Popular ghosts


I hope I’m not overquoting, but … in his review of María del Pilar Blanco and Esther Peeren, eds. Popular Ghosts: The Haunted Spaces of Everyday Culture. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2010, Rikk Mulligan writes that:

The editors seek to free the ghost of its earlier theoretical chains of Gothic interpellation and psychoanalysis embodied in Freud’s uncanny or Lacan’s desire, and to move it beyond the temporal focus of Derrida’s “hauntology.” The goal is to give “new territories to the ghost” beyond the public and domestic spheres, to the “more phantasmatic transnational structures like globalized capitalism and terrorism” (xvii). Far from its origins in the traditional haunted house or Gothic castle, the editors considers ghosts as disturbances in both space and time, and as disruptions [-p.366] further propagated by the very concepts and technologies used to define, quantify, pursue, investigate and commodify them.” (pp.365-366)

“The essays in “Spectral Politics of the Contemporary,” the second section, explore how the ghost can be used to view the changing spaces created by globalization, transnationalism, and postcolonialism. Caroline Herbert, Georgiana Banita, Esher Peeren, Michael Cuntz, and Benjamin D’Harlingue move from the abstract and use the ghost to question the place of the “marginalized citizen” in post-partition India, under the shadows of 9/11 and the ongoing War on Terror, in post-colonial Africa, and within the prisons of the United States. Given the current media moment, Georgiana Banita’s essay, “Shadow of the Colossus,” draws particular attention in its analysis of the ghost of 9/11 on the discourse of terrorism, as media continues to recycle and remediate not only the images of the attacks, but the public appearances of survivors or the families of those who [-p.367]   died. Banita discusses the spectrality of 9/11 images, especially in films like Cloverfield (2008) and The 25th Hour (2002), indexing them with the biopictures of Kevin Clarke, artifacts that may serve to help diminish the emotional scars of the attacks.

In the three essays of the third section, “Chasing Ghosts In(to) the Twenty-first Century,” Karen Williams, Alissa Burger, and Catherine Spooner concentrate on televised hauntings. Taking these three essays as a unit, the editors’ suggest that, while the Victorians sought to prove the existence of ghosts and to contact spirits, the ghost chase has now become the pursuit of how we define “reality, authenticity, and knowledge” in an era of spectacular entertainment and the simulacra of digital media.” (pp.366-367)

Pamela Thurschwell’s reading of the Ghost World (1997) graphic novel suggests that adolescents exist in a “ghost state” that both haunts and bridges childhood and adulthood. Christine Wilson’s “Haunted Habitability” in particular offers an intriguing discussion of how the representation of space in various haunted house narratives can be read in relation to ecocriticism and nature writing. She highlights the wild, unruly, and resistant aspect of haunted houses and their threatening spaces in the examples of Stephen King’s Rose Red (2002) and the film version of Robert Marasco’s Burnt Offerings (1976)—examples of a threatening wilderness, not of “place attachment” as many ecocritics depict “wild spaces” in opposition to the normalizing and destructive experience of [-p.368] urbanization. In the context of “home” and domestic space, Wilson suggests that these haunted house narratives help expose “place attachment” as a means of obscuring history and imperialism. If considered in relation to Richard Slotkin’s work on the American frontier, the houses are sites of resistance to the “regeneration through violence” where Western rationality is challenged.” (pp.367-368)

Peeren considers ghosts as ancestral guides and spirits in the African literature of Amos Tutuola, Ben Okri, and Achille Mbembe, making the significant argument that in non-Western literature, the ghost is not only part of everyday life, but is often a harmonious part of the family and home. Peeren makes the point that, unlike Western ghosts, it is the actions of these spirits that are disturbing, not their appearance or presence itself, further emphasizing the need to “reconfigure the relation between the ghostly and the everyday,” especially in the West (115).” (p.368)

“For critics of the fantastic, Popular Ghosts incorporates work on a number of cultures across space and time. Sometimes, however, it becomes difficult to discern what is being haunted and what does the haunting. Some contributions are far more theoretical or technical than might be expected of “popular ghosts.”” (p.369) [NB I think the editors cover this point in their introduction where they define ‘the popular’ more broadly than this, explaining: ”

do not align ourselves with certain strands of cultural studies that view popular culture as exclusively “the culture of working people, the labouring classes and the poor,” 13 or as inherently subversive. 14 Rather, the popular, precisely by virtue of concerning that which is appreciated by many (often across gender, class, ethnic, race, and even national borders), is considered as a dynamic realm of contestation between various cultural forces in which hegemony and resistance, conformity and subversion, may be produced. The popular realm includes both so-called “high” and “low” culture, since we believe that this distinction has become untenable now that both forms are seen to constantly inflect – or should we say “haunt” – each other: high art museums, for example, relentlessly popularize and proliferate their priceless, unique artworks by putting them on anything from postcards and posters to mugs, pencils, and fridge magnets, while graffiti moves effortlessly from street corners to swish galleries. Significantly, the ghost itself points to a collapse of the “high” culture/“low” culture distinction, since its ongoing association with superstition, folklore, and the genre of the Gothic marks it as a distinctly low-brow figure even when it appears in the work of established, high-brow authors such as Henry James, Thomas Hardy, Samuel Beckett, or Elfriede Jelinek.” (p.xii, Esther Peeren and María del Pilar Blanco ‘Introduction’ pp.ix-xxiv in Esther Peeren, and María del Pilar Blanco (Eds.). Popular Ghosts : The Haunted Spaces of Everyday Culture. London, GBR: Continuum International Publishing, 2010.)]

Ref: Rikk Mulligan (2011) Review: María del Pilar Blanco and Esther Peeren, eds. Popular Ghosts: The Haunted Spaces of Everyday CultureExtrapolation Fall 2011 (52:3); pp.365-369


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