Assistant Professor of Medieval French
University of California, Berkeley
Premodern Hauntologies: A Workshop on Spectral Temporality and Spectral Community
In 2022, I organised a workshop with Dr Simon Godart of Freie Universität Berlin on the subject of ‘Premodern Hauntologies’.
Derrida’s Spectres de Marx (1993), punning on ontologie, introduces the term hantologie to account for the dislocated temporal dynamics at the core of being. In the words of Hamlet’s Ghost, ‘The time is out of joint.’ There is no ‘present’ without the spectral, which means there is no self-identical present. The spectre epitomises that figure that cannot be exorcised from the present, that returns to demand justice, that interrupts all specularity. Quickly one sees spectrality as a deconstructive operation: undecidable, disruptive, degrounded. Given that hauntology resists any attempt at essentialisation, can there be such a thing as a spectral temporality or spectral community? Is it a mode of criticism, an object of enquiry, an ethical injunction, or something else? What possibilities does a self-avowed ‘anachronistic’ approach to texts and other cultural artefacts offer to literary scholars?
This workshop aims at once to think through the implications of Derrida’s hauntology for humanities researchers and to advance, question, or complexify some of its claims. While the focus is not on ghosts in the strict sense, we are interested in how premodern cultures may have radically different or unexpected configurations of the spectral, as expressed in the discursive or aesthetic practices of their times. At the same time, we want to reflect on the spectral presence of premodern cultures in modern and contemporary contexts. As the Classics and Medieval Studies have increasingly turned towards questions of the reception, instrumentalisation, and reimagining of their subjects and disciplines across time, we might also ask whether this can be theorised in terms of a hauntology. Does ‘medievalism’, for instance, operate within a spectral temporality and/or produce a spectral community?
A miniature of the Three Living and the Three Dead Kings, from the English De Lisle Psalter.
Skeleton in a medical treatise