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Hauntology (a portmanteau of haunting and ontology) refers to a state of temporal, historical, and ontological disjunction in which presence is replaced by a deferred non-origin, represented 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 claim that being does not entail presence, and thus that "haunting [is] the state proper to being as such."[2][3][4]

In recent years, the term has been taken up by critics in reference to paradoxes found in postmodern society, particularly contemporary culture's persistent recycling of retro aesthetics and old social forms. Critics such as Mark Fisher and Simon Reynolds have utilized the term to describe art preoccupied with articulating and exploring this temporal disjunction.

Origins and definition[edit]

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."[3][4][5] Derrida's prior work in deconstruction, on concepts of trace and différance in particular, serves as the foundation of his formulation of hauntology,[1] fundamentally asserting that there is no temporal point of pure origin but only an "always-already absent present.."[6] The word functions as a deliberate near-homophone to "ontology" in Derrida's native French.[7] Peter Buse and Andrew Scott, discussing Derrida's notion of hauntology, wrote:

Ghosts arrive from the past and appear in the present. However, the ghost cannot be properly said to belong to the past. . . . Does then the ‘historical’ person who is identified with the ghost properly belong to the present? Surely not, as the idea of a return from death fractures all traditional conceptions of temporality. The temporality to which the ghost is subject is therefore paradoxical, at once they ‘return’ and make their apparitional debut. Derrida has been pleased to call this dual movement of return and inauguration a ‘hauntology’, a coinage that suggests a spectrally deferred non-origin within grounding metaphysical terms such as history and identity. . . . Such an idea also informs the well-known discussion of the origin of language in Of Grammatology, where . . . any attempt to isolate the origin of language will find its inaugural moment already dependent upon a system of linguistic differences that have been installed prior to the ‘originary’ moment (11).[4]

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?"[2]

Critical applications[edit]

Writers such as theorist Mark Fisher have 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."[2] Hauntology has been used as a critical lens in various forms of media and theory, including music, political theory, architecture, Afrofuturism, and psychoanalysis.[1][3][8]

Hauntological art has been characterized as making knowing reference to time, memory, and the malleability of the medium transmitting the art itself.[9] 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."[3] 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.[10] The music of the Ghost Box label (including Belbury Poly and the Advisory Circle) and of artists such as Burial, the Caretaker, William Basinski, Philip Jeck, Ariel Pink,[11] and the Italian Occult Psychedelia scene have been described as engaging hauntological themes.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c The Guardian
  2. ^ a b c The Metaphysics of Crackle: Afrofuturism and Hauntology
  3. ^ a b c d Fisher, Mark. Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures. Zero Books, May 30, 2014. ISBN 978-1-78099-226-6
  4. ^ a b c Buse, P. and Scott, A. (ed's). Ghosts: Deconstruction, Psychoanalysis, History. London: Macmillan, 1999. ISBN 9780333711439.
  5. ^ Specters of Marx, the state of the debt, the Work of Mourning, & the New International, trans by Peggy Kamuf, Routledge 1994. ISBN 9780415389570.
  6. ^ The Languages of Criticism and The Sciences of Man: the Structuralist Controversy. Ed. by Richard Macsey and Eugenio Donato (Baltimore, 1970), p. 254
  7. ^ "Half Lives". Archived from the original on 7 July 2007. Retrieved 2013-08-19. 
  8. ^ k-punk
  9. ^ Stone Blue Editors (Sep 11, 2015). William Basinski: Musician Snapshots. SBE Media. pp. Chapter 3. 
  10. ^ Mark Fisher - The Metaphysics of Crackle: Afrofuturism and Hauntology
  11. ^ Fact

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