AbstractThis article offers a hauntology of Bentham’s panopticon, reviewing its failure tocreate a perfect visibility and thereby creating ghosts. The visuality of ghosts isexamined in a Jewish genealogy from Freud and Proust to Walter Benjamin andAnne Frank. The article concludes with a theoretical consideration of the‘working out’ of visual culture as a non-linear but nonetheless historical processthat attempts to work out the double-binds of globalization and digital culture.
Key words ghost ● internet ● panopticon ● visual culture ● visuality
It is the time of the ghost, the revenant and the spectre. The ghost is somewherebetween the visible and the invisible, appearing clearly to some but not to others.
Within the spectrum lies the spectral. In this digital age, the space warriors evenwant to militarize the hyperspectral. Some hear the ghost speak, for others it issilent. When visual culture tells stories, they are ghost stories. They are stories ofthe spectre not of spirit, not ontology but hauntology. The ghost is not a retreat tothe margins, whether of art history, aesthetics or cultural studies, but is rather anassertion that the virtual is in some sense real, and the paranormal normal, as whatwas formerly invisible comes into visibility. The revenant comes back not toaddress the past but to speak in a voice which is not one to the future. As JacquesDerrida (1996) has argued, it is ‘open to a future radically to come
, which is to sayindeterminate’ (p. 70).1 The ghost is in the machine that is the network but it is notof it. It finds a way to reappear but it is not everywhere. It is in between – betweenthe visible and the invisible, the material and the immaterial, the palpable and theimpalpable, the voice and the phenomenon. The ghost is that which could not beseen in the panoptic spectrum and it has many names in many languages:diasporists, exiles, queers, migrants, gypsies, refugees, Tutsis, Palestinians. Theghost is one place among many from which to interpellate the networks of visibilitythat have constructed, destroyed and deconstructed the modern visual subject. By
journal of visual cultureCopyright 2Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi)Vol 1(2): 239-254 [1470-4129(200208)1:2;239-254;025262]
the visual subject, I mean a person who is both constituted as an agent of sight(regardless of his or her biological capacity to see) and as the effect of a series ofcategories of visual subjectivity.
Let’s imagine a beginning. In 1786 the British philosopher Jeremy Benthaminvented a perfect prison that he called the panopticon. The panopticon was aninspection house for the reformation of morals, whether of prisoners, workers orprostitutes, by means of constant surveillance that the inmates could not perceive, asystem summed up by Michel Foucault in the aphorism ‘visibility is a trap’.
Bentham imagined that the panopticon would be built mostly of iron and glass,suitably modern materials for the new system, which he called ‘a glass bee-hive’(Semple, 1993: 116). Had it actually been constructed in this way, the Panopticonwould have looked more like the Crystal Palace than the Victorian prison. InFrance, it would have been a cousin to the Arcades, the covered shopping andleisure arenas that have become an emblem of the 19th century, following WalterBenjamin’s extensive exploration of their history. An early demonstration in thePassage des Panoramas showed the new gas lighting to intrigued Parisians(Schivelbusch, 1988: 26). From 1822, the Arcades and other public spaces began tobe lit by gas as a house-to-house network for the delivery of what was then calledthe ‘spirit’ was constructed. Here is a critical mix indeed – the panoptic institutionilluminated by the new visual technologies of gas and electricity, yet haunted byspirits and, as we shall see, ghosts. This web of visuality was long held in place bythe constraining lines of disciplinary power but is now starting to unravel. Thisessay is, then, a series of notes towards a possible surfing of the visual network inghost time. Ghosts are, by their nature, beings that reappear at unpredictable timesand places but with cause. They are pure medium, transmitting at certain momentswithout a published schedule.
Bentham’s device was the creature of the global culture of his day. It was borrowedfrom a Russian system adopted or created by his brother in St Petersburg. It owedits notion of moral discipline to such institutions as the Jesuit missions in Paraguay,and the slave plantations of the Caribbean. Finally, it was devised as a solution tothe British prison problem that was actually resolved with transportation toAustralia. It was an imperial totalizing vision that sought to recast the world in itsown image. To deal with the specificity of panopticism thus requires a wide scopeboth in terms of time and space. To concentrate on the usual ‘specific example’ is toexamine the instance but not the system.
In Foucault’s view, the panopticon was amodel for the disciplinary society at large but the practices of visibility were notpart of his inquiry. Rather, he simply assumed with Bentham that a straight sightline equated to visibility. For visual culture, visibility is not so simple. Its object ofstudy is precisely the entities that come into being at the points of intersection ofvisibility with social power, that is to say, visuality. In 1841, the bombastic historianThomas Carlyle made the first use of the term ‘visuality’, in his proto-Nietzscheanpaean to the Hero. Describing Dante he argued that in the Divine Comedy: ‘everycompartment of it is worked out, with intense earnestness, into truth, into clearvisuality’ (Carlyle, 1841: 149). With the simultaneous invention of photography, theemergent disciplinary society now had both the terminology and the technology todescribe this condition, the state of being a visual subject in colonial modernity. Bytaking another look at the constitution of panopticism, the apparently brand-new
confusion of visuality in the present might come to be seen as the breakdown of analready existing web of visuality that has escaped its disciplinary borders, in allsenses of the term. If, as most of its practitioners have asserted, visual culture isdefined more by the questions it asks than the objects it studies, then it may be thatsome of those questions are now becoming clearer: How was the visual subjectconstituted in modernity and how is it now being refashioned? In what ways can anetwork be thought and how can a networked subject be understood? How are thepolitics of visual identity to be constructed in this latest era of globalization? And inwhat ways can narratives of past, present and future be written to account for thesechanges, in ways that are fashioned both by an awareness of history and the veryWestern construct that is History?
