03 November 2010
Brazil on Hauntology
[David Brazil delivered the following lecture last Friday in conjunction with the Berkeley Art Museum's Hauntology exhibition. Barn Owl and the dude from Indignant Senility/Expressway Yo Yo Dieting played afterward, and I suckily missed it all. Here's to the next best thing...]
What do the dead want from us,
how do they communicate it to us,
what's our responsibility to the dead in us,
do ghosts live in language or in the human symbolic,
signs themselves structured to as to commemorate the loss of mortal things
for which they stand in advance of the actual loss, which means we can imagine it.
Among the earliest archeological evidence of our species are funerary preparations. Among the oldest Greek writings are inscriptions on tombstones -- epitaphs, upon the graves -- from the verb thapto, to pay the last rites. Writing is the rite, of commemoration.
We are born. The name is waiting for us, we receive it,
as a garment,
then it alters. There's the matter of our passage
through time & its consequences in matter, the
traces it leaves. When the body's own power to move itself
which Plato called the psukhe or the soul becomes extinct
or recedes into invisibility of Hades,
(from a-ideo, the unseen), there is a remainder,
a remnant, the rest, that halo of the traces
gathered round the absence where the body that had
The body's passage through the world leaves traces, organized around the negative space where the body was, like a halo.
a halo in the negative space
from which the body has been subtracted
And when we turn we see its negative image in the phenomenal,
a consequence of shock of having it so suddenly torn from the fabric,
fabric to which we were also stitched,
of which we were made.
And in the gestures of the dead one we take up
and see ourselves thus taking,
or when we hear in our mouths the very words that are so charged with residue of them it's as though they speak through us, we see the way our bodies themselves become haunted.
Because we're creatures who love and remember we are haunted.
We are haunted by the ineluctable fact of our own deaths,
and also by the deaths of loved others. If they have not come we anticipate them with dread ; when they are passed we grieve them knowing that not only are they loss but a part of us is lost with them.
We die with the dying : see: they depart, and we go with them.
Our language itself is haunted by what it forecloses,
by traumas we refuse to acknowledge, which makes handling words themselves precarious, vexed, unpredictable in effects.
George Oppen writes :
Possible / to use / Words provided one treat them / As enemies. / Not enemies -- Ghosts / Which have run mad in the subways / And of course the instititions / And the banks.
nothing but a piece of silk like that separates us from the next world
Look out the saints are coming through
Both, look out as in "Look out! Watch out!," but also, "Look! Keep your eyes peeled!" In the gospels Christ says, What I say to you I say to all and that is watch. As the epigraph from Jules Verne to George Perec's Life a Users Manual has it : "Look, with all your eyes, look." But also, with the echo of "When the Saints Go Marching In," we think, when is that when? And that when is the day of judgment, at the sounding of the last trump. So among other "look out!"'s, it's the injunction to the wise & foolish virgins, to keep your lamp trimmed and burning.
And if they are coming through -- are they coming through here ? (As in, "Coming through!") Or are they coming through a medium : "coming through loud and clear!" And if the latter, what's that medium through which they come?
What is it through which they are coming?
That the dead want something from us, and that it's something to do with justice.
if it is, what is it,
in what form does it come,
& to what does it enjoin us?
The absence of the sender, of the receiver, from the mark that he abandons, and which cuts itself off from him and continues to produce effects independently of his presence and of the present actuality of his intentions, indeed even after his death, his absence, ...
... a rupture in presence ...
Furthermore, because we know that, once it has been taken, captured, this image will be reproducible in our absence, because we know this already, we are already haunted by this future, which brings our death. Our disappearance is already here.
The sign is already haunted from inside itself by the fact of the mortality of what it names -- like one of those tombstones that already has a name incised upon it, and a birthdate, and a blank where the death date will be, & will have been.
"we are and we are not," says heraclitus.
Ghosts always pass quickly, with the infinite speed of a furtive apparition, in an instant without duration, presence without present of a present which, coming back, only haunts. The ghost, le re-venant, the survivor, appears only by means of figure or fiction, but its appearance is not nothing, nor is it a mere semblance.
It is an incision made in time that does not bleed.
The present is a bull whose blood must fill the pit if the spirits of the departed are to appear at its edge.
Just after the famous passage on the madeline, Proust writes :
I find the Celtic belief very reasonable, that the souls of those we have lost are held captive in some inferior creature, in an animal, in a plant, in some inanimate object, effectively lost to us until the day, which for many never comes, when we happen to pass close to the tree, come into possession of the object that is their prison. Then they quiver, they call out to us, and as soon as we have recognized them, the spell is broken. Delivered by us, they have overcome death and they return to live with us.
