Share via Email Haunting presence Jacques Derrida, who coined the term hauntology, in a still from the documentary Derrida Hauntology is probably the first major trend in critical theory to have flourished online. In October , Mark Fisher - aka k-punk - described it as "the closest thing we have to a movement, a zeitgeist". Two months ago, James Bridle predicted that the concept was "about six months away from becoming the title of a column in a Sunday supplement magazine".
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Search Menu Hauntology, as a trend in recent critical and psychoanalytical work, has two distinct, related, and to some extent incompatible sources. The word itself, in its French form hantologie, was coined by Jacques Derrida in his Spectres de Marx , which has rapidly become one of the most controversial and influential works of his later period.
Hauntology supplants its near-homonym ontology, replacing the priority of being and presence with the figure of the ghost as that which is neither present nor absent, neither dead nor alive. Attending to the ghost is an ethical injunction insofar as it occupies the place of the Levinasian Other: a wholly irrecuperable intrusion in our world, which is not comprehensible within our available intellectual frameworks, but whose otherness we are responsible for preserving.
Hauntology is thus related to, and represents a new aspect of, the ethical turn of deconstruction which has been palpable for at least two decades. It has nothing to do with whether or not one believes in ghosts, as Fredric Jameson explains: Spectrality does not involve the conviction that ghosts exist or that the past and maybe even the future they offer to prophesy is still very much alive and at work, within the living present: all it says, if it can be thought to speak, is that the living present is scarcely as self-sufficient as it claims to be; that we would do well not to count on its density and solidity, which might under exceptional circumstances betray us.
Abraham and Torok had become interested in transgenerational communication, particularly the way in which the undisclosed traumas of previous generations might disturb the lives of their descendants even and especially if they know nothing about their distant causes. What they call a phantom is the presence of a dead ancestor in the living Ego, still intent on preventing its traumatic and usually shameful secrets from coming to light.
One crucial consequence of this is that the phantom does not, as it does in some versions of the ghost story, return from the dead in order to reveal something hidden or forgotten, to right a wrong or to deliver a message that might otherwise have gone unheeded.
On the contrary, the phantom is a liar; its effects are designed to mislead the haunted subject and to ensure that its secret remains shrouded in mystery. The ideas of Abraham and Torok have renewed psychoanalytic theory and therapeutic practice dealing with transgenerational trauma and family secrets.
Literary critical work drawing on the thought of Abraham and Torok most frequently revolves around the problem of secrets, even if it generally neither achieves nor seeks the biographical confirmation found by Tisseron.
Rand was instrumental in demonstrating the relevance of Abraham and Torok for literary criticism, and he also helped extend their work through his later direct collaborations with Maria Torok. Rashkin is keen not to set up a prescriptive model for interpretation, but to attend to the specificity of each individual text. Her readings track down secrets and bring them to light.
Despite the intellectual vigour of works by Rand, Rashkin and others, the direct impact of Abraham and Torok on literary studies has in fact been limited, perhaps because the endeavour to find undisclosed secrets is likely to succeed in only a small number of cases. Spectres de Marx, pp. Conversing with spectres is not undertaken in the expectation that they will reveal some secret, shameful or otherwise. Rather, it may open us up to the experience of secrecy as such: an essential unknowing which underlies and may undermine what we think we know.
In consequence, much of the most committed work in this area combines close reading with daring speculation. In her conclusion, Rashkin conceded that uncovering textual secrets always brings to the fore other enigmas which might demand, but not be susceptible to, solution Family Secrets, pp.
Royle marks the key difference between critics inspired by Abraham and Torok and those of a more Derridean and poststructuralist bent: in principle, he suggests, Rashkin argues that the process of meaning may be open-ended and infinite, but in practice she closes down that process by assigning determinate meanings to identifiable secrets. Ghosts are a privileged theme because they allow an insight into texts and textuality as such.
Rashkin deliberately restricts the scope of her approach in the name of attentiveness to the secrets of individual texts. Whilst remaining eager to respect specificity, the hauntologists also aspire to extend the validity of their enquiry to embrace a greater level of generality. Some critics have repaid this debt by dramatically escalating the claims made for the spectral, and by association for their own work. In this breathtaking display, ghosts progress rapidly from being one theme amongst others to being the ungrounded grounding of representation and a key to all forms of storytelling.
They are both unthinkable and the only thing worth thinking about. The crucial difference between the two strands of hauntology, deriving from Abraham and Torok and from Derrida respectively, is to be found in the status of the secret.
It is not at all that they cannot be spoken; on the contrary, they can and should be put into words so that the phantom and its noxious effects on the living can be exorcized. For Derrida, the ghost and its secrets are unspeakable in a quite different sense. Abraham and Torok seek to return the ghost to the order of knowledge; Derrida wants to avoid any such restoration and to encounter what is strange, unheard, other, about the ghost.
The secret is not unspeakable because it is taboo, but because it cannot not yet be articulated in the languages available to us. The ghost pushes at the boundaries of language and thought. Hauntology is part of an endeavour to keep raising the stakes of literary study, to make it a place where we can interrogate our relation to the dead, examine the elusive identities of the living, and explore the boundaries between the thought and the unthought.
The ghost becomes a focus for competing epistemological and ethical positions. For Abraham and Torok, the phantom and its secrets should be uncovered so that it can be dispelled. In the process, Derrida underplays the extent to which Abraham and Torok attempt to bring interpretation to an end by recovering occluded meanings, and his reading has had a significant impact on the more general understanding of their work.
Their phantoms and his spectres, though, have little in common. Phantoms lie about the past whilst spectres gesture towards a still unformulated future. The difference between them poses in a new form the tension between the desire to understand and the openness to what exceeds knowledge; and the resulting critical practices vary between the endeavour to attend patiently to particular texts and exhilarating speculation. As far as I know, the ghost of a resolution is not yet haunting Europe, or anywhere else.
Hauntology: A not-so-new critical manifestation
What is hauntology?