Haunts: A Eulogy to Phantasmagoria
MetadataShow full item record
My aim in this paper is to rethink and reconfigure the notion of phantasmagoria not as forms of deception and domination (myth, fetishism, illusion, dreaming) but rather as sites of and encounters with ‘gatherings of ghosts’. To this end, I compare and contrast two key visions of contemporary urban space: the notion of ‘non places’ (non-lieux) identified by the French social anthropologist Marc Augé and ‘place of memory’ (lieux de memoire) as articulated by his compatriot, the historian Pierre Nora. I suggest that these may be understood as two sides of the same coin: non-lieux as spaces of alienation and individualization bereft of meaning and significance as characteristic of supermodernity (malls, airports, car parks, gas stations, fast food chains); lieux de memoire as spaces (and objects, texts, and other artefacts) of mythological history seeking to indoctrinate a national collective consciousness in the absence of any genuine connectedness to the past (monuments, school textbooks, historical personae and stories). One produces the atomized individual; the other incorporates this individual into the mass and mythology of the nation. Both kinds of ‘spaces’ are, in fact, about amnesia: the the absence of remembrance and / or its orchestration. So I will propose something else which might serve as sites of critique and counterpoint: those places that are haunted by the repressed, the down-trodden, the unsuccessful, the dead, the poor, the ‘others’ of conventional history. These are eradicated / erased by both these kinds of lieux: almost! They remain as traces and residues, they survive as ghosts. The places of the city are those that are alive with ghosts. Far from rejecting these as sites of fetish and ideology, we must redeem the crowds of ghosts that haunt the city. ‘Phantasmagoria’ is therefore to be understood here not so much as deceptive 'phantasms in the marketplace' (the fetish commodity chief among them) but more simply as a ‘gathering of ghosts’ in a certain place. And so what I am going to advocate, and this is very much in keeping with the Surrealists of course, iare what we might term lieux d'hanter or simply les hantes. Haunts because this is both an action and a place, a place which one frequents. Not ‘non-places’, not ‘places of memory’, but haunts. And this returns us to the writings of Marc Augé whose essays on Paris are very much a series of eulogies / elegies to his haunts: the metro, the little independent Left Bank cinema, the corner bistro.