Pure visibility was indeed at the heart of panopticism but it proved impossible toachieve either in theory or practice. The visibility described by Foucault was thefantasy of clairvoyance: a crisply focused field of observation, in which nothing isobscure, literally and metaphorically. Only in Neo-Classical painting, like Jacques-Louis David’s paradigmatic work, could the required limpidity of the visual field beachieved. It proved impossible to generate the permanent visibility of thepanopticon’s inmates. Bentham at first suggested that two large windows be placedin each cell, in effect backlighting the prisoners. It also had the unfortunateconsequence of making it remarkably easy to escape, as prison administrators werequick to point out (Semple, 1993: 120). So he redesigned the lighting system, firstsuggesting the use of mirrors and finally gas lighting but never fully resolving thedifficulty that has now been solved by closed-circuit television. It might be arguedthat, as a pure panopticon was never built, these details are of no consequence.
However, Foucault (1977) derived from the panopticon the principle of power itself:
Power has its principle not so much in a person as in a certain concerteddistribution of bodies, surfaces, lights, gazes. The Panopticon is amarvelous machine which, whatever use one may wish to put it to, produceshomogenous effects of power. (p. 201)
If the distribution of lights, gazes and surfaces within the panopticon were changed,then it would have disrupted the principle of power. The power of visuality was infact far from homogenous. Bentham knew what lurked within his panopticonpapers: ‘it is like opening a drawer where devils are locked up – it is breaking into ahaunted house’ (Semple, 1993: 16). He even came to realize that solitaryconfinement, a key part of his plan, was in fact its undoing as a system of visibility:‘in a state of solitude, infantine superstitions, ghosts and spectres, recur to theimagination’ (p. 132). In short, the marvelous machine was out of order. Theprisoner could neither be perfectly visible nor be constantly aware of disciplinarysurveillance. Consequently, they were not disciplined, but simply punished: theybecame ghosts.
A striking example of this process was the transformation of Oscar Wilde during his
imprisonment. While on remand in Holloway, awaiting his first trial in 1895, Wildewrote to his friends Ada and Ernest Leverson, complaining of loneliness: ‘Not that Iam really alone. A slim thing, gold-haired like an angel, stands always at my side.
His presence overshadows me. He moves in the gloom like a white flower’ (Wilde,1962: 389). He referred of course to Lord Alfred Douglas, seeming here toanticipate Alan Sinfield’s (1994) argument that he and Douglas together formed a‘queer image’ (p. 123). This Romantic view of imprisonment did not long survivethe actual experience of a Victorian gaol. A year later Wilde petitioned the HomeSecretary for early release from Reading, uncannily echoing Bentham’s wordsquoted earlier:
It is natural that living in this silence, this solitude, this isolation from allhuman and humane influences, this tomb for those who are not yet dead, thepetitioner should, day and night in every waking hour, be tortured by the fearof absolute and entire insanity.
The very solitude ensured in Wilde’s view that the mind became ‘in the case ofthose who are suffering from sensual monomanias (Wilde’s self-diagnosis), the sureprey of morbid passions, and obscene fancies, and thoughts that defile, desecrateand destroy’ (Wilde, 1962: 403). After a brief inspection by Home Office doctors,Wilde was found sane. In November 1896, when he received this news, Wilde(1962) completed his transformation into a spectre:
I shall return an unwelcome visitant to a world that does not want me; arevenant
, as the French say, as one whose face is grey with longimprisonment and crooked with pain. Horrible as are the dead when they risefrom their tombs, the living who come out from tombs are more horrible still.
The disciplinary institution had turned the doubled, queer image of Wilde–Douglasinto a single revenant, just as Bentham had belatedly realized it would.
There have, of course, been ghosts for as long as there have been people. The ghostsunder discussion here had certain specific peculiarities. For example, in the 19thcentury, ghosts became electric. They were supposed to manifest themselves usingelectricity and they were detected by electricity. You can now buy on the internet aghost-hunting device that works by detecting changes in electrical current, whichreveal the presence of the spectres. Electricity was at the same time the light sourceof clairvoyant panopticism and was the subject of interminable comment in theperiod, just like today’s obsession with the digital. In his description of the Arcades,Benjamin nostalgically regretted the passing of the flickering gas lights, but quotedJacques Fabien describing in 1863 how electricity came to illuminate panopticinstitutions from bottom to top: ‘The bright light of electricity served, at first, toilluminate the subterranean galleries of mines; after that, the public squares andstreets; then factories, workshops, stores, theatres, military barracks; finally, the
domestic interior’ (Benjamin, 1999: 567). The electricity that modernized theArcades also showed the existence of ghosts and spirits. Women mediums weresuddenly able to access the spirit world on what was called ‘the spirit telegraph’.
