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Not the Jim Corrigan kind of Spectre, mind you
June 23, 2011 7:55 AM   Subscribe

The Invisibles and Hauntology: Amypoodle, a frequent contributor to the comics blog Mindless Ones (previously), has just completed an analytical appraisal of Grant Morrison's The Invisibles in light of Jacques Derrida's concept of hauntology. Critical analysis in terms of "ghosts", things that are both present and not present in a text, seems likely to be implicit as well in the forthcoming Supergods, Morrison's appraisal of superheroes as mythology.
posted by Ipsifendus (35 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
I can't wait to get home and read this. Maybe I'll even break out my copy of Anarchy for the Masses and re-read the comic for the tenth time.

Also, Mindless Ones is not only home to awesomeness like this, but also Terminus, which in my opinion is/was one of the best comics on the web.
posted by griphus at 8:22 AM on June 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is a Dissensus thing, isn't it?
posted by mikeh at 9:02 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


From the main link's summary of hauntology:
Very loosely speaking, it posits that as a result of living in a post-industrial, post-ideological society, people will turn increasingly to the past for authentic experience and that this disjuncture between now and then, coupled with the spooky moans of the unquiet spectres of inequality and exploitation, things we’ve never truly been able to put to rest, will result in the idea of revolution re-emerging again. Hauntology, however, isn’t an explicitly Marxist ideology, with its united worker’s front and overthrowing of the capitalist hegemony as inevitable byproducts of the historical process, in fact strictly speaking hauntology isn’t an ideology at all, but instead describes a world disrupted by incursions from beyond, by things both there and not there simultaneously.
This makes me want to consider hauntology as it relates to the Tea Party. Spooky moans of withering power, the failure of the 60s, and an incoherent, dreamlike fear of the dominant neoliberal government.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:03 AM on June 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


I hope Amy Poodle understands comics better than she understands Derrida. Or at least it's nice that she's apparently read The Invisibles, since she clearly hasn't read Specters of Marx. Isn't TCJ supposed to be peer-reviewed?
posted by RogerB at 9:16 AM on June 23, 2011


Never having read Specters of Marx reader, I ask you: could you give a little more detail as to what she's fumbling?
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:28 AM on June 23, 2011


reader = either
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:28 AM on June 23, 2011


Hi, RogerB! I haven't yet read the article, but as a potential prophylactic against a misreading of Derrida (with whom I'm not particularly familiar), could you outline what she gets wrong about him?
posted by Greg Nog at 9:30 AM on June 23, 2011


Oh hey wouldja look at that
posted by Greg Nog at 9:30 AM on June 23, 2011


Just as an FYI, amypoodle is actually male.
posted by Ipsifendus at 9:44 AM on June 23, 2011


Isn't TCJ supposed to be peer-reviewed?

Yeah, but the peer is Kenneth Smith.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:46 AM on June 23, 2011


could you give a little more detail as to what she's fumbling?

There isn't really a great brief answer to this other than "pretty much everything." Derrida's work is complicated, and "hauntology" is, like a lot of his neologisms, something that you can't really pull out and use on its own like this without realizing how it is really meant as another way in to his whole multi-decade, multi-thousand-page philosophical project — it's more like another metaphorical way into the whole idea of deconstruction (another thing which Poodle totally does not get, despite the few attempted Deconstruction for Dummies restatements in these blog posts) than it is some kind of detachable, separate theory of ghosts.

The most obvious problem here with "hauntology" specifically, as opposed to just not having a clue about Derrida in general, is that Poodle keeps casting it as past-oriented, as if it were a question of being haunted by historical memories and survivals, where for Derrida the specter is clearly an intrusion from the unknowable future, what he calls the a-venir, the to-come. After all, Specters of Marx is basically an extended gloss on "A specter is haunting Europe" and a few other of Marx's phrases, along with the ghosts in Hamlet — Derrida sees this as invocation of a semi-messianic future (he talks about "messianism without the messiah"), not a therapy for being bothered by intrusive fragments of the past.
posted by RogerB at 9:47 AM on June 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


Being haunted by the future is one of the major themes in the Invisibles.... King Mob at one point appears as a ghost to a bunch of his predecessors performing a seance sometime around the first world war, and one of the main characters is a future ghost, whose purpose is to avert a future which may or may not be certain.
posted by kaibutsu at 9:54 AM on June 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh, okay. Thank you.

