Yesterday's Tomorrow: Why Are We and Will Always Be 'Obsessed' by the Past? On Hauntology

A sponsored link popped up in Facebook homepage during my daily morning routine– scrolling down any available timelines from my social media accounts with the sheer hope to discover something new for my brain to digest. It was a link to an annual infographic created by Shutterstock on major and rising design trends in 2019– something that grasps my attention rather quickly (as one of my obligations is to be vigilant of trends within the pop culture). The page suggests the data was collected based on ‘billions of image, video, and music searches and downloads from Shutterstock customers’. Fair enough.

The bursting colours and immersion through moving pictures and clickable visual elements drew me more into the infographic. Moreover, the moment I reach the end of the infographic, I can absolutely confirm this as a perfect example–an epitome, of our obsessiveness with the fragments of the past and our tendencies of pastiche. We are indeed, and will always be, retromania[1].

Witness Shutterstock’s infographic yourself here.

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The major three design trends on 2019 revolve around one thing: history repeating itself through visual elements. Name Yesterday’s Tomorrow, signified by the revisitation of synth-wave (homage to the early tech of the late 80s and early 90s) and duotone. The other two feature the idea of the abandonment of digitalism. Why do these said circumstances keep on happening, where retro aesthetics are recycled abundantly and there seems to be this notion that we can’t escape our obsession with the old social forms?

To understand these phenomena, we’re digging deeper into a concept called hauntology, which named as a portmanteau of ‘haunting’ and ‘ontology’.[2]

Francis Fukuyama in ‘The End of History and the Last Man’ (1992) argued that the worldwide establishment of liberal democracies and free-market capitalism may signal the end point of humanity’s socio-cultural evolution. [3] A year later, French philosopher Jacques Derrida published ‘Spectres of Marx’ (1993) which against a philosophical backdrop suggested by critics of the capitalist, post-modern society that explore the conception of history reaching an ‘impasse as a means of explaining perceived cultural stagnation’. The monopoly of neo-liberalism has brought an era of political sterility where agents of dissent are reduced to making a series of hysterical demands, resulting in an endless craving for revivalism.

The title ‘Spectre of Marx’ is a reference to a statement written at the beginning of the Manifesto of the Communist party in 1848: “A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre” [4]

‘Spectres of Marx’ was highly critical of Fukuyama’s End of History, in which Derrida argued that as history represents a relationship between a present and its past, this linear hierarchy can be deconstructed by the concept of ‘haunting’. He predicted that the West will continue to be haunted by Marx’s spirit of radical critique as an antidote to the apparent ‘death of ideology’. It was within this context that he proposed the philosophical concept of ‘hauntology’;

To haunt does not mean to be present, and it is necessary to introduce haunting into the very construction of a concept. Of every concept, beginning with the concepts of being and time. That is what we should be calling here a hauntology.

Derrida illustrates this theory with a scene of a spirit of the dead King featured in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The expected return of this revenant, this non-object, this non-present present, cannot be controlled because it begins by coming back.[5] Like history, it is doomed to repeat itself again and again. Derrida accentuated the notion of a haunting occur when a spirit visits the present from the past, usually with the warning about the future. This space disruption of by a time that is out-of-joint is referred to as dyschronia.

Today’s cultural obsession with revivalism represents a denial of the future in favour of the comforting reassurance offered by the ‘ghost’ of the past. Mark Fisher in ‘Ghost of My Life’ (2014) describes this apparent denial of the future as; “Amnesia of the present, is the complement to hauntology’s nostalgia for the future”. Hauntology proposes a positive alternative to post-modernity’s ‘nostalgia mode’. The future can only be for ghosts.

The present can only be viewed through the lens of the past, with occasional glances into the future.

 If history has run out, hauntology only grows more relevant as years go on. Indeed, hauntology may be the closest thing we have to a zeitgeist.

Footnotes

[1] Simon Reynolds in Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past (2011) defines retro as:

  • […] always about the relatively immediate past, about stuff that happened in living memory.

  • […] an element of exact recall: the ready avail­ability of archived documentation (photographic, video, music recordings, the Internet) allows for precision replication of the old style, whether it's a period genre of music, graphics or fashion. As a result, the scope for imaginative misrecognition of the past– the distortions and mutations that characterised earlier cults of antiquity like the Gothic Revival, for instance - is reduced.

