Aesthetic Anxiety: Uncanny Symptoms in German Literature and by Laurie Ruth Johnson

By Laurie Ruth Johnson

Esthetic anxiousness analyzes uncanny repetition in psychology, literature, philosophy, and movie, and produces a brand new narrative in regards to the centrality of aesthetics in glossy subjectivity. the customarily terrible, yet occasionally additionally stress-free, event of hysteria should be a cultured mode in addition to a mental kingdom. Johnson's elucidation of that kingdom in texts through authors from Kant to Rilke demonstrates how estrangement can produce attachment, and repositions Romanticism as an engine of modernity.

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Additional info for Aesthetic Anxiety: Uncanny Symptoms in German Literature and Culture (Internationale Forschungen zur Allgemeinen und Vergleichenden Literaturwissenschaft, Volume 141)

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11 Fear could be mastered by anticipating danger; or so runs the thinking in mid-century texts by authors such as Wolff and Kant. This mastery is important not just for personal comfort but for the survival of the Enlightened social order. 12 Starting in the middle decades of the eighteenth century, however, fright and fear are depicted as reactions and emotions that no longer necessarily have to be avoided. At about the same time that the concept of the uncanny appears in psychology, literature, and aesthetic theory, fear begins to be portrayed as a standard component of experience, and as part of a normal subjectivity Psychologist Johann Sulzer’s notions of different types of fright, including “empty,” “sublime,” and “healing” (“leerer,” “erhabener,” and “heilsamer”) represent an increasingly common understanding of fear as something potentially admissible into the world of the rational subject, as long as it is redeemed and restrained by aesthetically acceptable portrayal.

3 The intentional juxtaposition and acknowledgment of beauty’s interdependence with ruin are also an expression of and response to anxiety relating to mortality and decay. In the brief essay “On Transience” (“Vergänglichkeit,” 1916), Freud eases this kind of anxiety by constructing an apparently soothing view of mortality attenuated by repetition. 4 Freud responds that our own mortality permits us to enjoy and value the cyclical rhythms of natural beauty: “As regards the beauty of Nature, each time it is destroyed by winter it comes again next year, so that in relation to the length of our lives it can in fact be regarded as eternal” (“Was die Schönheit der Natur betrifft, so kommt sie nach jeder Zerstörung durch den Winter im nächsten Jahre wieder, und diese Wiederkehr darf im Verhältnis zu unserem Lebensdauer als eine ewige bezeichnet werden”).

Well before Ernst Jentsch explicitly theorizes the uncanny in his 1906 essay entitled “On the Psychology of the Uncanny” (“Zur Psychologie 14 Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Sämtliche Schriften, ed. Karl Lachmann (Stuttgart: G. J. Goschen, 1893) 9: 20; paraphrased in Zelle, Angenehmes Grauen. Literaturhistorische Beiträge zur Ästhetik des Schrecklichen im achtzehnten Jahrhundert 412. 15 Karl Philipp Moritz, Fragmente aus dem Tagebuche eines Geistersehers, in Werke, ed. Horst Günther (Frankfurt am Main: Insel, 1981) 3: 302.

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