Uncanny Attractions (by Stella Pierides)
I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of the Uncanny. Freud, the writer often associated with this concept, described the following uncanny experience when he came face to face with his own double. While travelling by train, Freud saw an elderly gentleman enter his sleeping compartment by mistake. Jumping up to let him know of his error, Freud realised it was his own image reflected in the mirror on the connecting door. He had found the appearance of what he thought was another man ‘thoroughly unpleasant.’ Without being frightened, he failed to recognise his ‘double.’ Or was the displeasure he felt, Freud wondered in the last note of his last chapter on “The Uncanny,” “perhaps a vestige of the archaic reaction to the ‘double’ as something uncanny?” He leaves us with a question, perhaps an encouragement to take this further ourselves.
Freud was not the first of course to link the concept of the ‘double’ with mirroring, the image in the mirror as well as the ‘other.’ Ever since Plato conceived of material reality as a poor representation of the true Forms, others have found man’s double in several contexts. In literature, for instance, Mary Shelley made the monster his creator’s ‘double’ and leaving him unnamed, led subsequent generations of readers to refer to him with the name of his creator: “Frankenstein.” Conrad, too, wrote the ‘double’ in his stories (e.g., in “The Secret Sharer”).
So what has this ‘uncanny’ and ‘double’ to do with haiku, and my theme of reader-oriented matters? If you read my previous posts, you may have noticed I like playing with ideas; though more thought games than thought experiments.
Let me throw this thought in the pot: Isn’t there in haiku a situation in which, when you come to the poem, you become slightly disoriented by the presentation of the two separate, juxtaposed ideas? (Remember the field of energy, in the previous post?) I think there is. The ‘cut’ and the pause in the juxtaposition of two ideas/images are device(s) which open up the extra perspective(s), depth, for the reader; they also create a sense of strangeness, a momentary, uncanny disorientation… until there is the spark of realization that transforms what was strange and uncanny into familiar and understood. Once resolved, the two initially puzzling parts of the poem appear to us the way Freud, relating that vignette, stood in front of his earlier self and its reflection; the way we stand in front of a Moore, a Hepworth, a Lucian Freud, or the narrator in Conrad’s novel and his secret sharer.
Are you with me? What do you make of the thought that the moment of insight or realization is preceded by the uncanny? That the uncanny in haiku involves being confronted by the juxtaposition of two on the surface unrelated – but on a deeper level related – ideas within a limited space? That the haiku moment does itself involve overcoming this sensation of the uncanny?
Finally, before I go, and in case you are interested, I’d like to mention a couple of places, amongst others, I like to visit for reading poetry, essays, information, learning, fun (in addition to ‘haiku matters’, haiku journals and the homepages of haiku societies!). Do let me know your favorites.
The The Haiku Foundation’s homepage and blog “Troutswirl.” On the same site, among many brilliant features, the THF “Haiku Registry” is the place to get a flavor of the work of haiku poets writing in various forms, from all over the world; the “Montage Archive” the “Book of the Week,” the “Per Diem: Daily Haiku” panel, and Per Diem Archive are my favorites (esp. since I help out with Per Diem!).
Also, World Kigo Database (whether you appreciate kigo or not), Graceguts, Issa’s Untidy Hut (esp. Small Press Friday and Wednesday Haiku), Shiki Kukai Temporary Archives, are full of essays, criticism, food for thought, poetry, poetry and poetry.
On this note, hopefully leaving you with more questions than answers, having raised smiles as well as eyebrows, I’d like to say a big thank you to Colin Stewart Jones, and goodbye to folks who found their way here, from both the writer and reader in me.
Photo and image manipulation: Stella Pierides