Sunday, 23 January 2011


Is it facetious and/or tautological to point out that hauntology might be a good deal older than is usually intimated?

In talking about the "spectre haunting Europe" Marx and Engels were drawing on a vocabulary inherited from Romanticism (and perhaps even earlier precedents - Shakespeare and Hamlet is a connection many people have suggested). For as long as capitalism has existed, in other words, there has been a radical, reactive artistic impulse to uncover "spectres of lost futures" (to borrow the terminology of latter-day post-Derridean hauntology). I can see how this might have acquired a new colouring in the Fukuyaman era, and there's no doubt that revenants and lost worlds are especially prescient right now. I suppose I would just give this sort of thing a much wider ancestry than anti-postmodernism mainlining back to Marx.

Two examples spring to mind. The first is a famous wedge of Keats:

Charm'd magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas in faery lands forlorn.

Isn't this representative Romantic valorisation of "long ago" hauntological, in that it has already a sense of the past as a redemptive force, not merely food for nostalgia? Aren't "charm'd magic casements" and "faery lands forlorn" exactly what Ariel Pink, Belbury Poly and co. are seeking out - and collaging together - to create their musical worlds?

Another slightly more modern (yet still pretty old) example is of course early-twentieth-century Dadaism/Surrealism. Walter Benjamin's summary of Breton and Nadja strikes me as being a veritable hauntological manifesto:

[Breton] can boast an extraordinary discovery. He was the first to perceive the revolutionary energies that appear in the "outmoded", in the first iron constructions, the first factory buildings, the earliest photos, the objects that have begun to be extinct, grand pianos, the dresses of five years ago, fashionable restaurants when the vogue has begun to ebb from them. The relation of these things to revolution - no one can have a more exact concept of it than these authors. No one before these visionaries and augurs perceived how destitution  - not only social but architectonic, the poverty of interiors, enslaved and enslaving objects - can be suddenly transformed into revolutionary nihilism ... Breton and Nadja are the lovers who convert everything we have experienced on mournful railway journeys ... on Godforsaken Sunday afternoons in the proletarian quarters of the great cities, in the first glance of the rain-blurred window of a new apartment, into revolutionary experience, if not action. They bring the immense forces of "atmosphere" concealed in these things to the point of explosion.

Just saying like.

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