Ireland: Spectres and Chimeras
SOFEIR ANNUAL CONFERENCE
UNIVERSITY OF REIMS CHAMPAGNE-ARDENNE
Key-note speakers (among others ) :
Claude Fierobe, Professeur, Université de Reims (De Melmoth à Dracula, la littérature fantastique irlandaise au XIXe siècle (2000), L'Irlande fantastique (recueil de nouvelles, 2004), Les Ombres du fantastique. Fictions d’Irlande,2016.
Christina Morin, Professor, University of Limerick, (Charles Robert Maturin and the Haunting of Irish Romantic Fiction, The Gothic Novel in Ireland, c.1760-1829)
Paul Lynch, writer (Red Sky in the Morning, The Black Snow, Grace, Beyond the Sea).
This conference aims at interrogating the persistence of ghosts, spirits, phantoms and specters in Irish culture, history, politics, literature and art down the centuries, most of them having to do with the haunting of the present by the past, which cannot be separated from the existence all along of aspirations, dreams, hopes and utopias meant to imagine and build a better future.
Of course, Ireland with its rich mythology and folklore has been known for its beliefs in supernatural phenomena such as goblins, fairies, leprechauns, banshees etc.
One of Ireland’s most famous poet and intellectual, William B. Yeats, was himself an adept of the occult and spiritualism.
Apart from being the cradle of European gothic literature with such authors as Regina Maria Roche, Charles Maturin or Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu and Bram Stoker who were as productive and popular, if not more, than their English counterparts, Ireland has always shown a remarkable devotion to the dead (and the Undead!), what with the tradition of the wake and keening, the promotion of martyrdom to the rank of powerful instrument of political propaganda, and the multiplication of funerals and commemorations meant to impress people’s imagination and make a political statement.
One of the most beautiful stories written by an Irish writer is after all called “The Dead” and revolves around the unexpected return of the ghost of Michael Furey to disrupt the bourgeois, patriarchal order so far enjoyed by the protagonist Gabriel Conroy. Joyce was also keenly aware of the Irish propensity to admire their heroes once they were dead–Parnell being a case in point, but we could also mention Wolfe Tone, Robert Emmett, and of course the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising–as if they would rather look upon their deeds and accomplishments as mere dreams and chimeras:” We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;” Yeats wrote in his famous poem “Easter 1916”.
But specters and chimeras are pushed to the foreground again today: as a result of the 2008 economic crisis, mostly caused by a property bubble, the Irish landscape is now scattered with ghost-estates, the miracle of the Celtic Tiger economy suddenly appearing to the eyes of the world and of the Irish themselves as a mere chimera.
Most recently, Brexit is threatening to raise the ghosts from the past in the shape of a physical border between the two Irelands, re-awakening fears of violence but also dreams of reunification.
As a result, when Maria del Pilar Blanco and Esther Peeren remark in their introduction to The Spectralities Reader: Ghosts and Haunting in Contemporary Cultural Theory, that “the figure of the ghost has haunted human culture and imagination for a long time, perhaps even forever, although more insistently in certain societies and periods than others”, we may say that Ireland ranks high among these societies where spirits, chimeras and phantoms occupy a central place in the imagination of the community.
The whole point of Maria del Pilar Blanco’s and Esther Peeren’s The Spectralities Reader is to show to what extent spectrality, ghost, phantoms, etc. have become at the end of the twentieth century, what they call a conceptual metaphor, mostly based upon Jacques Derrida’s Spectres de Marx published in 1993 and which acted as a catalyst for what some have called “the spectral turn”.
According to the two authors,
At the end of the twentieth century (…) certain features of ghosts and haunting- such as their liminal position between visibility and invisibility, life and death, materiality and immateriality, and their association with powerful affects like fear and obsession- quickly came to be employed across the humanities and social sciences to theorize a variety of social, ethical, and political questions. These questions include, among others, the temporal and spatial sedimentation of history and tradition, and its impact on possibilities for social change; the intricacies of memory and trauma, personal and collective ; the workings and effects of scientific processes, technologies, and media ; and the exclusionary, effacing dimensions of social norms pertaining to gender, race, ethnicity , sexuality and class.
The specter is “the visibility of a body which is not present in flesh and blood” and challenges foundational, presentist, and teleological modes of thinking.
In this prospect, the ghost is seen to signify precisely that which escapes full cognition or comprehension : “One does not know : not out of ignorance, but because this non-object, this non-present present, this being-there of an absent or departed one no longer belongs to knowledge”, Derrida writes. According to Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock commenting Derrida, “The ghost functions as the ‘shadowy third’, or trace of an absence that undermines the fixedness of (…) binary oppositions. As an entity out of place in time, as something from the past that emerges into the present, the phantom calls into question the linearity of history. Derrida’s plus d’un means at the same time “no more one” and “more than one”.
