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MIT Press

"I Shall Be with You on Your Wedding-Night": Lacan and the Uncanny
Author(s): Mladen Dolar
Source: October, Vol. 58, Rendering the Real (Autumn, 1991), pp. 5-23
Published by: MIT Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/778795
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"I Shall Be withYou on


Your Wedding-Night":
Lacan and the Uncanny

MLADEN

DOLAR

The dimension of the uncanny,introducedby Freud in his famous paper,


is located at the verycore of psychoanalysis.'It is the dimension where all the
concepts of psychoanalysiscome together,where its diverse lines of argument
forma knot.The uncannyprovidesa clue to the basic projectof psychoanalysis.
And yet Freud appears to be somewhatat a loss about how to make use of this
clue. Although he enumeratesa number of instancesof the uncanny,givingan
array of examples embellished with theoreticalreflections,he leaves us in the
end withonly a sketchor a prolegomenon to a theoryof the uncanny. Exactly
how the differentpieces fittogetherremains unclear.
The Extimate
Freud startsoff with a lengthylinguisticdiscussion of the German term
It was fortunatefor Freud thatsuch a paradoxical word existed
das Unheimliche.
in the German language, and perhaps it gave him the idea for the paper in the
firstplace. The word is the standard German negation of heimlichand is thus
supposed to be its opposite. But it turnsout that it is actuallydirectlyimplied
which means familiar,homely,cozy,intimate,"arousing a sense of
by heimlich,
agreeable restfulnessand securityas in one withinthe four walls of his house";
by extension,whatis familiarand securelytuckedaway is also hidden, concealed
fromthe outside, secret,"kept fromsight. . . withheldfromothers"; and by a
furtherextension,what is hidden and secretis also threatening,fearful,occult,
un"uncomfortable,uneasy, gloomy,dismal . . . ghastly"-that is, unheimlich,
become
where
the
two
coincide
and
is
There
a
meanings
directly
point
canny.2
undistinguishable,and the negationdoes not count-as indeed itdoes not count

1.
Sigmund Freud, "The 'Uncanny' " (1919), The StandardEditionof theCompletePsychological
Works,ed. James Strachey,vol. XVII (London: Hogarth Press, 1955).
2.
Ibid., pp. 221, 222, 225.

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OCTOBER

in the unconscious.3The English translation,"the uncanny,"largelyretainsthe


essential ambiguityof the German term,but French doesn't possess an equivalent,l'inquiltante
being the standardtranslation.So Lacan had to invent
etrangeti
one, extimit".
This term aims directlyat the essentialdimensionof psychoanalysis.Puttingthissimply,one could say thattraditionalthoughtconsistedof the constant
effortto draw a clear line between the interiorand the exterior.All the great
philosophicalconceptual pairs-essence/appearance, mind/body,
subject/object,
etc.-can be seen as just so many transcriptionsof the division
spirit/matter,
betweeninteriority
and exteriority.
Now the dimensionof extimiti
blursthisline.
It points neitherto the interiornor to the exterior,but is located there where
the most intimateinterioritycoincides with the exteriorand becomes threatening, provokinghorror and anxiety.The extimateis simultaneouslythe intimate kerneland the foreignbody; in a word,it is unheimlich.
Freud writes,"the
uncanny is that class of the frighteningwhich leads back to what is known of
old and long familiar."4And it is thisverydimensionbeyond the divisioninto
"psychic"and "real" thatdeserves to be called the real in the Lacanian sense.
Freud then proceeds in an "inductive"way,somewhathaphazardly enumeratingdifferentinstancesof thisstrangedimension-the paradoxical realm
between the livingand the dead (what Lacan will later call the area "between
two deaths"); the anxietyprovoked by the double, the point where narcissism
becomes unbearable; "the evil eye" and the dimensionof the gaze; the seriesof
coincidences thatsuddenlybear a fatefulmeaning (where the real, so to speak,
begins to speak); cut offlimbs; etc. It is obvious thatthe differentcases have a
simple Lacanian common denominatorwhich is the irruptionof the real into
"homely,"commonlyaccepted reality.We can speak of the emergenceof something that shatterswell-knowndivisionsand which cannot be situated within
them. (This holds not only for the classical divisions subject/object,interior/
exterior,etc., but also for the "early" Lacanian division symbolic/imaginary.)
The statusboth of the subjectand of "objectivereality"is thusput intoquestion.
In dealing withthe differentinstances,Freud is graduallyforced to use
the entire panoply of psychoanalyticconcepts: castrationcomplex, Oedipus,
(primary) narcissism,compulsion to repeat, death drive, repression,anxiety,
psychosis,etc. They all seem to convergeon "the uncanny."One could simply
say that it is the pivotal point around which psychoanalyticconcepts revolve,
the point that Lacan calls object small a and which he himselfconsidered his
most importantcontributionto psychoanalysis.
3.
"The way in which dreams treat the categoryof contrariesand contradictoriesis highly
remarkable.It is simplydisregarded. 'No' seems not to existso far as dreams are concerned. They
show a particularpreferenceforcombiningcontrariesinto a unityor forrepresentingthemas one
and the same thing."The Interpretation
ofDreams(1900), in The StandardEdition,vol. IV, p. 318.
4.
Freud, "The 'Uncanny,'" p. 220.

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"I Shall Be withYou on YourWedding-Night"

It seems thatFreud speaks about a "universal"of human experience when


he speaks of the uncanny,yet his own examples tacitlypoint to its location in a
specifichistoricalconjuncture,to the particularhistoricalrupturebroughtabout
dimension
with
oftheuncannythatemerges
by the Enlightenment.There is a specific
in
is
not
the
as
but
the
I
interested
What
am
uncanny
uncanny such,
modernity.
that is closelylinked withthe advent of modernityand whichconstantlyhaunts
it from the inside. To put it simply,in premodern societies the dimension of
the uncanny was largely covered (and veiled) by the area of the sacred and
untouchable. It was assigned to a religiouslyand sociallysanctionedplace in the
symbolicfrom which the structureof power, sovereignty,and a hierarchyof
values emanated. With the triumphof the Enlightenment,this privilegedand
excluded place (the exclusion thatfounded society)was no more. That is to say
that the uncanny became unplaceable; it became uncanny in the strictsense.
Popular culture,always extremelysensitiveto the historicalshifts,took successful hold of it-witness the immensepopularityof Gothicfictionand itsromantic
aftermath.5It has oftenbeen pointed out thatthe Gothicnovel was being written
at the same time as the French Revolution. There was an irruption of the
uncanny strictlyparallel withbourgeois (and industrial)revolutionsand the rise
of scientificrationality-and, one mightadd, withthe Kantian establishmentof
of whichthe uncanny presentsthe surprisingcountranscendentalsubjectivity,
terpart.6Ghosts, vampires,monsters,the undead dead, etc., flourishin an era
when you mightexpect them to be dead and buried, withouta place. They are
somethingbrought about by modernityitself.
Freud, in his paper, gives a somewhatmisleadingimpressionwhen he says
that the uncanny is the returnof somethinglong surmounted,discarded, and
superseded in the past. Just as Lacan has argued that the subject of psychoanalysis is the subject of modernitybased in the Cartesian cogito and unthinkable withoutthe Kantian turn,so one has to extend the argumentto the realm
of the object, the object a. It, too, is most intimatelylinked withand produced
by the rise of modernity.What seems to be a leftoveris actuallya product of
modernity,its counterpart.
The Quadruple
Let us see how the Lacanian "simplification"-the introductionof a common pivotal point-affects Freud's formulationson the uncanny. Freud takes
as the paradigmaticcase the well-knownshort story"The Sand-Man" by E. T.
A. Hoffmann, an example suggested by Jentsch and which serves Freud's
5.
See James Donald's excellentaccount,"The Fantastic,the Sublime and the Popular; or What's
at Stake in Vampire Films?" in Fantasyand theCinema,ed. James Donald (London: British Film
Institute,1989).
6.
See Slavoj Ziiek's articlein thisissue.

