Entering the Uncanny Valley – a second earth under our feet.

The narrator of Edward Bulwer-Lyttons book “The Coming Race” enters an unknown and utopian world beneath the surface of the earth, describing in detail his encounters. It is interesting that he starts using comparisons with the things he knows and that belong to the world he has lost. But after a while the things he tries to relate to in terms of comparison, turn strange and odd. The deer is not what it appeared to be at first and the first human he encounters, that he interestingly first describes as a “form” and then tries with help of a scale to put him in relation to the human race as he knows it, turns unfamiliar and oscillating between the known and the unknown, turns to be threatening (Sigmund Freuds term of the “un-heimlich”, as the former home that is lost and thus becomes eerie is a fruitful reference here to think with and links ofer to the Uncanny Valley, a term connected to Artificial Reality. See: See Edward Bulwer-Lyttons: The Coming Race. British Library, 1871, p 14;. Sigmund Freud: Das Unheimliche. In: Ders.: Studienausgabe, Bd. IV. Psychologische Schriften. Hg. v. Alexander Mitscherlich, Angela Richards, James Strachey. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main, 1982).

Posthuman ideas can be found for example in the idea of the vril – a limitless source of energy which is essential to the Vril-ya, which is used for healing, as well as for communication, even telepathy.

John Martin (1789–1854): Pandemonium, ca. 1825. In Coming Race wird die Architektur der Vril-ya mit den Bildern John Martins verglichen
John Martin (1789–1854): Pandemonium, ca. 1825. 

With help of that force the Vril-ya even operate robot-like “automata” that perform minor work such as cleaning. Thus the idea of constructing nonhuman automata that extend the human in ways such as overtaking special tasks, is anticipated here.




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3 Comments on "Entering the Uncanny Valley – a second earth under our feet."

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Mads Søndergaard

Interesting observations, yet I’m curious how you’d distinguish ”unheimlich” from the ”uncanny valley”; are they the exact same phenomenon, and if not, then what is the progenitor of either (if both are indeed still represented?)

Some might, for example, argue that ”unheimlich” is linked more with the ”atmosphere” of a given narrative; the odd sensation that something isn’t exactly like it ought to be.
Conversely, they might argue that the ”uncanny valley” is linked more with the ”interactions” of a given narrative; the feeling that a given individual is themselves not as they should be, despite an otherwise friendly atmosphere.

Claudia Bubke
Dear Desiree, the link you drew to the “unheimlich” also reminds me of various concepts of nostalgia. This longing for home (or a time) that never was the way one remembers and never will be like that again (cf. Boym, Svetlana. „Nostalgia and its Discontents“. The Hedgehog Review. 29 (Summer 2007)). With these two ideas in mind, it could also be argued that although Bulwer-Lytton is at first impressed by the posthuman features of the Ana, he always returns to what is familiar to him (i.e. home), not being able to fully comprehend what lies ahead, as you so fittingly… Read more »