ghosts, 9/11 and the spectrality of everyday life

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Introducing their book, Popular Ghosts, Esther Peeren and María del Pilar Blanco begin to explore the connections between ‘the ghost’ and the everyday. They explain that they are interested in “the changed relationship between the ghost and the everyday” (p.xii) and assert that: “Ghosts are no longer just perceived as mysterious, otherworldly manifestations that need be put to rest elsewhere to restore order, but are seen to reveal something of the enigma of everyday life….” (p.xiii)

“The everyday is like a ghost – secretive, ungraspable, yet with an acutely felt presence – and is itself beset by ghosts. Michel de Certeau famously posited that “haunted spaces are the only ones people can live in” and the “Ghosts in the City” chapter in the second volume of The Practice of Everyday Life draws attention to the way the modern city is haunted by its pasts; taking the form of old buildings, trees, furniture, photographs, and other “wild objects,” a population of spirits “spreads out its ramifications, penetrating the entire network of our everyday life … this population traverses time, survives the wearing away of human existences, and articulates a space.” A different connection between the everyday and the ghost is established when, in his introduction to The Everyday Life Reader, Ben Highmore writes: “everyday life is haunted by implicit ‘others,’ who supposedly live outside the ordinary, the everyday” (1). Whether the everyday is haunted by what is outside it or by what used to be part of it, it is insistently represented as a haunted/haunting structure, where what you see is never quite what you get.” (p.xiii)

“…the ghost has become an increasingly appropriate metaphor for the way marginal populations – like the Dominicans seeking access to the U.S. – haunt the everyday, living on the edge of visibility and inspiring a curious mix of fear and indifference; and the everyday exhibits an ever-growing reliance on spectral technologies like the Internet, mobile telephony, and digitalized media. In addition, the inherent spectrality of money, central to Marx’s theory of capital, has reemerged with startling visibility in the exploitative structures of global capitalism and its creation of “spectral labor,” as well as in the current global economic crisis (which, incidentally, is seeing the return of the ghost town as an everyday phenomenon). And since 9/11, the everyday has been haunted by the specter of the “War on Terror,” which itself features an unprecedented degree of spectrality, waged as it is against mysterious, unlocalizable, and endlessly mediated enemies, in an indeterminate space (everywhere yet nowhere), and within an infinite timeframe (the threat never abates but promises eternal regenerations).” (p.xiv)

“…it is necessary to take stock of the theorization of the ghost to date. Located in the ambivalent realm between life and death, ghosts have always inspired cultural fascination as well as theoretical, philosophical, and theological consideration, but until recently such consideration was either focused on the ontological question of whether they exist or it used the ghost as a metaphor to address another, more important quandary (as in Gilbert Ryle’s critique of the Cartesian mind– body split in terms of the ghost in the machine). The ghost has also often been used within established disciplines or fields to elucidate a particular concept or problem. Thus, in psychoanalysis, the ghost, in some form or another, has been crucial to Freud’s uncanny, Lacan’s discussion of desire, and Abraham and Torok’s theory of intergenerational trauma. In literary studies, it is integral to the Gothic, as a primary genre characteristic. It was, however, with Derrida’s Specters of Marx that the ghost not only acquired a deconstructive dimension, but emerged as a methodology in and of itself. Derrida’s extrapolation of the disjointing function of the ghost in Hamlet to ontology, history, and the wider social realm, as well as his association of the specter with absolute alterity, notions of inheritance, hospitality, and the messianic, have proved immensely popular and productive. However, whereas Derrida’s hauntology ultimately plays upon much the same aspects of deferred meaning and absence-presence as other, earlier figures of deconstruction like the trace and the hymen, thus subsuming it to a wider theoretical framework, this volume aims to put the ghost center stage.” (p.xv)

The increasing normalcy of the ghost also manifests in the way many ghosts in current fiction, film, and television are portrayed in an exceedingly mundane manner, as part of the everyday and as having everyday concerns. Whereas it used to be common to find ghosts trying to drag the living out of the everyday into a world of horrors on “the other side,” what contemporary ghosts want more than anything, it seems, is to be normal. Consequently, one of the prevailing fears in relation to the contemporary ghost is not that it might terrify us, but that we might not notice or recognize it at all.” (p.xiv)

“Each speaking for different ghostly realms, the essays in Popular Ghosts produce an eclectic map of the ways in which the global everyday continues to incorporate haunting into its operative functions and creative representations. Taking the popular to mean that which attempts to encompass the varied tastes, movements, and fascinations of subjects in the various societies here represented, each chapter reflects on the importance of incorporating, questioning, and renewing the languages of haunting in(to) the world of the living to explore the historicity of being and location, the nature of community, and the ways in which we can continue existing with ghosts.” (pxxii)

Ref: (italics in original, emphases in blue bold, mine) 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.

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