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Das Unheimliche: Lacanian Perspectives of the Uncanny & Paranormal Experiences !

WEBLEY, Stephen (2016) Das Unheimliche: Lacanian Perspectives of the Uncanny & Paranormal Experiences ! In: SPR Annual Conference, Leeds University. (Unpublished)

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Das Unheimliche – Uncanny Homes & the Trauma of Post-Ideology: Psychoanalytic Perspectives of the Uncanny, Modern Anxiety, & New Age Occultism!
Steve Webley – Staffordshire University
“If I had my time to live over again I should devote myself to psychical research rather than to psychoanalysis.”
Sigmund Freud
“Occultism is another field we shall have to conquer…. There are strange and wondrous things in these lands of darkness.”
Carl Jung
"In man, there's already a crack, a profound perturbation of the regulation of life..."
Jacques Lacan
Psychoanalysis has a natural tolerance for exploring the crepuscular irrational expanses of the mind and its psychic constellations that organize our desires, how we relate to others in our lives, and ultimately how we choose to enjoy ourselves. Freud’s and Jung’s interests in the occult are well known, and it is widely accepted by analysts that the paranormal has relevance to psychoanalysis and clinical practice. (Totton 2003) Freud’s dimension of das Unheimliche is located at the heart of psychoanalysis. It is the dimension where all the dictums of psychoanalysis from all its doctrines come together; a dimension where a diversity of theory, research problems and clinical practice coexist. As such das Unheimliche offers insights into the original project at the heart of psychoanalysis and the human condition itself.(Dollar 1991)
Freud's concept involves the standard German negation of the word Heimlich- homely, and is thus suggested to infer its opposite - Unhomely. Implied within Heimlich is the concept of hidden, and by extension, what is hidden may be threatening, fearful, occult — uncanny. The anxiety of das Unheimliche occurs exactly at the point that the two terms come together, at the point of negation. What is homely can in a sublime instant insist in its true guise that negates any barriers between subject/object, animate/inanimate, and psychic/real. Freud's Unheimliche is the central "Knot" of universal human experience, a dimension that emerged within subjectivity and haunts humanity in unity with societal change and erupts in popular culture at times of social and cultural uncertainty. (Dollar 1991)
Popular culture abounds with films, TV and video games that explore the unhomely, and there is a resurgence of the occult practices of séances and divination utilizing modern technology. There is a plethora of reality TV shows detailing the exploits of professional ghost hunters, and ghost hunting events and associated social media attract millions of followers; hunting ghosts is so popular it is now pertinent to ask just who is haunting who! However, there is a paucity of psychoanalytic studies of the paranormal. To-date only three books published since the 1970s explore this field and muted psychoanalytic perspectives range across a spectrum from the near-open acceptance of the Jungians to the staunchly skeptical Lacanians. (Devereux 1974), (Totton 2003) & (Frosh 2013)
Working from Lacan’s later teachings on the sinthome, the fundamental phantasy, and his ideas of ideology, this analysis considers a model for juxtaposing paranormal experiences with Lacan’s topological paradigm of human subjectivity and experience. Utilizing autoethnographic case-studies of paranormal investigation groups this study frames paranormal experiences as a necrological discourse, revolving around anxiety, trauma and neuroses, situated within the Lacanian Symbolic order. Research was carried out by working with several different paranormal investigation groups, each of which had clearly different modus operandi, ranging from technical scientific to spiritualist medium, and clearly defined subjective a priori beliefs systems. These groups were then followed as they repeatedly investigated the same location at regular intervals over a two-year period. The location chosen was the Drakelow complex of tunnels situated in Worcestershire. Drakelow is a multilayered historical site comprising of Iron Age fort and dwellings, a long history of cave and rock home habitation, and a Victorian alms village, whilst the underground site comprises of 8km of tunnels that were both a WW2 armaments factory and then a Cold War governmental nuclear bunker. A large amount of data was collected ranging from photographs of alleged manifestations, to séances leading to the witnessing of alleged possessions, and alleged intelligent poltergeist activity. Tentative conclusions must account for a range of factors, including the suggestibility of the paranormal groups, their public followers, and this researcher. However, it would seem that the modus operandi and a priori belief systems of those present has a direct correlation on the nature of the alleged phenomena reported.
Due to the nature of Drakelow research was also undertaken into the local area and the sites long history. Drakelow has a unique history entwined with the local village that oscillates between the mythic and the folkloric; its history has become unconsciously embedded in the locality and investigating groups often found themselves repeating local lore unbeknownst to themselves. Ultimately, das Unheimliche is not just the paranormal; it is a distinct but interdependent discourse of Real singular energy that has implications for the Imaginary order of our personalities and Symbolic social existences. Whilst manifesting as particular, singular, and universal paranormal experiences das Unheimliche and its phenomenon have the flavor of psychosis, but they are structured as a language that speaks, through the transference of unconscious and primary processes, of trauma and the cynical and fetishistic disavowal of the injunctions inscribed in our modern lives. In short, we cynically refuse to accept the Uncanny and its rightful place in the very heart of the ideological survival space we call society, and we are thus condemned to suffer the trauma of the repetitive cycle of anxiety and its repression – through our enjoyment of phantasy in popular culture we exorcise the hungry ghosts in the psychic home we call the human condition.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Lecture)
Additional Information: For access to the PowerPoint slides please contact
Faculty: School of Computing and Digital Technologies > Games and Visual Effects
Event Title: SPR Annual Conference
Event Location: Leeds University
Depositing User: Stephen WEBLEY
Date Deposited: 26 Jul 2019 08:52
Last Modified: 24 Feb 2023 13:56

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