At some point in the 1990s the perception of haunting – the activity of specters and phantoms, and ghostly matters in general had become widespread preoccupations in the humanities and social sciences. One significant impetus for this was the publication of Jacques Derrida's Specters of Marx: The state of the debt, the work of mourning and the new international which appeared in 1993, translated and published in English a year later. However, it was earlier, in 1987, that the African-American writer Toni Morrison published her unforgettable novel Beloved, where the ghost of a murdered child, born to a slave in 1850, returns to haunt her descendants a century later. Ghostly apparitions have been recurring motifs within literature, high and low, from Shakespeare to Stephen King, and just as frequently featured in popular films and other mass media. But it is in its more recent articulations and incarnations in contemporary art that I want to consider what Derrida termed "hauntology" (his neologism plays with its near homonym in French, ontology). In the work of very different artists (all of whom work with photographic media), "hauntology" has historical, sociological and political implications, insofar as in its various forms and incarnations the revenant or the specter is consistently imagined as that which comes back (the literal meaning of the revenant). In one way or another, the spectral or the haunting signals a modality, or better, a temporality, by which the repressed returns as a symptom or unsettling of the present.
ABIGAIL SOLOMON-GODEAU (USA) Art historian, art curator, freelance critic. Professor Emeritus at the Univercity of California at Santa Barbara. Author of the book Photography at the Dock. Essays on Photographic History, Institutions, and Practices (1991); Male Trouble: A Crisis in Representation (1997); Calling Photography to Order: Gender, Genre, Discourse (2017 in press), and a number of others. She is currently working on the book project called Art Photography in the Era of Catastrophe. Watch video