Maybe it's because I read this link* before the Amy Poodle essay, but I didn't see the article as being so past-focused, especially considering the shattered timeline and reality of The Invisibles itself. I would have figured that if Poodle had simply meant that hauntology was like being haunted, there wouldn't have really been an essay at all, just a bunch of ghost-spotting, literal and figurative. I get the sense from a lot of Morrison's work that he sees every act of being as yet another rupture connected to other ruptures, unmoored by conventional causality. People are haunted literally and figuratively from the past, present, and future, both by describable entities and ineffable beyond-y type things.

I'm not pretending that I "get" hauntology, I know I don't, and I take your word for it that Amy Poodle apparently doesn't, but from what I've read by zipping around on blogs and also this post, it seems like a hauntological approach to Morrison is still an idea with some juice in it.



*Or is that another problematic link?
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:00 AM on June 23, 2011


Haven't read the article but "an intrusion from the unknowable future" and "invocation of a semi-messianic future" well describes the general arc, specific plot points and even individual scenes in the comic. I'm not disagreeing with you re: the writing, but from what you're telling me about Derrida's work, the comparison is apt.
posted by griphus at 10:04 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I get the sense from a lot of Morrison's work that he sees every act of being as yet another rupture connected to other ruptures, unmoored by conventional causality.

See, now this sounds like a reasonable start on how Specters of Marx has something to say to Morrison. Derrida spends a ton of time discussing the possible meanings of "the time is out of joint" there, in exactly this vein. It's a shame Mr (seriously?) Poodle didn't get there. I haven't actually read the comic — in fact, I was hoping the Poodle piece would sell it as a serious work of art a little more than it did — but from what folks are saying about it, it sounds like the connection could be a productive one.
posted by RogerB at 10:08 AM on June 23, 2011


"the time is out of joint"

Heh, funny you should bring that up. The Invisibles draws a very heavy influence from Philip K. Dick, whose first novel was titled Time Out Of Joint and also deals with these themes. That's rather entertaining.
posted by griphus at 10:11 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I re-read The Invisibles recently, and though it seems really, really dated now, it still gave me hella funky dreams. As a net of magick spells crafted to bring about the Age of Horus, it didn't work so well. As a grain of subconscious sand about which dreams coalesce and layer themselves like pearl, it is fabulous, nice and smooth.
posted by infinitewindow at 10:13 AM on June 23, 2011


I'm not sure you can discount the importance of the past in Spectres of Marx. The way I think of hauntology is by considering the gap between the Real and the Symbolic in Lacan but mapped to time. Sort of like the past's future that has come back to haunt us. We envision the future from the present but this vision never comes to pass because our present is burdened by the past, which we ignore.

We were supposed to be something else and we aren't but echoes/shades of what we were to become are all around us. It's a vision of the future, but one from the past (or extended from the past through our present), and it is a future different from our own present (or the future as conceived of only in light of the present). Like Lacan's Real, it's hard to articulate that future, it is basically unknowable and undefinable. It isn't about taking an idea from the past and picking up the thread again. You look at the spectre of the future basically to see what you missed in the present that comes from the past.

It's more like the gap between the past's future and the presents future (which in some ways are the same, but in other ways are not).

Like RogerB says, it isn't really about the past per se, it isn't a pastiche of past artifacts or nostalgia, which would be more akin to the bricolage of postmodernism. The spectre is very much about the way through postmodernism.

I never read the comic book, but it sounds interesting.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:23 AM on June 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


I haven't actually read the comic — in fact, I was hoping the Poodle piece would sell it as a serious work of art a little more than it did — but from what folks are saying about it, it sounds like the connection could be a productive one.

