Notes on the Uncanny


Here in Montreal, every corner has its own video arcade and they play a few new releases, but mostly its older, more obscure stuff. You go to the counter and you change your money for tokens and then you pick a booth. Each token gives you a specific length of time so the booth is like its own universe, a regression chamber, without minutes and hours, but instead its own unit of time: the token. And then you just flip through the channels until you something that pleases you, something that holds your attention. I keep expecting to see something familiar: a scene filmed in the living room of my grandmother, or my Kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Lett, fingering herself through her panties as the janitor looks on. This expectation is fed by the fact I find so many of the videos to be uncanny. They have a quality of disturbing familiarity, a familiarity which withdraws and causes me to become disoriented, a slight nagging anxiety. The uncanny, the Unheimlich, occurs when a known object suddenly presents an unfamiliar aspect. The real and imagined become blurred. There is a confusion between animate and inanimate, the usurpation of physical reality for psychic reality. When Freud said “Love is homesickness” he thought it was a clever joke. This place is familiar. I have been here before. For Freud the uncanny was exemplified by things from his immediate historical past: wax figures, automatons. Today, perhaps the uncanny can best be seen in old video tapes.

 

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