Mediums would pass a cable round the circle that would end in buckets of copperand zinc, thereby creating a ‘spirit battery’ (Sconce, 2000: 29–30). The séance was aliterally shocking affair, as visitors clasped this lightly charged cord. It was held thatwomen’s bodies were in some ineffable way more susceptible to conductingelectricity and hence to the channeling of spirits that were in effect electric. I havebeen calling panopticism clairvoyant. Clairvoyance was understood in the period tomean ‘seeing with the eyes closed’, an accomplishment of spirit mediums, andespecially seeing things at a distance, which is what we now call television.
Clairvoyance was, then, a desire for unlimited sight that the new technologies of theperiod seemed all but ready to deliver, just as new media today promise access to allmanner of visualized knowledges. It was a willed desire for a clear field of vision, afantasy that could only be sustained by ignoring its anomalies.
Clairvoyance anticipated the visual technology that would come to epitomize it. In1837 Mlle Pigeaire, a clairvoyant medium, was examined by the French Academyof Medicine, two years before the Academy of Sciences was astounded byDaguerre’s photographic medium (Podmore, 1963: 142). Soon the two media joinedtogether. From 1861 onwards, the presence of spirits was attested to by photographsthat were very widely discussed and debated. Despite endless skeptical tests, spiritphotographers nonetheless managed to produce their images. In a positivist agethese plates convinced many, for, in the words of the editor of The British Journalof Photography
: ‘the photograph itself is not for nothing.’ Spiritism was in no senseanti-modern and relied on the same sciences of magnetism and electricity as theirmaterialist opponents. Spiritualists cited Freud in support of their contentions,especially as women and effeminate men were held to be most susceptible to thespirit influence (Owen, 1989).
It is important to note that this internal configuration of the ghost as as a genderedand sexualized other was reinforced by the Western perception that the colonizedwere in thrall to spirits, spirits that nonetheless succeeded in scaring those ‘rational’colonizers. These spirits had long been a part of resistance to slavery andcolonialism (Casid, 2002). Descended from that history are such practices as thecoming down of the spirit in African American churches, the jazz spirit and theclandestine religion of Santéria. Intriguingly, colonizers in the late 19th centuryfound a wave of resistance in the spirit wars of the period, ranging from the well-known Ghost Dances of the American Indians to the minkisi
) powerfigures that so disturbed Europeans like Joseph Conrad in the Congo. The nkisi
wasused to request the help of the spirits against an enemy. There are so many fineexamples in American and European museums precisely because the Belgiansbelieved that they worked and did everything they could to eradicate them. In acertain sense the nkisi
figure is a counter-camera, as its medicine compartment wasusually fronted with glass, like a lens, and it would then be activated by having apiece of metal driven into it – in other words, it was shot, like a camera. Theinterpenetration of the West and its others was nowhere more marked than in thedomain of the spirits, even as Hegel and his epigones denied to those outside theEuropean charm circle the possibility of Spirit.
And even in Europe, the city of light had its own spirit war and the ghost was atonce old and new. The Jewish ghost is the vantage point of this hauntology, notbecause Jewishness is claimed as a new paradigm, but precisely because of itsambivalences and ambiguities. Jewishness, like the ghost, is an identity that is notidentical to itself. How is Jewishness even to be defined: as a religion – but what ofsecular Jews? As an ethnicity – but isn’t that the Nazi game? As a nation – but whatof anti-Zionist Jews? My interest is in the unconvinced Jewish person for whomJewish identity is that which refuses to be defined in a singular or exclusive way,but also that which cannot be reduced. In these so-called post-identity times,perhaps Jewishness, which figured very late in the multicultural identity politics ofthe 1980s and early 1990s, might be an interesting way into the network. Jews hadlong been considered the internal other of medieval and early modern Europe. Butby 1900, this alterity had been complicated in at least three significant ways. In thewake of the French Revolution, nations around Europe gradually lifted the civil andlegal restrictions on the Jews, abolishing the legal boundary between gentiles andJews. Taking advantage of this new freedom, many European Jews acculturated tothe hegemonic civil society around them, provoking critiques from within andwithout the Jewish world. In addition, there were increasingly more Jews in Europeas nations like France and Britain took in many Jews fleeing persecution in EasternEurope and Russia’s Pale of Settlement. This situation made it unclear what it wasto be Jewish. For such ambivalent Jews as Proust, Benjamin and Freud, the answerwas that they were ghosts.
In the third volume of Remembrance of Things Past
, Marcel Proust drew anextended comparison between Jews and spirit photographs. Introducing a set piecedescription of the salon of Mme de Villeparisis, Proust meditates on the presence ofJews in Parisian high society at the beginning of the Dreyfus Affair. AlthoughProust was himself Jewish, the Narrator of the novel contemplates Jews as anastonishing apparition:
It struck me that if in the light of Mme de Villeparisis’ drawing room I hadtaken some photographs of Bloch, they would have given an image of Israelidentical with those we find in spirit photographs – so disturbing because itdoes not appear to emanate from humanity, so deceptive because itnonetheless resembles humanity all too closely. (Proust, 1982: 195)2
Here the Jew is literally a ghost, something that resembles the human even as it isnot human, rather like the cyborg of our own time. Like the Terminator, the ghostsays: ‘I’ll be back.’ And indeed throughout Proust’s exegesis of this salon, Blochand his concerns with the Dreyfus Affair recur again and again, skirmishes in thespirit war disrupted high society’s image of itself as a sealed elite sphere, just as thespirit photograph suggested that materialist science could not account for thetextures of everyday life.
