Conference ICI Berlin


Techniques of the Uncanny

Apr 2009

The aim of this interdisciplinary workshop is to re-assess the Freudian concept of the ›uncanny‹ in relation to its reverberations in literature, arts, aesthetics and politics. Built upon a tension between familiarity and non-familiarity, the ›uncanny‹ is characterized by a peculiarly floating and undetermined nature, thereby allowing to re-discuss it as a model for understanding the interrelation between possible and impossible, norm and deviation in a given culture.

Evening events:

  • Monday 6th: Elisabeth Bronfen (Zürich), Visuality – Textuality: An Uncanny Encounter
  • Tuesday 7th: Premiere of the short experimental narrative film The Dangers (Siouxzi L. Mernagh, 2009)
  • Wednesday 8th: Anneleen Masschelein (Leuven), Between Animism and Animation: The Challenges of the Uncanny As (Un)concept in the Twentieth and Twenty-first Century

Texts were circulated among attendants before the beginning of the workshop, in order to build up a basis for discussion.
Further information and the programme can be found at


Concept: Fabio Camilletti, Martin Doll, Rupert Gaderer, Jan Niklas Howe, Paula Schwebel

The workshop was conceived within the core project Tension/Spannung at the ICI Kulturlabor Berlin and was conducted in collaboration with the Friedrich Schlegel Graduate School of Literary Studies (FU Berlin).

Public Lecture: Bronfen, Visuality - Textuality: An Uncanny Encounter, Apr 6, 2009

Given that visuality is as much part of all narration as the fact that we view images by reading them as though they were texts, I propose speaking about an uncanny encounter between the two. So as to illustrate this mutual implication, as well as bring in a thematics of the spectral, as Freud suggests all experiences of the uncanny entail, I will offer a cross-mapping between three different media at three different historical moments: A novella by the late Victorian author Charlotte Perkins Gilman, a series of photographs by the late modern photographer Francesca Woodman, and a film by the postmodern film maker Amenabar.

Elisabeth Bronfen
is Professor of English and American Studies at the University of Zurich. She did her PhD at the University of Munich, on literary space in the work of Dorothy M. Richardson's novel Pilgrimage, as well as her habilitation, five years later. A specialist in the 19th and 20th century literature she has also written articles in the area of gender studies, psychoanalysis, film, cultural theory and art.
The most recent publication is a book on the cultural configurations of the night, published in German: Tiefer als der Tag Gedacht. Eine Kulturgeschichte der Nacht. It will be published in English by Columbia University Press. Current research projects include a book on Hollywood and War (forthcoming with Rutgers University Press), an introduction to the writings of Stanley Cavell, and a book on Queen Elizabeth I. as the first diva.

Premiere Screening: The Dangers, Apr 7, 2009

A subconscious narrative film written and directed by Siouxzi L. Mernagh

Screening followed by a discussion led by Daniel Eschkötter (Weimar) and an after-Screening Reception.

The Dangers | 18 mins | HD
'The most dangerous plaything is woman...'
A mysterious hotel. Two inexplicable doppelgängers. A woman in need of danger.
There are many things lurking in corners. Alice takes Hugo to a party in the penthouse suite. But they are already there. They have, unknowingly, been visitors before here and in places like this. There is a lot of blood - and whisperings beyond them.

Siouxzi L Mernagh is a filmmaker originally from Sydney and was undertaking a fellowship with the ICI. Through the fellowship she is exploring the concept of 'subconscious narrative filmmaking' with her work 'The Dangers', an 18 minute short film based on a nightmare. Siouxzi has previously written, directed, produced and designed six short films and is currently developing a 'subconscious narrative' feature film set in Berlin.

Public Lecture: Masschelein, Between Animism and Animation, Apr 8, 2009

The Challenges of the Uncanny as (Un)concept in the Twentieth and Twenty-first Century

In my talk I will outline the curious conceptualization of the uncanny between various disciplines, a concept that only very gradually managed to move to the centre of what is called 'theory' and that has always remained in close contact with the margin of this field on the one hand and with the realm of creative production on the other hand. The concept of the uncanny is marked by hybridity and by a certain fleetingness. Although the uncanny sometimes seems omnipresent, the concept is perpetually being questioned in theory. In particular I will zoom in on the evolution from the uncanny's relation to animism at the end of the 19th century to the realm of robotics, virtual reality and animation in the 21st century.

Anneleen Masschelein
is a lecturer at the University of Leuven in Belgium, in the department of literary theory and cultural studies. She is also a postdoctoral research fellow at the Flanders research fund. Currently, she is finalizing her book on the conceptualization of the uncanny in 20th century theory, which is due to appear with SUNY University Press by the end of this year. She has also just finished a book on cultural studies in Dutch, that discusses contemporary cultural 'myths' ranging from google books to surveillance and tattoos.

Additional Material

Anneleen Masschelein, HANDINGLOVE. Negative Indexicality in André Breton’s Nadja and W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz (PDF, 472 KB)

Anneleen Maschelein, The Concept as Ghost: Conceptuaization of the Uncanny in Late-Twentieth-Century Theory (PDF, 1,7 MB)

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