Enchantment, possession and the uncanny in E.T.A. Hoffmann's ‘The Sandman’.
Date of Issue2012
College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
All enchantment is a form of possession: as love or religious belief, it can invest a person’s life with significance; but as revenge or fanaticism, it can also bring about a fundamental change in the subject’s personality. Few writers have explored the tension between these different forms of enchantment more intriguingly than the German Romantic writer E.T.A. Hoffmann (1776–1822). Der Sandmann (“The Sandman”; 1816) is one his best-known tales, partly because it gave rise to favourites of the ballet and opera repertoires – Delibes’ Coppelia (1870), and one of the self-contained acts of Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann (1881) – and partly owing to the enormous impact of the crucial section that Freud devoted to it in his essay on “The Uncanny” (1919). Although Freud’s views have been contested and re-articulated by a great many psychoanalytic critics, his essay continues to dominate literary discussion about this text. In this article, I show how a post-Jungian approach to Hoffmann’s celebrated text uncovers an unexpected reading of its concerns and a fresh way of thinking about narrative time. My aim is to propose that the tale has less to do with the events of Nathanael’s childhood than with the perils of enchantment in the present.
International journal of Jungian studies