Today is September 11 and no matter how much healing and work I do to lay the ghosts to rest, this day continues to bring outpourings of grief. When I started PhD research, my intention was to look at trauma in someone else’s body, not mine. But early on in the research, it became apparent that I couldn’t avoid my body, my memories, my relationship to the past. Auto-ethnography was a way to give voice to the ghosts that spoke through me, an exploration of the interstitial space, a deconstruction of in-betweenness.
I have been revisiting the ghosts a lot over the past month, delving into PhD research for a conference at the University of Hertfordshire last month, Aalborg in Denmark a couple of weeks ago and one to come this weekend in Northampton. As I write, I wonder at the need for yet another reason to remember. Is this a deeper layer of trauma at play? Am I acting out Freud’s repetitive cycle to forget another layer? How important is this reenactment through writing to the larger scheme of what is unfolding around us?
The presentation this weekend is particularly challenging. I’m talking about the towers falling. A text that I will be attempting to read without tearing up.
There is violence at play through the words, a matter of factness that is both shocking and traumatic. 9/11 changed me 18-years ago, and the world changed in response to the attack. In Perception Attack: Brief on War Time, Massumi writes about remembering 9/11:
Memory and perception share the moment, entering into immediate proximity, while remaining strangers. Their disjointed immediacy syncopates the instant from within. We do not see now what we can never have seen, even as we watched: the enormity of the event.
Hauntology/ The Haunted Breath
In Spectres of Marx, Derrida considers the conflict between presence and absence, inside and outside. He argues that the true logic of uncanniness is a phantom-logic, a necessity of learning to live with ghosts, phantoms, and spirits, because ‘there is no Dasein without the uncanniness, without the strange familiarity [Unheimlichkeit] of some specter’ (1994: 125). It is a state of being that is to be always and everywhere haunted by ghosts, phantoms or spirits: the “visibility of the invisible” (125). Spectral logic is the presence related to the otherness of the self or the self that is found within the other. In honour of Barthes, he writes: “Ghosts: the concept of the other in the same, the punctum in the studium, the completely other, dead, living in me” (Derrida, 2003: 42). This ghostly punctum is linked to the voice of the other, it is the “accompaniment, the song, the accord” (2003: 43).
Spectrality— the anachronistic specter, outside of time and place— exists between life and death, absence and presence, as Derrida writes “a trace always referring to another whose eyes can never be met” (1995: 84). Searching for the spectral is a way to navigate the evasiveness of trauma, a method of entering the space of dissociation as a witness rather than one subsumed by memory. The spectral for Derrida arises from the concept of a future absence, as he writes: “To haunt does not mean to be present, and it is necessary to introduce haunting into the very construction of a concept. Of every concept, beginning with the concepts of being and time” (1994: 13). This notion of “hauntology,” a pun on “ontology” links being and presence. Through the figure of the ghost, the past and present are indistinguishable. Embodied in the spectral the past is brought to life.
So, hauntology is the uncanny seeking restitution, an application of which is a necessity in the search for subjectivity to accommodate the multiplicities of voices and temporalities required to place meaning on traumatic experience. The ghost: “the double (and its various manifestations such as mirror images, déjà vu, doppelgangers, out of body experiences, etc.)” (Rahimi, 2015: 3), neither claims to be nor is experienced as a replica or a representation of the self as Freud posits, but rather the “ghost disturbs by producing an uncanny version of the other” (3). This notion of haunting suggests the idea of an externalisation of the haunted interior and creates the potential for a narrative to exist outside of the body as an alternative to negotiate not only individual trauma but also intergenerational and collective trauma.
(C Print. Walker, 2016)