Ghosts in the Flesh
24th-25th May, 2013 – University of Kent, Canterbury
Keynote Speaker: Dr. Esther Peeren, University of Amsterdam
While ghosts in the dominant Western tradition have often been associated with other-wordliness or liminality, the aim of this conference is to critically examine discourses and texts which emphasise the corporeality and physicality of ghosts and the ghostly. Allowing ghosts to occupy the centre rather than the periphery challenges – and allows us to reconsider anew – a number of key oppositions such as: life and death, inside and outside, corporeality and incorporeality, self and other, present reality and past memory, and so on.
This commitment to thinking the reality of the incorporeal can be clearly identified, for example, in the Stoic turn in twentieth century French thought. The ancient Stoics developed a form of materialism which admitted four “incorporeals” into their ontology – place, time, the void, and “expressibles” (linguistic sense or meaning). While being the proximate surface-effects of material or corporeal causes, “incorporeals” were seen as filling out the dimensions of the cosmos, itself a single surface expanding and contracting to the rhythm of bodily actions and passions. These incorporeals were considered as having almost zero being or substance, yet they were required to complete the Stoics’ materialism. For Deleuze, the Stoics were thus the first to “reverse” Platonism – the ideal world of Forms no longer seen as transcendent and as now nothing more than an incorporeal lining co-extensive with the sensible world – with the corporeal and the incorporeal neither simply the cause nor the effect of the other.
Perhaps it is psychoanalysis which develops this hypothesis the furthest. Psychoanalysis considers castration – the infant’s awareness of the mother’s lack of a penis – as constituting a deadlock in the infant’s reality. This deadlock is displaced in part thanks to the development of the phantasm – literally a ghost – a psychical structure composed of de-personalised memories, a kind of death through which the infant must pass in order to further its psychical development, and thanks to which the infant can re-connect with the materiality of reality.
Psychoanalysis emphasises the importance of memory in the present, and we should consider memory as a privileged site of the ghostly. More generally, Derrida’s concept of “hauntology” – which refers to the state of the spectre as neither being nor non-being – argues for the existence of the “present” as inseparable from that of the “past”, an individual or society’s past as both revenant and out-of-joint, and as essential to one’s continued survival in the present.
Bearing in mind lines of argumentation such as these, we wish to explore questions of ghostliness and in/corporeality in a number of fields, including but not limited to the following:
- Ghosts in Literature and Cinema (Gothic Literature and its critiques, Magical Realism, the double)
- Virtual Reality and Digital Arts (virtual space, digital performance theory, MMO RPG’s, simulation games)
- Memory and Architecture
- Memory and Archaeology or History
- Theatre (repetition, embodiment)
- Philosophy and Theology (mind-body dualisms and their critiques, “difficult atheism” in continental philosophy)
- Critical theory (psychoanalytic theory, literary theory)
Please send abstracts (350 words) and a short bio-bibliographic note to firstname.lastname@example.org by 22nd February 2013.
The conference is organised by Skepsi, a peer reviewed postgraduate journal based in the School of European Culture and Languages at the University of Kent and funded by the University of Kent.