Ballif, Michelle. (2013). Historiography as hauntology: Paranormal investigations into the history of rhetoric. In Ballif, Michelle (ed.), Theorizing histories of rhetoric (p. 139-153). Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.
Ballif articulates hauntology as a historiography methodology which resists ontologizing or epistemologizing historical narratives in favor of contending with the radical singularity of events, whose excesses extend beyond ‘knowing.’ Hauntology signals a kind of rhetorical listening that unsettles static notions of addressor and addressee that occupy central positions in rhetorical theory, (dis)placing both.
Keywords: historiography, hauntology, histories of rhetoric, Derrida, methodology
“The ethical obligation to listen to these unfamiliars is not motivated by a desire to render them (finally) familiar, which—again—is an attempt to bury the remains (finally), but rather to render ourselves unfamiliar (as scholars and as a discipline)” (p. 140).
“To write as if a listener is to listen precisely to that which is excluded, to that which our modes of understanding have excluded, to that which—therefore—lies at the threshold of our understanding. And there, at that (non)place, at that border or threshold, the uncanny manifests itself in a continuous ‘unsettling (of itself)'” (p. 152-153).
I’m thinking a lot about Steedman’s “Something She Called a Fever: Michelet, Derrida, and Dust,” in which she takes up some of the central claims of decentering time in historiography and archival methods. The archive, for Steedman, has no beginning and cannot have a beginning—each document is captured “in medias res” with so much beyond or absent from the archive that claims at closure of time become fraught (1175). She writes:
Contemplating Everything, the historian must start somewhere, but starting is a different thing from originating, or even from beginning. And while there is closure in historical writing, and historians do bring their arguments and books to a conclusion, there is no End—cannot be an End, for we are still in it, the great, slow-moving Everything (1177).
I’m thinking too of Rickert’s work in Ambient Rhetoric on chora—which, at once, refers toward invention or origination but also toward its own receding from that invention (62-63). The radical singularity of an event toward some of this: by placing the addressor as somehow central toward rhetorical action—and in this case, representing histories of rhetoric—invents, and withdraws the work of its invention, origination and imposes linearity of time. A hauntology unsettles this and muddles the addressivity of speakers and events.
Queer rhetorics seems to, if tacitly, work toward such hauntology—if nothing else than by understanding queerness as historically being that which haunts heterosexual presents/presence (a la Foucault History of Sexuality and Sedgwick Epistemology of the Closet). Morris’s “Archival Queer” and Alexander and Rhodes’s “Queer Rhetorics and the Pleasures of the Archive” talk about queer archives as restlessly moving and pushing against boundedness of heterosexual spatiotemporalities in ways that seem attentive to this radical singularity and the both absence and presence of excesses in such work.
What I especially find interesting is the disciplinarity focus of hauntology. Hauntology resists modes of knowing and others the researcher and the field. This ethical gesture of listening acknowledges our unknowing and resists the creation of grand narratives—it seems especially interesting to be thinking of this so close to the celebration of CCR’s 20th anniversary as a program and hearing the narratives created, documented, and told at that celebration.