I missed the original hype around Hauntology. It looked interesting, a sinister mix of electronic music, test-cards, folk and government information films. In a Guardian article, Andrew Gallix noted a feeling that it had become old hat. James Bridle predicted it was “about six months away from becoming the title of a column in a Sunday supplement magazine“. This was a fate that occurred to Psychogeography but was avoided by Bridle’s New Aesthetic when its parents strangled it to death.
The word hauntology was coined by Jacques Derrida in his book Spectres of Marx. The concept plays with the way communism was announced as a ghost, with the Communist Manifesto beginning “A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism“. Derrida’s term was related to haunting, the dislocations of time and futures that had never happened.
Hauntology has come to note a sort of claustrophobic nostalgia. To quote Mark Fisher: “it doesn’t feel as if the 21st century has started yet. We remain trapped in the 20th century… in 1981, the 1960s seemed much further away than they do today… cultural time has folded back on itself, and the impression of linear development has given way to a strange simultaneity”. The ghost here, is a “spectre understood not as anything supernatural, but as that which acts without (physically) existing.”
As one commentator, Christopher Pankhurst has said, “It would be wrong to say that Derrida’s book has spawned a hauntological artistic movement but what it has done is allowed otherwise disparate cultural artefacts to be read in terms of their engagement with past forms“. And it’s easy to point to those cultural artefacts, as Fisher has: “[hauntology is] a confluence of artists. The word confluence is crucial here. For these artists – William Bansinski, The Ghost Box label, The Caretaker, Burial, Mordant Music, Philip Jeck, amongst others – had converged on a certain terrain without actually influencing one another. What they shared was not a sound so much as a sensibility, an existential orientation”.
Fisher talks a lot about how exhausted music seems, with no sense of anything new coming through. There is a strong sense of melancholy, as can be seen in the title of Leyland Kirby’s album Sadly, the future is no longer what it was, or V/vm’s The Death of Rave, a project “using all of the dance floor hits from the time and stripping theme of energy and spirit, turning them into shadows and ghosts“. Then there is the Caretaker’s Selected Memories from the Haunted Ballroom (which has been discussed at length by Fisher). For me, the confluence of influences, of folk, children’s TV and technology are to me, form a sort of soundtrack to things like the Scarfolk Council website.
Hauntology briefly flickered into life around 2006 and has continued to echo and influence. It has influenced culture and continues to do so. The sense of failed futures grows stronger, as does a feeling that the city is haunted by the country.