A decade later another Jewish intellectual was forced to confront his own image:
I was sitting alone in my wagon-lit
compartment when a more than usually
violent jolt of the train swung back the door of the adjoining washing cabinet,and an elderly gentleman in a dressing gown and a travelling cap came in.
Jumping up with the intention of putting him right, I at once realized to mydismay that the intruder was nothing but my own reflection in the looking-glass on the open door. I can still recollect that I thoroughly disliked hisappearance. (Freud, 1955: 248 note 1)
Sigmund Freud concluded that he had not so much been scared by the encounterwith his ‘double’ as that he had failed to recognize it. He was too self-aware not tosuggest that there was a trace of what he called the ‘uncanny’ in his mistake. Theuncanny is a rough English equivalent to the complicated German word unheimlich
,which Freud (1955) himself glossed as meaning: ‘everything is unheimlich
thatought to have remained secret and hidden but has come to light’ (p. 225). What isvisible as unheimlich
is at once everything that is not at home or domestic and thesense that a house might be unheimlich
if it were haunted. In Freud’s own case, thesecret to be concealed is very often his own Jewishness, which he confronts here asthe ghost of his father. Freud’s uncanny encounter with his own image caused himto make a mistake because the person in the reflection seemed to be Jewish, theJewish father. Like Salman Rushdie in a recent story, Freud found that after losinghis father for many years, he re-emerged one day in the mirror. The meeting tookplace not on the mythic battlements of Elsinore where Hamlet met his father’s ghostbut in that paradigm of modernity, the train. At the end of the Enlightenmentemancipation settlement, in which Jews were supposed to be men on the outsideand Jews on the inside (gender intended), the doubled Jew became two people in aprocess that Freud called ‘a doubling, dividing and interchanging of the self’(Freud, 1955: 234). The Jew divided between inside and outside now became twopeople; or more exactly, one person and a ghost, with neither sure which they reallywere. That uncertainty was viral in modern Europe, as Proust’s account shows. Itmade the home unheimlich
, the body a source of suspicion and the name devoid ofmeaning under the surveillance of an increasingly haunted panopticism.
Writing to Gershom Scholem in 1928 at a time when he himself was constantlydeferring a move to Jerusalem to stay on just a little longer in Greek Europe, to useMatthew Arnold’s terms, Walter Benjamin claimed:
This is perhaps my last chance to devote myself to the study of Hebrew and toeverything we think is connected with it. First and foremost, in terms of mybeing ready for the undertaking, heart and soul. Once I have one way oranother completed the project on which I am currently working, carefully andprovisionally – the highly remarkable and extremely precarious essay ‘ParisArcades: A Dialectical Fairy Play’. (Scholem and Adorno, 1994: 332)
At this stage, then, the Arcades Project itself was a ghost story in opposition to a‘Jewish’ experiment. In the very first draft of subject headings for the ArcadesProject, there was an entry for ‘ghetto’ that Benjamin did not develop (Benjamin,1999: 519).3 Later the Arcades became a Jewish-free Arcadia until the return of theghost.
Haunted as he was by the loss of the world of the Arcades, Benjamin saw them as
being the place of ghosts. He recounts a complex dream centered on the fear ofdoors in which he walked with a friend, only for a ghost to appear in the window ofa house:
And as we walked on, the ghost accompanied us from inside all the houses. Itpassed through all the walls and always remained at the same height with us. Isaw this, though I was blind. The path we travel through arcades isfundamentally such a ghost walk, on which doors give way and walls yield.
(Benjamin, 1999: 409)
It seems that we walk in the Arcades not with the ghost but as the ghost, a being forwhom walls and houses are no obstacle to the gaze. As Benjamin suggested, housesand doors are not unusual dream symbols. Freud read the house as representing thebody, and a door as being an orifice. Benjamin’s fear of the open door perceivedwith his castrated dream vision4 is then the fear of the open body, the uncivilized oruncanny body that exceeds its limits. In the Western European economy of theperiod (that is to say, a household or oikonomos
) the body that cannot be named isthe Jewish body, the absent presence in the Arcades. As Benjamin imagines himselfwandering through the convolutes of the Arcades, using avatars like Baudelaire andBlanqui, he never encounters Jews, whose peculiar absence becomes ghostly.
Clearly my work is itself further haunted by the ghost of the Holocaust, from itschoice of theory to its subjects like Freud and Benjamin who fled the Nazis withdiffering results. Rather than being an attempt to claim a Holocaust sublime thatplaces one’s work beyond question, this positioning is a recognition that theHolocaust is, for a variety of reasons, ever more central to contemporary visualculture. In film alone, recent treatments range from mainstream films like ThePrince of Egypt
and Saving Private Ryan
to independent pieces such as Paragraph175
or Aimée and Jaguar.
