January 17, 2006

Hauntology Now

'The ghost as a cipher of iteration is particularly suggestive. At the beginning of Specters of Marx, Derrida talks about the way in which the anticipated return of the ghost may be mobilized on behalf of a deconstruction of all historicisms that are grounded in a rigid sense of chronology. 'Haunting is historical, to be sure', he writes, 'but it is not dated, it is never docilely given a date in the chain of presents, day after day, according to the instituted order of the calendar .' The question of the revenant neatly encapsulates deconstructive concerns about the impossibility of conceptually solidifying the past. Ghosts arrive from the past and appear in the present. However, the ghost cannot be properly said to belong to the past, even if the apparition represents someone who has been dead for many centuries, for the simple reason that a ghost is clearly not the same thing as the person who shares its proper name. 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, as at once they 'return' and make their apparitional debut. Derrida has been pleased to term 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."
- Buse, P., & Scott, A., (ed's), Ghosts: Deconstruction, Psychoanalysis, History, London : Macmillan, 1999, cited on this wonderful hauntology site

Why hauntology now?

(Perhaps this site has always been about that particular strand of cybergothic. Consider, for instance, the following ghostly gallery [all images clickable hyperlinks]:




Consider also the fact that I almost called the site 'Ghosts of My Life', in homage not only to Japan, but to Rufige Kru, who sampled Sylvian and folded the Time of my life in upon itself.)

Yet hauntology is about more than this place. The ghosts are swarming at the moment. Hauntology has caught on. It's a zeitgeist.

Uncanny coincidences. My end of 2005 reflections - spectrally-inflected in part because of BBC Four's pre-Christmas ghost week, but abandoned because illness and lack of net access would have made them untimely in the wrong way - were to have concerned last year's hauntological continuum: Ghost Box and Ariel Pink. As it happened, Mike Powell got in ahead of me. In the midst of Mike's excellent post, there are some remarks which provide some hints as to why hauntology should be so Now :

'Ariel Pink's House Arrest (to be reissued later this month by Paw Tracks) is plucking the same strings. I think there are two roads you can take with him: one is that his sound is solely that of a degraded ideal; you can hear the song he meant to create in some Porcelain Heaven, but now it's too far gone to recognize, and you're left with the process of an aural crumble. The other approach - which I do think is a different concept - is that his sound is a mold, a footprint, a negative, a series of suggestions that function independent of the ideal (the thoughts I'm having with Hey Let Loose Your Love). I used to think Ariel's thing was about degradation, but after three records, I realize that the wavering otherworldliness is the starting point of his aesthetic, not the sum of his decay.'

If I might extrapolate from what Simon calls these 'comments on half-erased or never-quite-attained songform': perhaps Ariel Pink's appeal is that his sound musters the sonic equivalent of the 'corner of the retina' effect that the best ghost stories have famously achieved. To understand what this entails, we need to reverse, or at least nuance, the commonplace which has it that the ghost is at its most scary only when it can't fully be seen. To say this implies that the ghost could be made the positive object of apprehension. Yet spectres are unsettling because they are that which can not, by their very nature (or lack of nature), ever be fully seen; gaps in Being, they can only dwell at the periphery of the sensible, in glimmers, shimmers, suggestions. It is not accidental that the word 'haunting' often refers to that which inhabits* us but which we cannot ever grasp; we find 'haunting' precisely those Things which lurk at the back of our mind, on the tip of our tongue, just out of reach. 'Haunting refrains' we are compelled to simulate-reiterate are sonic objets a around which drives circulate.

To return to Mike's point, we can now begin to see why it is important to think of the 'negative' aspects of Ariel Pink's sound not as the covering over of porcelain-perfect pop in fuzz and scuzz, but positively, as the means by which an anamorphic sonic object is produced. The anamorph, remember, can only be seen when looking askance, out of the corner of the eye.

In this respect, Ariel Pink has much in common with Jessica Rylan, who should be added to the hauntology canon forthwith. After seeing Rylan live last year, I referred to 'the beguiling illusion of a sonic object that would be perfect if only you could hear it more clearly. Yet the 'perfection' is an effect (a special effect, you might say) of the blurring and distorting techniques themselves.' I made similar observations after seeing Ariel Pink live, writing of 'a deliberate fogging of the digitally hyper-clean, with the result that what you are hearing is as much doubt and speculation as anything else.'

Why hauntology now? Well, has there ever been a time when finding gaps in the seamless surfaces of 'reality' has ever felt more pressing? Excessive presence leaves no traces. Hauntology's absent present, meanwhile, is nothing but traces....

*Haunt is a perfectly uncanny word, since like 'unheimlich' it connotes both the familiar-domestic and its unhomely double. Haunt originally meant 'to provide with a home', and has also carried the sense of the 'habitual'.

Posted by mark at January 17, 2006 10:45 PM | TrackBack