Travelling into the unconscious and performing desire in E.T.A. Hoffmann's and W. Beckford's 'night' works

Stefania Acciaioli


Far from being a mere ‘genre’ with typical motifs, the ‘fantastic’ is rather a literary ‘way’ of expressing, indirectly and allusively, almost seductively and dream-like, a personal confrontation with the ineffable inexplicableness of the ‘imaginary’. He who trespasses its threshold finds himself inevitably swallowed up in a whirl progressively winding up and attracting him towards the unknown world of the confrontation between the Self and the Other. As a consequence, he feels “in dire suspense”, because the bordering experience of the ‘fantastic-uncanny’ leaves his reasonable paradigms at ‘checkmate’. Hoffmann and Beckford’s works explore the spaces of the unconscious and the “rhetoric of the inexpressible” in a mirrored way. By entering the ‘dimidiate’, subversive world of the ‘fantastic-uncanny’, they begin their journey within the Self, which, proves to be a skilled performance of desire. The comparative analysis of Die Elixiere des Teufels and Vathek shows how impulses are represented through the insistent motifs of the abyss and the double, which are present at various levels not only in these two novels, but also in the entire works of the authors. Here, they are constantly redoubled and intensified, as if in a spiral, thus representing Freud’s most uncanny concept of “repeating constriction”.



Desire; Transgression; Hoffmann; Beckford; Fantastic-Uncanny

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