Anxiety poses serious problems in regards to the phenomenological conception of perceptual awareness: what is the particular mode of “givenness” proper to the experience in anxiety? Is the existentialist tradition right to understand anxiety in relation to or in opposition with fear (i.e., as a sort of object-less fear)? The work of Lacan in his Anxiety Seminar (1962-1963) challenges the notion that anxiety can be understood in relation to fear, and it offers a novel way of addressing the troublesome phenomenological problem of anxiety’s object-relation. The formula that he puts forward, and which we explore in this essay, is that “anxiety is not without an object”. As a point of reference, the essay explores the properties of a curious topological object that greatly interests Lacan – viz. the Möbius strip – in order to shed light on a very peculiar class of phenomena, viz. uncanny phenomena. The overall aim is to show how the category of uncanny phenomena comprises a field of experience that forces us to revise the basic eidetic categories of Husserlian and existentialist phenomenology.
The Turn of the Screw (1898) is one of the most Gothic short stories ever written by modernist author Henry James. Its effect on the reader can be quite unnerving, uncanny even. Though Sigmund Freud’s essay on The Uncanny (1919a) has often been used by scholars of Gothic literature to define and explain certain thematic aspects of these stories (the double, castration anxiety, repetition compulsion, and so on), the uncanny in The Turn of the Screw goes further than the usual suspects. Rather then confining it to the eerie appearance of ghosts or the declining mental state of the tale’s female narrator, the uncanny in James’s complex story can be traced back to something more fundamental that is both tangible and elusive at the same time: the actual text supporting the story – or failing to do so. Reconsidering Freud’s notion of the uncanny from a basic Lacanian perspective will help to explore a dark, distressing dimension of textual language that can otherwise be easily overlooked.