Home

in a small ghost town, there’s a little arcade
where the poltergeists play their video games

In my previous post I argued that it was necessary to distinguish Fisher and Derrida when considering hauntology, especially when criticising it. Here Matt Colquhoun raised a few issues:

I have a few points of contention here. First, Bluemink writes in favour of a real hauntology. “There are significant differences between Derrida’s and Fisher’s utilisation of the term … and I should first clarify that anti-hauntology is a response to Fisher and not to Derrida.” It is precisely their disarticulation that I disagree with. There are differences between them but I think Fisher’s use of the term is a translation of Derrida’s argument from politics to culture. It is a way to reintroduce the political stakes of Derrida’s point into an apparent cultural stagnation, rather than the vague appropriation it is said to be. Fisher’s hauntology, then, leads to Derrida’s, in much the same way that Simon Reynolds’ writings led young music fans to Nietzsche and Deleuze.

My main purpose in separating the two philosophers was to leave Derrida out of any potential criticisms I might make of Fisher. We can certainly accept Derrida’s influence on Fisher without claiming Fisher to be some kind of deconstructionist or a phenomenologist. What Colquhoun says here about reintroducing the political stakes of Derrida’s argument is an important point. However, I believe that if we trace a line through Derrida to Stiegler, rather than Fisher, we can come to a more complete understanding of exactly what anti-hauntology is trying to achieve.

Ghosts Dance

In this clip from Ken McMullen’s film Ghost Dance we hear Derrida discussing ghosts, the spectral entities that underpin the concept of hauntology, with actress Pascale Ogier. This film from 1983 covers much of the same conceptual ground as the book Spectres of Marx, which was released 10 years later, from which Fisher adopted hauntology.

A few years after the publication of Spectres Derrida and Stiegler published a book together which contained a series of conversations they had about the role of media and technology titled Echographies of Television. The book touches on a whole host of agreements and disagreements between the former teacher and pupil regarding the ‘reality’ of technics and the necessity of materialism in conceptualising political and cultural phenomena.

During this discussion, Derrida makes an interesting observation. He notes that in the 10 years that had passed between Ghost Dance and Spectres of Marx the actress Pascale Ogier who stars alongside him in the film had passed away. He goes on to makes a statement which highlights some interesting aspects of hauntology from his perspective:

after Pascale Ogier had died, I watched the film again in the United States, at the request of students who wanted to discuss it with me. Suddenly I saw Pascale’s face, which I knew was a dead woman’s face, come onto the screen. She answered my question: “Do you believe in ghosts?” Practically looking me in the eye, she said to me again, on the big screen: “Yes, now I do, yes.” Which now? Years later in Texas. I had the unnerving sense of the return of her specter, the specter of her specter coming back to say to me – to me here, now: “Now … now … now, that is to say, in this dark room on another continent, in another world, here, now, yes, believe me, I believe in ghosts.

But at the same time, I know that the first time Pascale said this, already, when she repeated this in my office, already, this spectrality was at work. It was already there, she was already saying this, and she knew, just as we know, that even if she hadn’t died in the interval, one day, it would be a dead woman who said, “I am dead,” or “I am dead, I know what I’m talking about from where I am, and I’m watching you”.”

The reason why this is important in the context of the discussion on television is that, from a Stieglerian perspective, the technical apparatuses that make up our increasingly interconnected world constitute, from the start, the ability to produce this hauntological echo of a person who lived before. They are traces that linger in the present which are, at the same time, elements of the past. (Here Derrida’s ideas draw interesting parallels with the formulation of temporality that Deleuze describes in Bergsonism, especially the idea that: “The past is ‘contemporaneous’ with the present that it has been. … The past and the present do not denote two successive moments, but two elements which coexist” (Bergsonism, 58–59).) Yet, at the moment of recording there is a curious temporal shift. The recording process itself throws the ghostly image into the future. When the transient moments of gesture and speech have disappeared, the image of these moments still exists in a virtual future.

Or as Derrida puts it: “The future belongs to ghosts”.