Yeah, the article very much assumes that the reader has already read the comic, which makes it pretty ineffective if you're more familiar with the philosophical concepts than with the source material. This probably also enhances the flaws in his explanation and application of the concept of hauntology.

I re-read The Invisibles recently, and though it seems really, really dated now, it still gave me hella funky dreams. As a net of magick spells crafted to bring about the Age of Horus, it didn't work so well.

I read The Invisibles for the first time three years ago. I loved it, but yeah, it's hella dated. It's like a concentrated blast of psychedelic 90s counterculture.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:24 AM on June 23, 2011


Here's how I read the Invisibles:

"HA! You think you have reached the deepest level of reality now that I have pulled away several curtains? Well NOW I pull away yet another, only to reveal that most basic of truths:

I STILL CAN'T LEARN TO WRITE A GODDAMN ENDING!"
posted by lumpenprole at 10:26 AM on June 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


When I wear the wig.

That's when it happens.
posted by jtron at 11:01 AM on June 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


Pastabagel - Hauntology == "Wasn't Tomorrow Wonderful"?
posted by Grangousier at 11:43 AM on June 23, 2011


ʇɥƃıl ǝlʇʇıl ɐ sɐʍ ı ǝɔuo
posted by jtron at 3:17 PM on June 23, 2011


As a net of magick spells crafted to bring about the Age of Horus, it didn't work so well.

But as a net of magick spells crafted to make Grant Morrison a million bajillion bucks? It did okay.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:27 PM on June 23, 2011


To be fair, The Invisibles isn't really about having a deep understanding of the references you're making, and criticism of The Invisibles shouldn't be either.

Heidegger said that when the French start thinking they think in German, and when the Germans start thinking, they think in Ancient Greek. Which when inverted makes a valid point. Who understands Ancient Greek any more? If you can make a relatively convincing fist of it, whether you are a comic book writer or a writer about comic books, does it matter what these terms actually mean?
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:34 PM on June 23, 2011


(FSVO actually - see the skeletal hand of academia clutching at one's sleeve, even in the defense of modernity!)
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:38 PM on June 23, 2011


Heidegger said that when the French start thinking they think in German, and when the Germans start thinking, they think in Ancient Greek. Which when inverted makes a valid point.

When the Ancient Greeks aren't thinking, they don't think in German, and when the Germans don't think, they don't think in French?
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:50 PM on June 23, 2011


But as a net of magick spells crafted to make Grant Morrison a million bajillion bucks? It did okay.

I think the fact that Grant Morrison is in charge of one of the world's biggest pop culture icons says AWESOME things about the culture.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 6:12 PM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you pronounce "hauntology" with a French accent it sounds a close cousin to "ontologie" in that language. Fairly typical Derridean move.
posted by Wolof at 1:56 AM on June 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


If you pronounce "hauntology" with a French accent it sounds a close cousin to "ontologie" in that language. Fairly typical Derridean move.

In French, it's hantologie, which sounds largely indistinguishable from ontologie.

Sticherbeast: When the Ancient Greeks aren't thinking, they don't think in German, and when the Germans don't think, they don't think in French?

Kind of! Heidegger's talking about the need for thinking to have deep roots - and specifically tracing French existentialism's roots through German and ultimately Greek ontology. So, in essence, you can't really have L'Être, or cannot grasp it, as it is used is Being and Nothingness, without first having Sein, and you can't have Sein without having to on. And, for that matter, hantologie itself (and RogerD, feel free to set me straight on this one) seems to be tied intimately to Heidegger's idea of recoil from the unknowable future.

Something The Invisibles had as part of its project was the idea that every conspiracy theory ever conceived was in some way true - so, you had reptilian overlords, you had black helicopters, you had time travellers, Men in Black and UFOs. And, at the end, you have every kind of apocalypse happening at once, every moment in time being visible simultaneously - it's broad rather than deep, essentially. Which you can sort of see in his later DC work, as well, first with hypertime as a concept and then with the multiple universes created at the end of 52 - these are moves to make every story "true", or more precisely equally valid. The message of hypertime was that continuity was less important than story - that as long as it was fun, any part of a character's backstory should be in play, regardless of its canon status.

