Phantasmata: Techniques of the Uncanny (Workshop, ICI-Berlin)

Berlin Institute for Cultural Inquiry
Closing date for submissions: 
15 January, 2009
Event dates: 
06.04.2009 - 08.04.2009


Techniques of the Uncanny

(Workshop, ICI-Berlin - 6th-8th April 2009) 


Evening events are public. We kindly ask those interested in attending the workshop to register in advance by e-mail ( For further information, please visit the workshop website at the address


Workshop Programme

Monday, April 6th

15.00-18:30 I Constellations
Chair: Christoph Holzhey

- Michaela Wünsch (Berlin) Uncanny Thinking

- Monika Shafi (Delaware) Houses and the Uncanny in Contemporary German Literature
- Roman Widholm (Vienna) Uncanny Methods for Uncanny People: How Behaviorism Approaches the Subject of Autism

19.00 Public Event
- Welcome (Christoph Holzhey, ICI Berlin)

- Keynote: Elisabeth Bronfen (Zürich) Visuality - Textuality: An Uncanny Encounter

Casual Reception

Tuesday, April 7th

10:00-13:30 II After-Image(s)
Chair: Fabio Camilletti

- Hécate Vergopoulos (Avignon/Montréal) Uncanny, but Towards What? A Referential Approach to the Uncanny Based on the
- Study of Legends

- Tan Wälchli (Chicago) «Living Images» and Literary Technique: E.T.A. Hoffmann at the Intersection of Theology and Philosophy
- Orsetta Innocenti (Siena) Self Made Phantasmata and «Bleak» Houses. The 19th Victorian Society and its Well-Hidden Ghosts
- Giuseppe Episcopo (Naples) The Medieval Selva and the Postmodern Zone: The Locus Horridus as Spatial Dimensions of the Uncanny

15:00-18:30: III Creating Spectres
Chair: Rupert Gaderer

- Elisa Leonzio (Turin) «Er hatte eine Wasserscheu vor Gespenstergeschichten»: The Ghost Story in Late Eighteenth-Century. Germany in the Light of Jean Paul’s Novel Die Unsichtbare Loge

- Victoria Llort-Llopart (Paris/Madrid) Aesthetics of the Uncanny Across the Arts: The Case of E.A. Poe and Claude Debussy
- Morena Corradi (New York) Staging the Uncanny. Phantasmagoria in Post-Unification Italy
- Catrin Misselhorn (Tübingen) Empathy and the Uncanny Valley

19:00 Public Event
The Dangers, short experimental narrative film by Siouxzi L Mernagh (Berlin/Sydney). Discussion led by Daniel Eschkötter (Weimar).

After-Screening Reception

Wednesday, April 8th

10:00-13:30: IV Figures

Chair: Jan Niklas Howe

- Simona Micali (Siena) The Disobedient Shadow

- Claudia Peppel (Berlin) Lifelike yet Impassive: The Puppet as a Transmutable Embodiment of Human Reality
- Vita Zilburg (Berlin) Engführung as a Case Study of Paul Celan’s Poetics of the Uncanny
- Laurie Johnson (Illinois) Uncanny Love: Schelling’s Meditations on the Spirit World
15:00-18:30: V Political Phantoms
Chair: Martin Doll

- Christine Blaettler (Potsdam/Berlin) Walter Benjamin’s Phantasmagoria and the Aesthetical-Political Dialectics of the Un-Canny

- Matthias Korn (Berlin) On the Uncanniness of Death: Bio-Power in Venice between Modern Age and Modernity
- Sandra Evans (Tübingen) Intangible Notions of the Uncanny
- Jaime Cuenca (Bilbao) The Political Potential of the Uncanny: The Zombie as a Metaphor for the Consumer
19:00 Public Event
Keynote: Anneleen Masschelein (Leuven) Between Animism and Animation: The Challenges of the Uncanny as (Un)concept in the Twentieth and Twenty-first Century


