Thursday, February 21, 2013

Towards a definition of the Uncanny

By Briana Whiteside

Trying to create a new definition for the uncanny can be a daunting task; perhaps its unstable definition of familiar yet unfamiliar provided by psychologist Sigmund Freud is sufficient. For my purposes, I define “uncanny” as an unusual, mysterious, strange, or even supernatural trait or set of traits that that makes a figure stand out in a given environment. Uncanny can also refer to power, strength, and defiance in characters who refuse to conform to norms.

Although my work focuses on uncanny black women characters in fiction, I acknowledge that uncanny characters and people emerge in many different contexts, and they take on multiple forms. A character that is viewed in one environment as uncanny may not be viewed that way in another environment. Communities and environments have a way of shaping our views of the uncanny because within those normal spaces readers have the ability to distinguish what does not belong.

I believe that black women characters in fiction are more than resilient, child-rearing fixers, but they are astonishing, extraordinary, unpredictable women whose presence encourages and somehow greatly influences other women and men in their narrative. The cliché “strong black woman” character type sounds good for five seconds, but on the sixth second, readers are looking for something new. Perhaps uncanny black women offer a possibility.

Briana Whiteside is a graduate student in English at SIUE and a contributing writer for the Cultural Front. 

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