Thinking Phantom Realities

When I was a child, ghost stories scared me silly. As my family can attest, I avoided all scary movies. I even had recurring nightmares from the horror-comedy Clue. As such, my turn to the image of the ghost over the past few years has come as a surprise to many (including myself).

So, for the inaugural post to Phantom Realities (an ironic reference to Ludwig Feuerbach), I wanted to explore four (of many) possible reasons for my unexpected recent attraction to ghost stories. I imagine that all four themes will recur (as nightmares?) throughout the future tales and reflections I hope to share on my blog in the future.

When one speaks about ghosts, one can…

#1 Speak of pain and hope – Perhaps my initial reason for becoming interested in the image of the ghost is my prior interest in trauma studies and the ethical call to justice. I say “and” because I believe the two mutually entail each other. It is our suffering that calls us to justice. It is justice that gives us hope in the face of suffering. I think ghost stories often conjure up such an image. Ghosts often haunt because of the violence and loss suffered in the past. Something must be done. One should start with listening.

#2 Speak of the reality of stories – What is real? After the modern reduction of reality to a flat scientific portrait, I search for more breadth in order to discover the reality of literature, music, film. The humanities cannot just gain meaning by being derivatives of the rather crude/reductionistic scientific worldview. Instead, the humanities must find worth in a certain kind of supernaturality.

I don’t have a problem with science. I am simply disturbed by the authoritative dominance of the scientific portrait of reality. In modern parlance, ghosts are clearly supernatural. In my practice of deconstruction, could there be a better way to problematize the borders of traditional ontology than to tell supernatural stories as if they were natural? Or, put another way, to think phantoms realities, to think phantom realities?

So, ultimately, do I believe in ghosts? Yes. Yes, I do.

#3 Speak stories – Who can talk about ghosts without talking about ghost stories? How did such a ghost come to haunt this place? How can we talk about the trauma suffered here? Ghost stories are always uniquely elaborate tales. When I talk about the meaning of the world, of life, of existence, I don’t want to talk about definitions or concepts. Instead, let’s tell a story. Rather, let’s not just tell one. Let’s tell many.

#4 Speak of (failed) exorcisms – Every ghost story begins with trauma. Perhaps one of the most interesting ghost stories is the story about the word “ghost.” Despite the scientific, positivistic turn in the modern Western world, a common belief in ghosts persists. Movies, music, literature all abound with ghost stories. Most studies have shown over the past decade or so that roughly 33-50% of Americans believe in ghosts (in the standard ontological sense). One can only imagine, keeping in mind my second point, how many Americans believe ghosts are real (in the full breadth of the word).

And what makes a better ghost story than a ghost story about ghost stories? Why do Americans constantly deny the supernatural, and yet, live in a world so immersed in ghost stories? Quite the detective story. Even I could not avoid the horror stories I so desperately tried to evade in my childhood. Ghosts have a habit of re-presenting themselves against our will.

My following posts will discuss ghosts, albeit often not in name. In fact, for the most part, phantoms will be constantly in the background, haunting the foreground of this blog. Instead, I will write about everything that falls under the ever-expansive umbrella ‘culture.’ Politics, music, literature, etc., are all fair game. Expect the posts to be shorter and less technical (than my former blog posts). Even this post was more technical and abstract than I had originally hoped; call it the groundwork for a multitude of implicit and explicit ghost stories to come. I hope to post on a weekly basis (at least over the summer).

Most of all, though, I hope this blog to be a conversation, not a monologue. The best stories are always shared. Consider this a public forum. I will typically end all of my posts with a call to discussion. Please feel free to respond to each post (or comments) in your own creative way. You can even move beyond any particular call to discussion. I look forward to future shared stories.

For this week, open to discussion:

1) share a ghost story – I’d love to hear a favorite you’ve heard/read/seen.
2) what do you find compelling about the image of the ghost?
3) what do you find terrifying about the image of the ghost? Or dangerous?


~ by Drew Baker on May 19, 2010.

One Response to “Thinking Phantom Realities”

  1. I am more than a little frightened by the specter of this blog! What if ghosts move in closer than the background and have out and out confrontation? As I think back to being a child the “justice” issue never crossed my mind. I always thought that ghosts were intrinsically bad, to be tamed or conquered by a divine force. I never thought about where they were “coming from.” To do so is frightening indeed. As I grew older cool rationalism taught me to dismiss the specter of a specter altogether. Now you contend that post-modernity and a concern for justice compel me to face the demons of childhood – phascinating proposition! I look forward to reading more.

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