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OCTOBER

purpose verywell. Freud's account of the storyhinges upon two relations:the


one between the student Nathaniel, the hero of the story,and Olympia, the
young girlof angelic beautywho turnsout to be a doll, an automaton; the other
betweenthe Sand-Man figure,in his variousguises as the lawyerCoppelius, the
optician Coppola, and the Father (later partlysubstitutedby ProfessorSpalanzani).7 One is tempted to place the four characterson the two intersecting
diagonals of the sort of L-scheme proposed by Lacan:
The Sand-Man

Nathaniel

Olympia

Father

Of course thisdiagram doesn't correspondat all to Lacan's originalintenillustratesa differentpoint. The L-schemewas introducedin order to
and
tion
situate the imaginaryego produced by the mirror phase in relation to the
symbolic,to the Other of the symbolicorder,and to a subjectthatis not an ego.
So the entire tension of Lacan's diagram, the drama it represents,is between
the imaginaryand the symbolicdiagonals. In our case, both the "imaginary"
line (Nathaniel-Olympia)and the "symbolic"one are haunted by the intrusion
of the real, the dimension that was not yet elaborated in early Lacan and had
no assigned place in the L-scheme,or whichwas presentthereonlyin an implicit
way. With its introduction,both diagonals become troubled and presage a
disaster.
Nathaniel fallsmadlyin love withthisbeautifulgirlwho seems remarkably
silentand reticent.It is true thatshe dances and she sings (as one can hear in
Offenbach'sHoffmann's
Tales), but in a verymechanicalway,keeping her beat
too accurately.Her vocabularyis ratherlimited; she only exclaims "Oh! oh!"
fromtimeto timeand says "Good night,love!" at the end of long conversations
in whichhe is the only speaker. Her eyes gaze into emptinessforhours on end.
Nathaniel never tiresof watchingher throughhis spyglass,and thisis sufficient
for bringingabout the follyof love: "She says but a few words, that is true,"
de
7.
H61kneCixous points out in "La Fictionet ses Fant6mes: Une lecturede l'Unheimliche
Freud," Poitique(1972), vol. 10, pp. 199-216, thatFreud makes some arbitrarycuts in Hoffmann's
storyand doesn't take into account the subtletyof his narrativestrategy.Although this is true to
some extent,one could show that those elementsdo not contradictFreud's reading. It seems that
Cixous triesto prove too much; for the veryact of interpretingoperates by arbitrarycuts and the
thatseemed
alleged wealthof the object interpretedis a retroactiveeffectof the veryinterpretation
to reduce it. Here, rather than claiming any fidelityto an original textual wealth, I proceed by
takingup only one essentialpoint thatinterestsme.

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"I Shall Be withYou on YourWedding-Night"

remarks Nathaniel, "but these few words appear as genuine hieroglyphsof an


inner world fullof love and a higher knowledgeof the spirituallife in contemplation of the eternal Beyond." "Oh you glorious, profound nature, only you,
you alone understand me completely!"8A blank screen, empty eyes, and an
"Oh!": it is enough to drive anybodycrazywithlove. There is a strangereversal
in this situation: the problem is not simply that Olympia turns out to be an
automaton (contrivedby the Sand-Man figureCoppola, who contributedthe
eyes, and Spalanzani, who took care of the mechanism) and is thus in the
uncanny area between the living and the dead; it is that Nathaniel strangely
reacts in a mechanical way. His love for an automaton is itselfautomatic; his
fieryfeelings are mechanicallyproduced ("his senseless obsessive [zwanghafte,
compulsory] love for Olympia," says Freud).9 It takes so littleto set up that
blank screen fromwhich he only receiveshis own message. The question arises
as to who is the real automaton in the situation,for the appearance of the
automaton calls foran automaticresponse,it entailsan automaticsubjectivation.
Hoffmann'sironical twist,the social parody implied in the episode, highlightsthe role sociallyassigned to the woman: it is enough to be there, at the
appropriate place, at the most to utter an "Oh!" at the appropriate time, to
produce that specterof The Woman, thatfigureof the Other. The mechanical
doll only highlightsthe mechanicalcharacterof "intersubjective"relations.It is
the characterexploited by the positionof the analyst:the analyst,too, uttersat
the most an "Oh!" here and there (and perhaps a "Good night, love!"); he
makes himselfan automaton in order to give rise to the dimensionof the Other,
the real interlocutorof the patient's"monologue," and also in order to produce
that strange kind of love, perhaps love in its strictestand purest sense, which is
transferencelove. Nathaniel'slengthyconversationswithOlympia prefigurethe
analyticsession.
But Olympia is both the Other to whom Nathaniel addresses his love and
his amatorydiscourse (like the Lady of courtlylove) and his narcissisticsupplement (love can afterall be seen as the attemptto make the Other the same, to
reconcile it with narcissism).Like him, she is in the position of a child toward
the fatherfigures:"Her fathers,Spalanzani and Coppola, are ... nothingbut
new editions, reincarnationsof Nathaniel's pair of fathers."'1She is his sisterimage, the realization of his essential ambivalence in relation to the father
figure-the attempt to identifywith the father on one hand, and to make
oneself an object for him, to offeroneself as the object of his love on the other
(what Freud calls the "feminineattitude"):"Olympia is, as it were, a dissociated
complex of Nathaniel's which confrontshim as a person."" She is his "better
8.
118.
9.
10.
11.

