Chasing Ghosts: Hauntedness as Theory and Practice

This reading group will grapple with the hauntological turn across the humanities and social sciences. Particularly in the wake of Jacques Derrida’s Specters of Marx (1995), hauntedness has become a familiar theoretical tool for reckoning with trauma, belatedness, and historical memory. This group will ask why hauntedness has become a particularly major object of inquiry in recent decades, pursuing its uses and limits as an interpretive framework. Given the difficulty of pinning down ghosts, we will not limit ourselves to theoretical work that specifically thematizes spectrality. Rather, we will draw on a variety of disciplinary perspectives and subject positions, concentrating broadly on texts which participants agree would reflect haunting’s poetic, philosophical, and political capacity.

We will approach hauntedness from at least four directions. First, the work of Jacques Derrida, Christina Sharpe, and Giorgio Agamben will help us move past accounts of hauntedness as metaphor or rhetorical device in order to reframe it as an ontological fact and an epistemic position. Second, we will engage theorists associated with the New Materialism, such as Jane Bennett and Mel Chen, whose critiques of traditional ontology extend the range of vitality and animacy beyond the categories of embodied life. Their work will prompt us to ask how hauntedness might supplement recent challenges to the traditional vocabulary of life and death. Third, we will locate haunting’s subjective dimension by considering psychoanalytic and literary encounters with specters (e.g. Julia Kristeva; Toni Morrison), asking what sorts of life remain possible in their wake. Finally, we will attend to the objectivity of ghosts by theorizing hauntedness, mourning, and melancholia as political and material forces. For this purpose, we will read authors such as Saidiya Hartman, Gillian Rose, Bonnie Honig, and Judith Butler, all of whom debate the value of centering grief and loss in social thought. Our group will meet once every two weeks, typically discussing essays or short excerpts from selected texts rather than entire books. The reading list is subject to change based on the group’s collective interests. We will invite occasional guest-speakers from Princeton’s faculty whose work relates to the themes/texts under consideration. For more information please contact [email protected]
Meeting calendar (every other Thursday at 6 PM):
Fall term:
September 10
September 24
October 8
October 22
November 5
November 19
December 3
Spring term:
February 4
February 18
March 4
March 18
April 1
April 15