ghosts in literature


“…what is a ghost? The word ‘ghost’ is related to and originates in the German Geist, a word that Chambers Dictionary defines as ‘spirit, any inspiring of dominating principle’. The OED gives, as its first and fourth definitions of ‘ghost’, the ‘soul or spirit, as the principle of life’ and ‘A person’. In these respects, the ghost is fundamental to our thinking about the human: to be human is to have a spirit, a soul, a Geist or ghost. But the more common modern sense of ‘ghost’ (albeit only listed seventh in the OED) involves the idea of a spectre, an apparition of the dead, a revenant, the dead returned to a kind of spectral existence – an entity not alive but also not quite, not finally, dead. Ghosts disturb our sense of the separation of the living from the dead – which is why they can be so frightening, so uncanny.  These conflicting senses of the word ‘ghost’ suggest that ghosts are both exterior and central to our sense of the human, fundamentally human, and a denial or disturbance of the human, the very being of the inhuman.” (p.132)

Ghosts have a history. They are not what they used to be. Ghosts, in a sense, are history. They do not, after all, come from nowhere, even if they may appear to do just that. They are always inscribed in a context: they at once belong to and haunt the idea of a place (hence ‘spirit of place’ or genius loci), and belong to and haunt the idea of a time (what we could call a ‘spirit of time’ or rather differently what is called the [-p.133] ‘spirit of the age’ or Zeitgeist).” (pp.132-133)

“In the work of Nicolas Abraham, […] Hamlet is a central text for his theory that ghosts have to do with unspeakable secrets. The only reason why people think they see ghosts is because the dead take secrets with them when they die. […] People see ghosts because ‘the dead were shamed during their lifetime or … took unspeakable secrets to the grave’. These secrets remain, like a crypt, a gap, in the unconscious of the living. The ghost or phantom thus embodies ‘the gap produced in us by the concealment of some part of a loved object’s life… what haunts are not the dead, but the gaps left within us by the secrets of others’.” (p.134)

“The ghosts of the twentieth are not the same as those of the nineteenth or any other century. We might, for example, reflect on the links between ghosts and technology.” (p.137)

Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold mine) Andrew Bennett and Nicholas Royle Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory. 2nd edition. 1999 Prentice Hall, England?

NB the authors suggest that “For two good and wide-ranging accounts of the ghostly in literature from a ‘gothic’ perspective, see David Punter, The Literature of Terror, 2nd edition (1996), and Fred Botting, Gothic (1997). Terry Castle (1995) has a good chapter on eighteenth and nineteenth-century conceptions of ghosts, entitled ‘Spectral Politics: Apparition Belief and the Romantic Imagination’. […]Peter Nicholls’s essay, ‘The Belated Postmodern: History, Phantoms and Toni Morrison’ (1996), offers a subtle and stimulating reading of Beloved by way of many of the notions of the ghostly discussed in this chapter.” (p.140)


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