Years later when reflecting on his conversation with Derrida, Stiegler clarifies Derrida’s meaning:

If we say the future belongs to ghosts it means that the future is about repetition, emergence of the repressed, re-activation of the dead, virtualisation. It’s about that knowledge can only be projected in its future by a return to the primal impulses … So when we see Jacques Derrida playing his own role in a film by Ken McMullen we are facing what Jacques Derrida always said, which is that we can never make a strict distinction between what Husserl used to call primary and secondary retention, between perception and imagination. In other words between reality and fiction.

Derrida is dead, but his ghost lives on through Ghost Dance.

However, we should note here that Stiegler does not fully agree with Derrida on the concept of hauntology. During Echographies he makes a variety of criticisms of Derrida mainly focused on the inconsistencies he sees in Derrida’s framing of hauntology as a kind of immaterialism. But also, in the interview above he goes on to say: “All over the world the image industry has destroyed the horizons of the libido and therefore the horizons of hope. It has been replaced by the logic of despair.” It is precisely this logic of despair that I see in hauntology.

Nevertheless, if hauntology is the logic of despair, then anti-hauntology can be seen as the logic of hope. Stiegler sees the solution to the problem posed by Derrida in the ‘technical’ devices which provide us with the connection between the past and the present. These devices can, on the one hand, be utilised by the consumerist industries to promote an unsustainable and destructive form of desire, but they also allow us to project a common future in ways that wouldn’t be possible without them. Stiegler takes Derrida’s idea that future belongs to ghosts and asks, ‘yes, but what future?’ His work is therefore inherently focused on how we can create a new future, which is exactly what should concern us today, both culturally and politically.

The Logic of Despair

Now before moving on with Stiegler, I to want recall some points in Colquhoun’s last post. He states that:

If Fisher was a mournful modernist, it was because he mourned the conditions that had previously existed, from out of which radical cultural shifts occurred. This is very different from the belief often attributed to him: that nothing new can ever be produced again. He rather saw that the prime conditions for the production of the new were greatly curtailed by capitalist realism — that is, the ideological necessity of capitalism’s own stasis. Our own thinking undergoes a fatal error when we defensively assume he was just sad that his own youth was over. When younger generations assume this, we neglect what we have lost, not just culturally but politically as well.

As I made an effort to clarify in my previous post, it wasn’t my intention to criticise Fisher’s hauntology on the basis that ‘he was just sad because his own youth was over’. I certainly see that there is value in Fisher’s work and there is value in hauntology in general, but I want to point out the limits of the inherent pessimism I see in Fisher’s hauntology. Even in many of the responses to the previous articles I’ve noticed the pessimism recurring. There is nothing new being created now. All of this has been done before. Everything is a repetition of the past. Is this an unfair impression? Probably, but it’s pervasive. The line between mournful modernism and the above positions is extremely fine and often blurry for many of his readers.

This fine line is also evident when considering Fisher’s intellectual development. Despite the fact that he had supposedly moved on from hauntology during his later writings, he was still publishing and holding lectures about it which adds to this sense of temporal confusion. It seems clear that the earlier Fisher used hauntology to accurately diagnose the ways artists (such as Burial and The Caretaker) utilised manipulations of previous cultural forms to mourn the lost futures that would become so important in his thought. However, what started as a diagnosis for the problems of contemporary culture seems to have become a depressing acceptance of the lack of cultural innovation – a logic of despair, as Stiegler puts it – at least when it comes to music. Fisher may have moved on in some aspects of his thought, but there was a strong element of this cultural pessimism which resonates in all of his work, and it is this element that seems to have been taken up most strongly by his fans following publication of Ghosts of My Life in 2014. (I admit to not having read the Acid Communism intro which may be relevant here.)

I would also argue against Fisher’s claim that the conditions for the production of something new, or for the radical cultural shifts he mentions, were somehow eliminated due to capitalism’s overwhelming acceptance across the globe. Fisher seems to be mourning not only the cultural climate of popular modernism in the 70s and 80s, but the intellectual climate out of which he developed the majority of his ideas in the 90s. I don’t read this as a mere melancholy about his lost youth, but a melancholy about a hope that he once had for a world could have been. It’s a small but important distinction to make.