What work are these Holocaust films, TV shows, artpieces and comics trying to do, it might be asked? In this connection, DominickLaCapra (1992) has emphasized a distinction between representation that simplyacts out its trauma and that which finally seeks to work it through. In my estimation,this comforting alternance cannot in fact be enacted. Rather visual culture iscurrently working out – working itself out, creating work, exercising itself – butwith no expectation of working through to another side that no longer seemsavailable. When Attorney General John Ashcroft has used the therapeutic languageof closure to justify the closed-circuit television relay of the execution of TimothyMcVeigh, some working out of new terms is in order. As the ‘West’ endlesslydeploys the ghosts of the Holocaust to represent itself both as victim and redeemer,critics of visual culture need to follow Marcellus’ old advice to Horatio and speak tothem. It is of course precisely silence that has so often been demanded in the face ofthe Shoah but one needs to be able to make a distinction between the abyss that hascome to be known by the proper name Auschwitz and its multiple representations inthe present.
By way of example, I want to explore briefly the visual culture of perhaps the bestknown ghost of the Shoah, Anneliese Marie Frank, known to the world as AnneFrank. She began to write what might well be called her prison writings on her 13thbirthday in June 1942 (Frank, 1989: 177). By beginning on the day when a Jewish
boy becomes a man, Frank asserted another emancipation, that of Jewish women.
Soon afterwards, the family was forced into hiding. Anne immediately pasted thewalls with her collection of postcards and film stars, noting: ‘I have transformed thewalls into one gigantic picture’ (p. 217). Some of these pictures have survived andpresent a striking bricolage ranging from Greta Garbo and other Hollywood stars toby now obscure Nazi-era screen actors, reproductions of Rembrandt paintings,Dutch landscapes, a medieval Pieta and family pictures. The Franks were observantenough to fast for Yom Kippur in hiding and at the same time, despite all theproblems that Anne had with her family, these Christian and other graven imageswere in no way controversial. Anne’s picture wall enacted the tensions of her pastidentity – at once assimilated, Dutch, Jewish and modern – that was now gone, aghost. Unable to look out openly, she and her sister Margot would take turnspeeking out from behind the blinds while the other bathed, turning the front officeinto their own camera obscura (Frank, 1989: 257). In a peculiar irony, she hadreceived a book entitled The Camera Obscura
on her birthday that she tradedbecause her older sister Margot already owned it.
The Anne that we know visually through her famous photographs was not familiarto Anneliese. Annotating her own images, Anne wrote: ‘This photograph is horribleand I look absolutely nothing like it’ (Frank, 1989: 190). Like Freud, Anne Frankwas dismayed by her own double, its uncanny quality enhanced precisely by herhomeless condition. In response, as she grew older, Frank redoubled herself. InJanuary 1944 she wrote to her imaginary friend: ‘Isn’t it odd, Kitty, that sometimesI look at myself through someone else’s eyes? I see quite keenly then how thingsare with Anne Frank’. On another sheet, she continued: ‘I browse through the pagesof her life as if she were a stranger’ (p. 455). Anne looks at herself from the point ofview of the ghost and sees that she used to think of herself as ‘a bit of an outsider’, aposition that her imprisonment had made unavailable. In her recent series, Anne inNew York
, the American artist Rachel Schreiber inserted the very photograph ofAnne Frank that so displeased its subject into Iris prints of Manhattan, using AdobePhotoShop software. Such is the iconic power of this image that almost all viewersat first wonder how the artist was able to graffiti Anne’s picture in so many differentplaces. Despite the well-known possibilities of digitally altering images, the galleryaudience finds Anne Frank too iconic to be a manipulation.
What is at stake in this doubled recognition and misrecognition? It might be saidthat it represents a return of the real. Perhaps, so long as we agree with AveryGordon that ‘it’s not that the ghosts don’t exist
’ (Gordon, 1997: 12).5 Anne Frank’shead seems at home in New York precisely because she is always already there, forreal. Anne Frank is always already in New York because she enacts a displacementand disavowal of the new anxieties in the ghost of the old. In New York, there aremany survivors of the Holocaust in its various forms and still more people at somedegree of separation from those events. In an intriguing counterpoint, the Dutchphotographer Renate Dijkstra exhibited a series of large-scale color photographs ofteenage Dutch girls in 2001 at the same age as Anne Frank in captivity. In what washer physical home, Anne Frank now needs to be imagined in contemporary as wellas historical terms, as if her icon has somehow lost its valency. These local Anneshave always been overshadowed by her Other, the Universal Anne Frank, whosehalf-sentence ‘I still believe people are really good’ has become a motto of liberal
humanism. This Anne has been so disturbing to some that Cynthia Ozicknotoriously wished her diary had been burnt in a 1997 essay that first appeared inthe New Yorker
magazine. The famous diary was represented here as a travesty thathad been: ‘bowdlerized, distorted, transmuted, traduced, reduced . infantilized,Americanized, homogenized, sentimentalized . falsified, kitschified, and, in fact,blatantly and arrogantly denied’ (Ozick, 1997). For Ozick, if Anne is in New York,she needs to be exorcised. In line with this thinking, a recent volume addressing theexperience of children in the Holocaust (although only Jewish children areconsidered) makes no mention of Anne Frank, seemingly for fear of displacing theJewishness of the Holocaust (Brostoff and Chamovitz, 2001). As a new Orthodoxyseeks to define Jewishness in as closed a fashion as possible, the Universal AnneFrank has become an object of contestation that itself reveals past and presentaporias of identity.