  • […] generally involves the artifacts of popular cul­ture. This differentiates it from earlier revivals, which, as the historian Raphael Samuel points out, were based around high culture and originated from the higher echelons of society - aristocratic aesthetes and antiquarians with a rarified taste for exquisite collectables. […]

  • […] tends neither to idealise nor sentimentalise the past, but seeks to be amused and charmed by it. By and large, the approach is not scholarly and purist but ironic and eclectic. […]

[2] The term refers to the situation of temporal, historical, and ontological disjunction in which the apparent presence of being is replaced by a deferred non-origin, represented by "the figure of the ghost as that which is neither present, nor absent, neither dead nor alive." (Gallix, 2011)

[3] Fukuyama’s argument on the end of evolution referenced Friedrich Hegel (1770 – 1831) who defined history as 'the progress of man to higher levels of rationality and freedom and that this process had a logical terminal point.

[4] Read (Marx, Engels and Toews, 1848)

[5] See (Cixous, 2012)

References

Cixous, H. (2012). Shakespeare Ghosting Derrida. Oxford Literary Review, 34(1), pp.1-24.

Fukuyama, F. (1992) The end of history and the last man. London. Penguin Books.

Gallix, A. (2011). Hauntology: A not-so-new critical manifestation. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2011/jun/17/hauntology-critical [Accessed 29 Jan. 2019].

Marx, K., Engels, F. and Toews, J. (1848). The Communist Manifesto.

Reynolds, S. (2011). Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to Its Own Past. New York: Faber and Faber, p.xxx-xxxi.

Bibliography

Cixous, H. (2012). Shakespeare Ghosting Derrida. Oxford Literary Review, 34(1), pp.1-24.

Derrida, J. (1993) Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning & the New International. Paris: Éditions Galilée

Fisher, M. (2009) Capitalist realism. London: Zero Books

Fisher, M. (2013). The Metaphysics of Crackle: Afrofuturism and Hauntology. Dancecult, 5(2), pp.42-55.

Fisher, M. (2014). Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures. London: Zero Books.

Fukuyama, F. (1992) The end of history and the last man. London. Penguin Books.

Gallix, A. (2011). Hauntology: A not-so-new critical manifestation. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2011/jun/17/hauntology-critical [Accessed 29 Jan. 2019].

Reynolds, S. (2011). Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to Its Own Past. New York: Faber and Faber

Unit 3 Report: Addendum

The following post contains every documents (e.g. evidences, feedbacks, visuals, everything) that will supplement the ‘HOW’ part of my evaluative report. There are four parts of the post that will be shown, which are teasers evidence that I used to communicate with the audiences in my intervention Instagram, every single feedbacks that I received from Instagram messaging system (which I will do my best to highlight and translate some parts that I found as transformative and useful for my project), the visual identity alternatives that I brainstormed with one of my collaborators, and future and/or ongoing collaborators.

Instagram Teasers

I made some teasers via Instagram stories during the second week since I made the page regarding the curatorial theme that I chose for my digital ephemera archive. The purposes of doing this are to raising audiences’ awareness and curiosity and also communicate and engage with them. Most of the formats used are open questions format, combined with supporting images and artefacts related to the issues raised. One of the teaser links to the newest post of the Instagram page, making it easier for the audience to go through the post despite Instagram’s algorithm.

These are the teaser questions that I used for the past week:

  • What do the Javanese mythical figures and characters represent on jamu packaging?

  • How do jamu packaging visuals affect society’s narrative of ideal female body and femininity?

  • How does Hong Kong apothecary influenced the art style and production techniques of jamu packagings?

  • How does an initiative of a Dutch woman ignite the growth of the most iconic jamu manufacturer in Indonesia?

Feedbacks from the Audiences

Since I made an Instagram account for the intervention, I received massive feedbacks from its audiences which are academics and practitioners mostly practicing graphic design living in big cities in Indonesia and also abroad. Most of their feedbacks are based on their curiosity about what’s the project is all about and what’s my purpose of me doing it. When I told people that it’s my MA project, most of them are pleased with it and encouraged me to keep doing my intervention even after the course ended.

I couldn’t do the translations for most of the feedbacks, but I’ll try to list down some key elements and analysis of the feedbacks.

  • I had an amazing talk with a graphic design colleague about how I should present my project as concise as possible, since I didn’t really pitch the project really well the last time seeing him. The social curation canvas module really helped me a lot on how to present my project.

  • One of the audiences suggested me several topics that I can explore more in the future interventions. These include from analysing the slogans of jamu advertisings to representations in jamu packagings and advertising.

  • One of the audiences tried to take the challenge to do the visual analysis. This is amazing because this is what I really expected from the intervention: to persuade the audience to initiate creation so that I could measure how my intervention will affect their visual literacy skills. That audience had sent me the analysis and it’s a good starting point that I expect to keep growing in the next 2 weeks.

