TRIBES THAT DON’T EXIST

Robert Macfarlane, The Old Ways, Penguin, 2012

The Old Ways is a fascinating account of some of the paths that Robert Macfarlane has taken during his exploration of ancient byways and strange landscapes, and some of the people he has encountered on his travels.

One such is the artist Steve Dilworth.  He lives with his wife in the challenging environment of the Outer Hebrides – on Harris, where, Macfarlane tells us, they can “live cheaply in a landscape of animal rituals, megaliths, weather dramas and excellent malt whiskies”.  Macfarlane refers to the artist’s studio as the “lair of a demented magus”, containing as it does the materials he finds around the island – skeletons of birds, their feathers, bones of whales, porpoises, and sheep, minerals and rocks, fossilised wood, water, eggs, air and sand.  Out of these diverse elements, Dilworth fashions what he describes as “ritual objects for a tribe that doesn’t exist”. Continue reading

JANE EYRE

In his essay The Uncanny,  Freud sets out to explore and define exactly what is is that what we identify as instances of the uncanny have in common.

He begins by exploring the origin of the word.  The German for uncanny is unheimlich, which is the opposite of heimlich, which means homely, or familiar.  Therefore, he argues, it is tempting to conclude “that what is ‘uncanny’ is frightening precisely because it is not known and familiar.” However, although some new things might be frightening, not all are.  So he determines that “something has to be added to what is novel and unfamiliar in order to make it uncanny.”

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THE PERSONAL UNCANNY

It was a sunny summer day in around 1980, and I was sitting upstairs in our small house, a modern “link-detached” (that is, not detached at all), in the spare bedroom, sitting at my sewing table and machining away, running up something to wear that evening, as we often did then.  It was a repetitive task that didn’t require too much concentration, and I was daydreaming the afternoon away.

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A VIEW FROM A HILL

by M R James

A View from a Hill

A View from a Hill

THERE’S MORE TO THIS THAN MEETS THE EYE ….

Here’s an uncanny tale.

An academic, Mr Fanshawe, is enjoying a summer visit to a new friend in the country, Squire Richards.  He cycles the two miles from the station to the Squire’s residence, and after tea, the Squire suggests a walk in the surrounding park, so that the visitor can get his bearings for wider exploration during his stay.  Mr Fanshawe borrows a pair of binoculars – old fashioned, heavy things, in a box with sharp corners on which he cuts himself as he struggles to open it.

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THE LOST DOG

by Michelle de Kretser

Tom Loxley, an Anglo-Indian academic living in Melbourne, loses his dog in the bush, and then, eight days later, finds his dog, but not before de Kretser has taken us into Tom’s inter-continental history, and his mothers’ current failing health and difficult relationship with her sister; his growing obsession with Nelly Zhang, an artist with a secret past; and his developing relationships with Nelly’s circle of bohemian friends. Continue reading

THE UNCANNY SENSE OF BEING WATCHED

Imagine: an early summer day in the country, and you’re enjoying a view over a golden landscape dotted with the vibrant colours of wild flowers.  The sun is warming your back and a light breeze eddies through the long grass.  You’re rambling along the edge of a field, listening to the birdsong from the hedgerow, contentedly daydreaming about the lazy afternoon ahead.

But now – you have to climb a wooded hillside.  You pass under the trees, and the canopy blocks the sunlight.  No birds sing here, and the air is still.  You venture forward, but you can’t make out a path.  You turn to the right and then the left.  It’s not clear which way you need to go.  You feel a little anxious, and suddenly sense that someone is watching you. Continue reading