Heidegger on the uncanny as not feeling at home

Alienation, which in German is Entfremdung, is to make oneself feel estranged about something – and that can include one’s very own Dasein, such that, to use a common psychological example, one is overcome by a feeling of strangeness when, looking at oneself in the mirror, what is there is the Stimmung of not feeling quite at home with oneself: what Heidegger vividly describes in section 40 of Being and time as das Unheimliche. Its standard translation is “the uncanny”. As the negation of familiarity, comfort and security, the uncanny thrusts Dasein into a confrontation with “the nothing”, das Nichts, which unsettles in its nothingness (Nichtigkeit). In these uncomfortable, if not distressing, moments, Dasein becomes clearly aware of a fundamental aspect of being, which is its staying away from ground as Ab-grund, exemplified in the primordial event of a being like Dasein clearing itself authentically in an uncanny gap in the uneven ecstasis of existential time. Geworfenheit,which belongs to Dasein‘s temporalisation (Zeitigung), becomes the free fall of Dasein into the absence of everyday understanding of itself and of existence, where time bends and ceases to become an even line of now-points (Jetztpunkte). The next moment in Dasein‘s existence is now filled with uncertainty, which is not just another “now” and is the condition of Dasein‘s Angst for its inescapable mode of being as being-in-the-world. In short, through the uncanny, Dasein enters the meaningful crisis of a deep attunement to the world, which the illusory protection of everyday “idle talk” (Gerede) in the inauthentic company of “the they” (das Man) shields Dasein from.

One of the central teachings of Being and time is the disclosedness (Erschloßenheit) of Dasein as being-toward-death (Sein zum Tode) in its being-in-the-world. The ultimate horizon of Dasein‘s temporal (and temporalised) existence is death. The uncanny unsettles in the form of Angst because in the final analysis, death comes into play. The fulfilment of Dasein‘s potentiality-of-being (Seinkönnen), i.e. fullness in its ending as indicated in the German word for perfection as Vollendung, becomes a vulnerable directionality (Ausrichtung) in the ecstases of time as Dasein‘s understanding of death coincides with its discovery, through the authenticity of its Angst, the abyssal nature of being, which Dasein, as being-toward-death, itself is.

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2 thoughts on “Heidegger on the uncanny as not feeling at home

  1. Firstly, many thanks for answering the question! The answer is quite dense and I think I will have to struggle over it for a while. Secondly, in my understanding of “the uncanny”, I have often tied it with “doubling” or “the double”. So, taking the example of looking into the mirror, the feeling of uncanny may arise from looking at a double. ‘If I am here, how can I also be there.’ feeling that occurs just beneath the surface. The ‘existence’ of the mirror image challenges the certainty of my own existence. This particular reasoning of mine, I realise, ties in very nicely with this sentence: ” as the negation of familiarity, comfort and security, the uncanny thrusts Dasein into a confrontation with “the nothing”, das Nichts, which unsettles in its nothingness (Nichtigkeit)”. So, an experience of the double works at a deeper level as an experience of our ‘ab-grund’-ness. I think this reasoning also makes sense for the uncanniness of the deja vu. At least, this is how I’m making sense of the first part of your answer. The rest, I shall ponder upon! Especially, how the answer ties back into your previous post about disease and the uncanny.

  2. Thanks, Mel, for your insightful observation. While the “double” is not discussed in Being and time, I will find out for you whether Heidegger wrote on the highly fascinating topic of the Doppelgänger, which truly would be an uncanny phenomenon. In the hermeneutic phenomenology of Heidegger and Gadamer, reflection is mediated through tradition, context and prejudice, which make up Dasein‘s being-in-the-world and places it in the hermeneutic circle of understanding through interpretation.

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