The Uncanniness of Heimlich


Before reading Sigmund Freud’s The Uncanny, the only Heimlich I knew of was the Heimlich maneuver. Though technically the term for the maneuver was named after the first doctor to describe it, it is still interesting to finally find the meaning of the word itself in a totally unrelated work of text.

The distinction between the definition of ‘heimlich’ and ‘unheimlich’ (or perhaps the lack thereof) was at first pretty confusing and difficult to wrap my head around. For a pair of words to be both antonyms and synonyms of one another is still strange to me, and I am unsure if I have completely absorbed the idea yet. Nevertheless, Freud’s interpretation on their connected linguistic uses is valid enough to be intriguing and stop me from complaining about him (if only momentarily). If I am correct in reading this, his idea is that the usage of the word ‘heimlich’ has extended into its opposite because what was originally familiar has been repressed so that once we come into contact with it again it is now strange and unfamiliar (see page 241 of The Uncanny). Perhaps it can be fancied to be a Schrodinger’s word, for it to be both familiar and alien at the same time. It is also interesting to note that the feeling and atmosphere it brings is uncanny, and the experience as a whole can be categorized in the uncanny’s noun form.

If I’m honest I do think his linguistic explanation of the word ‘heimlich’ or ‘the uncanny’ is a fascinating thing to think about (which I must point out is a super big compliment to Freud considering how much I hated him in my high school psychology classes and how petty and contrary I can get where his ideas are concerned) and I hope it can be fully dissected and discussed in our following seminars.

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