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Hauntology (a portmanteau of haunting and ontology) refers to the state of temporal, historical, and ontological disjunction in which the ostensible immediacy of presence is replaced by "the figure of the ghost as that which is neither present, nor absent, neither dead nor alive."[1] The term was coined by philosopher Jacques Derrida in his 1993 book Spectres of Marx.

The concept of hauntology is closely related to Derrida's deconstruction of Western philosophy's logocentrism, which results in the fundamental deconstructive claim that being does not entail presence.[2][3] Asserting that there is no temporal point of pure origin but only an "always-already absent present,"[4] deconstruction identifies "haunting [as] the state proper to being as such."[5] The word functions as a deliberate near-homophone to "ontology" in Derrida's native French.[6]


The concept has its roots in Derrida's discussion of Marx in Spectres, specifically Marx's proclamation that "a spectre is haunting Europe—the spectre of communism" in The Communist Manifesto. Derrida also calls on Shakespeare's Hamlet, particularly a phrase spoken by the titular character: "the time is out of joint."[2][3][7] Derrida's prior work on concepts of trace and différance in particular, and his work on language and deconstruction as a whole, serves as the foundation of his formulation of hauntology.[1]

Derrida's writing in Spectres is marked by a preoccupation with the "death" of communism after the 1989 fall of the Soviet Union, in particular after theorists such as Francis Fukuyama asserted that capitalism had conclusively triumphed over other political-economic systems and reached the "end of history." Taking inspiration from the pervasive ghost imagery in Karl Marx's writing, Spectres has been said to concern itself with the question, "if communism was always spectral, what does it mean to say it is now dead?"[5]

Critical developments[edit]

In the twenty-first century, thinkers have invoked hauntology to describe elements or whole swathes of contemporary culture.[1] Common themes include late capitalism's reliance on the recycling and pastiche of old cultural and aesthetic forms and its subsequent obfuscation of the possibility of novelty in contemporary art, politics, and social relations.[1][2] Theorist Mark Fisher has specifically presented the term to describe a sense in which contemporary culture is haunted by the "lost futures" of modernity which were terminated in postmodernity. Fisher and others have drawn attention to the shift into post-Fordist economies in the late 1970s and the subsequent rise of neoliberalism, which Fisher argues has "gradually and systematically deprived artists of the resources necessary to produce the new."[5]

Hauntology has been used as a critical lens in various forms of media and theory, including music, political theory, architecture, Afrofuturism, and psychoanalysis.[1][2][8] In contrast to the nostalgic revivalism perceived as a dominant characteristic of postmodernity, hauntological art and culture is typified by a critical foregrounding of the historical and metaphysical disjunctions of contemporary capitalist culture as well as a "refusal to give up on the desire for the future."[2] Along these lines, theorists and critics such as Fisher, Simon Reynolds, and Antonio Ciarletta have made use of the term in relation to trends in popular music and culture at large.[9] The music of the Ghost Box label and of artists such as Burial,[2] Ariel Pink,[10] and the Italian Occult Psychedelia scene have been described as hauntological.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e The Guardian
  2. ^ a b c d e f Fisher, Mark. Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures. Zero Books, May 30, 2014. ISBN 978-1-78099-226-6
  3. ^ a b Buse, P. and Scott, A. (ed's). Ghosts: Deconstruction, Psychoanalysis, History. London: Macmillan, 1999. ISBN 9780333711439.
  4. ^ The Languages of Criticism and The Sciences of Man: the Structuralist Controversy. Ed. by Richard Macsey and Eugenio Donato (Baltimore, 1970), p. 254
  5. ^ a b c The Metaphysics of Crackle: Afrofuturism and Hauntology
  6. ^ "Half Lives". Archived from the original on 7 July 2007. Retrieved 2013-08-19. 
  7. ^ Specters of Marx, the state of the debt, the Work of Mourning, & the New International, trans by Peggy Kamuf, Routledge 1994. ISBN 9780415389570.
  8. ^ k-punk
  9. ^ Mark Fisher - The Metaphysics of Crackle: Afrofuturism and Hauntology
  10. ^ Fact

External links[edit]