06 July 2011

Literary Blog Hop: Terminology

Literary Blog Hop
 Yea for the Literary Blog Hop being back in regular rotation at The Blue Bookcase.  I felt compelled to answer this one right away and I can't wait to see other answers, because I'm a total literature dork, and I love literary terminology.


The question is:

What is one of your favorite literary devices? Why do you like it? Provide a definition and an awesome example.

I went back and forth with pastiche (which would certainly be my second choice), but I settled on the uncanny.  Freud has an essay entitled "The Uncanny," which is an investigation of the meaning of the word as applied to literature and to experience.  If you haven't read Freud, this is my favorite essay, especially for literary types.  The word uncanny, comes from the German, unheimliche, which means literally un-home-like.  However, it also contains within its definition the heimliche, or the homelike.  The uncanny is that which is both strange and familiar at once.  The Routledge Dictionary of Literary Terms (via Bookrags) has this to say about the uncanny: "Precariously located in the liminal space of the in-between, it calls into question established norms and boundaries, especially those between the familiar and unfamiliar, imagination and reality, inside and outside (psychical and material realms) and self and other."  Liminality is another of my favorite concepts, and although the uncanny has a straightforward application in discussing Gothic literature, there is also a deconstructive component to any examination of the uncanny.

I like the uncanny because it is easy to apply and there are lots of instances of the uncanny in many of my favorite texts. The examples in Freud of course lead us to the traumatizing experience of birth and the fear of castration (shocking), but the uncanny in practice is often applied to Gothic texts, without harking back to infantile anxieties.  I think the house in Mark Danielewski's House of Leaves is a great example of the uncanny.  The once familiar home, becomes more and more horrifying to its inhabitants as it expands indefinitely on the inside, and yet remains the same.  For your visual pleasure, here is a photograph often used to illustrate the concept of the uncanny:

Diane Arbus, Identical Twins, 1967

Does it seem strange and yet familiar to you?

11 comments:

  1. I've never thought of 'uncanny' as a literary device. I think I'm going to be learning a lot on this particular literary hop! But, having had the description and everything spelt out to me clearly, I'm not sure I'd be a fan of uncanny...

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  2. ah, I love the uncanny. it's super creepy. I did a presentation on that essay in relation to... what book... dr jekyll and mr hyde. very, very cool when it comes to the gothic. great choice :)

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  3. It's interesting to think of uncanny as it applies to literature. There are definitely examples, and not only in gothic or scary books. They're the things that make you go "hmmmm." This is a thought-provoking choice.

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  4. I'm a huge fan of the uncanny as well. great choice!

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  5. I was also thinking of mentioning House of Leaves in my post and then forgot about it!
    Em

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  6. House of Leaves is crazy uncanny - among many other things. Great example!

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  7. Ooooo! I like this term. "Uncanny." Who knew uncanny was a literary term!

    Now I must be off to check out "pastiche"!

    Here's my attempt to pick my favorite literary device. Also, I'd like to invite you to throw your name into the hat for a $25 Amazon gift certificate in Readerbuzz's July Giveaway!It's international!

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  8. I'm going to have to read that Freud essay. I fear I still don't understand what 'uncanny' is. Sounds intriguing though! :D

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  9. good call, love the idea of uncanny as a specific literary device.

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  10. Oh my gosh, you may be my favorite person of the day! I totally love that essay, and the use of the uncanny in literature. Have you read the short story he references in the essay, The Sandman by E.T.A Hoffman? It's a great story, and was what originally led me to Freud's essay.
    Oh, and pastiche is also an excellent device. I should have thought of writing about that instead of fragmentation.

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  11. Oh, this is a good one! I like the uncanny too, it can be very unsettling but in a very subtle way.

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I love your comments. Thanks for making me a happy blogger.

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