In May 2001, an ABC television mini-series on the life of Anne Frank claimed themantle of universality by wrapping her in the family values of Walt Disney. Disneychair Michael Eisner appeared before both episodes to mention the name Disney asoften as possible, while warning ‘parents’ that certain scenes were potentiallydisturbing to children. What Eisner found disturbing was not Nazism but theglimpses of nudity in the concentration camp scenes. He boasted that the lastsection would be shown without advertising but in fact only 30 minutes of the 4hours were without commercials. ABC had no qualms in showing an advertisementfor Viagra, the erection-inducing drug, just after a ‘teaser’ clip showing Naziviolence to come in the next segment. The implied logic that aging S/M Nazifreaks6 might be inspired by the clip to purchase Viagra would, of course, beanathema to Disney, but today’s sophisticated media-viewers – especially children –are adept at making such connections. Anne Frank’s ghost is, then, haunting andhunted in New York, while at the same time being invoked for the hawking of allmanner of products.
It is not surprising that the Holocaust has come to be named as a young woman inthe era of globalization. For globalization has enacted a shift not just in relations ofconsumption but in relations of production, as Gayatri Spivak (1999) has argued:‘The subaltern woman is now to a rather large extent the support of production’ (p.
67). This condition is not acknowledged in the West except insofar as globalizationas culture is figured as feminine, which I take to be a contested cultural categoryrather than a biological given. The contradiction of this moment can be expressed inmany ways but here’s one that I was using from late 2000 until recently: the Iranianvideo artist Shirin Neshat is rightly becoming a global star for her explorations ofthe gendered divide in Islamic culture. Neshat’s video work is lushly cinematic,creating 10-minute epics with casts of hundreds. Black-veiled women hired onlocation pirouette at the edge of the sea in a disidentification with Orientalism thatis nonetheless starkly beautiful (Zabel, 2001). Neshat’s critique of gendersegregation in Islam fits a little too comfortably with Western stereotypes, even asthe policing of gender in her native Iran has been somewhat relaxed. At the sametime, the Taliban in Afghanistan were holding public destructions of artworks, TVsets and videotapes while forcibly constraining women to the home and makingthem literally invisible in public behind the veil. The Taliban’s anti-modernity reliedon the global media to disseminate their actions and discipline their own subjects,
even as it disavowed visual culture, in the knowledge that the least convincedAfghans were still clandestinely watching television. This counterpoint was feltmost acutely in the ‘West’ as part of the ongoing drama of imagining thedisjunctures of global media.7 Even as the dust settles from the disaster ofSeptember 11 and the war in Afghanistan, it is worth noticing that, despite theunusual conversion to feminism of figures like First Lady Laura Bush during thewar, the new Afghan government announced in January 2002 that adultery bywomen would still be punished by public stoning to death. Although the war againstthe Taliban was retroactively announced as, in effect, a war for women (recallingSpivak’s famous line: ‘White men saving brown women from brown men’), itappears to have ended as another enactment of Baudrillard’s hyperreal. In thishypervisual network, past and present, ‘West’ and ‘non-West’, real and virtualbecome more than usually confused. In the time of the ghost, there is no base orsuperstructure to ground the phantom. Where, after all, do ghosts go to ground?
To make such an argument is, however, to lay oneself open to an accusation that hasbeen widely leveled against visual culture, namely that in some way it is ahistoricalor lacks a base. As visual culture is, despite certain affinities, neither history norsociology, such accusations can be taken as slightly displaced variants of a morefundamental charge. For in a United States academy still adhering to FredricJameson’s aphorism ‘Always historicize’, to be deemed ungrounded in history, oreven worse transhistorical, is to be placed under anathema by the intellectual left.
So it is important to work this out. It is clear that no ghost is indifferent to the timeand place of its hauntings. The spectre is nothing if not historical. So there is nopossibility of visual culture’s hauntology of visual media being anything other thanhistorical. The question is whose history, told in what way and at what time?
In the first instance, it is now perhaps time to historicize historicism, a process thatMichael Hardt and Antonio Negri have begun with their important book Empire
(2000). It has been widely argued in postcolonial and subaltern studies that historyis itself an important constituent of the modern imperial nation state (Chakrabarty,2000). In his consideration of the spectre, Derrida highlights ten points of keyimportance in discussing what he calls the ‘new international’. He is criticallyconcerned to displace the ‘ontopology’8 of the nation-state (‘an axiomatics linkingindissolubly the ontological value of present-being to its situation
, to stable andpresentable determination of a locality, the topos
of territory, native soil, city, bodyin general’). As is his wont, Derrida (1994) reverses the usual formulas and assertsthat: ‘all national rootedness . is rooted first of all in the memory or the anxiety ofa displaced or displaceable population’ (pp. 82–3). National history, then, isdependent on the exclusion of those who are or might be or have been displaced. Inhis gloss on this passage, Homi Bhabha (1996) locates his interest in the
. transient intersection where the claims to national culture within theontopological tradition . are touched – and are translated by – theinterruptive and interrogative memory of the displaced or displaceable
populations that inhabit the national imaginary – be they migrants, minorities,refugees, or the colonized. (p. 191)
These memories are the spectral within the spectrum of the panopticon, whoseflickering conjurations are now being made visible.