E. T. A. Hoffmann,Tales ofHoffmann(Harmondsworth:Penguin Books, 1982), pp. 117 and


Freud, "The 'Uncanny,'" p. 232.
Ibid.
Ibid.

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10

OCTOBER

half," the missinghalf that could make him whole, but which turns out to be
the materialized,emancipated death drive. She presentsthe point where the
narcissisticcomplementturnslethal,where the imaginarystumbleson the real.
Olympia's position is conditioned by the tension of the second diagonal
that connects the two fatherfigures,the fatherand the Sand-Man. The threat
of a loss of sight,the menace to one's eyes,whichis the red thread of the story
and for Freud the main source of its uncanny character,is immediatelyconnected with the castration complex, the threat of the loss of what is most
valuable. Hoffmann'sstorytreatsthiscomplex in the simplestand mostclassical
way, with the duplication of fatherfigures.The fatheris split into the good
father,the protectorand the bearer of the universalLaw, and the bad father,
the castrater,the menacing and jealous figurethat evokes the fatherof the
primalhorde, the fatherlinkedwithterriblejouissance.The good fatherprotects
Nathaniel's eyes; the bad one threatenswithblinding.The good fatheris killed
by the bad one, who takes the blame for it, thus resolvingin a simple way the
essentialambivalencetowardthe father,the subject'slove forhim and his deathwishagainsthim. But the tensionbetweenthe twofathersis irresolvable:behind
the fatherwho is the bearer of the Law, and as such reduced to the "Name-ofthe-Father"(i.e., the dead father),there is the horriblecastratingfigurethat
the fatherwho wouldn't die and who
Lacan has called the "father-jouissance,"
comes to haunt the Law (and actually endows it with its effectiveness).The
Sand-Man is the bearer of thisterribleand lethaljouissance.
For Freud, the uncanny effectdepends on castration,which also links
togetherthe two diagonals and centersthemon the relationto the object. The
Sand-Man as the castratingfigureand the figureofjouissance"alwaysappears
derLiebe]."He is the intruderwho alwaysemerges
as the disturberof love [St~irer
a "sexual relation,"to
at the momentwhen the subjectcomes close to fulfilling
find his imaginarysupplement and become a "whole."'2 It is because of the
on the symbolicdiagonal thatthe completion
appearance of the father-jouissance
failson the imaginaryone. One could say thatin thisfirstapproach, the uncanny
is preciselywhat bars the sexual relation; it is the dimension that preventsus
fromfindingour Platonian missinghalves and hence imaginarycompletion;it
is the dimension that blocks the fulfillmentof our subjectivity.The objectal
dimension at one and the same time opens the threatof castrationand comes
to fillthe gap of castration.The uncannyemerges as a reality,but one which
has its only substance in a positivizationof negativity,a negative existence,
castration. The positive presence of the objectal dimension is the "positive
expression" of what Lacan, in one of his most famous dictums,has called the
absence of sexual relation("Ii n'ya pas de rapport
sexuel").
"He separates Nathanielfromhis betrothedand fromher brother,his bestfriend;he destroys
12.
the second object of his love, Olympia,the lovelydoll; and he driveshim intosuicide at the moment
when he has won back his Clara and is about to be happilyunited to her" (Ibid., p. 231).

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"I Shall Be withYou on YourWedding-Night"

11

The Double
The dimension of the double, another source of the uncanny,simplifies
the quadruple scheme of the Sand-Man into a dual relation where the tension
appears between the subjectand his double. Freud dwellson the omnipresence,
the obsession withthe theme of the double in Hoffmann'swork,and mentions
the then-recentexample of Stellan Rye's filmDer Studentvon Prag. The exhaustive studies by Otto Rank and more recentlyby Karl Miller have shown the
very extensive use of this motive in literature(and elsewhere), particularlyits
incredible proliferationin the romanticera.'3 The authors range (apart from
Hoffmann) from Chamisso (Peter Schlemihl), the Gothic novel, Andersen,
Lenau, Goethe, Jean Paul, Hogg, Heine, Musset, Maupassant, Wilde, etc., to
Poe (William Wilson) and Dostoyevsky(Golyadkin).
There are some simple structuralfeaturesof these storiesthat can themselves have a number of complex ramificationswith differentoutcomes. The
subject is confrontedwith his double, the very image of himself(that can go
along withthe disappearance, or tradingoff,of his mirrorimage or his shadow),
and this crumbling of the subject's accustomed reality,this shatteringof the
bases of his world, produces a terribleanxiety.'4Usually only the subject can
see his own double, who takes care to appear only in private,or for the subject
alone. The double produces two seeminglycontradictoryeffects:he arranges
things so that they turn out badly for the subject, he turns up at the most
inappropriate moments,he dooms him to failure; and he realizes the subject's
hidden or repressed desires so that he does thingshe would never dare to do
or that his conscience wouldn't let him do. In the end, the relation gets so
unbearable that the subject,in a finalshowdown,killshis double, unaware that
his only substance and his very being were concentratedin his double. So in
killinghim he kills himself."You have conquered, and I yield," says Wilson's
double in Poe's story."Yet henceforwardartthou also dead-dead to the World,
to Heaven, and to Hope! In me didst thou exist-and, in my death, see by this
As a rule,
image, whichis thineown, how utterlythou hast murdered thyself.""5
all these stories finishbadly: the moment one encounters one's double, one is
headed for disaster; there seems to be no way out. (In clinical cases of
autoscopia--meeting or seeing one's double-the prognosis is also ratherbad
and the outcome is likelyto be tragic.)'6
Otto Rank gives an extensive account of the theme of the double in
differentmythologiesand superstitions.17 For all of them the shadow and the
13.
Otto Rank, TheDouble:A Psychoanalytic
Study(London: Karnac-MaresfieldLibrary,1989) and
Karl Miller,Doubles(Oxford: Oxford UniversityPress, 1985).
14.
The heroes of these storiesare always male. As will appear later,the double is also a device
to avoid a relationshipto femininityand sexualiltyin general.
15.
ed. David Galloway (Harmondsworth:Penguin, 1979).
Edgar Allen Poe, SelectedWritings,
16.
See Eric Blumel, "L'hallucinationdu double," Analytica22 (1980), pp. 35-53.
17.
Rank, The Double.

