Ghostly Matters: Narratives of Haunting
In her 1997 book, Ghostly Matters, Avery Gordon describes haunting as that which appears “to be not there,” yet also a “seething presence, acting on and often meddling with taken-for-granted realities.” She further elaborates: “The ghost or the apparition is one form by which something lost, or barely visible, or seemingly not there to our supposedly well-trained eyes, makes itself known or apparent to us, in its own way, of course. The way of the ghost is haunting, and haunting is a very particular way of knowing what has happened or is happening. Being haunted drawn us affectively, sometimes against our will and always a bit magically, into the structure of feeling of a reality we come to experience, not as cold knowledge, but as a transformative recognition.” This course will investigate a number of literary and visual materials concerning ghosts and the phenomenon of haunting as a means of registering historical and material consequences of trauma on individual and collective consciousness. Our encounter with the ghostly presence opens up two primary avenues for critical interpretation: in the first instance, haunting provides a conceptual framework to approach the formal characteristics of 20th-century American literature, namely the ways in which repetition, fragmentation, and redaction function in the narratives as means of coping with and working through traumatic events. The second, and perhaps more productive avenue for critique, is to use the presence of ghosts as a strategy to undo the coherence of narrativization—to question not only what produces haunting but what is produced by it. From these conditions emerge the questions of what it means for literature to register the marks of trauma: Is the goal of narrativization to bear witness to the conditions and legacy of violence? Is it to reclaim the primacy of historically marginalized individuals against dominant discourses that legitimize only the perpetrators? Does the narrative provide a means of reconstructing coherence amidst systematic violence? Or, to echo David Eng and David Kazanjian, does the presence of the ghost gesture at new creative possibilities because “abject and unlivable bodies” do not simply disappear or lose intelligibility but persist through volatile and material remains, transforming these instances of haunting into possible sites of countermemory, articulation, and identification?
This class fulfills the University of Washington’s “W” requirement, which means that you may apply the course towards the additional 7-10 writing credits required by the university. Writing is a critical component of this class, and you will be expected to complete 10-15 pages of graded, out-of-class writing, in the form of two major papers. You will have an opportunity to submit rough drafts, meet with me to discuss your essay, and complete substantive revisions prior to turning in the two major papers.
• Henry James, The Turn of the Screw, Norton, ISBN 9780393959048
• William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying, Norton, ISBN 9780393931389
• Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior, Vintage, ISBN 9780679721888
• Course Packet (Available from The Ave Photocopy)
• The Others (2001), dir. Alejandro Amenábar
• Jacob’s Ladder (1990), dir. Adrian Lyne