Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

Hauntology, Ruins, and the Failure of the Future in Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker

Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

Hauntology, Ruins, and the Failure of the Future in Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker

Article excerpt

THIS ARTICLE PROPOSES THAT A HAUNTOLOGICAL APPROACH to the study of Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker (1979) can deepen our understanding of the issues that the film raises. My broader contention is that each of Tarkovsky's films invites a thorough hauntological consideration. Here, however, I will use Stalker as a case study. I will explain how the film, traditionally understood as an allegory about faith, is not only a cinematic representation of the failure of the promised Soviet future to arrive but also a still-pertinent guide to our present moment.1

In Tarkovsky's cinema, there are near-literal ghosts, such as the inexplicably resurrected Theophanes in Andrei Rublev (1968) and the revenant version of Hari in Solaris (1972). A full hauntological interpretation of Tarkovsky's cinema would give due consideration to these specters. Here, though, I will prioritize the kind of cinematic ghost that, as proposed by Alexander Etkind, "lives" within texts (Etkind, "Post Soviet Hauntology" 182-200).

A hauntological critique of Tarkovsky's cinema is necessary at this juncture because criticism and interpretation of Tarkovsky's work has been guided, overshadowed, and often limited by Tarkovsky's own words and the traditional aesthetic values he upheld, especially as outlined in his book Sculpting in Time. Since this paradigm has become entrenched, it has occasionally been criticized: Tarkovsky scholar Robert Bird dealt with this overreliance on "the intentional fallacy," arguing that scholars should focus on the "manifest discontinuities" in Tarkovsky's work instead of "incorporating them within the hermetic continuities of an allegorical narrative" (Bird, "Gazing into Time"). However, since Bird's work in 2003, scholars have done little to attend to these discontinuities and ambiguities, which permeate Tarkovsky's cinema. Hauntology, with its focus on spectral traces and uncanny discontinuities, can fix our attention on these moments and help us to determine how they are relevant to our ongoing sociopolitical moment. In order to demonstrate this, I will first turn to the theoretical construct of hauntology to provide the necessary contextual information.

Jacques Derrida coined the wry neologism "hauntology" in Spectres of Marx, a work that aimed to rekindle the spirit of the Marxist international against the triumphalist rhetoric of the early 1990s, following the fall of the Berlin Wall. This triumphalism was encapsulated by the neoliberal theorist Francis Fukuyama's notion of the "end of history." Fukuyama saw history as a process of competing ideologies, which the dissolution of the Soviet Union had brought to an end. Derrida wanted to show the brutal side effects of unchecked free-market capitalism and to demonstrate that ideas thought to be buried would keep returning, albeit as specter-like traces.

To explore this idea of revisitations from the past, Derrida returns, throughout the linked essays that make up Spectres of Marx, to two main motifs from Shakespeare's Hamlet. First, he analyzes the figure of the ghost, whom he links to the "spectre of communism" cited by Marx. Second, Derrida seizes upon Hamlet's pronouncement that "the time is out of joint," suggesting provocatively that this disjointed time is the political situation that must be set right, the debt that we must settle. Derrida's hauntology, then, is not only a way of conceptualizing our repressed past but also a way of understanding our obsession with failed futures; the gleaming Soviet dream failed to manifest itself, but the forward march of progress promised by capitalism is continually halted by financial crises, interethnic wars, terrorism, and other chaotic conditions.

Since Derrida's book appeared in the early 1990s, the term "hauntology" has taken on a life of its own (perhaps an afterlife?). The concept has bled out of academia, inspiring musical and visual artists in addition to scholars.2 Inspired by Derrida, Alexander Etkind's work examines the ways in which post-Soviet Russian culture has attempted to memorialize the victims of the Stalinist terror through monuments, films, and so on. …

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