Hauntology

via James Bridle (whose blog, booktwo.org you should read religiously if you don’t already) I picked up the term ‘hauntology’. Like all concepts originating in the work of Jacques Derrida it is slippery, not to say labile. But Derrida, despite the flimsiness of some of his grander claims, does seem to have put his finger on something for once. A useful (though badly-spelled) definition can be found here – http://bit.ly/qaZ5lV

“The phrase is coined by Derrida (not Delueze) in his Specters of Marx during which he reflects on the persistance of the concept of (utopian) revolution despite its apparent eradication from the scene of politics and history… As such the concept of social and political revolution takes on a ghostly aspect – present and not present…” sic

Hauntology, playing on the French pronunciation of ‘Ontologie’, and like many Derridean terms more or less concerned with the state of simultaneous being and not-being, has more recently been applied to music instead of politics, to describe new compositions that make use of forgotten techniques or sound effects to create a ‘spectral’ sense of the past in the present. In particular to re-create sounds that were, when first invented, an attempt to be ‘futuristic’. At its simplest, then, hauntology is another form of nostalgia, a nostalgia for ideas of the future that have been rendered obsolete by the march of time and the quote-unquote “End of History”.

But hauntology is not simply about revisiting the past, it has a very specific tenor, a feeling of supernatural revenance, as if the sound or idea in question really has ‘come back from the dead’ or lingered on between heaven and earth, refusing to die:

“…the concept is deployed towards a music that employs certain strategies of disinternment – a disinternment of styles, sounds, even techniques and modes of production now abandoned, forgotten or erased by history…

(I take it the author means ‘disinterment’, as in un-burying, rather than ‘disinternment’, which presumably means some kind of release from prison…)

[it]… is like encountering a revenant – a return in figurative form of a glimpse of a future that never was, a visionary dream that was envisioned once but which slipped out of collective memory.”

But hauntology interests me particularly because I am fascinated by the ways in which our ideas of the future either wither or persist. They tell us something about the way our imaginations work, and about what we really mean when we say ‘the future’ or ‘futuristic’. Certain sounds and concepts quickly age or seem dated. Fashions, computer hardware, advertising, all of these things have short sell-by dates. When we see computer terminals from the 1970s in films, for instance, they look positively pre-historic. They don’t just look out of date. They look spectacularly backward. Something about the rate of progress of our design of this technology means that it almost immediately looks obsolete and becomes passé.

On the other hand, architecture and furniture designed in the 1920s and 1930s as part of the Bauhaus school and its descendents, the designs of people like Walter Gropius and Mies van Der Rohe all the way up to the 50s, still has a powerful hold on our imaginations and looks ‘futuristic’. Even drawings by Frank Lloyd Wright for buildings like the ‘Illinois’ look extraordinarily daring, bold and fantastic still.

I think that when we use the term ‘futuristic’ to describe an aesthetic, we really mean something else. The meaning of ‘futuristic’ in this sense is actually a collection of concepts related to simplicity, efficiency, geometrical cleanliness and abstraction. It is a lack of visual ‘noise’ and in this way it is connected to the imagery of the classical era. Egyptian monumental sculpture and architecture often has this quality of gigantic, simplified form. Perhaps this accounts for some of the persistence in our culture of the mythology of Egypt’s links with alien civilizations and spacefarers. Anyway, the point is that what we think the future looks like has certain common elements that don’t seem to change very much, despite the progress of our own present designs.

Some future aesthetics we have to excavate from the past because they only felt futuristic for a short time, in the cultural context in which they were made (and now they seem hopelessly outdated), while others don’t ever need rescuing because they still speak to our basic feelings of what the avant-garde, the advanced and space-age should be like. There is a permanent future, one that is, as Eliot put it: ‘perhaps… contained in time past’ and time present. It is a bright, abstract shape, and it haunts us just as much, and just as permanently, as the ghosts of the recent past.

Oh, and talking of aesthetics, ones that hover between the spectre of the past and the gleaming vision of the future, here’s Mr Bridle (and the Really Interesting Group) again – http://new-aesthetic.tumblr.com/

 

Category: Uncategorized 10 comments »

10 Responses to “Hauntology”

  1. Ubiquitous Computing & Hauntology | anansalvarinas

    […] C. (2012), ‘Hauntology’ on How to think about the future.com < http://www.howtothinkaboutthefuture.com/?p=75&gt; accessed […]

  2. Media and “The Future” | ARTS3091 Blog

    […] How to think about the future, ‘Hauntology’, http://www.howtothinkaboutthefuture.com/?p=75 […]

  3. Hauntology | 3329293maggien

    […] (2013), Hauntology, http://www.howtothinkaboutthefuture.com/?p=75, accessed 22 May […]

  4. hauntology | Pearltrees

    […] Hauntology — how to think about the future […]

  5. Week 11 – The Future (Hauntology) « samanthasmith3091

    […] Anon. (n.d) ‘Hauntology’  How To Think About The Future     http://www.howtothinkaboutthefuture.com/?p=75 […]

  6. From Mixtapes to YouTube Playlists: How Curating Music Marks our Paths | Culture Jam

    […] Hauntology, playing on the French pronunciation of ‘Ontologie’, and like many Derridean terms mo… […]

  7. Technologies have materialized memory before, right? Let’s discuss practice. | VCU's Science in Society Course

    […] vision of a particular technology. I am contemplating the history (or if you are a Derridean, the HAUNTOLOGY) of Bush’s technological vision — and how it compares to other technological visions […]

  8. Futuro mai realizzato

    […] racconto intercetta temi che hanno interessato il movimento-estetica-corrente di pensiero definito Hauntology, si pensi al lavoro fatto dall’etichetta discografica Ghost Box e a un progetto ispirato […]

  9. Andrew Mackenzie

    Hi Charlie,

    I enjoyed your blog about Hauntology, and found it very useful, but can you let me know where this quote came from:
    [it]… is like encountering a revenant – a return in figurative form of a glimpse of a future that never was, a visionary dream that was envisioned once but which slipped out of collective memory.”
    Is that Derrida, you or James Brindle? I’d like to use it as part of a short essay about my work in a catalogue for Visual Art Scotland 2016, if I may, and need to give proper credit. many thanks, Andrew

  10. End of History: Hauntology in Computer Science & Art | Renegade Futurism

    […] Hauntology interests me particularly because I am fascinated by the ways in which our ideas of the future either wither or persist. They tell us something about the way our imaginations work, and about what we really mean when we say ‘the future’ or ‘futuristic’. Certain sounds and concepts quickly age or seem dated. Fashions, computer hardware, advertising, all of these things have short sell-by dates. When we see computer terminals from the 1970s in films, for instance, they look positively pre-historic. They don’t just look out of date. They look spectacularly backward. –Charles Beckett, how to think about the future […]


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