Hermann Hesse's readers associate him with the “East” yet generally ignore his earliest writing on the topic: the mixed-genre masterpiece about India, Robert Aghion (1913). I argue that Aghion is a sophisticated critique of colonialism in which no one is innocent, not even the “anticolonial” hero Aghion. Through Hesse's self-fictionalization as Aghion, he casts a critical light on his own anticolonial exoticism: Aghion, like the young Hesse, hates colonialism because it creates a frighteningly “uncanny” (unheimlich) mixture of India and Europe, and so ruins Aghion's fantasies of purity. By referring to India as unheimlich, Hesse connects his story to an early twentieth-century psychoanalytic discourse more apt for understanding Aghion than late twentieth-century postcolonial theory, specifically Homi Bhabha's “hybridity.” Whereas Bhabha focuses on the colonialist's fear of difference, Hesse presents an India so full of hybrid “natives” and European doppelgängers that Aghion cannot find the difference that he would, in Bhabha's model, have to disavow. Mirror images are everywhere, troubling Aghion with the same returns that Freud will describe only six years later: of ancient narcissisms, primitive beliefs, and repressed infantile ideas. Aghion thus presents us with a new concept for understanding colonialism psychoanalytically—uncanniness—at the same time that it prefigures Freud's theorizations.
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John Zilcosky; Hermann Hesse's Colonial Uncanny: Robert Aghion, 1913. New German Critique 1 November 2014; 41 (3 (123)): 199–218. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0094033X-2753660
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