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mirrorimage are the obvious analogues of the body, its immaterialdoubles,


and thus the best means to representthe soul. The shadow and the mirror
image survive the body due to their immateriality--soit is that reflections
constituteour essentialselves.'8The image is more fundamentalthan itsowner:
it instituteshis substance,his essentialbeing, his "soul"; it is his most valuable
part; it makes him a human being.19It is his immortalpart, his protection
against death.
In a way,psychoanalysiswould agree. Afterall, thisis what Lacan's theory
of the mirror-phaseaims at: it is only by virtueof one's mirrorreflectionthat
one can become endowed with an ego, establishoneself as an "I." My "egoidentity"comes frommy double. But the troublewiththe double springsfrom
the factthathe seems to stand forall threeinstancesof Freud's "second topic":
he constitutesthe essentialpart of the ego; he carriesout the represseddesires
springingfromthe Id; and he also, witha malevolencetypicalof the superego,
prevents the subject from carryingout his desires-all at one and the same
time. So how do the three instancesfittogether?
There is a momentin the legend of Narcissuswhen the blind seer Tiresias
makes a prophecy to the beautifulboy's mother: "Narcissus will live to a ripe
The prophecyseems directly
old age, provided thathe never knowshimself."20
"Know
dictum
to contradictthe old philosophical
thyself!"Instead, forTiresias,
of a long and happy life. In
condition
as
the
an essential ignorance appears
will
to
know
himself,
fact,Narcissus willcome
preferthe philosophicalmaxim
will
be fatefulfor him. The legend
to the prophet's offer,and that knowledge
foretellsof the loss that is always already implied by the minimal narcissistic
mechanismpresentedby the mirrorphase.
To put it simply:when I recognize myselfin the mirrorit is already too
late. There is a split: I cannot recognize myselfand at the same time be one
withmyself.With the recognitionI have already lost whatone could call "selfbeing," the immediatecoincidence withmyselfin mybeing and jouissance.The
rejoicingin the mirrorimage, the pleasure and the self-indulgence,has already
been paid for. The mirrordouble immediatelyintroduces the dimension of
castration-the doubling itselfalready,even in its minimalform,implies castration:"This inventionof doubling as a preservationagainstextinctionhas its
counterpartin the language of dreams,whichis fondof representingcastration
18. There is also the traditional"animistic"belief that what befalls the image will befall its
owner-for example, the superstitionwhichis stillalive concerningcracked mirrors.See Heine, as
quoted in Rank: "There is nothingmore uncanny than seeing one's face accidentallyin a mirror
by moonlight"(p. 43). This explains whyghosts,vampires,etc.,don't cast shadows and don't have
mirrorreflections:theyare themselvesalready shadows and reflections.
19. That is why trading one's image in a kind of "pact with the Devil" or with some occult
substitutealwaysends badly: the Devil knowsthe importanceof the image,and the subjectoverlooks
it.
Robert Graves, The GreekMyths,2 vols. (Harmondsworth:Penguin, 1960).
20.

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"I Shall Be withYou on YourWedding-Night"

13

by a doubling or a multiplicationof a genital symbol."2'The multiplicityof


snakes on Medusa's head, to take another example from Freud, is there to
dissimulate the lack; the One, the Unique is missing.So the doubling, in the
simplestway, entails the loss of that uniqueness that one could enjoy in one's
self-being,but only at the price of being neither an ego nor a subject. The
doubling cuts one off from a part, the most valuable part, of one's being, the
immediate self-beingofjouissance.This is what Lacan will later add to his early
theoryof the mirrorphase: the object a is preciselythat part of the loss that
one cannot see in the mirror,the partof the subjectthathas no mirrorreflection,
the nonspecular. The mirrorin the most elementaryway already implies the
splitbetween the imaginaryand the real: one can only have access to imaginary
reality,to the world one can recognize oneself in and familiarizeoneself with,
on the condition of the loss, the "fallingout," of the object a. It is this loss of
the object a that opens "objective"reality,the possibilityof subject-objectrelations,but since its loss is the conditionof any knowledge of "objective" reality,
it cannot itselfbecome an object of knowledge.
We can now see the trouble with the double: the double is that mirror
image in which the object a is included. So the imaginarystartsto coincide with
the real, provokinga shatteringanxiety.The double is the same as me plus the
object a, thatinvisiblepart of being added to myimage. In order for the mirror
image to contain the object a, a wink or a nod is enough. Lacan uses the gaze
as the best presentationof that missingobject; in the mirror,one can see one's
eyes, but not the gaze which is the part that is lost. But imagine that one could
see one's mirrorimage close its eyes: thatwould make the object as gaze appear
in the mirror.This is what happens with the double, and the anxietythat the
double produces is the surest sign of the appearance of the object. (It can also
be brought about in the opposite way, by the disappearance of one's mirror
image, technicallydubbed "the negativeautoscopia," an example of which is to
be found in Maupassant's Le Horla.) Here the Lacanian account of anxiety
differssharplyfromother theories: it is not produced by a lack or a loss or an
incertitude;it is not the anxietyof losing something(the firmsupport, one's
bearings,etc.). On the contrary,it is the anxietyof gainingsomethingtoo much,
of a too-close presence of the object. What one loses with anxietyis precisely
the loss-the loss that made it possible to deal witha coherentreality."Anxiety
is the lack of the support of the lack," says Lacan; the lack lacks, and thisbrings
about the uncanny.22
The inclusion of the object also entails the emergence of that lost part of
jouissance. The double is always the figure of jouissance: on one hand, he is
somebodywho enjoysat the subject'sexpense; he commitsacts thatone wouldn't
21.
22.

Ibid., pp. 356-57.


See Blumel, "L'hallucination,"p. 49.

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dare to commit,he indulges in one's represseddesires and makes sure thatthe


blame fallson the subject.On the otherhand, though,he is not simplysomeone
who enjoys, but essentiallya figurethat commandsjouissance.The double is a
"disturberof love": he typicallyspringsup at the momentwhen one is about to
touch,or to kiss,the girlof one's dreams; he springsup when the subjectcomes
close to the realizationof his wishes,when he is on the brinkof attainingfull
enjoyment,the completionof the sexual relation.But whilethe double appears
to be the one who spoils and obstructs,what is significantis the choice of the
object. It is myselfwho prefersthe double, the one who retainsthe object and
who can provide jouissanceand being, to the beautiful girl who can give me
pleasure. Only the alter ego can offerthe truejouissancethat I am not willing
to give up in favorof pleasure. The magnificent
younggirlis ratherthe obstacle
to my privileged relation to myself;she is the real spoiler in this game, the
spoiler of narcissism,so one has to get rid of her (and the double takes care of
this)in order tojoin myreal partner,mydouble. He retainsthatlost primordial
object for which no woman can be a substitute.But of course joining one's
jouissance,regainingone's primordialbeing,is lethal.The subjectcan onlyattain
it by his death.
The appearance of the objectin realitydoesn't make itan objectof possible
"objective"knowledge.As a rule, it appears onlyto the subject;the othersdon't
see it and thereforedon't understandthe subject'speculiar behavior.It cannot
become a part of accepted intersubjectivespace. It is the privileged private
object accessible only to the subject,his incorporatedself-being.
The double, retainingthe object, also immediatelyintroducesthe death
drive.The originalfunctionof the double (as the shadow and the mirrorimage)
was "an insurance againstthe destructionof the ego, an 'energeticdenial of the
power of death' . . . and probablythe 'immortalsoul' was the first'double' of
the body.'"23Yet what was designed as a defense against death, as a protection
is thatanankewhichmostimmediatelycontradicts
of narcissism--one'smortality
and limitsthe narcissisticwholeness-turns intoitsharbinger:when the double
appears, the timeis up. One could saythatthedouble inauguratesthedimension
of the real preciselyas the protectionagainst "real" death. It introduces the
death drive, that is, the drive in its fundamentalsense, as a defense against
biological death. The double is the initialrepetition,the firstrepetitionof the
same, but also that which keeps repeating itself,emergingin the same place
(one of the Lacanian definitionsof the real), springingup at the mostawkward
times,both as an irruptionof the unexpected and with clockworkprecision,
totallyunpredictableand predictablein one.
But the intrusionof the real in stories about the double is drastic and
dramatic, and is not part of everyday experience. It can spring up for a
23.

