: *Robert Aghion*, 1913”
Author: John Zilcosky
Abstract: Hermann Hesse's readers associate him with the “East” yet generally ignore his earliest writing on the topic: the mixed-genre masterpiece about India, *Robert Aghion* (1913). I argue that *Aghion* is a sophisticated critique of colonialism in which no one is innocent, not even the “anticolonial” hero Aghion. Through Hesse's self-fictionalization as Aghion, he casts a critical light on his own anticolonial exoticism: Aghion, like the young Hesse, hates colonialism because it creates a frighteningly “uncanny” ("unheimlich") mixture of India and Europe, and so ruins Aghion's fantasies of purity. By referring to India as "unheimlich," Hesse connects his story to an early twentieth-century psychoanalytic discourse more apt for understanding *Aghion* than late twentieth-century postcolonial theory, specifically Homi Bhabha's “hybridity.” Whereas Bhabha focuses on the colonialist's fear of difference, Hesse presents an India so full of hybrid “natives” and European doppelgängers that Aghion cannot find the difference that he would, in Bhabha's model, have to disavow. Mirror images are everywhere, troubling Aghion with the same returns that Freud will describe only six years later: of ancient narcissisms, primitive beliefs, and repressed infantile ideas. *Aghion* thus presents us with a new concept for understanding colonialism psychoanalytically—uncanniness—at the same time that it prefigures Freud's theorizations.
Year: 2014
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: John Zilcosky, "Hermann Hesse's Colonial Uncanny: *Robert Aghion*, 1913," *New German Critique* 41 (Fall/Winter 2014): 199-218
Access Model: subscription only
Format: Journal
Periodical Title: New German Critique
Publisher: Duke University Press

Uncanny Encounters: Literature, Psychoanalysis, and the End of Alterity (Book) [show prizes]
Title: Uncanny Encounters: Literature, Psychoanalysis, and the End of Alterity
Author: John Zilcosky
Abstract: Around 1900, when the last blank spaces on their maps were filled, Europeans traveled to far-flung places hoping to find the spectacularly foreign. They discovered instead what Freud called, several years later, the uncannily familiar: disturbing reflections of themselves—either actual Europeans or Westernized natives. This experience was most extreme for German travelers, who arrived in the contact zones late, on the heels of other European colonialists, and it resulted not in understanding or tolerance but in an increased propensity for violence and destruction. The quest for a “virginal,” exotic existence proved to be ruined at its source, mirroring back to the travelers demonic parodies of their own worst aspects. In this strikingly original book, John Zilcosky demonstrates how these popular “uncanny” encounters influenced Freud’s—and the literary modernists’—use of the term, and how these encounters remain at the heart of our cross-cultural anxieties today.
Year: 2016
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Northwestern University Press
Secondary URL:
Secondary URL Description:
Publisher: Northwestern University Press
Type: Single author monograph
ISBN: 0-8101-3209-5
Copy sent to NEH?: Yes

Hermann Hesses unheimliches Fernweh (Book Section)
Title: Hermann Hesses unheimliches Fernweh
Author: John Zilcosky
Editor: Irmtraud Hnilica
Editor: Malte Kleinwort
Editor: Patrick Ramponi
Abstract: n/a
Year: 2017
Publisher: Rombach Verlag
Book Title: Fernweh nach der Romantik: Begriff, Diskurs, Phänomen
ISBN: 978-3-7930-985

"'The Times in Which We Live': Freud's 'The Uncanny,' World War I, and the Trauma of Contagion." (Article)
Title: "'The Times in Which We Live': Freud's 'The Uncanny,' World War I, and the Trauma of Contagion."
Author: John Zilcosky
Abstract: The effect of World War I on Freud is well known, yet its relation to "The Uncanny" (1919) remains mysterious. Although scholars have mentioned the war's atmospheric effect, I ask: What if the connection to "The Uncanny" is more essential and profound, as exemplified by the essay's many implicit references to the war: its recalling of the return of the fallen and of burial alive in the trenches; of a 1917 British story about trauma in colonial New Guinea; and, through "The Sandman," of E.T.A. Hoffmann's own experiences of shock during the Napoleonic Wars? The fact that Freud does not connect these traumas directly to "uncanniness" speaks to the problem they pose – for him and for psychoanalytic theory in general. This silence creates an uncanny effect within the essay itself: "The Uncanny" stages the same "return of the repressed" that it diagnoses. I aim, first, to delineate this staging and, later, propose its conceptual relevance. The shadow of the war forces us to understand the "uncanny" differently: not just as a personal trauma but as a social symptom of the repression of this suffering. The real horror of the uncanny, Freud's essay teaches us, is not our own but the other's trauma – as embodied in wartime Europe by the "war neurotic" and his apparently contagious affliction.
Year: 2018
Primary URL:
Access Model: subscription only
Format: Journal
Periodical Title: Psychoanalysis and History
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press