Academic journal article Liminalities

Ghosts of Memory: Mournful Performance and the Rhetorical Event of Haunting (Or: Specters of Occupy)

Academic journal article Liminalities

Ghosts of Memory: Mournful Performance and the Rhetorical Event of Haunting (Or: Specters of Occupy)

Article excerpt

What are the cultural barriers against which we struggle when we try to find out about the losses that we are asked not to mourn?

- Judith Butler, Frames of War: When is Life Grievable?

[Q]uick, do whatever is needed to keep the cadaver localized, in a safe place, decomposing right where it was inhumed, or even embalmed!

- Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx: The State of Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International

Following ghosts . . . is about putting life back in where only a vague memory or a bare trace was visible to those who bothered to look . . . to understand the conditions under which a memory was produced in the first place, toward a counter-memory, for the future.

- Avery Gordon, Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination


Maintaining now these ghosts of memory-memory as ghost, one forever bound to forgetting, haunting and ephemeral revenant-and with so many to which one might attend. Plus d'un. Such spooks are restless, parading the psyche uninvited, listlessly trudging from the waters of oblivion for a visit, ruining the frost- ing of life with fingerprints. What force has called out these ghosts? And how will one keep such unsettling invaders occupied? Perhaps they desire recognition of their unending sorrow; perhaps they simply require recollection; perhaps they urge one to just cry-or to cry justly. For as I will explain, many argue that the ghost issues a cry for justice, so clearly what is at stake here is a radically different conception of the spectral than is typical and familiar.

Yet to glean what it is more precisely that this novel variety of ghost desires, it will have been necessary to engage in psychography of a sort, a bit of "automatic writing," so as to let the ghost convey what it has to say through a rhetorical medium-as I become its automaton. I will thereby strive to show how the ghost of memory is called forth via various rhetorical means, and illustrate how its haunting return constitutes an uncanny performance, one whereby it possesses, occupies a space/place, through its mnesic echo. Quite crucially, it will likewise become apparent how the attempt to give the ghost its stage-time constitutes an attempt to mourn/grieve.1 "Crucially," because the struggle to mourn and/or grieve is often blocked, occluded, prohibited, even struck down and put to death; for although perhaps not readily apparent, there is quite a lot at stake ethico-politically in the morbid "undertaking" of attending the dead and their desires. Yet one must accept bearing such palls and sorrows if one is to respond to the call for justice that the ghost issues.

I want to begin, then, start listening and responding, via what Theodore Adorno and Max Horkheimer in "On the Theory of Ghosts" call "[t]he disturbed relationship with the dead" (or lost) that comes about due to blocked mourning (215), and with the non-affirmative form of forgetting brought about by the prohibition of mourning's/grieving's rhetorical performance (what Walter Benjamin analyzed in Trauerspiel).2 Continuing with the theme of performance, I will in turn show how not only are attempts to mourn/grieve often prevented outright, they are often disrupted by forces proclaiming-themselves via performative declaration-that those attempting to mourn/grieve are engaged in rhetorically futile acts, that in essence their causes or undertakings are "dead."3 However, as I will also show, such declarations (and their wishes for hegemonic memory and/or obliviousness) produce surprising and unintentional effects, more precisely, that they have the power to conjure the ghost. The ghost at issue here, however, rather than some cliché Halloweenish caricature, is a rhetorical figure for envisioning the haunting force of memory, memory's indissolvable link to forgetting, the incomplete and incompletable nature of history/ontology (including The History of Rhetoric), and the "empty" and undesignated space/place of justice. …

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