Graves, The GreekMyths,p. 356.

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"I Shall Be withYou on YourWedding-Night"

15

moment-as in that highlyunpleasant experience of Freud's when he met his


mirrordouble in the verycozy and homelysettingof a wagon-litcompartment
while alone in his dressing gown and travelingcap.24 The world was out of
joint, for that instant,withthe apparitionof the intruder,an elderlygentleman
dressed just like him, until he recognized his own mirrorreflection.But "normally" the lack implied in narcissismis the pivotal point between the mirror
phase and the Oedipus-that which can give it a "normal" outcome. What
happens with the Oedipus, which is the entryinto the symbolic,is the shiftin
which the loss entailed by the mirrorreflectionis inscribedinto the registerof
the Name-of-the-Father.The father'sLaw is what now denies the subject his
self-being,the immediacyof hisjouissance,as well as the access to thatprimordial
object of completion which is the mother.The fathertakes responsibilityfor
the loss, which makes him an ambiguous figure,subject to a lack and splitinto
a "good" and a "bad" father,producing the object that cannot fit into the
paternal law. The Law offerswords instead of things(instead of the Thing); it
guarantees the objective world instead of the object. This is the only way it is
possible for the subject to deal withthe loss, although thisoperation necessarily
produces a remainder which will come to haunt realityas it is instituted.The
immediate appeal of the theme of the double lies in the fact that it points to
that remainder. In fact, we are never rid of the predicament of the mirror
reflection.
The theme of animism is closely connected to narcissism;it is its prolongation. The realitythat is opposed to narcissisticsufficiencyis conceived as
subject to the same "psychological"laws as interiority-itis animated,inhabited
by spirits,etc. One gives up part of one's omnipotenceto those spirits,but since
theyare of the same nature as the ego, one can influencethem,seduce them,
trade with them. The underlyingassumption is the omnipotence of thought;
"the distinctionbetween imaginationand realityis effaced ... a symboltakes
over the full functionsof the thingit symbolizes."25
There is the class of phenomena where a series of coincidences and contingentevents suddenly starts
to signifyand take on a fatefulmeaning, or conversely,a chance event seems
to realize one's thought,thus confirmingthe belief in its omnipotence. "I know
that thoughtscan't kill,but nevertheless... I believe theydo." Here too, the
source of the uncanny is the reappearance of a part that was necessarilylost
withthe emergence of the subject-the intersectionbetween the "psychic"and
the "real," the interiorand the exterior,the "word" and the "object,"the symbol
and the symbolized-the point where the real immediatelycoincides with the
symbolicto be put into the serviceof the imaginary.So what is uncannyis again
the recuperationof the loss: the lost part destroysrealityinstead of completing
it.

24.
25.

Ibid., p. 371.
Ibid., p. 367.

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16

OCTOBER

The Unique
So far I have considered the uncannyon a rathergeneral level, following
Freud's examples, which are, although he never explicitlymentionsit, historicallysituated.Hoffmann,the sudden emergenceof the doubles in the romantic
era, the extraordinaryobsessionwithghosts,vampires,undead dead, monsters,
etc., in Gothic fictionand all throughthe nineteenthcentury,the realm of the
fantastic-they all point to the emergence of the uncanny at a very precise
historicalmoment.It is Frankenstein,however,thatis perhaps the best example
of this.
I started with a quadruple scheme in Hoffmann'stale, which was then
reduced to a dual relationshipwiththe double. Now we can undertakea further
or condensationof the problemby reducingit to a singleelement
simplification
best presented by the theme of the monster.
It appears at firstsight that Frankensteinis the direct opposite of the
theme of the double: the creaturecreated by Frankensteinis a monsterwithout
a name, and his basic problem in the novel is preciselythathe cannot find his
double.26It is a creaturewithoutfiliationor a genealogy,withoutanybodywho
would recognize or accept him (not even his creator). His narcissismis thus
thwartedfrom the outset,and the main part of the plot actuallyspringsfrom
his demand for a partner,somebody like him, a wife,so that he could starta
line, a new filiation.He is One and Unique, and as such he cannot even have a
name-he cannotbe represented
(which absence is often "spontabya signifier
in
his
cannot be a part of the symbolic.
filled
"father's"
he
name),
neously"
by
The storyitselfhad the strangefateof becominga "modern myth,"a veryrare
occurrenceindeed. The huge numberof differentversionsin whichthe original
is virtuallylost testifiesto this fact. All these versions turn around the same
It is a mythin the L6vi-Straussian
itto infinity.
fantasmatickernel,retranscribing
sense of the word: the mythas "a logical model to resolve a contradiction(an
insoluble task if the contradictionis real)"27-ultimatelythe contradictionbetween nature and culture.
The mythhas its startingpoint in scientificdiscourse. Shelley's"Introduction" takes up Erasmus Darwin as the witness,along with the background of
research into electromagneticoccurrences,galvanism,etc. The possibilityof
creating a human being seems to be just a small extension of the seemingly
limitlesspossibilitiesof the new science. But the connectionwith the Enlightenment goes much further.
Shadow(Oxford:
26.
I am greatlyindebted to two recentanalyses:Chris Baldick,In Frankenstein's
Oxford UniversityPress, 1987) and Jean-JacquesLecercle, Frankenstein:
(Paris:
Mytheet Philosophie
P.U.F., 1988). But I concentrateon onlyone line of argument,neglectingotherpossibilitiesoffered
by the material.
Claude Levi-Strauss,Structural
trans. Monique Layton (Chicago: Universityof
27.
Anthropology,
Chicago Press, 1983).

