I am currently teaching an online horror literature course in “Psychos and the Psyche” for graduate students in our MFA in Writing Popular Fiction program at Seton Hill University. This month we are studying Freud’s article on “Das Unheimlich” and reading a fascinating new anthology of horror fiction called The New Uncanny: Tales of Unease, edited by Sarah Eyre and Rah Page (Comma Press, 2008). The book features some of the best British horror authors alive, including Ramsey Campbell, Nicholas Royle, A.S. Byatt, Christopher Priest and many more…even Matthew Holness (whose double, Garth Merenghi, is echoed here). The book definitely deserved the 2008 Shirley Jackson Award for “Best Anthology” for its ambition, and it makes for an interesting study in all things Unheimlich.
The book, essentially, is a literary experiment. All its contributors were challenged to read Freud’s seminal essay on “The Uncanny,” and then write a fresh fictional interpretation in order to explore what the Uncanny might mean 100 years later — today — in the 21st century, “to update Freud’s famous checklist of what gives us the creeps.”
The introduction by Ra Page is an excellent survey of “The Uncanny” in its own right, discussing how Freud provided a “literary template…a shopping list of shivers” that horror writers have managed to return to again and again over the past century. Page explains Freud’s essay in one of the most clear and careful ways I’ve ever seen in print. When discussing the tales in The New Uncanny, Page notes that the majority of the stories feature either the double or the doll most often, and turns to another essay on the Uncanny — Rilke’s “Dolls: On the Waxwork Dolls of Lotte Pritzel” (1913) — to discover convincing reasons why. I love the way Page concludes the introduction: “[The Uncanny] puts us on edge — that place we really should be from time to time — and reminds us: it’s us that’s alive.”
Keeping with the experimental spirit of this book, I thought I’d ask my “Psychos and the Psyche” class to review the book as a group. I have assigned each classmate a specific story in the book, and asked them to write a response (in a comment to this blog entry) that addresses the following three questions:
1) How does the author try to “update” the Freudian Uncanny in this story?
2) Does the story succeed as a work of uncanny literature?
3) What does the story teach us about the Uncanny in today’s culture?
[Warning: spoilers are inevitable! SURPRISES WILL LIKELY BE GIVEN AWAY. And all rights and opinions belong to the commenting students themselves. They will appear intermittently between now and the deadline of Oct 6th.]
Update: You can read MY review of this book (with fewer spoilers) on The Goreletter here: “A Double-Take on The New Uncanny” — MAA
You can order The New Uncanny directly from Comma Press online (be careful to note the different options for overseas orders).