Givenness and Loss: Gender, Genre, and the Ghost Story

The logic of the ghost story requires certain assumptions from its audience. There must be that willing suspension of disbelief from the very start. Part of this is, doubtless, an assumption that we take the spirit, spectre, phantom, phantasm, ghost or apparition at face value, that we believe what it seems as a sign of what it is, or if no long 'is', then 'was': the revenant in the form of a man or woman, a trace of either. Yet, is it really that straightforward? Can we be so certain? Is it not the case that our logic is in fact haunted by this play of presence and absence, and that the spectral trace is, in 'reality', merely a figure of loss? To assume the ghost as mere representative is to enter into a logic that is traditionally, conventionally, masculine, metaphysical and phallocentric. The ghost is always haunted by a masculinity not necessarily its own, and by a certain relation to the very question of Being itself. Yet, the ghost also 'gives'. Its appearance is an event of what Jean-Luc Marion calls 'givenness', the appearance of the other that escapes and exceeds metaphysical thinking, and which calls to its audience to respond ethically, and to bear witness. Pursuing this line of inquiry, in this essay I propose to consider the question of givenness in relation to the ghost story, and to take a line through the argument that challenges the implicit 'gender' of the logic that haunts the 'genre'. In order to do so, I will consider the way in which, in the stories of Henry James, Margaret Oliphant, and Thomas Hardy, amongst others, trouble our epistemological certainties through a play on form that challenges, as much as it relies on, the conventions of form and the logic underpinning it.

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