[I had some further thoughts about the movie Ghost World, some images from which constituted a post about a week ago. Somewhat reluctantly I’m setting these thoughts apart as a separate post, though it remains connected in part to the film.]
The ghost world is the trace in the present of a more authentic past. Some of the objects from this past world still exist, like old 78 records, but they’ve deteriorated with time, their surfaces cracked and warped and scratched. These defects only serve to authenticate the objects to which they’re attached, as if the process of deterioration serves to intensify their authenticity. One can envision a day in the future when these objects are completely effaced by the effects of time, leaving no material trace of the past authenticity to which they testified. Alternatively, one could be left with the impression not that the authentic objects are gone, but that they’re hidden. The gradual deterioration of the surface only serves to intensify the authenticity of what’s behind the surface. When the surface is completely destroyed, the authenticity is all that remains, as a kind of permanent spirit of the authentic object.
Once all the old surfaces are completely gone, then the authentic past is entirely hidden behind the new surfaces of the world, a whole world of authenticity that’s been rendered invisible. And this invisibility is a form of transcendence, an invisible spirit of the Real that cannot be seen or touched but that can only be intuited or remembered or imagined. The authenticity of the Real becomes indistinguishable from the imaginary. But the imaginary doesn’t reside in the image; it’s hidden behind the image. Instead of image being the outer sensory interface of solid material, the image is a hollow fetish that hides the invisible authentic and spiritual and immaterial presence of spirit that lurks behind it.
Derrida coined the term “hauntology” to describe the intangible, immaterial value that consumers attribute to commodities in Marxian economic theory. Hauntology is the ghostly essence of commodity fetishism, the intangible object of desire that drives capitalist consumption. The surface of a commodity is the interface of its tangible use value, but the surface serves also as a disguise hiding the commodity’s ghostly fetish value.
There’s a lot of capitalist activity that goes on in the movie Ghost World, most of it involving the sale of junk food through chain retail outlets. But Seymour is always selling too. He sells records at garage sales; his “party” is really another sales promotion he operates out of his house. The idea is that there’s an authentic shopping experience to be had if you know where to look for it, that some stores and some products really do possess hauntological plenitude.
One such authentic commodity, it could be argued, is this movie itself. It’s selling an alternative consumer model of hauntological authenticity. The movie reinforces the idea that it’s possible to find authenticity in artifacts, and that these authentic artifacts can be bought, and that possessing these artifacts both verifies and enhances the plenitude and authenticity of the person who buys them. Buying a ticket to this movie serves this function, transmitting its hauntological consumer fetish value to the viewer.
I wonder whether hauntology, in contemporary parlance referring to the ephemeral, vaguely mournful aura of presence-in-absence that’s crafted into many pop-cultural artifacts, retains traces of Derrida’s original meaning. Does this new cultural hauntology valorize commodity fetish value by making it at least vaguely tangible? Or in this making-tangible does the new hauntology dissipate a power over consumers that has always depended on its spectrality?