In Haunt

By Emily Oldfield

Dr Matt Foley frequently delves into the Gothic depths of literature, sound and surrounding subjects – both as a lecturer in English at Manchester Metropolitan University and as a member of The Manchester Centre For Gothic Studies.

Now Matt will be sharing his knowledge as a panellist at Following Hauntology: Twilight Streets and Dark Horizons (Wednesday 27 March). This is an event arranged by HAUNT Manchester in association with Not Quite Light ahead of Not Quite Light Weekend 2019 - discussing the theme with other creatives and academics in front of a live audience at Manchester Metropolitan University's Number 70 Oxford Street.

Matt Foley

The author of Haunting Modernisms: Ghostly Aesthetics, Mourning, and Spectral Resistance Fantasies in Literary Modernism, Matt is no stranger to considering both the uncomfortable and the imaginative aspects of dark and Gothic fiction. From looking at how characters transgress and break boundaries, to encountering literary ghosts and even giving the sounds of the fictional space time for thought, Matt’s approach certainly is innovative.

Born in Scotland, where he taught for a number of years, and now based in Manchester, Matt has already been involved in a number of Gothic goings-on in the area. He has read ghost stories at Salford’s historic (and reportedly haunted) Ordsall Hall, attended a Dracula-inspired ballet, been extensively involved in The Gothic Manchester Festival and as of 2019, is the Academic Lead of HAUNT Manchester. 2019 also marks the news of his book being nominated for an Allan Lloyd Smith Prize, an award which is given by the International Gothic Association.

Yet as demonstrated by a particularly high-profile event last year, Matt’s work is not just innovative, but impactful. 2018 saw him host, along with Dr Matthew Sweet, a unique 'Scoring Fear’ concert at Manchester’s Stoller Hall; an event which featured music from classical composers exploring themes of terror, awe and horror. It was one of the key highlights enjoyed by visitors to Manchester during the historic International Gothic Association Conference in the city and also marked the first collaboration between the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies and the BBC Philharmonic.

But what is it about haunting which captivates Matt – and how can it be explored in literature and sound? HAUNT Manchester decided to speak to him to find out more…

Hello Matt. What are you looking forward to regarding being part of the Hauntology panel and why do you think having an event like this is important?

“The panel provides all of us at HAUNT with a fantastic opportunity to connect with Simon Buckley’s Not Quite Light festival, which is always one of the cultural highlights of the year in Salford. On the night, I’m looking forward to a great conversation. For me, personally speaking, engaging with the other panelists will provide a rare opportunity to hear about various hauntologies in theory, music, art, literature, geography, and architecture. I imagine that some of the more abstract definitions of hauntology, which I drew upon in my book, will be reworked and reshaped - perhaps even seem insufficient - when put into these interdisciplinary contexts.

“So, it’s a chance for me to enrich my own understanding of hauntology but also for us at Manchester Met to continue to forge lasting connections with our creative partners and colleagues in Greater Manchester and beyond. It should be good fun!”

You are the author of Haunting Modernisms: Ghostly Aesthetics, Mourning, and Spectral Resistance Fantasies in Literary Modernism. How has your study of literature informed (perhaps even transformed) your understanding of hauntology – and can this be applied to an enhanced understanding of the cityscape?

It’s really the idea of speakingMatt Foley Book to ghosts at a time of crisis that I find interesting about hauntology, and this interest is connected to my work on Jacques Derrida’s various theorisations, in his later writings, of an ethics of haunting.

“Putting some of Derrida’s ideas to work in my book, I focus on reading the form and function of haunting in literary modernism (c.1910-1936).  When urban spaces are invoked in the texts I read, they tend to be represented as morbid and rather macabre spaces, such as in Wyndham Lewis’ Tarr (1918/1928), T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922), or Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood (1936). Eliot’s epic poem, for instance, famously invokes the image of a zombified ‘crowd’ crossing London Bridge and, in a reference to Dante, one of the poem’s many speakers comments: “I had not thought death had undone so many”. This is a post-war context - and the city seems a purgatory in which transcending the pain of loss that the war and its many aftermaths engendered is impossible. As part of this failure to mourn, Eliot’s poem as a whole could be considered resistant to speaking to the ghosts of the past to reimagine the future.