In this context, it comes to seem less of a coincidence that so many practitioners ofvisual culture are Jewish, queer, in diaspora, from ethnic or sexual minorities, exiles– in short, the ghosts of history, overlooked and unseen by the endlessly evokedHistory that depends on displacing what might be called its own transyness. Ghostwriting visual culture is certainly transy, so long as that is understood to meanlooking at the in-between, the transnational, the transient, the transgendered and themigratory. How do ghosts look? Not from a single point of view, what DonnaHaraway called the god-trick. Nor does a ghost see itself seeing itself. The ghostsees that it is seen and thereby becomes visible to itself and others in the constantlyweaving spiral of transculture, a transforming encounter that leaves nothing thesame as it was before. These multiple viewpoints are the digital equivalent of the‘strange affinities’ that Walter Benjamin found in the Arcades, thrown together bythe happenstance of the division of labor, the property market, and the newarchitectural environment of the Arcades. In the view of Fernando Ortiz,transculture is the product of an encounter between an existing culture or subcultureand a newly arrived migrant culture that violently transforms them both and in theprocess creates a neo-culture that is itself immediately subject to transculturation(Ortiz, 1995). This transculturation is in turn subject to difference and deferral. Thedifference is what James Clifford has called the Squanto effect, named for thePequot Indian who met the Pilgrim Fathers just after his return from Britain, wherehe had learnt English (Clifford, 1988). In other words, cultures were never isolatedislands, developing by themselves. The deferral comes from what EmmanuelLevinas called the ethical obligation to the Other that results from the ‘face-to-face’encounter at the heart of transculture (Levinas, 1990). I cannot privilege my ownculture in this encounter but must defer and accept my responsibility to the Other.
Ortiz wrote on and about the island of Cuba. Transculture and transyness seemcloser to Edouard Glissant’s figure of the archipelago, a series of connected islands.
The virtue of the archipelago is that a series of very different entities can beconnected. What seems to be critical at the present moment is precisely the meansby which cultures and peoples are connected – the medium of cables and electricity,the linking computer code, and the attention economy. This narrative has beenlinked rather than being temporally consecutive or focused on one moment ofspace-time. It is part of a wider project to think in ways that might help us to thinkin networked, connected and linked forms that are not training for global capital somuch as a necessary means of approaching resistance. Examples like RTMark.com,the corporate sabotage site, suggest that a certain subversion is possible from withinthe network, even as it absorbs that subversiveness as ‘content’. Events like theSeattle and Genoa protests against global capitalism, the most prominent directaction of its kind, were co-ordinated and arranged on specially created websites.
Shareware like Napster and freeware like Linux threatened to undermine the digitalboom before it imploded of its own accord. In drawing attention to what is linked,there is at the same time the prospect that value will be created (Beller, 2002). By
their very nature, linking and networking have no inherent, essential qualities butwill always be complex, hybrid systems generating both predictable andunpredictable outcomes.
The link is a peculiarity of the internet, perhaps its most salient feature. For digitalcritic Steven Johnson (1997), ‘the link is the first significant new form ofpunctuation to emerge in centuries’. Yet he at once asserts the historicity of the link,deriving it from Charles Dickens’ technique of ‘links of association’. He cites apassage in Great Expectations
, in which Pip muses on his attraction to Estrella:
What was it that was borne in upon my mind when she stood still and lookedattentively at me? . What was it? . As my eyes followed her white hand,again the same dim sensation that I could not possibly grasp, crossed me. Myinvoluntary start occasioned her to lay her hand upon my arm. Instantly theghost passed once more and was gone. (pp. 111–12)
A moment of looking calls up the ghost, a link to some unknown end that cansometimes be accessed and sometimes not. Proust would of course devote manypages to a complex exploration of this sensory link between present and past.
This sensual aspect to connectivity calls up the ghost of connection in its 18th-century sense as a sexual connection (Mirzoeff, forthcoming). It further suggeststhat Sandy Stone’s suggestion that everyone is transgender on-line has been borneout by the expansion of the internet as a medium for sexual experimentation. Whileit is fashionable to argue that these role plays have had little effect in the ‘real’world, it is interesting to note that the Australian Green Party very prominentlystood a transgender candidate in the Federal elections of 2001 and saw its nationalvote increase significantly.9 The digital link brings together in apparently seamless,but actually unpredictable ways, sites in all senses that may not have any self-evident connection. In their recent mapping of the internet by its links, IBMresearchers discovered that the internet does not form an evenly spaced grid,network, or even rhizome. Rather it forms into a bow tie with dangling tendrils ofconnections, with a dense center of highly connected sites (Yahoo, Google, MSN)and a periphery of diminishingly linked locations. But a significant fraction ofmaterials on the web – up to a third, by some estimates – are what has been called‘dark matter’, pages or sites that are inaccessible from any other location. Suchpages are in intranets, behind firewalls or simply pages without added links. Farfrom being rhythmic or automatic, linking becomes a critical act in all senses, an actof agency that makes a connection and grows the network.