Structure is perceived through the incidence of menace,
at the moment when imminent danger concentrates our vision …
this operation is called soliciting, -- in other words,
shaking in relation to the whole"
(from Latin sollus, "the whole," and citare, "to put into motion")
That the ghost solicits, and that the form of this solicitation is the flashing up of a sign that puts our own being into question. For if we follow the psychoanalytic account which shows us structured by and implicated in another, the sudden presence of what that other was, in the is, sets up a trembling doubly striking for our inability to have anticipated it.
"Last night, for the first time, dreamed of her," wrote Barthes in the text recently published in English as Mourning Diary, remarking the fact that the event of the appearance in dream of the one we have lost to death is a signal event. This is, in fact, the only place we are ever permitted to see and have conversations with that lost person again.
In Iliad Book XXIII, Achilles is visited by the shade (or eidolon) of his intimate friend Patroclus.
Then came the soul (psuche) of luckless Patroclus
in all things like himself, in stature and in fine eyes and in his voice,
(pant' autoi megethos te kai ommata k'al e-ikuia (from "eoiken", to seem) / kai phonen)
and with like raiment was he clad,
and he stood above Achilles' head and spoke, saying :
Achilles, you sleep and have forgotten me.
Not in my life were you unmindful of me, but in my death !
Bury me as soon as possible that I may pass through the gates of Hades.
But give me your hand, I beg you ; for never more
will I return from out of Hades,
when you have given me my share of fire.
And again, the living are solicited by the dead for what they deserve, for their "share of fire", in Herodotus, in the story of Periander and Melissa :
"[Periander] had sent messengers to the oracle of the dead on the river Acheron in Thesprotia to enquire concerning a deposit a friend had left ; but the apparition of Melissa [his wife] said she would tell him naught, nor reveal where the deposit lay ; for she was cold (she said) and naked ; for the raiment Periander had buried with her had never been burnt, and availed her nothing." (He appeased her by burning the garments of all the ladies and serving women of Corinth.)
The privilege of the dream as the place where we encounter the dead, and hear their solicitations, carries forward to the turn of the 20th century, when, shortly after his own father's death, Freud publishes "The Interpretation of Dreams," whose epigraph, drawn from Virgil, is
Flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo
If I cannot bend heaven, then I will stir up hell."
And there too fire has a part, in the famous dream of the seventh chapter, when the shade of a dead son appears to his father and utters the skin-crawling plea, "Father, cant you see I'm burning?"
In the show upstairs, the Japanese painter Maruyama Okyo has depicted his favorite geisha, Oyuki, as she returned to him in a dream.
We become these losses,
constituted by specters of which [we] become the host
... [& assemble] in the haunted community of a single body
The brother of death daily haunts us with dying mementoes.
When we wake, what will we say we've seen ?
On what basis would we trust the apparition?
the royal road to
"the dislocated time of the present"
the disjointure in the very presence of the present,
this sort of non-contemporaneity of present time with itself (this radical untimeliness or this anachrony on the basis of which we are trying here to think the ghost)
What presents and what futures
will have overlapped to render here the possibility of
(what we take to be) the present?
A basic disaster in time,
the calendar has turned illegible.
the fault, in any case, by definition, is repeated, we inherit it, we watch over it
this absolute rip in the foreseeable concatenation of historical time
The ghost is sympton
(sign, medical sign), of
a "rotten state" --
As Horatio says in the first scene of Hamlet :
"A mote it is to trouble the mind's eye.
In the most high and palmy state of Rome,
A little ere the mightiest Julius fell,
The graves stood tenantless and the sheeted dead
Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets ;
As stars with trains of first and dews of blood,
Disasters in the sun; and the moist star,
Upon whose influence Neptune's empire stands,
Was sick almost to doomsday with eclipse.
And even the like precurse of fear'd events,
As harbingers preceding still the fates
And prologue to the omen coming on,
Have heaven and earth together demonstrated
Unto our climatures and countrymen."
So that what has befallen us is "like" what happened to the Romans, and we take the substance of our present, its in-fact novelty, eventness, never-having-been, and to comprehend it garb it in what has been prior.
And if we are the microcosm of the larger human social, whose signs we ate like milk of the vernacular & which wrote our determinations, than that may tremble as we tremble, and when this is so we'll say we're at the edge of epistemes, looking over into abysses.
