Haunting the humanities: Ghosts, communications technologies, and the search for a real in literary horror
Duncan, Heather Anne
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Beginning with the 19th century fervor over the practice of Spiritualism and culminating in a discussion of contemporary literature and film, this dissertation examines how fictional and non-fictional texts by those engaged in both the humanities and the sciences have attempted to grapple with the non-human agents that we call ghosts. These ‘haunting narratives’ have been read in a wide variety of contexts through various scholarly lenses, but most interpretations fall into one of two categories: either these apparitions are read as “real” and are thusly used to justify genre classifications, or they are read as stand-ins for what speculative realist philosopher Bruno Latour would call “social stuff” —i.e. power relations, gender norms, mental illness, etc. While attempting to suggest an alternative way to read these texts by making use of the speculative realist philosophy of Latour and others, I also examine the extent to which technologies of sensing, quantifying, and transcribing have reconfigured our understanding of textual ghosts, and how communications technologies and new media also suggest new ways of reading haunting narratives that apply more broadly to textual studies as a whole. By acknowledging the aesthetic and affective experiences that compose hauntings rather than mining these narratives for hidden meanings, we can instead engage in reparative readings of these texts that repair our connections to the non-human actants in our texts that we have so long obscured.