What haunts us?

A collection of thoughts and ideas revolving around the latest AIL Topic ‘Haunted. Persistence of the Past’: On hauntings of the future, virtualitites of the past, the seething presence of the seemingly non-existent, and predictions and prophecies.

Text from Elisabeth Falkensteiner

Enter the Ghost, Exit the Ghost,

Re-enter the Ghost.

(Hamlet in Derrida, 2004)

Predictions and Prophecies

The future belongs to ghosts. (Jacques Derrida)

Visions of tomorrow are trending. In the face of burning political and especially ecological crises, thinking about the future has never been more relevant. The direction and research interests of Angewandte Interdisciplinary Lab have repeatedly highlighted issues concerning the future. And recently, the relatively new interdisciplinary field of futurology has been introduced at the university level. Scientifically, it deals with potential or probable future developments as well as with design options and their preconditions in the past and present. But what does it mean to think about the future, and how can we think about something that is yet to come? What can help us imagine what is imminent? Which means or methods are available to us, and what are the underlying belief systems or categories?

Prognostics is one of the methodologies of futurology. New technologies, such as artificial intelligence, are capable of creating our own (self-fulfilling) prophecies. The computational or analytical process behind this technology is based on potentiality. That is, a possibility that can become reality, or a future being symptomatically haunted by traces of the past. Time is a fundamental component of the feedback loops of a recursive, self-referential and repetitive algorithm, which itself recalls and draws on data. In this sense, recursion is a computational process capable of initiating the unfolding of temporalities and being potentially infinite. Since the future is imminent in the present, it is virtually already here, but it is also the constructed necessity of an algorithmic prediction of the future. Accordingly, the data-generated multiple futures represent a rupture of linear temporality. In other words, time passes differently: It is bent or dispersed.

Hauntology & Historicity

What haunts the digital cul-de-sacs of the twenty-first century is not so much the past as all the lost futures that the twentieth century taught us to anticipate. (Mark Fisher)

The specter, as a symbol of the continuing effects of the past on the present and future, is the starting point for Jacques Derrida's theory of hauntology. The term itself plays on the words haunting and ontology, implying that phenomena are always characterized by different forms of absence. Hauntology can be regarded as a theory which assumes that distant forces are at work: phenomena that do not physically exist but nevertheless have an effect on the present. The figure of the specter marks a correlation or connection to something that is no longer there but still effective in virtual terms; and, at the same time, it is a link to what is yet to come and nevertheless something that already exists in the virtual.

According to Mark Fisher, the past remains an effective virtuality while the possibility of the future is already present in the virtual sphere. In this sense, we escape a deterministic or automated future, rendering it speculative. Technologies are capable of creating multiple virtualities in space and time. Technologies consequently collapse spatial and temporal dimensions. Haunted by the future, this future thus becomes a virtuality that pervades the present, shapes future expectations and drives cultural production.

Spook & Specters

Invisible things (are) not necesserily ‘not-there’. (Toni Morrison)

Feminist physicist Karen Barad also references Derrida in here materialist theory. Based on the principle of quantum mechanics, she states that phenomena are connected in spooky and complex ways and have an effect beyond the subatomic level. Objects are therefore not static things but dynamic processes which change as they interact and intra-act with other objects. Karen Barad calls this hauntological materialism. In different ways, our entangled inner actions therefore emulate the relationships between subatomic particles. We encounter our past lives and historical figures as ghosts that exert a haunting influence on the present. We encounter these ghosts from our past in 'a time out of joint’, as Derrida suggests by quoting Hamlet in 'Spectres of Marx’.

In ‘Ghostly Matters’, sociologist Avery Gordon also makes haunting one of her research methods. According to Gordon, in order to explore social life, one* is forced to engage with all aspects of haunting. She challenges contemporary scientific methods that examine the relationship between knowledge, experience and power, and suggests an alternative approach: Haunting can describe the seething presence of what does not seem to be there. Gordon tracks down ghost stories to repair the damage caused by representational flaws in the current social situation – such as discriminatory exclusions – and to comprehend the conditions that underlie the creation of memory. Her aim is to establish a counter-memory, one that might help build a fairer future.