Because the uncanny is familiar but strange, it often creates creative dissonance in the reader's mind due to the paradoxical nature of being attracted to yet repulsed by an object at the same time. Repulsion and attraction at the same time? How can that be? Aren't they opposed concepts? How can contradictions be united in Romanticism?

The idea of “unifying” opposing concepts in Romanticism may actually be missing the point of the movement. Artists of the Romantic period embraced contradictions in art and in life because the movement was about the elevation of subjective, individual experience, and contradictions are inherent in people.

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Among other things, Romanticism is about the elevation of the self, an individual’s subjective reality, and how that reality inspires creation. Because people are complicated and contradictory, the Romantics believed that art could have those characteristics and still be valid forms of expression.

Romanticism itself is a reaction to classicism...

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Among other things, Romanticism is about the elevation of the self, an individual’s subjective reality, and how that reality inspires creation. Because people are complicated and contradictory, the Romantics believed that art could have those characteristics and still be valid forms of expression.

Romanticism itself is a reaction to classicism and neoclassicism, which emphasized order, structure, and restraint, conditions which the Romantics believed were antithetical to, and a wholly inaccurate view of, the creative processes of artists. The idea that concepts like attraction and repulsion could occur in the same piece of art or literature was acceptable to them because it reflected what they believed were universal human traits.

Take for example the painting “The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed In Sun” from William Blake’s illustrations of the Bible (circa 1803). Both figures are beautiful and terrifying, which seems to reflect Blake’s view that the concepts of good and evil are not fixed; rather, an individual could perceive the dragon and the woman as both attractive and horrific. Some would suggest that all of Blake’s biblical art reveals deep ambivalence and uncertainty about the concepts of god and religion. Moreover, he seems to be saying that it is absolutely human to be both awed and frightened by things we do not understand.

Classicism, by contrast, is much more certain about how art should be conceived and interpreted. As applied to Blake’s painting, the classical view would emphasize that the dragon is without question evil and repulsive and the woman innocent and beautiful. More importantly, classical paintings of similar subject matter were designed by the artist to capture this concrete world view.

The Romantics—the writers, painters, musicians and poets of the period—were motivated by uniqueness of expression, of the creative impulse, and fully intended their art to be uniquely interpreted by individuals, to mean different things to different people.

The concept of unity, therefore, may be outside of the realm of the Romantics’ thought processes. They would accept that attraction and repulsion are both completely valid in the same piece of art, that interpretation is subjective and that uniqueness is the ultimate expression of creativity.

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