  • Another amazing feedback that I got is a graphic designer whose also a lifestyle blogger trying to respond to the curatorial theme by analysing the trend of jamu as a new wave lifestyle and review some jamu cafés.

  • An addition to that, another audience is currently working to produce his own jamu brand to help promote the awareness of traditional medicines as a pivotal part of Indonesian culture.

  • One of the audience-turned-gatekeeper refers his friend currently doing a research about Indonesian traditional medicines and masculinity. This is how I really love the process of connecting with people which can actually leads me to some experts.

Visual identity journey

I believe that visual identity is important to help me introduce my project to the audiences and help them to remember what it’s all about. The following images are everything that my collaborator and I’ve been making to support the digital platform visual identity.


What I Learned, What Will Come Next & What Has to Be Done

  • It’s time to move forward to the next part of my journey, based on my selected research methodology. My last post indicated that I started to develop the web platform and an Instagram account to help communicate the ideas of the project to the audiences, which eventually goes to both transformation and convergence part of the methodology. This will include incoming iteration processes ahead!

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  • The social curation canvas provided by a colleague (as stated in this post) is an effective tool to help me describe and specify every aspects that I expected from the project. It is incredibly concise, and everything I needed when it comes describing my project to stakeholders, experts, gatekeepers, and collaborators. I learned about the power of gatekeepers and serendipity. If I don’t do a volunteer work during summer, I wouldn’t even have any idea or discover this powerful tool.

    Shown below is the newest version of my social curation canvas.

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  • One concern that rise during the tutorial session is how do I measure the accomplishment of my intervention. How can I measure the audiences’ visual literacy? This led me to another further research already conducted in many art education systems that I can integrate into my project. The diagram next to this text refers to the framework I’m using to test my intervention. Further readings on this subject is listed below.

  • One thing that I shouldn’t overlook from this project overall is about the ethical issues. A recent conversation with a collaborator asking about whether or not it’s ethical to reproduce the existing images in the ephemeras visuals led to a non-existing ethical rules regarding the subject in Indonesia. This also will be another thing that I should dig about further. To tackle the ethical issues on image sharing and copyrights, I decided to make everything cited inside the posts and do the checks before publishing.

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What has to be done – the challenges [1]

  1. Knowledge Creation: Contribute to Research and Development

    There is an urgent need to augment research in the area of digital preservation. Projects which further our knowledge in the challenges of preserving various types of materialsmaps, archival materials, color documents, bound volumes, data-sets, music, and electronic formats like SGML, PDF, ASCII, HTMLmust be undertaken.

  2. Digital Triage: Developing Guidelines for What Can and Should Be Saved

    There should be informed skepticism about the claims of organizations that say they will archive the Internet. The library and archival communities already know that not everything can and should be saved. What is key is selecting which digital resources to preserve and which ones not to preserve.

  3. Rescue Operations: Ensure Vital Electronic Documents are Preserved Now

    Librarians and archivists need to work with industry to develop simple and cost effective print-to-microfilm systems; this will enable archives to preserve documentary collections that are provided in proprietary formats such as word-processors in a cost-effective fashion to be effectively preserved.

  4. Document Formats: So Many to Chose From

    Mixed media and multiple document formats will continue to remain the fly-in-the- ointment of digital collections. Multiple formats may require maintaining multiple hardware/software platforms and will confound simple migration to new storage media.

  5. Being Legal: Rights Management and Access Control

    Licensing will be one of the most important things that an archive will be required to do in the electronic realm. The management of diverse licensing arrangements promises to be a significant administrative and technical challenge for preservation purposes.

  6. Wave the Flag: Promoting the Importance of Preservation

    Librarians and archivists must engage in a concerted effort to raise the profile of preservation.

  7. All for One, One for All: Working Together

    Archiving decisions for materials which are common to many libraries will be made in consultation with other libraries to determine the appropriate forms and sharing- mechanisms.

  8. Digital Preservation as a Public Good

    Librarians and archivists protect the public interest by making information available to the community and by asserting the importance of maintaining a record of our collective intellectual heritage.


Further Readings

Avgerinou, M.D. (2007, Spring). Towards a visual literacy index. Journal of Visual Literacy 27(1) 29-46.

Avgerinou, M.D. (2001). Developing a visual literacy index. (Chapter 5 of unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Bath, UK.

Avgerinou, M.D., & Pettersson, R. (2011). Toward a cohesive theory of visual literacy. Journal of Visual Literacy 30(2), 1-19.

Callow, J. (2008). Show me: Principles for assessing students’ visual literacy. The Reading Teacher 61(8), 616-626. doi: 10.1598/RT.61.8.3