Freud, Hoffmann, and the Death-Work
Chapter Twelve considers Freud’s 1919 essay “The Uncanny” contemporary with the incubation of the emergent concepts of the Death Instinct and the Superego. It locates these in the motifs of the repetition-compulsion and the double Freud cites as sources of the uncanny. It argues that Freud’s essay with its reading of Hoffmann’s The Sandman as an instance of the uncanny is a thought experiment for his playing out in displaced form of the theoretical crisis that produced the Death Instinct, as he did with his turn to the tragedies of Sophocles and Shakespeare in the theoretical crisis of the seduction theory of 1897. Freud again chooses a text structured around a traumatic primal scene and its repetition in the form of the supernatural figure of the Sandman who haunts and possess the protagonist, comparable to the daemon in Oedipus and the ghost in Hamlet. He again gives a normalizing ‘Ptolemaic’ oedipal reading that reduces the figure of the other who embodies the repetition-compulsion to the spontaneous impulses of the protagonist. Like Chapter Five, Chapter Nine undertakes a ‘Copernican’ traumatological reading of The Sandman and its companion tale of the death drive manifested in a repeated primal scene, Mademoiselle de Scudery.
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