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"I Shall Be withYou on YourWedding-Night"

17

The subtitle,"The Modern Prometheus,"was probablydirectlyborrowed


fromLa Mettrie'sL'Homme-Machine.28
La Mettriepraises the craftof Vaucanson,
the famous French constructorof automatons (a highlysuccessfulfluteplayer,
to say nothingof the digestingduck). It seems that he was not far from being
able to produce a speaking being-"the machine which should not be considered as impossibleany more, especiallyin the hands of a new Prometheus"'29with which La Mettrieonly gives voice to a fantasythat was then very much
alive: if Descartes could thinkof animals as machines,somewhatmore complicated than human products, if he could see the human body as essentiallya
mechanism, a machine like a watch, it was only to highlightthe difference
between the resextensaand the spirit.The Galilean revolutionin physicsopened
the perspectiveof the cosmos as a mechanism (hence the ubiquitous presence
of billiardballs and clockworkin the seventeenthand eighteenthcenturies)and
put in question the autonomyof the spiritual.A hundred yearslaterLa Mettrie's
point was preciselyto do away with that difference,to see the automaton not
only in the body, but also in the spirit. It was the age of fascinationwith
automata, stillat work in Hoffmann,Poe, etc. What was at stake was the link
between matterand spirit,nature and culture. The notion of the subject of the
Enlightenmentwas all along an attemptto provide this link. This is whatjoins
together its differentfacets: Locke's tabula rasa, le bonsauvage, l'homme-nature,
Condillac's statue gradually acceding to the senses, the blind man-a major
figureof the Enlightenment(cf. Molyneux's famous problem for which all the
philosophers of the time proposed a solution,Diderot's Letteron theBlind, etc.;
one could go so far as to say that the subject of the Enlightenmentwas blind),
then Rousseau's Emile (who was an orphan), etc. What theyall have in common
is the quest for a "zero degree" of subjectivity,
the missinglink between nature
and culture, the point where the spiritualwould directlyspring from the material. They all seem to aim at a subject beyond the imaginary,singularly
deprived of a mirrorphase, a nonimaginarysubject fromwhich the imaginary
support in the world has to be taken away (this is particularlyclear with the
blind) in order to reconstructit, in its true significance,fromthis "zero" point.
Frankenstein'screature demonstratesthis in a particularlypoignant way:
it is the realization of the subject of the Enlightenment,the missinglink produced by its scientificproject. He is created, so to speak, ex nihilo,and he has
to recreate the whole complexityof the spiritualworld ex nihilo.And we have,
in the most extraordinarycentral part of the book, a first-handaccount of his
28.
La Mettrie,L'Homme-Machine
(Paris: Denoil Gonthier,1981).
29.
Ibid., p. 143. It seems that the parallel was firstestablished by Voltaire in 1738, some ten
years before La Mettrie:
Le hardi Vaucanson, rival de Promethde
Semblait, de la nature imitantles ressorts,
Prendre le feu des cieux pour aimer les corps.

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18

OCTOBER

narrationof the passage fromnature into culture.


subjectivation,a first-person
and herein lies his paradox: as the
He is the zero point of natural subjectivity,
embodiment of the natural zero state, he is counter to nature, a monster,
excluded fromnature and culturealike. Through his tragedy,cultureonly gets
of culture.The noble
is the monstrosity
back its own message: his monstrosity
the
culture turns him
because
turns
bad
the
self-educated
man,
only
savage,
down. By not acceptinghim societyshowsitscorruption,itsinabilityto integrate
him, to include its own missinglink. Culturejudges by nature (that is, by his
The creature
looks), not by culture (that is, by his good heart and sensitivity).
as the Unique only wants a social contract,but being refused one he wants to
destroy the contractthat excludes him and so to vindicate himself.Since he
cannot found a family-a minimalcontractwithhis like-he exterminatesthe
familyof his creator,who wouldn't recognize his offspring,his only link with
culture. In the end all the figuresof the novel are dead (except for Walton,
who lives to tell the story).
The paradox of the creature lies in the factthat this embodimentof the
subject of the Enlightenmentdirectlydisrupts its universe and produces its
limit.The creature, that small extension of scientificendeavor, would fillthe
missinglink and make it exist; it would bridge the gap. With its addition,"the
great chain of being" would be complete; one could pass withouta break from
matterto spirit,fromnature to culture.There was an emptyspace betweenthe
two that the monstercomes to fill,but what we get with this continuous,full
universe is the opposite of the traditionalhorrorvacui; it is a horror
plenitudinis,
the horror of an unsplitworld. Frankensteinbrings to humanity,like Prometheus, the spark of life,but also much more: there is a promise to provide it
with its origin, to heal the wound of castration,to make it whole again. But
fillingthe lack is catastrophic-the Enlightenmentreaches its limitby realizing
it,just as the appearance of the double, in another context,produced the lack
of lack.
The emergenceof thislimitof the Enlightenmentis thenopen to a variety
of interpretations.The religious one is closest to hand: Frankenstein,who
interfereswithGod's business,has to be punished forhis presumptionand his
rebellion against the divine order, the presumptionand the rebellion of the
Enlightenmentitself,whichhas gone too far.But thereis an opposite,romantic
interpretation,a positiveview of the monster,which not only exhibitsa compassion for the inherentgoodness of his nature betrayedby society,but also
admires the sublimityof his horribleoutlook-he appears againsta background
of spectacular natural scenery(Mont Blanc, the Arctics),along withits unfathomable wildness,being thus the embodimentof thisother nature. Not the one
writtenin mathematicallanguage and that functionslike clockwork,a mechanism, but the one that was lost with this mechanical scientificview of nature,
the one that became the lost object of scientificendeavor and that can only be
present as that effortto representthe unrepresentable,the Kantian definition

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"I Shall Be withYou on YourWedding-Night"

