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'An aphorism, properly stamped and molded, has not been "deciphered" when it has simply been read; rather one has then to begin its interpretation, for which is required an art of interpretation.' -- Nietzsche, 'On the Genealogy of Morals'

after modernism « Previous | |Next »
July 29, 2008

K-Punk says on the concept of hauntology that it must be understood in relation to postmodernity. Postmodernism, in turn, has to be understood – as Jameson has taught us – as ‘the logic of late capitalism’. K-Punk adds:

Jameson’s great contribution was to have grasped was to have grasped the way in which, far from leading to an efflorescence of cultural innovation, the unprecedented dominion of capitalism over the globe and the unconscious would lead only to cultural situation given over to previously inconceivable levels of stagnation and inertia. Shorn of the confidence that an elite modernism could provide a revolutionary alternative to pacifying entertainment, no longer capable of believing that there was any form of detournement which could not in turn be re-incorporated and commodified, Jameson is the successor to both the Frankfurt School and the Situationists.Maybe we need to think of photography as a darker art than most people routinely practice.

Jameson and Baudrillard understood that the user-generated content, together with the concomitant retreat of the cultural elite that has enabled it, would not lead to new kinds of creativity, but to pastiche and retrospection. Just as the capitalist language of ‘diversity’ is a cover for new modes of homogeneity.

What Jameson calls the ‘nostalgia mode’ is one expression of this homogeneity. Hauntology is the counterpart to this nostalgia mode.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:15 PM | | Comments (5)


I think another source for hauntology is Derrida's Specters of Marx where Derrida takes what he sees as Marx's love of Shakespeare as a starting point for an exploration of untimeliness in Hamlet. So, for Derrida Marx is haunted by ghosts (The start of the Communist Manifesto is 'A spectre is haunting Europe - the spectre of Communism.') And a way to think about what ghosts mean for a political project is to look at the ghost that is Hamlet's father and how his message to Hamlet comes from a different past to the accepted version and makes Hamlet's time out of joint.

Hauntology is a play on ontology: being is haunted. I think it's right to suggest that if present being is haunted by spectres then photography, as one of the primary modes of doucumenting reality, can be a political art that captures ghosts and unsettles the nostalgia mode.

As of recent days, there would seem to be two Hauntologies: Derrida's version, which is nicely derived from a pun on "ontology," and can be grasped as a rational construct, and K-Punk-and-Crew's version which is pastiche and variations on a theme (the original theme being Derrida's Hauntology) akin to their style of musical composition. In this fashion, KP&C's version arguably displays both a faulty understanding and a perfect proof of their purported thesis.

I don't follow what you're saying here. Are you suggesting that K-punk is a musician who actually composes music or is this just an analogy for how you interpret his method in practising cultural criticism?
I find K-punk's use of the concept of hauntology to characterise some music as perfectly consistent with Derrida's uses of the concept when discussing the ghost in Hamlet.

From the Urban Dictionary:

kpunk. "An individualistic person (normally an advocator of punk rock) who is very vocal about his or her opinions, not sparing a single tool in sight."

This particular K-Punk reviews industrial and punk music (and whatever "Indie" music might be otherwise classifiable). Apparently, his given name is Mark Fisher and he has written an internet thesis entitled: "FLATLINE CONSTRUCTS GOTHIC MATERIALISM AND CYBERNETIC THEORY-FICTION". If he himself directly composes music I am not aware of it. I can not speak to the compositional styles associated with the musical groups cited (The Caretaker, Burial, etc.), except to say that K-Punk's style ("his method in practising cultural criticism") suggests something of what they may share in common.

As for K-Punk's tone poem on Hauntology, it is getting quite a bit of play among those who share his musical predilections. The Variations Upon Derrida's Hauntology provides a basic thematic line from which the composer changes to the keys of Baudrillard, Jameson, Fukuyama. The relation between the keys is that they make a cool sound when mixed together. The relationship is a musical one which can be described as "pastiche" ("a perfect proof of their purported thesis").
It does not try to present a consistent line of thought but of tone, suggests concepts but substitutes the tonal values of the thought, as it transitions through the keys, for the precise statements that conceptualizing requires.

K-Punk takes this all to the coolest of cool endings: the end of history (not just "historicity"). It delivers a Beethoven crescendo that never fails but also doesn't follow from Hauntology or any of the thinkers he has conflated Hauntology with ("a faulty understanding").

It's getting late and I'll have to hope that the following example is sufficiently representative to make the point:

"What Jameson calls the ‘nostalgia mode’ is one expression of this homogeneity. This remains one of Jameson’s most ingenious formulations – the nostalgia in question is not manifested in a psychological state but in a kind of unacknowledged formal reiteration.

Hauntology is the counterpart to this nostalgia mode. The preoccupation with the past in hauntological music could easily be construed as ‘nostalgic’. But it is the very foregrounding of temporality that makes hauntology differ from the typical products of the nostalgia mode, which bracket out history altogether in order to present themselves as new. Post postpunk, Indie’s equivalent of mock tudor."

Bring together a dictionary understanding of "nostalgia" and "mode," and a knowledge that Jameson used these words together as a key phrase, with Derrida's concept of Hauntology, and everything we do is in the nostalgia mode ("a faulty understanding"). Except, it turns out, hauntological music. Why? Because it "foregrounds temporality"? Not only is that using the terms like musical notes (for their tonal value) but it is the intro to the grand finale in which our music is the cool thing that is outside of the limitations inherent in all the rest of mankind's pitiful strivings. We stand alone, the sole source of temporality at the end of history!

Hey, in the end its just all for the fun of doing it.

GWP thanks for explaining your line of thought although being a practising musician who plays and likes what you'd probably label as 'indie music' (I like cool jazz and post-punk) I thought the theme and variation analogy was a bit recherche.

Isn't pastiche empty citation? I can't for the life of me see how you can assert that Fisher is citing 'hauntology' without intending to signify what in good faith he takes it to mean: that the present is haunted by a future, which never arrives, but is a present that permits us to get out of settled states of political domination and their associated versions of homogeneous temporality.
I enjoy k-punk's writing and thinking about culture and don't agree that he is 'unwittingly' perpetrating the pastiche that you claim he is in his application of the concept of hauntology. From what I've read of his posts over the last 3 or so years I think Fisher derives some of his thinking from situationist thought - from psychogeographic practices - and that what you might dismissively take as being variations on a theme modulated through keys is less pastiche than a reductive mis-reading. In other words I think you could be more generous and attribute some diverse sources of formation to his practices.