The ghost is a concept as hard to pin down as a floating sheet. In my work on celebrity ghostwriting I have pushed for a widening of our definitions of the ‘ghosting’ process to consider the ways in which we are all surrounded by hidden forces which work upon us. Benevolent, malign or indifferent, they silently coax and usher us towards one thing or another, one way of being or another, one set of possibilities and limitations or another. This is how Megha Sharma Sehdev imagines ‘Small Hands of Violence’ in this issue’s essay on contemporary politics in India. Ghostwriting can be understood as covering so many more dynamics than the traditionally imagined scribes who erase themselves to become vessels for stars to tell their life stories. For as long as there have been written stories there have been figures we might understand as ghosts hidden in the process. If we accept these intermediaries as ghosts, why not also the photographers, filmmakers, agents, managers, publishers and constellations of other intermediaries in the star’s orbit, who have their role in producing texts of and about her? And if we understand these various agents as ghosts, how broadly might we imagine the equivalent figures in our own lives. How do we collectively produce ourselves? How are our lives collectively ‘written’?
The ghost is a concept that shapeshifts. In the social media age, our everyday lives are so mediatised that we would do well to think about the ways in which we are being ghosted. Of course, we more commonly imagine ourselves to have been ghosted by the suddenly departed. We find ourselves abandoned by a lover without a word, or left at a party without the courtesy of goodbye. Framing these vanishings like apparitions of the dead makes a joke of the small grieving we undertake in everyday losses.
The ghost is a concept that lives in folklore: in the sometimes grotesque stories we tell ourselves as we undertake the life long project of understanding death and decay. As shown in the work of Shyam Thandar and Mark Blickley In this issue, the ghost is constructed by our fear of what we cannot understand about what has died and what won’t die.
The ghost is a concept that collapses time to complicate what is and what was. It lives in what we are only partially aware of: what we have half seen, half remembered, half heard. Throughout this issue we see ghosts interpreted as traces and relics, leaving their imprint on the present. We hear this in the echoes explored by Danny Bright’s sonic artwork on the memory of sounds and the warping that occurs in this transmutation. We see this in the iterative silhouette portraits that evoke the chaos of memory in the work of Dorothy Englander. We see the ghosts that live in reflections, shadows, and shrouds as they glimmer in the artworks of Phil Sawdon, the photographs of Sukanya Ghosh, the dreamlike illustrations of Sambaran Das Agnibho Gangophadhyay, and the familiar objects David Szanto has made uncannily strange.
The ghost is a misunderstanding. I have a four-year-old who is obsessed with all that is spooky. In his pre-school cartoons I have noticed there are many ghosts. From so very early in life the stories we tell ourselves must account for the fear we experience in the face of what we don’t and can’t (yet) understand. The difference is that these ghosts, these bumps in the night, always turn out to have been a misunderstanding. An indeterminate sensory experience that we can’t locate the source of: a baleful moan or an eerie glowing in the distance turns out to be the wind in the trees, to be bioluminescence. It was earthly, intelligible phenomena and you are safe from everything but your own imagination and its tendency to presume inexplicable magic.