Anyway, this is somewhat nitpicking at this point. To lose one future is to find another. Our task is specifically how we go about doing this, both in the cultural and political realms.

Long Circuits and Education

Now what does this all have to do with Stiegler? Well, like Fisher, Stiegler was extremely concerned with the current state of culture and education in the West. He saw education as a fundamental and necessary force for good in a world that had been overrun by the industries of hyper-industrial capitalism. This is particularly important in relation to hauntology because Stiegler looks at education as the transmission of knowledge across generations; a transmission that encompasses all kinds of information. Stiegler claims that we can think of education on three basic levels: family education; academic education; and cultural education:

And in these three different levels, you can encounter the same problems – problems of circuits, long and short. Today, the problem of education at the level of the family is the short-circuiting of the relationship between generations through the operations of the media. What is created between generations are in fact long circuits. … These unconscious spaces link generations along very, very long spans of time. … It is equally the problem of academic institutions, because when you are teaching geometry or geography in scholarly institutions, you are creating long circuits with very distant generations – creating a unity with the past that allows for creating a unity with the future.

Essentially, as I summarised before, long circuits are the political, social, and technical connections which produce the positive forces of individuation in society – they make the production of the new seem possible once again. On the other hand, short-circuits are the result of short-termist thinking which limits the capacity of individuation to affect society in a positive way. We can therefore say that knowledge is short-circuited when there is a break or departure in thought which prevents long circuits being formed.

Here there are definitely parallels between Fisher and Stiegler, but if we look at Stiegler’s argumentation it seems that Fisher’s hauntology only diagnoses the ‘poisonous’ character of the pharmakon; it describes how certain cultural forms short-circuit the flow of knowledge between the past and the present, which thus prevents us imagining what a new future could look like. This is evident not only in the cultural realm, but the political too.

However, for every poison there is a remedy. In order to create long circuits which can individuate new cultural forms we have to reconnect with the future. To Stiegler, the rewiring of circuits requires using education as a tool which connects distant generations in the past to current generations in the present. Only through this process can we produce a common understanding of the past which will therefore allow us to project a collective vision of the future. It is precisely this focus on the future that I would claim is anti-hauntological.

Resonance and Dissonance

This leads me to another point I think it’s necessary to clarify. When Colquhoun says:

On the one hand, we’re affirming SOPHIE as a sort of revolutionary and, on the other, mourning her lost future. With this kind of slippage in mind, the argument of my last post is that hauntology and accelerationism (or anti-hauntology or popular modernism) clearly do not cancel each other out.

What we have on display here is a cognitive dissonance. … When we begin a debate by affirming one side only to repeatedly slide back into the position we’re supposedly opposing, we have to ask deeper questions regarding what is at stake and what is at play here.

I think this is a serious mischaracterisation. In this particular case we’re mourning the artist, not the art. SOPHIE’s work continues to inspire and influence despite the fact that the artist is gone. If she spawns a whole host of copy-cat artists perhaps we could say that this short-circuits her potential; this would be hauntological. But if her work continues to show how we can move beyond the limitations of the past, both musically and culturally, then this is a form of long circuit – it’s anti-hauntological. This is the pharmacological argument (in the sense of referring to both the poison and the cure) that Stiegler finds so useful, and it is something that Colquhoun recognises later on when he states: “The shifting nature of a horizon is how progress is made. But the point is rather that horizons can be both positively and negatively perceived, depending on the direction of travel.”

From this point onwards he’s referring to the left accelerationist arguments of people like Srnicek and Williams which are interesting points of departure and should certainly be considered, but as I said before, I just don’t feel it’s necessary to get weighed down by accelerationist baggage in order to criticise hauntology as a concept. It’s certainly not sidestepping the issue to point out that, for example, Simondon and Stiegler have radically different views on the idea of automation to the accelerationists. Without getting into too much detail it’s clear that whereas Srnicek and Williams (and perhaps the later Fisher?) promote automation as an emancipatory force, Simondon and Stiegler argue it can constitute a loss of knowledge (savoir-faire and savoir-vivre) which is hugely detrimental to society. To Simondon this is inherent in the process of automation itself, and to Stiegler it’s a potential outcome of it. But that’s a whole separate argument that would need to be had (perhaps one I will try and address in the future).