On the other hand, Weinstock also argues that “Spectral discourse can be connected with the recent preoccupation with ‘trauma’ in which the presence of a symptom demonstrates the subject’s failure to internalize a past event, in which something from the past emerges to disrupt the present”.
To be traumatized as Cathy Caruth has explained, is to be ‘possessed by an image or event located in the past”.
Caruth describes traumatized individuals as historical subjects, in the sense that “they carry an impossible history within them or they become themselves the symptom of a history that they cannot entirely possess”. Del Pilar Blanco and Peeren mention Nicolas Abraham’s and Maria Törok’s groundbreaking essay L’écorce et le noyau in which the two psychoanalysts argue that the undisclosed traumas of previous generations might disturb the lives of their descendants, even and especially if they know nothing about their distant causes.
What Abraham and Törok call a phantom is the presence of a dead ancestor in the living ego, which can and should be put into words so that its noxious effects on the living should be exorcised.
The ghost has to do with temporality because of its tendency to put time out of joint: its haunting indicates that beneath the surface of received history, there lurks another narrative, an untold story that calls into question the veracity of the authorized version of events.
In Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the sociological imagination, Avery Gordon argues that to write stories concerning exclusions and invisibilities, to write from a perspective other than the authorized one, is to write ghost stories.
He also claims that “The ubiquity of ghost stories is connected to the recognition that history is always fragmented, and perspectival and open to contestations for control of the meaning of history”. Every society will have oversights and disavowals that reverberate below the surface.
As a symptom of repressed knowledge, the ghost calls into question the possibilities of a future based on avoidance of the past, and as such, remains a figure of unruliness, pointing to dispossession, disappearance, and social erasure.
According to Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock, the ghost functions as the “shadowy third”, or trace of an absence that undermines the fixedness of binary oppositions, and for Avery Gordon, “ghosts are one form by which something lost, or barely visible, or seemingly not there to our supposedly well-trained eyes, makes itself known or apparent to us”.
Ghost stories have always responded to the evolving social, ethnic, religious, and cultural circumstances of a precise location: as Judith Richardson puts it: ”Ghosts operate as a particular, and peculiar, kind of social memory, an alternate form of history-making in which things usually forgotten discarded, or repressed become foregrounded, whether as items of fear, regret, explanation, or desire”.
We could therefore apply to the case of Ireland what Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock aimed at doing in his Spectral America: “while there are specific studies of particular authors and bodies of literature, what all these isolated studies of particular authors point to is the need for, and what is precisely missing, is an analysis of the general importance of phantoms and haunting to the constitution of the ‘American imagination’”
Suggested topics for papers include but are not restricted to:
-Haunted texts: How do the ideas of haunting and spectrality change our understanding of particular texts and the notion of the text in general? What we call texts, what we constitute as the identity of texts is in the words of Jean Michel Rabaté, “systematically ‘haunted’ by voices from the past.”
-Ghosts and ghosting in Irish literature.
-Spectropolitics: “the term designates the diffuse operations and effects of present-day globalization “(eg; phantom-states, cartels, mafias, shadow politics, invisible structures of power), and the way its processes produce certain subjects as disenfranchised or, in Judith Butler’s terms, forced to live in extreme precarity as ‘would-be humans, the spectrally human’”. (invisible minorities, because of their race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity).
-Spectral media: science and technology and their relationship with ghosts, vision, phantasm, phantoms, utopias. Visibility and invisibility on stage, screen, networks. Photography, phonography : possibility of seeing/ hearing the dead.
-The unfinished work of the past: trauma, the return of the past, in individual and communal history.
-The lost other(s) of the past.
-Injustices from the past which inhabit the present.
- Spectrality as a conceptual metaphor to effect revisions of history.
-Haunted historiographies: the work of the historian in search for signs of the past. “What is our responsibility and how do we formulate that responsibility towards the past, its lost subjects and objects, in the process of writing history in the twenty-first century?”. The past haunting the present/the present haunting the past. The future as inscribed by the past.
The historian as reshaper, recollector.
-Haunted sites and places: places and narratives; Michel de Certeau: “Haunted places are the only ones people can live in.” Spectral locations. The unearthing of what should have remained buried and undisturbed. Landscape and memory. Magical and religious relation to places.
-Imaginings of the future: utopias, imaginary cities…
-Failed revolutions/rebellions, forgotten ideologies.
-New ideologies, emerging voices, political forces..
PROPOSALS no longer than 500 words should be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org before December 15.
Sylvie Mikowski, Françoise Canon-Roger, Marine Galiné.
Anne Goarzin, Fiona McCann, Eamon Maher, Christophe Gillissen, Xavier Giudicelli.