Likewise, as long as it's fun - as long as it passes the time agreeably - does it matter, at this point, whether the definition of hauntology here has a close relationship to hauntology in "Specters of Marx"? g The Comics Journal as the basis of their investigations into Derrida?
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:34 AM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oops - that last sentence got mangled - should have been "Is anyone in danger of using The Comics Journal as the basis of their investigations into Derrida?"
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:36 AM on June 24, 2011


Kind of! Heidegger's talking about the need for thinking to have deep roots - and specifically tracing French existentialism's roots through German and ultimately Greek ontology. So, in essence, you can't really have L'Être, or cannot grasp it, as it is used is Being and Nothingness, without first having Sein, and you can't have Sein without having to on.

Oh, I get that, I was just making an inverse joke. :)

Likewise, as long as it's fun - as long as it passes the time agreeably - does it matter, at this point, whether the definition of hauntology here has a close relationship to hauntology in "Specters of Marx"?

Well, it'd be a missed opportunity if it was merely fun that was going on, at the expense of mangling a concept or two, although I guess anyone who decided to investigate "hauntology" would eventually run across deeper and more accurate explanations of it.

Put another way: another project of The Invisibles is to generally blow minds and alter the reader's way of thinking and perceiving. If investigating The Invisibles introduces valuable concepts and techniques to its readers, whether from the four corners of the text or from its nerdier fans, then that's an unmitigated good.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:22 AM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


does it matter, at this point, whether the definition of hauntology here has a close relationship to hauntology in "Specters of Marx"?

If the point of an essay is only to say interesting stuff about Morrison, then obviously it doesn't matter much if it happens to be dumb about Derrida. And that does seem to be a fair description of where these blog pieces succeeds and fails. But in that case, it would've been a far wiser choice for Poodle to avoid talking about Derrida, and using his terminology, entirely. An essay on interesting aspects of haunting in The Invisibles is a different thing from an essay on The Invisibles purporting to use Derrida to talk about "hauntology." "Hauntology" is Derrida's own coinage, not just some innocent word meaning "the study of ghosts" or whatever — like Wolof says, the point for Derrida is that it's a near-homophone for "ontology," so that it emphasizes that there is no pure authentic originary Being that isn't already haunted by the supplement/trace of a constitutive lack/loss/death. (Probably it's clear here, but just in case: "supplement" and "trace" are also terms of art, from Derrida's earlier writing, that are meant to refer to basically the same set of problems as "specter" and "hauntology" in his later work.)

Is anyone in danger of using The Comics Journal as the basis of their investigations into Derrida?

Certainly not Amy Poodle! But the purpose of peer review truly is to fix stuff like this. If getting Derrida totally wrong matters as little to Poodle's point as you think, and all the references to philosophy are really just ornamental to these essays' reading of Morrison, then it would be easy enough just to cut it all out and get to the point instead. But I am not so sure that the author's ignorance of philosophy is actually extraneous to these pieces' critical argument.
posted by RogerB at 8:18 AM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


*where these blog pieces succeeds and fails

Grammar, obviously, is where Metafilter commenting before coffee fail.
posted by RogerB at 8:19 AM on June 24, 2011


I think there's probably something in here about the way that comic book commentary seeks legitimacy. That is, that it would have been a lot more enjoyable for you to read the article if it hadn't involved Derrida, hantologie or Specters of Marx, but it might have been a lot less satisfying for the general reader.

But the purpose of peer review truly is to fix stuff like this.

I think that's the case in academic peer review, but, honestly, I'm not sure what peer-reviewed actually means in terms of writing about comic books. Onomazein is peer-reviewed by classicists and linguists, who will identify problems with articles relating to the focus of the publication.

I would assume that articles for The Comics Journal are peer-reviewed by comic book enthusiasts - this being the set of peers. I'm surprised, for example, that the piece appears to say that 2000AD first appeared in the early 80s, because that feels like a statement that peer review by comics enthusiasts would pick up. I wouldn't expect there to be an in-house Derridean, though.
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:20 PM on June 24, 2011


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