Nevertheless, I think the ideas on resonance and dissonance that he brings up in the latter half of the essay are worth considering and tie us nicely back to music. He states:

I do think SOPHIE and Arca (among others) have changed our sense of how things are and how they should be. But that we end up echoing arguments had over a decade ago in our appraisals of them clearly suggests an unavoidable level of dissonance here. …To put it another way: the fact that there is a lot of resonance with past arguments only produces more dissonance regarding our claims that SOPHIE and Arca represent something new.

I disagree on this point and I think that it confuses Colquhoun’s overall argument. The fact that my position resonates with a previous argument should distract not from the fact that these are separate arguments with common points. Resonances between two arguments do not mean equivalances, especially when we’re considering culture and the production of the new. My response here is essentially Borgesian. As Borges wrote in an essay on Kafka:

At one time I considered writing a study of Kafka’s precursors. I had thought, at first, that he was as unique as the phoenix of rhetorical praise; after spending a little time with him, I felt I could recognize his voice, or his habits, in the texts of various literatures and various ages.

He goes on to draw connections between Kafka and thinkers and writers as disparate as Zeno, Kierkegaard, and Robert Browning. His main point is that through making something new, each artist retroactively creates a line of connection linking them to those who came before. This is the differential/repetitive aspect of Borges that interested Deleuze so much, but it is also very in line with Stiegler’s thinking on individuation across generations (creation of long circuits). Borges concludes:

Kafka’s idiosyncracy is present in each of these writings, to a greater or lesser degree, but if Kafka had not written, we would not perceive it; that is to say, it would not exist … The fact is that each writer creates his precursors. His work modifies our conception of the past, as it will modify the future.

Taking this into account we could say that if an artist’s work resonates with previous cultural forms this does not discount the innovation (or inventiveness as Yuk Hui would put it) of their work. Similarly, the fact that my argument resonates with arguments from the past does not discount it, even if we are talking about temporal specificities. It may resonate but given the fact that it has come from a different cultural context we could say that this resonance is essentially a long circuit through which such arguments may be developed further. To some extent this is the whole point of this kind of discourse. The focus on whether the debate is similar to one that’s been had before is seemingly a needless (and dare I say it extremely hauntological) distraction from the issue at hand.

What should be most important to us is that if we are to move beyond hauntology we must try to find new ways of creating long circuits between the past and the present. Only through doing this can we begin to project a new future, or what a new future might mean. As Borges wrote, the creation of the new modifies the past as it will modify the future.

Postscript on What’s to Come

Now, I realise that here I’ve essentially fleshed out and given some more philosophical context to the debate and my position in it, but I haven’t gotten directly back to the music itself. The more I end up writing about this the further I delve into more philosophical ideas and move away from the specific musical ones that started the debate. This is necessary of course, and after all this is a philosophy blog, but I have a lot more to say about about this topic and want to address in it full without boring my readers with 6000 word blog post, so I’ll save that for a later date. (Also apologies Matt, I seem to be responding to your posts in slightly sporadic way – time constraints!)

One thing I think Colquhoun seem to agree on is made evident at the end of his essay. “My issue is that the music is new, the debate is not. Therefore, we do the music — even in defending it — a disservice. They were storming ahead into the future. We run the risk of causing drag on it from behind.” The music is new. I’m glad at least we can come to this reconciliation. The issue we have to address from now on is how the music itself can contribute to, or perhaps even change the debate itself. I think that Stiegler, who worked at the Institute for Acoustic and Musical Research and Coordination (IRCAM) at the Pompidou Centre in Paris addresses this in a particularly interesting way, and I will come to that next time.

One thought on “Anti-Hauntology: Derrida and Stiegler on Dancing With Ghosts and Education

  1. Pingback: Anarchist news from 300+ collectives 🏴 AnarchistFederation.net

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s