19

of the sublime. One can also see a politicaldimensionin it: the storytakes place
at the time of the French Revolution,whichwas already labeled as "monstrous"
by Burke (another theoristof the sublime) and which produced, in a whole
generation of young English intellectualsand poets, a mixtureof enthusiasm
and horror. Mary Shelley was best placed to draw the consequences of this
situation: both her parents,Mary Wollstonecraftas the "founder" of feminism
and William Godwin as the "founder" of anarchism, placed themselves in a
radical line of revolutionarydemands-"Englishmen, one more effort"-to
realize the revolutionarythrust,the effortparadoxicallyaccomplished by their
daughter. One could see in it the birthof the proletariatand the horror that
provokes-and conservativediscourse verysoon took hold of the monsteras a
metaphor of workers' upheavals and demands, a personificationof the mass,
"the rule of the mob."30
It is not that these interpretationsare not correct; they are all plausible,
and evidence can be found to support them. The point where the monster
emerges is always immediatelyseized by an overwhelmingamount of meaning
-and that is valid for the whole subsequent gallery of monsters,vampires,
aliens, etc. It has immediate social and ideological connotations.The monster
can stand for everythingthat our culture has to repress-the proletariat,sexuality, other cultures, alternativeways of living, heterogeneity,the Other.3'
There is a certain arbitrarinessin the content that can be projected onto this
point, and there are many attemptsto reduce the uncanny to just thiscontent.
The importantthingfroma Lacanian point of view,however,is thatwhile this
contentis indeed always presentin the uncannyto a greateror a lesser degree,
it doesn't constituteit. The uncanny is always at stake in ideology-ideology
perhaps basicallyconsistsof a social attemptto integratethe uncanny,to make
it bearable, to assign it a place, and the criticismof ideology is caught in the
same frameworkif it tries to reduce it to another kind of contentor to make
the content conscious and explicit. This criticismis always on the brink of a
naive effortto fix things with their proper names, to make the unconscious
conscious, to restore the sense of what is repressed and thus be rid of the
uncanny.The constantresurgenceof "right-wing"ideologies that find support
in the uncanny always comes as a surprise-the fascinationwon't vanish, the
historicizationfails,the "hidden contents"do not exhaust it. Thus the criticism
of ideology helplessly repeats the modernist gesture-the reduction of the
uncanny to its "secular basis" throughthe verylogic thatactuallyproduced the
uncanny in the firstplace as the objectal remainder. Psychoanalysisdoesn't
provide a new and betterinterpretationof the uncanny; it maintainsit as a limit
to interpretation.
Its interpretationtries to circumscribethe point where inter-

30.
31.

See Franco Moretti,Signs Takenfor Wonders(London: Verso, 1983).


Ibid., p. 236.

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20

OCTOBER

pretation fails,where no "more faithful"translationcan be made. It tries to


pinpointthe dimensionof theobjectin thattinycrackbeforedifferentmeanings
get hold of it and saturateit withsense, the pointthatcan never be successfully
chain. In otherwords,psychoanalysisdiffersfrom
recuperatedby the signifying
other interpretations
its
insistence
on the formallevel of the uncannyrather
by
than on its content.
Lacan's specificationthatthe best presentification
of the object is the gaze
doesn't contradictthisformallevel of analysis.It seems thatit names the object
and thus assignsit a place, but the gaze in itsformalstructureis rathera device
to open a "non-place,"the pure oscillationbetweenan emptinessand a fullness.
Frankenstein'sstory again reveals this simply and efficiently.
The principal
source of the uncanniness of the monster,for Frankenstein,is preciselythe
gaze. It is the being of the gaze. The point that Frankensteincannot endure,
during the creationof the monster,is the momentwhen the creatureopens its
eyes, when the Thing renders the gaze-it is this opening that makes it the
Thing. When seeing those "wateryeyes, that seemed almost of the same color
as the dun-whitesockets in which theywere set," Frankensteinruns away in
horror.32But the gaze comes to pursue him in his bedroom; the monstercomes
to his bedside-"his eyes, if eyes theymay be called, were set on me."33The
emergenceof thisimpossiblesubjectis the emergenceof the gaze-the opening
of a hole in realitywhichis immediatelyalso thatwhichcomes to fillit withan
unbearable presence,witha being more being than being,vacuumand plenitudo
all in one, the plenitude as the directconsequence of the emptiness.One could
say that the monster'sterribleappearance is only a mask, an imaginarycover
to provide a frame for his gaze. The same traumaticpresence of the gaze can
also be pinpointed in the second "primal scene," the attemptedcreationof the
monster's bride in a Scottishcottage, the scene that is interruptedprecisely
because of the appearance of the gaze. It finisheswith the announcement of
the reappearance of the gaze in the third"primal scene": "I shall be withyou
And he will. The bearer of the gaze will turn from
on your wedding-night."34
a creature-that is, somethingcreated,an offspring,a son-into the figureof
the father-jouissance.
The gaze thatoccurs withsuch precisionin all the "primal scenes" of the
novel is an impossiblegaze. Jean-JacquesLecercle has already pointed out that
it is situated as the presence of the gaze at the subject's own conception.35It
emerges together with the emergence of the subject, in the moment of its
It is this object that would make
and an hors-sexe.
conception, as an hors-corps
in ThreeGothicNovels,ed. Peter Fairclough (Harmondsworth:
32.
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein,
Penguin, 1979), p. 318.
33.
Ibid., p. 319.
34.
Ibid., p. 438.
35.
Lecercle, Frankenstein,
p. 99.

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"I Shall Be withYou on YourWedding-Night"

21

the subjecta causa sui if itcould be integrated-the missingcause of subjectivity,


the missinglink of its emergence.
The Fantastic
Before concluding, let us consider brieflyTzvetan Todorov's "theoryof
His account seems to come
the uncanny" in his classical analysisThe Fantastic.36
Lacanian
it
differs
from
it in the most important
close
to
the
one,
yet
very
respect.
For Todorov, the main source of "the fantastic"(roughlythe realm of the
In Lacanian
uncanny,to simplifymatters)lies in an "intellectualuncertainty.""37
termsit is the eruption of the real in the midstof familiarreality;it provokes
a hesitationand an uncertaintyand the familiarbreaks down. Of course this
hesitationis structural-it affectsthe internal,implicitreader who is inscribed
in the text, not the empirical or psychologicalone. For Todorov, in the last
instance,the fantastichas to be explained and dissolved.The hesitationcannot
be maintained indefinitely:eitherthe unexplainable turnsout to be just oddthe hero was deluded, mad, victimof a conspiracy,etc.-or the supernatural
reallyexists,in whichcase we exchange our realityforanother one withdifferent rules (a mythicalworld,the world of fairytales,etc.). In both cases, the real
obtains a sense, it is allotted a meaning, and it thus evaporates. The uncanny
could onlysubsistin the narrowmiddle ground thatexistsbeforethe uncertainty
as to its nature is dissipated. And it was only in thatno-man's-landthat it could
produce anxietyand doom the subject to utterinsecurity,to floatingwithouta
point of anchor. Todorov then admirablydraws the implicationsof this simple
startingpoint, shows a number of supplementaryconditionsthat spring from
it, and demonstratesit on a number of convincingexamples.
The strengthof thistheorylies in its simplicityand especiallyin its purely
formalcharacter. It also offersan immediate link with the Lacanian view that
the real can never be dealt with directly,that it emerges only in an oblique
perspective,and thatthe attemptto grasp it directlymakes it vanish. Nevertheless, one could say that this theorycovers both too much and too little.Too
much because its formaldescriptionapplies also to a much broader area which
one could call thelogicofsuspense.In its simplestform,it consistsin the mechanism wherebyan essential piece of information(e.g., the identityof the murderer) is withheldfrom the (implicit)reader and is disclosed only at the end.
That delay makes the hero and the reader uncertainas to whatis actuallygoing
on withoutnecessarilyproducing the effectof the uncanny.Most detectiveand

36.
Tzvetan Todorov, The Fantastic:A Structural
Approachto a LiteraryGenre,trans. R. Howard
(Ithaca: Cornell UniversityPress, 1973).
37.
Ibid., p. 29.