From William Gibson’s first representation of cyberspace in his 1984 novelNeuromancer
, there have always been ghosts on the net. In Gibson’s case, theywere the lwas
of Haitian vodun. There is a multifaceted ghost net out there now, justas he predicted. Firstly, there are the abandoned networks themselves. Enormoussums have been invested in creating network connections that do not yet seem to bepaying off. In July 2001, the fiber-optic communications company JDS Uniphaseposted a staggering loss of US$50.6 billion generated by enormous investment innew cable, a lost bet on the apparently never-ending need for connections. It hasbeen estimated that only 5 percent of the fiber-optic cable in the United States is
‘lit’, that is to say actively carrying information. The rest is the ghost net. The ghostnet surfaces in everyday surfing as ghost sites, pages that are no longer updated ormaintained but are still there, lurking. As the dot.com boom became thedot.combustion, many sites posted farewell messages and went down. These signsare gateways to the ghost net. At the same time, the active net can be used for ghosthunting. Webcams are trained on reportedly haunted sites and ghost hunters canwatch and wait, freezing any image that might be supernatural into a grid of pixelsfor others to muse over. Just as in the 19th century, the question is always: is it real,faked or a mistake? What would a real digital ghost look like and in what spectrumwould it appear?
In this new moment, so haunted by so many pasts and futures that it seems like amoment of eternal return, artists, critics, and image-makers of all kinds aresearching for a means to represent the new reality. Just as movements like Cubismexpressed a radical recreation of the real, there is a sense that such a recasting isagain needed. If it is to be accomplished, it will not look like the old avant-gardewith a small group working in a single place whether Paris, São Paulo or Sydney. Itwill be transient and transforming, a multiple viewpoint for an intenselyinterconnected time. The abyssal quality of the endlessly returning link is dizzyingto behold. The ghost is at once a link and an example of endless return that isnonetheless different on each occasion: think of the ghost in Hamlet
, who is visibleto all in Act One but only to Hamlet in Act Three. Critical work requires workingout which cluster of links, or which ghosts, to isolate and highlight and why. Whydo it? Not to establish a digital avant-garde but as a tactic to counter the vertigo ofeveryday life in the late capitalist global economy. This vertigo is occasioned by theanxiety felt by visual subjects as the clairvoyant gaze of the panoptic institution isoccluded by the flickering signifiers of digital culture, and as that gaze itselfbecomes indifferent to what it sees. As clairvoyance withdraws from ‘a public spaceprofoundly upset by techno-tele-media apparatuses’, there becomes visible ‘therewhere they were already there without being there
’ (Derrida, 1994: 79), the ghosts.
This paper was first written for the Clark Art Institute conference ‘Aesthetics, Art History,Visual Studies’, in May 2001 and I have kept the somewhat polemical flavor of the piece.
1. For a development of this idea see my essay ‘The Multiple Viewpoint: Diasporic Visual
Cultures’, in Mirzoeff (2000: 1–18).
2. In the preceding passages, Proust used the derogatory term Juif
repeatedly but ascribes
Bloch to Israel, thereby making him an assimilated Israelite
, a ‘French’ rather than‘Eastern’ Jew. See the Pléiade edition of Proust, A la recherche du temps perdu
(1988),tome II, 489.
3 Benjamin’s first draft was a collaboration with Frank Hessel.
4. Lacan (1981) argued that ‘our position in the dream is profoundly that of someone who
does not see. The subject does not see where it is leading, he follows’ (p. 75). Benjamin’sleap was to transfer the dream state to the historical setting of the Arcades, in accord withhis notion that the 19th century was persistently in a dream.
5. Original emphasis; my thanks to Janet Wolff for this reference.
6. These concerns are addressed in Rachel Schreiber’s remarkable 1996 video piece, ‘Please
Kill Me, I’m a Nigger Faggot Jew’ that puts into contact a family photograph album ofher grandparents’ visit to Europe in 1937 and the artist’s online questionnaire to Nazi S/Madepts.
7. These terms are adopted from Arjun Appadurai’s now classic definition of globalization
8. I find this neologism less difficult than the language of IPOs, margin calls, GATT,
watching the Fed, WTO, rationalization, correlative damage and so on that is the newinternational’s own vocabulary and has passed into common usage.
9. I am not suggesting that the transgender issue alone increased the Green vote – although it
may well have done – but that adopting a transgender candidate did not damage the partyat the polls as would inevitably be assumed by northern hemisphere social democrats.
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Nicholas Mirzoeff is Professor of Art History and Comparative Studies at SUNYStony Brook. In 2002 he was Leverhulme Visiting Professor in Visual Culture at theUniversity of Nottingham. The second edition of The Visual Culture Reader
isforthcoming from Routledge.
Address: Department of Art, Staller Center, State University of New York, StonyBrook, NY 11794-5400, USA. [email:[email protected]
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