“Modernist writing that is more receptive to recalibrating and reimagining the future through ghostly encounters - that is, to engaging with hauntology - tends to be written by those novelists who were deeply interested in psychology and who rendered in their fiction various streams of consciousness. I’m thinking here of James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Elizabeth Bowen, and others. Indeed, Woolf wrote an essay called ‘Street Haunting’, which frames walking Bloomsbury as a way of casting-off and re-imagining the self, and the text plays with the figure of the modernist flâneur or flâneuse. Perhaps more directly related to hauntology, in one of Bowen’s early novels, The Hotel (1927), a character finds themselves in a graveyard and the funereal imagery there seems to prompt in her an epiphany or revelation that we may now read retrospectively as ‘hauntological’ - not only does she seem to experience the ‘death of the future’, to quote Bowen, but, too, the character realises just how much of themselves they have been investing in imaginary futures. To me, this is clearly hauntological territory, although it’s not quite an urban space that evokes this realisation. 

“As for the Gothic, well, I think that if a story of urban haunting evokes terror in us, rather than more visceral horror, then it can promise us a revelation that could be hauntological in nature. The foggy urban streets of the Victorian Gothic rely upon a kind of visual obscurity that perhaps opens us up to the potential for such revelations - that is, for some ‘thing’ to reveal itself, and for a new future to unfold itself from the shadows.”

You have also written about the connections between sound and horror, with a chapter titled ‘Towards an Acoustics of Literary Horror’. Do you perceive sound as having the ability to haunt us, so to speak?

“Yes, although it is my work on the Gothic and sound (rather than more visceral horror fictions) that might be of interest here. It seems to me that there is something unsettling, in particular, in hearing an unfamiliar sound that is disembodied -- or, at least, not easily attributed to a visual correlate or source. Such haunted soundscapes are read by Professor Isabella van Elferen, at some length, in her book Gothic Music: The Sounds of the Uncanny (2012). We no doubt experience a heightened sensitivity to ‘uncanny’ sounds if we are exploring spaces that are strange or unfamiliar to us. I would say that for these sounds to be hauntological - rather than merely haunting - they would need to invoke in us not just terror but perhaps the desire to know them more, to uncover their source(s), and to seek from them some form of revelation.

“Connecting to this sense of revelation, I am interested in the role vocality plays in Gothic soundscapes - and a lot of the terror of the voice comes to the fore in Gothic fiction when the main function of this orality is not to communicate speech but to signal a series of affects. Screams, mutterings, whispers, howls, etc., may be scary because they suggest an absence of language. In the way that I understand hauntology, we would need to be able to confront the ghost eventually, to speak with and learn from them, if we were to have a more ethically productive encounter.”

Do you think Salford and Manchester can be seen as haunted landscapes? How so?

“Absolutely, I think almost all cities with a long history of change and evolution can be read as a haunted, particularly as cities tend to be palimpsestic; that is, their space is constantly being remade and re-written.  Perhaps, it is at dawn or dusk - those times that the Not Quite Light project is so fascinated by - that any spectralization of the city becomes most palpable, and Simon Buckley’s photography seems to encapsulate such moments.

“The question over whether our experiences of the nocturnal city are really hauntological or not depends upon the types of ghosts that we encounter as we walk. If the memories or imagined futures that are invoked in us by a sleeping city merely reaffirm our old certainties then such experiences would not be hauntological encounters; however, if we discover something new that changes our perception of ourselves or our world - if we let the ghostly encounter teach us something - then this would engender the kind of ethical ‘work’ that is so important to hauntology.”

Images: Image 1 & 2 provided by Matt Foley

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