Uncanny Encounters

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ISBN 978-0-8101-3211-5

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ISBN 978-0-8101-3210-8

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ISBN 978-0-8101-3209-2
Publication Date
February 2016
Page Count
280 pages
Trim Size
6 x 9

Uncanny Encounters

Literature, Psychoanalysis, and the End of Alterity
John Zilcosky

Around 1900, when the last blank spaces on their maps were filled, Europeans traveled to far-flung places hoping to find the spectacularly foreign. They discovered instead what Freud called, several years later, the uncannily familiar: disturbing reflections of themselves—either actual Europeans or Westernized natives. This experience was most extreme for German travelers, who arrived in the contact zones late, on the heels of other European colonialists, and it resulted not in understanding or tolerance but in an increased propensity for violence and destruction. The quest for a “virginal,” exotic existence proved to be ruined at its source, mirroring back to the travelers demonic parodies of their own worst aspects. In this strikingly original book, John Zilcosky demonstrates how these popular “uncanny” encounters influenced Freud’s—and the literary modernists’—use of the term, and how these encounters remain at the heart of our cross-cultural anxieties today.

About the Author

JOHN ZILCOSKY is a professor of German and comparative literature at the University of Toronto. His previous publications include Kafka’s Travels: Exoticism, Colonialism, and the Traffic of Writing (2003), winner of the MLA’s 2004 Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize, and Writing Travel: The Poetics and Politics of the Modern Journey (2008).

"Zilcosky (Univ. of Toronto) maps out striking interdisciplinary connections among early-20th-century German literature, Freud's psychoanalytic theories, the emerging field of anthropology, and international travel. Highly recommended."  —CHOICE
“A stimulating and thought-provoking book.” —Journal of European Studies

"John Zilcosky’s Uncanny Encounters: Literature, Psychoanalysis, and the End of Alterity argues that in the works of early twentieth-century German literature, modernist and popular, there are “uncanny encounters” in which Europeans find not an Orientalized or otherwise reified Other but instead, shockingly, versions of themselves, either actual Europeans or Europeanized natives. The result is not, however, understanding or tolerance, but rather an increased propensity for violence and destruction, as the quest for an exoticized existence, innocent, traditional, and sacred, is shown to be already ruined at the source, reflecting back at them the demonic parodies of their own worst aspects. This is an original and striking book."  —Daniel O'Hara, author of Empire Burlesque: The Fate of Critical Culture in Global America

"Uncanny Encounters is a wonderfully authoritative book, filled with superb readings of travel books rarely discussed or known, combined with original analyses of more canonical authors like Hesse, Mann, Musil, and von Hofmannstahl.”  —Jean-Michel Rabaté, author of Psychoanalysis and the Subject of Literature and Crimes of the Future: Theory and Its Global Reproduction

"Highly recommended."CHOICE