PHO705: Beyond the Unheimlich

This reading is used to extend research-driven practice into Beyond the Unheimlich (Fisher, 2016)

The Weird

A quality of the weird is the presence that does not belong. (Fisher, 2016) Page 61

The subject matter here is uncanny and although it is an essay about literature falling into the categories of the weird or eerie, the text relates to the photo project and the author’s experience. In creating imagery in the abstract, an image, that is strangely familiar emerges. The photograph of healing that translated into a seascape, reminiscent of the mudflats off of the Solway Coast. This place is in the southern Scottish lands, once lived in and where the historic research and photography was conducted. The German unheimlich relates to a feeling of the creepy. Unheimlich is used by Freud as a such creates a bias in meaning. This makes it difficult to focus on variations in the translation, it seems. Unhomely is one preferred example overtaken by Freud’s writing.

An obstruction found by (Fisher, 2016) Page 8 is an association with the genres of Horror and Science Fiction from which the author goes on to write of the common feature of “The strange – not the horrific.” and then to highlight the fascination for what “lies beyond standard perception, cognition and experience.”

Although abstract outputs of the photo project often have a sense of that which is there that would not be expected to be there, the result when colourful creates a sense of pleasure in the viewer as sensed at a recent Exhibition at which additional work, that which did not make the final edit, was shown.

In (Fisher, 2016) Page 39 there is a quotation from Zizek observing a condition of overtaking or “transference to find ourselves at a later point which we have already been.” The photo project, by contrast, collapses time into a moment. The present becomes linked to a past time one hundred years ago. Simultaneously, those from one hundred years ago transfer into the contemporary moment and this is where a psychological identification takes place from the present to those from the past. In this, the dead remain dead but the story that their lives contained becomes present. There is a knowing that their wounds healed by the same source of mitochondria that our connected flesh experience in healing.

(ibid) Page 40. Unlike in the 1969 novella, Behold the Man, the prospect of transporting back 2000 years to live the life of Christ including his crucifixion is barred. The photo project theme is based on common mitochondria passed down the maternal line. There would need to be a connection through the matriarchy back to Mary Magdelaine would never become proven. Such events are of course far beyond the project scope which only has certainty over a recorded history of one hundred years.

As the earlier form of the project had taken shape and images had been made, there was an uncanny Exhibition experience where Rachel Howard’s paintings (Howard, 2018), were seen to have distinct visual similarities. Howard’s paintings carried the Catholic theme of Christ’s crucifixion. This was blogged in a previous module and whilst there was an overwhelming experience of the weird, it was an example of coincidence. Photo image post-processing had a similar effect to an easel based art in which gravity acted on paint. Nevertheless, an unheimlich experience.

In (Fisher, 2016) Page 45 mention is made “There is another type of weird effect that is generated by strange loops”. In human biology, the mitochondria are set apart from the nuclear DNA within the cell. In the inter-spacial region, the mitochondrial DNA form loops, and act as the energy powerhouses of the bodies cells. There they create ATP molecules for energy storage and transfer. The mitochondria have been captured by the human cells and adapted to life there. However, the mitochondria are an ancient form of cellular structure that exists in a bacterial world where they are able to exist independently. (Cowell, 2019) Within the sperm, mitichondria power the race to the unfertilised egg. This endeavour is not rewarded as the egg with its own mitochondria overpower it.

Finally, on the subject of the weird, (Fisher, 2016) Page 58 describes how “we must attend to the strange folds, burrows and passageways of Inland Empire’s weird architectures. Here, there is a crossover into the miniature world of human biology. The loops that mitochondria form, increase the surface area through a crinkled effect of cristae. The outer membrane only is adapted to allow the passage of very small molecules into the mitochondria. Then through the various complex effects enzymes allow glucose to split into carbon components at the surface as the Kleb citric cycle takes place. During the process, an unequal potential is created between the outside and inside of the mitochondria whereupon further enzymes allow some of the processed results to reenter the mitochondria through multiple narrow channels. There is an expiration process, in which carbon dioxide and water are released. What is weird and striking is the architecture of restricted access and limited re-entry and uncanny parallel to the architecture of the fictional world in the Inland Empire.

Again, this is weird or unheimlich.

The Eerie

“The sensation of the eerie clings to certain kinds of physical spaces or landscapes.” (Fisher, 2016) Page 61

In the photo project, as post-processing unfolds, there evolve such spaces or landscapes. As with the eerie cry and its effect on the imagination, there may be a hint of something being missing. In the photo project, the spaces created are devoid of people yet their mark may be found on the landscape.

Update: reading into the eerie recommenced in the Christmas break.

(Fisher, 2016) Page 97″Repeatedly throughout his fiction, Garner points to the eerie power of the landscape, reminding us of the ways in which physical spaces condition perception, and of the ways in which particular terrains are stained by traumatic events” … “the mythic is part of the virtual infrastructure which makes human life as such possible”:

An interesting comment in (Fisher, 2016) Page 109:

“There are ghosts in the machine, and we are they, and they are we.”

Of portrayal in the film Interstellar (Fisher, 2016) Page 121:

“The immediate temptation here is to dismiss this (portrayal) as nothing more than kitsch sentimentality. Part of the power of Interstellar, however, comes from its readiness to take risks appearing to be naive, as well as emotionally and conceptually excessive.”

Clearly, there are potential traps of kitsch etc to be avoided in the photo project.


Cowell, I. D. (2019) Epigenetics – It’s not just genes that make us. Available at:

Fisher, M. (2016) The Weird and the Eerie. London, [England]: Repeater Books. Available at:

Howard, R. (2018) Repetition is Truth via Dolorosa. Edited by A. C. Beard Jason. London: Other Criteria Books. Available at:

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