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Palgrave Macmillan

The Spectral Metaphor

Living Ghosts and the Agency of Invisibility

ISBN 9781137375841
Publication Date January 2014
Formats Hardcover Ebook (EPUB) Ebook (PDF) 
Publisher Palgrave Macmillan

What does it mean to live as a ghost? Exploring spectrality as a potent metaphor in the contemporary British and American cultural imagination, Peeren proposes that certain subjects – migrants, servants, mediums and missing persons – are perceived as living ghosts and examines how this impacts on their ability to develop agency. From detailed readings of films (Stephen Frears's Dirty Pretty Things, Nick Broomfield's Ghosts and Robert Altman's Gosford Park), a television series (Upstairs, Downstairs) and novels (Hilary Mantel's Beyond Black, Sarah Waters's Affinity, Ian McEwan's The Child in Time and Bret Easton Ellis's Lunar Park) emerges an inventive account of how the spectral metaphor, in its association with various modes of invisibility, can signify both dispossession and empowerment. In reworking the spectral insights of, among others, Jacques Derrida, Antonio Negri and Achille Mbembe, Peeren suggests new responses to the practices of marginalization and exploitation that characterize our globalized world.

Esther Peeren is Associate Professor of Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam and Researcher at the Amsterdam Centre for Globalisation Studies and the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis, Netherlands. She authored Intersubjectivities and Popular Culture (2008) and co-edited Popular Ghosts (2010) and The Spectralities Reader (2013).

Introduction: The Spectral Metaphor
1. Forms of Invisibility: Undocumented Migrant Workers as Living Ghosts in Stephen Frears's Dirty Pretty Things and Nick Broomfield's Ghosts
2. Spectral Servants and Haunting Hospitalities: Upstairs, Downstairs, Gosford Park and Babel
3. Spooky Mediums and the Redistribution of the Sensible: Sarah Waters's Affinity and Hilary Mantel's Beyond Black
4. Ghosts of the Missing: Multidirectional Haunting and Self-Spectralization in Ian McEwan's The Child in Time and Bret Easton Ellis's Lunar Park
Afterword: How to Survive as a Living Ghost?


"This is an important and original work of criticism. The perspective it adopts is fresh and gripping; the application of the 'spectral metaphor' to non-literal situations, such as the 'invisibility' of migrant workers and domestic servants, expands the sense of 'spectrality' in fascinating new ways; the scholarship and theoretical acumen are superb throughout; the written style of the work is elegant, precise and accessible; and the political and ethical implications of the study are lucidly spelled out, without any attempt prematurely to resolve the most difficult issues." - Colin Davis, Royal Holloway University of London, UK
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