“Spectrality effects in place, and differentially in different placings, an unsettling complication of the linear sequence of past, present and future. For Derrida we lack a nuanced sense of history and memory ‘as long as [we rely] on a general temporality or an historical temporality made up of successive linking of presents identical to themselves and contemporary with themselves’ (Derrida 1994: 70). However ‘if there is something like spectrality, there are reasons to doubt this reassuring order of presents’ (Ibid 39). The spectral not only displaces place and self through the freight of ghostly memories; it works to displace the present from itself. As ‘that which secretly unhinges it’, spectrality ensures the ‘non-contemporaneity with itself of the living present’ (Ibid: xix). Pasts and futures, even if they are no longer; even if they are not yet, still haunt the present, and are, in a supplemental relationship to it, always coming back.” (John Wylie 2007: 172)
Derrida’s spectro-politics, as John Wylie points out above, challenges any conception of temporal linearity because a spectral logic presents spaces and times as folded, allowing distant presences, events, people and things to become rather more intimate.
Derrida has argued that such a ‘deconstructive understanding of history’ can be accomplished by the radical work of returning to ‘the repressed, rejected, and expelled elements of historical memory and recycling these lingering voices, genres, and histories’ (Derrida 1989: 821)
While an engagement with spectral matters is yet in its infancy within cultural geography, those geographers attempting to mobalise Derrida’s spectro-politcs through their work (John Wylie, Steve Pile, Tim Edensor, and Cheryl McEwan) can be read as attempting to engage with ‘kaleidoscopic modes of experiencing uncanny agencies, unforeseen events and a morphology of almost there-ness’ (Maddren and Adey 2008: 293).
Through my PhD research I developed an experimental historiography that drew creative resource from the purposeful assemblage and rehabilitation of diffuse historical fragments to form unorthodox archives. My adoption of a form of historical ‘assemblage method’ (Law 2004) is to be read as a challenge the historian’s fidelity to conventional empirical and archival evidence, in that I attempted to make the materials I assembled count precisely by not forcing them to fit within a pre-determined narrative, recognising instead that materials themselves can create knowledge, or at least encourage open and imaginative thought.
In this way I sought to craft a form of historiography that is alive to the ultimate alterity of past lives (human or otherwise), events, and places, recognising that what remains of them is always going to partial, provisional, incomplete and therefore what is being presented is always already, to invoke Derrida, “sous rature” – under erasure.
I am now attempting to develop my form of experimental historiography into a form of curatorial presentation. For the forthcoming exhibition that I am co-curating – Fashioning Feathers: Women, Craft and the Plumage Trade – I have unearthed some archival photographs showing women working in plumage sweatshops in New York in the 1920’s that I am experiementing with the presentation of.
The photographs are taken from Lewis W. Hine’s photographic series documenting working conditions in New York, 1905-1939. Hine was an American sociologist and photographer who used his camera as a tool for social reform. His photographs, highlighting the plight of children and immigrants working in Now York sweatshops, were instrumental in changing the child labor laws in the United States.
Rather than present the photographs as static frames in the exhibition I have been experimenting with showing them as a moving ‘slideshow’ that will be projected onto one of the gallery walls. It’s still a ‘work-in-progress’ but here is what I have come up with so far:
Here is an extended version I have just finished working on:
Any comments or feedback would be much appreciated.