Sunday, November 22, 2020

Hauntology: Ghosts of Futures Past

I don't know if this is the very first book wholly dedicated to hauntology (there's been a couple of tomes from A Year in the Country that cover that terrain where it particularly overlaps with the pastoral horror / rural uncanny). But Hauntology: Ghosts of Futures Past is a notably thorough and probing survey of the field from the marvelously monikered Merlin Coverley (and that's his birthname, not an assumed alias), whose prior works include the adjacently-themed Psychogeography  and Occult London. Mark Fisher comes up rather often (and yours truly makes the odd appearance too) along with expected suspects like J. Derrida and M.R. James. 

Release rationale:

"Ghosts and spectres, the eerie and the occult. Why is contemporary culture so preoccupied by the supernatural, so captivated by the revenants of an earlier age, so haunted? The concept of Hauntology has evolved since first emerging in the 1990s, and has now entered the cultural mainstream as a shorthand for our new-found obsession with the recent past. But where does this term come from and what exactly does it mean? This book seeks to answer these questions by examining the history of our fascination with the uncanny from the golden age of the Victorian ghost story to the present day... Moving between the literary and the theoretical, the visual and the political, Hauntology explores our nostalgia for the cultural artefacts of a past from which we seem unable to break free."

More information about Hauntology: Ghosts of Futures Past can be found at the Oldcastle Books website. You can check out the introduction in pdf form here

The front cover photograph of long shadows gave me a little haunty shiver as it recalled "Ghosts of NYC": a family self-portrait we took in the golden hour of the day before we left Manhattan and moved to Los Angeles, about ten and a half years ago now. 


Monday, November 16, 2020


"More interesting still is that nostalgia can bring to mind time-periods we didn’t directly experience. In the film Midnight in Paris (2011), Gil is overwhelmed by nostalgic thoughts about 1920s Paris – which he, a modern-day screenwriter, hasn’t experienced – yet his feelings are nothing short of nostalgic. Indeed, feeling nostalgic for a time one didn’t actually live through appears to be a common phenomenon if all the chatrooms, Facebook pages and websites dedicated to it are anything to go by. In fact, a new word has been coined to capture this precise variant of nostalgia – anemoia, defined by the Urban Dictionary and the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows as ‘nostalgia for a time you’ve never known’."
- from an essay by Felipe de Brigard in Aeon magazine

"In 1985, the psychologist Endel Tulving in Toronto observed that his amnesic patient ‘N N’ not only had difficulty remembering his past: he also had trouble imagining possible future events. This led Tulving to suggest that remembering the past and imagining the future were two processes of a single system for mental time-travel. Further support for this hypothesis came in the early 2000s, as a number of scientific studies confirmed that both remembering the past and imagining the future engage the brain’s so-called ‘default network’. But in the past decade, it has become clear that the brain’s default network supports mental simulations of other hypothetical events too, such as episodes that could have occurred in one’s past but didn’t, atemporal routine activities (eg, brushing teeth), mind-wandering, spatial navigation, imagining other people’s thoughts (mentalising) and narrative comprehension, among others. As a result, researchers now think that what unifies this common neural network isn’t just mental time-travel, but rather a more general kind of psychological process characterised by being self-relevant, socially significant and episodically, dynamically imaginative. My suggestion is that the kinds of nonautobiographical cognitive contents associated with nostalgic states are instances of this broader category of imaginations....

"Consequently, nostalgia can be associated with a possible past one didn’t experience, a concurrent nonactualised present, or even idealised pasts one couldn’t have lived but nevertheless can easily imagine by piecing together memorial information to form detailed episodic mental simulations..."