"it is always night at the battlements"
the ontological orders underwritten by the social appear to tremble
"Every culture has its phantoms and the spectrality that is conditioned by its technology."
"entire regiments of ghosts have returned"
In the first of his Vancouver lectures, Jack Spicer speaks of
Yeats' dictation -- the "first thing since Blake on the business of taking poetry as coming from the outside rather than from the inside."
"Instead of the poet being a beautiful machine which manufactured the current for itself, did everything for itself … instead there was something from the Outside coming in."
"Now, if you have a cleft palate and are trying to speak with the tongues of men and angels, you're still going to speak with a cleft palate. And the poem comes distorted through the things which are in you."
"It's impossible for the source of energy to use images you don’t have, or at least don’t have something of. It's as if a Martian comes into a room with children's blocks with A, B, C, D, E which are in English and he tries to convey a message."
"Language is part of the furniture in the room."
"What I'm saying is, -- just like I said the martians could take these alphabet blocks and arrange them in your room -- you have the alphabet blocks in your room : your memories, your language, all of these other things which are yours which they rearrange to try to say something they want to say.
"It is something which is in the mind of the host that the parasite (the poem) is invading."
"And I think that it is certainly possible that the objective universe can be affected by the poem…. I think that you do have things happen simply because the poem wants them to happen. No question about it. And how this operates, I havent the vaguest notion."
To the question, "What happens when the sources disappear?", Spicer answers, "Show them a good dinner of blood like in the Odyssey where they dug the trench and slit the throats of the sacrificial animals. All of that is likely to summon them."
The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.
a legacy that can come only from that which has not yet arrived
it intensifies and condenses itself within the very inside of life
And so they are always returning to us
rising up unanticipated as a figure out of sense to meet us
To answer for the dead, to respond to the dead, to correspond and have it out with obsessive haunting, in the absence of any certainty or symmetry
That we are seen but do not see. Or see in part.
We see by means of
This charged barrier, signs saturate with love and activated by a loss, which we can neither prove nor falsify but to whose injunctions we can nonetheless respond, in a singularity of reading, through that veil.
inheritance is never a given, it is always a task
like all inheritors we are in mourning
But at a certain point promise and decision,
which is to say responsibility, owe their possibility
to an ordeal of undecideability
which will always remain their condition.
it cannot rest in the platitude of some settled figure but must appear in the mantle of
this activated elements, a luminous citation of what we loved, to speak to us.
Unanticipatable and "marvelous strange".
Like the angel of Patinir's Annunciation of Joseph
which struck or solicited me when I saw the works upstairs,
"Look ! Jehovan's angel appeared to him in a dream,"
says Matthew 1:20,
so all of what appears to us a landscape is the inward of his dream,
fleshed with his rememberings, and the angel to appear at all must
quote the wisps of cloud
or curves of necks of
taking its form from whatever we have seen and love and remember,
quoting it, citing it --
and in the distance are some forms that might look to us like skylines of the cities in which
we live, of which the artist unless vouchsafed revelation could have had no conception,
folded into pictorial space as though contemporaneous with the annunciation,
or with the dream in which
which signaled something,
underneath the sky of craquelare,
ruptured in itself as though under the weight of all accumulated history,
ruptured from inside itself by instabilities in the materials,
which have told in time,
and whose texture rhymes with that of the sky
in a painting in the adjoining gallery entitled,
"View of Providence,"
by an unknown artist.
the thinking of the spectre, contrary to what good sense leads us to believe, signals toward the future. It is a thinking of the past, a legacy that can come only from that which has not yet arrived.
Unanticipatable and "wondrous strange"
"and therefore as a stranger give it welcome"
[Texts cited (indicated in italics), include works by Jacques Derrida (Specters of Marx, Memoires : For Paul de Man, "Signature Event Context," "Force and Signification," the film Ghost Dance (1983) and the interviews with Bernard Stiegler collected in Echographies of Television), Karl Marx (Eighteenth Brumaire), Emmanuel Levinas ("The Trace of the Other"), Roland Barthes (Mourning Diary), Walter Benjamin (The Arcades Project), Sigmind Freud (Interpretation of Dreams), W.G. Sebald (Austerlitz and The Emigrants), Marcel Proust (Swann's Way), George Oppen ("A Language of New York"), Jack Spicer (the first Vancouver lecture, as printed in The House That Jack Built), the Gospel of Matthew, Hamlet, the Iliad, the Histories of Herodotus, Heraclitus, Bob Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," and George Perec's Life A Users Manual.]