“What the Hell is Hauntology?”: A Reading List for 2019’s Theme by M. Perle Tahat


2019’s theme for TERSE. is hauntology: nostalgia for lost futures. As our columnist Jordannah Elizabeth bluntly asked, “what the hell is ‘hauntology’?”

Hauntology, as we’d like to explore it, is a way to describe a phenomenon related to resonances of traumatic events; a coming to terms with “what’s been done” in the present based on the arc of the past in order to reclaim the future; an examination of futures lost but remembered in fragments like deja vu. Afrofuturists position the concept of hauntology as discovering “countermemories” through history and situating them in full view.

What if alternate futures and histories exist within our realm but we can’t perceive them?

We perceive them whenever we imagine utopias of social equity. This is called “world building” and we participate in it all the time. When M. Asli Dukan was piloting her documentary Invisible Universe she’d say:

“In the past, we dreamed of this future…In the future, we dreamed of this past…”

Futures are always being created by what we can imagine for ourselves right now and were created by what we imagined in the past. Hauntology is a discussion and a conversation with ghosts. Mark Fisher explains in his essay “What is Hauntology,”:

Provisionally, then, we can distinguish two directions in hauntology. The first refers to that which is (in actuality is) no longer, but which is still effective as a virtuality (the traumatic ‘‘compulsion to repeat,’’ a structure that repeats, a fatal pattern). The second refers to that which (in actuality) has not yet happened, but which is already effective in the virtual (an attractor, an anticipation shaping current behavior). (19)

To be more specific he notes, “One of the futures that haunts those who count themselves as progressive, then, is the possibility of a culture that could continue what had begun in postwar social democracy, but that could leave behind the sexism, racism, and homophobia which were so much a feature of the actual postwar period”(18).

As a culture we remain haunted not only by our psychic imprints since we’ve been alive but with our ancestors’ imprints. Social epistemic psychologists would call this “intergenerational trauma.”

If you would like to share your work related to hauntology with us we invite you to do so by viewing our contributor guidelines.

Regardless, if you are looking for fodder for some creative or critical work, check out these writings related to hauntology.


“Necropolitics” by J.A. Mbembe

“How to Talk to Ghosts” by R.F. Kuang

Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture by Ytasha Womack

Invisible Universe M. Asli Dukan

Specters of Marx by Jacques Derrida


Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise of Astro-Blackness edited by Reynaldo Anderson and Charles E. Jones

The Weird and the Eerie by Mark Fisher

Playing in the Dark & The Origin of Others by Toni Morrison

“The Metaphysics of Crackle: Afrofuturism and Hauntology” by Mark Fisher

“Further Considerations of Afrofuturism” Kodwo Eshun

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