113th Annual Conference - Portland, Oregon
Friday, November 6 - Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Drive to Uncanny Satisfaction is Only A Childhood Memory

Cristina Rivera, San Diego State Univeristy

The Sandman is an old folktale passed down over generations, and by closely using a psychoanalytic approach to E.T.A Hoffmann’s version of The Sandman, the act of storytelling can be seen as concealing and repressing the truth for a child—creating a fear of the unknown that follows children into their adult lives.

Proposal: 

Using a psychoanalytic approach to E.T.A Hoffmann’s version of The Sandman, such as “The Uncanny” and “Instincts and Their Vicissitudes,” myths and storytelling can be seen to conceal and repress the truth for a child—creating a fear of the unknown that follows children into their adult lives that festers within the imagination. The Sandman is an old folktale passed down over generations, first published by Hoffman in 1816 as a dark adult tale and later published Hans Christian Andersen in 1842 as a child’s text. By deconstructing Nathanael’s childhood, Hoffmann’s protagonist, the swindling of truth shows how fantasy allows folktales to displace instinct and satisfaction into dark sexual forces. This also furthers the uncanny effect of the Sandman myth because he is the master of dreams, which means domination of the unconscious and seen explicitly through Nathanael’s character. Using Elaine Scarry’s depiction of the imagination alongside theories of psychoanalysis, the imagination as an instrument of instructions leads to discovering how the child’s tale became a vessel of terror fixated within the mind. The Sandman as a child’s folktale, with the intention of scarring children to follow orders, uncovers how fears are ultimately created within the child’s imagination and through Nathanael’s character as a disobedient child how the displacement of his solidity because of the tale evokes the restraint of bodily impulses to act with “good behavior” displacing satisfaction to other more abstract forms.  

            E. T. A Hoffman’s uncanny version of The Sandman connects a story of traumatic childhood events that manifest in Freud’s idea of the unconscious through repressive mechanisms suggesting the surfacing of sadomasochistic tendencies. This paper considers how E.T.A Hoffman’s The Sandman takes a child-friendly folklore and turns it an uncanny tale—implying the unconscious desire for satisfaction of the terrifying that begins with the story that is most distressing to hear as a child. The motive that can be interpreted from the main character Nathaniel first needs to be considered an element of his imagination. By looking at Elaine Scarry’s interpretation of imagination, the internalization of the object controlling Nathaniel’s mind is something previously learned from an outside source. Nathaniel learns of the Sandman from a childhood story—a tell intended for children to learn a didactic message of obedience. The folktale describes a sweet Sandman who gives dreams to good children. This paper will highlight the sexual elements of the Sandman’s mythical interactions with children and how the main character Nathaniel has a tainted imagination after. Through Freud’s idea of instinct, Nathaniel’s first interaction with this imagined Sandman character expresses a reversal of instincts described as sadomasochism. In Nathanael’s case, unconscious mechanism created in his childhood developed into a narcissistic battle for his own ego. I will argue that through a psychoanalytic explanation of how sadistic masochism tendencies develop through an instinctual drive and Scarry’s connection of imagination and correlation this holds to objects, Nathanael’s hatred can only be turned into a seduction of the uncanny within his own unconscious.