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The concept of the ‘uncanny’ is one of the most floating in contemporary aesthetics. The ‘uncanny’ delineates a strange proximity between the known and the unknown, either as something familiar presenting itself under an extraneous shape, or as something extraneous revealing an element of familiarity in its features. Structurally close to other experiences of ‘defamiliarization’ theorized between the 19th and the early 20th centuries (e.g., the Marxist notion of ’alienation‘, Russian formalists’ definition of ostranenie (Sklovskij), Heidegger’s Unheimlichkeit, Brecht’s ‘A-effect’), it reverberates in 20th century debate, from psychoanalysis (Lacan) to deconstruction (Derrida, Royle), from literary theory (Todorov, Cixous, Kristeva) to philosophy of history (de Certeau), and eventually to architecture (Vidler). In our perspective, the tension individuated by Freud between familiarity/un-familiarity (homely/unhomely, Heimlichkeit/Unheimlichkeit) can still be used as an approximate framework in which to place the manifold aspects of uncanniness. Specifically, the semantic area of the ‘house’ (Heim, intended as the perimeter of familiarity) can be interpreted as a ‘semiotic code’, namely as a constellation of sign relationships defining a horizon of expectation in which interactions, causes, and effects, seem to follow a series of rules. From this point of view, the uncanny is related to scientific paradigms and epistemological practices, insofar as these define what a given cultural context interprets as natural or un-natural, or rather super-natural. 

The two keywords of our proposal – ‘techniques’ and ‘uncanny’ – are interconnected, since they both refer to a common cultural background, namely that of Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment western culture. The epistemological model of critique produces a number of techniques in the sense of both structured thought and scientific practices. In the ‘culture of critique’, the subject is split, as reflected in the double genitive in the expression ‘subject of observation’. This causes a constant abstraction from individual experience to a common and collective level.We therefore propose to interpret the uncanny as a model for understanding the interrelation between possible and impossible, norm and deviation. Papers on (aspects of) the following areas of inquiry are particularly welcome: 

1.         *The uncanny as a transformation and secularization of pre-Enlightenment metaphysics*. 

Our inquiry aims at the relationship between the ‘traditional’ supernatural (religious, theological, exoteric, superstitious, mythical) and the uncanny as the ‘after-image’ of its metamorphosis through the critical process of the Enlightenment. 

2.         *Staging the uncanny in literature and the arts*.

Specific topics of the uncanny (monsters, ghosts, Homunculi, doubles, haunted houses) can be considered, as well as the media techniques used to produce uncanny effects (automata, phantasmagorias, photography, cinema). ‘Uncanny techniques’ can refer both to concrete objects and to narratology and poetics. 

3.         *The uncanny as a political topos*.

The concept indicates both repetitive structures and situations of unhomeliness within/alienation from contemporary world. The uncanny as a ‘return of the repressed’ (e.g. being haunted by the ghost of the past, the spectre of idealism, the phantom of human essence) can be understood as crucial for political theory and practice in which the past and the future collide. The uncanny can thus be examined as an imaginary providing a basis for political diagnoses and utopias. 

This conference is organized within the frame of the Berlin Institute for Cultural Inquiry’s current core project Tension/Spannung (, in collaboration with the Friedrich Schlegel Graduate School of Literary Studies, Freie Universität, Berlin ( It aims to gather scholars and artists from different disciplines and backgrounds to engage in a three-day interdisciplinary workshop, where participants are expected to present their papers (15 minutes). Texts will circulate among attendants before the beginning of the workshop, in order to build up the basis for discussion. The workshop will be complemented by the participation of keynote speakers as well as the projection of a movie by Siouxzi L Mernagh (, followed by a discussion. 

Please send an abstract (maximum 400 words), together with a short bio-bibliographical profile to before 15th January 2009. An answer will be given before 1st February 2009, and a program will be published soon on Participants will be requested to submit their texts by 15th March. 


Fabio Camilletti (ICI-Berlin/University of Birmingham)
Martin Doll (ICI-Berlin/Goethe Universität, Frankfurt-am-Main)
Rupert Gaderer (ICI-Berlin)
Jan Niklas Howe (Friedrich Schlegel Graduate School for Literary Studies, Freie Universität Berlin)
Siouxzi L Mernagh (ICI-Berlin)
Paula Schwebel (University of Toronto)

Call_for_papers_Phantasmata.doc36.5 KB