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22

OCTOBER

crime fictionis based on this,but with the advance certaintythat events will
have a plausible natural explanation (the certaintyembodied in that subject
Too little,since not onlydoes it leave
supposed to know,who is the detective).38
out a great number of instancesof the fantastic,but also because, ultimately,
the main source of the uncannyis not at all a hesitationor an uncertainty.
The instances not accounted for by this theoryare easily found. A large
of
part "fantasticliterature"has no intentionof makingthe reader hesitateas
to the true nature of eventsbut is builton the assumptionfromthe outsetof a
we have to assume, for the duration
"supernatural" postulate. In Frankenstein
of the narrative,the possibilityof a "synthetic"productionof "human" beings;
in Stephen King's Pet Sematary,
to take a contemporaryexample, we find the
of
the
of
the dead" under certainconditions.Once we
"resurrection
possibility
have accepted this hypothesis,no hesitationoccurs, and yet those stories are
definitelyuncanny.The firmknowledgethat"such thingsdon't normallyoccur"
doesn't diminishthe uncanny effect.The question may then arise of why we
are so easily inclined to swallowan improbablehypothesisthatruns counterto
all usual experience and be so easilyduped into anxietyby horror.
In his book on jokes, Freud quotes Lichtenberg'ssentence: "Not only did
he disbelieve in ghosts; he was not even frightenedof them."39 Clearly,the
uncertaintybelonging to knowledge has to be distinguishedfrom the area of
unconscious belief. "I know very well, but all the same . . . I believe," the
formulaso admirablypinpointedby Octave Mannoni in his classic paper, is at
the basis of thisfabricationof the uncanny.40The knowledgedoesn't contradict
the belief,nor does the beliefsimplylose its forcethroughknowledge,since it
is fundamentallysituated in relationto the object-which is not the object of
knowledge.
We have a second, more basic distinctionto make. The knowledge,and
its (un)certainties,is to be distinguishedfromthe terriblecertaintyon the level
of the object. It is a certaintythat goes beyond any certaintywhichscience can
provide, or better,it is only here that we reach the level of certainty,whereas
science can onlyyieldexactitudeand remainssubjectto doubt,questioning,and
as it is only the object thatprovidesone's
proof. Onlytheobjectcan givecertainty,
being. One can easilysee thisin good fantasticliterature(or itsmodernversion,
"horror fiction"):the logic of its uncanniness is even directlyopposed to the
logic of suspense-what is horribleis thatone knowsin advance preciselywhat
is bound to happen, and it happens. One could saythaton thislevelthecertainty
toJacquesLacan through
38.
See Slavoj Zifek,LookingAwry:An Introduction
PopularCulture(Cambridge: MIT Press, 1991).
39.
(1905), The StandardEdition,vol.
Sigmund Freud, Jokesand TheirRelationto theUnconscious
VIII, p. 92.
40.
"Je sais bien ... mais quand meme," in ClefspourL'Imaginaireou L'Autrescone(Paris: Seuil,
1969).

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"I Shall Be withYou on YourWedding-Night"

23

is opposed to the unconsciousbeliefas well.The fatefuleventsseem unavoidable


fromthe veryoutset,yetunconsciouslyone doesn't believe thatthe unavoidable
will happen.4' So there is a passage from "I know verywell ... yet I believe"
to "I don't reallybelieve . . yet I am certain."The mechanismof uncanniness
doesn't leave you any space foruncertaintyand hesitation.If thereis a structural
of espousing
hesitation,or floating,attachedto it,itcomes fromthe impossibility
the terriblecertainty-it would ultimatelyentail psychosis,an annihilation of
subjectivity.The apparent oscillationbetween knowledge and belief is rathera
strategyof postponement to defer the encounter with the Thing (a strategy
similarto obsessional neurosis). So forTodorov the fantasticcomes froma lack
of certaintyand is dissipated when certaintyis restored. From a Lacanian
perspectivethe uncanny comes fromtoo much certainty,when escape through
hesitationis no longer possible,when the object comes too close.
Todorov deals witha well-circumscribed
corpus of texts,a clearlycut realm
of the fantastic.Its beginningcoincides roughlywith the advent of modernity
and its scientificbackground; itsclosure, somewhatsurprisingly,
coincides with
the advent of psychoanalysis:"Psychoanalysishas replaced (and therebymade
superfluous) the fantasticliterature."42What appeared indirectlythrough the
fantasticcan be dealt withdirectlyby psychoanalysis.So psychoanalysisappears
to be the most fantasticof all fantastictales-the ultimatehorror story.
Such a conclusion seems ratherabrupt, but there is a sense in which one
the uncanny
mightagree. Psychoanalysiswas the firstto point out systematically
dimension pertainingto the veryproject of modernity,not in order to make it
disappear, but in order to maintain it, to hold it open. It is true that modern
literature had to develop other strategiesto deal with it, as Todorov points
out.43 But what is currentlycalled postmodernism-and this is one way to
disentangle the growing confusion around this term-is a new consciousness
about the uncannyas a fundamentaldimensionof modernity.44
It doesn't imply
a going beyond the modern, but rather an awareness of its internal limit,its
split, which was there from the outset. Lacan's object a may be seen as its
simplestand most radical expression.

41.
See Ziz'ek,LookingAwry,pp. 70-71.
42.
Todorov, The Fantastic,pp. 168-69.
43.
Todorov gives the paradigmaticexample of Kafka's "Metamorphosis,"where the source of
the uncanny is actually the very absence of uncanny effectsfollowingany uncanny event: the
supernatural is treated as natural, thus becoming "doubly" uncanny (p. 183). One could add that
Joyce uses the inverse strategyin Ulysses:the verycommonplace everydayevents of an entirely
"uneventful"day in Dublin are endowed withthe dignityof the Thing by theircomplex treatment
through language: the natural becomes "supernatural."
44.
to thisshiftby
Again, it is contemporarypopular culture thatdisplaysthe greatestsensitivity
its insistenceon and "workingthrough"the "fundamentalfantasies."The "returnof the uncanny"
currentlyappears to be its prevailingfeature.

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