Special Topics: Ghosts and Haunted Houses
“The world ‘houses’ some bodies more than others.”
— Sara Ahmed, The Promise of Happiness
From Detroit to Baltimore to Cleveland, foreclosed and ruined homes have become iconic images of late capitalism. For this reason, the stories that we tell about the haunted house matter. What “ruined” this place? Where exactly does danger lie? And what unfinished business whispers through the walls?
Drawing on a combination of fiction and theory, this class explores what we can make of the unnerving facades, wonky dimensions, ghostly inhabitants, and awful din that make up the American haunted house story. We’ll consider how creaks and moans, random cold spots, and sudden, deafening silences can be understood, following Avery Gordon (1997), as registering unresolved histories of violence and dispossession. What can the stories of ruined New England homes tell us about conquest, genocide, and racial terror? Can haunted house narratives illuminate some of the violent exclusions and exploitations that prop up the “happy” family? Can we see in them, perhaps, the ghostly presence of those who have been pushed out—or walled in—in the name of the American dream? Together, we’ll explore how stories of ghosts and hauntings record conflicting worldviews, conjure multiple interpretive frameworks, and make room for longing and sorrow alongside terror, horror, and rage. In the process, we’ll attend to how even the most conservative tale of horror can’t fully exorcise the more radical counter-narrative seething beneath its surface.