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Dr. Susan Sage Heinzelman, Director 2505 University Avenue, A4900, Burdine Hall 536, Austin Texas 78712 • 512-471-5765

Fall 2008


Unique Days Time Location Instructor
48967 W
1:00 PM-4:00 PM
CMB B4.110

Course Description

Suddenly, unaccountably, you feel the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Something creepy is happening, but you can't explain it.. Ernst Jentsch and, later, Sigmund Freud defined /uncanny/ as the feeling evoked by being in the presence of something simultaneously familiar and strange. For instance, animators working on characters for the film /Final Fantasy/ were able to make them look astonishingly human -- but screen tests unexpectedly revealed that audiences were creeped out by nearly unnoticeable differences between the synthetic characters and actual humans. Researcher Masahiro Mori pointed out that as a robot is made more humanlike a humans emotional response to the robot will become increasingly empathic, until the robots humanlikeness reaches a point beyond which the humans response suddenly switches to alarm and repulsion. But as the robot continues to become more humanlike, the humans emotional response becomes positive again and approaches human-to-human empathy levels. Mori called the space of repulsion between the two experiences of empathy the /Uncanny Valley/. What makes something uncanny? How can an experience of the uncanny be evoked? In this course well treat the experience of the uncanny as a resource for creativity, a springboard for theory, and a challenge to cultural conceptions of "normal" in race, gender, and ethnicity. We will explore the uncanny in human psychology, sociology, and storytelling, with attention to the inflection of the uncanny on the cultural Other. There are no written exams. Instead you will use the theories and tools you acquire during the semester to /*make stuff* /about some aspect of the uncanny. What you make can be in any form: sound, installation, video, computer animation, collage, sculpture, assemblage, performance. You will do this in stages, starting with simple projects and moving to more complex ones, using humor, irony, and unusual approaches and techniques. We encourage your own interpretation and voice. If there is enough interest, we'll schedule separate time for grad students to meet in seminar format for advanced study of theoretical inflections of the uncanny. Class is in studio and discussion format. This means that your active participation is a course requirement. During the semester we expect you to contribute your own ideas and arguments to the discussions, and to be willing to take the risks such contributions imply. In ACTLab courses we assume a high level of motivation on your part and your willingness to self-start, set your own goals, think independently, collaborate with others, seek help when you need it, and take risks. Let's make it an interesting semester!


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