[OPE-L] Derrida's ghosts

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Fri Oct 28 2005 - 04:19:54 EDT

Perhaps even Anders and Ian W will find something of interest here? Probably not!

This document is located at http://halflives.adc.rmit.edu.au/haunt/hl033.html

Derrida's neologism hauntology is, in French, a pun on ontology and refers to the paradoxical
state of the specter, which is neither being nor non-being.

"In Specters of Marx, Derrida claims that 'there has never been a scholar that really, and as a
scholar, deals with ghosts'. By this remark, we are sure that he does not wish us to believe that
scholars have never tried to prove the truth or otherwise of uncanny apparitions or ghostly
occurrences. Indeed, Derrida's complaint is that the scholar will only seek to determine matters
of supernatural veracity, positioning him or herself at a distance from the apparition, and
attempt 'to make or let a spirit speak' . By not 'dealing' with ghosts, Derrida argues that
traditional scholarship asks questions of the ghost only with the intention of ontologizing it, or
interpellating it from the necessary distance of scholarly 'objectivity'. This, he believes,
constitutes an avoidance of spectrality, since to figure the ghost in terms of fact or fiction,
real or not-real, is to attribute to it a foundational ground, either a positive or negative
facticity that the notion of ghostliness continually eludes. It is this elusiveness that should be
addressed, and so, for Derrida, a pseudo-concept like spectrality looks very much at home among
the motifs that have been central to deconstruction for many years.

The relevance of a trope of spectrality to deconstruction is clear . Ghosts are neither dead nor
alive, neither corporeal objects nor stern absences. As such, they are the stock-in-trade of the
Derridean enterprise, standing in defiance of binary oppositions such as presence and absence,
body and spirit, past and present, life and death. For deconstruction, these terms cannot stand in
clear, independent opposition to one another, as each can be shown to possess an element or trace
of the term that it is meant to oppose. In the figure of the ghost, we see that past and present
cannot be neatly separated from one another, as any idea of the present is always constituted
through the difference and deferral of the past, as well as anticipations of the future. And so
the liminal spirit, or to use Derrida's favoured term, revenant, the thing that returns, comes to
represent a mobilization of familiar Derridean concepts such as trace, iteration and the deferral
of presence.

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 & Scott, 1999, p.10-11)

This document is located at http://halflives.adc.rmit.edu.au/haunt/hl033.html
Last modified Tuesday, 11-Jun-2002 11:12:28 EST
Authored by Lisa Gye  1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002
Previous Screen

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Sat Oct 29 2005 - 00:00:05 EDT