- Ghostly Apparitions: German Idealism, the Gothic Novel, and Optical Media by Stefan Andriopoulos
In Ghostly Apparitions: German Idealism, the Gothic Novel, and Optical Media, Stefan Andriopoulos investigates the recurring and polyvalent references to the ghostly and phantasmagoric across a wide variety of media and discursive fields between 1750 and 1930. His study is bracketed on the one end by the invention of the magic lantern in the mid-18th century and on the other by the invention of the television. Within this time frame he merges media archaeology with a historicist reading of various philosophical and literary texts in order to examine the cultural and technical conditions which gave rise to the invocation of ghosts around 1800 and subsequently allowed for the emergence of television around 1900. Throughout the five chapters of his book, Andriopoulos persuasively argues that from the eighteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth century the cultural use of new media technologies – both with respect to the new kinds of cultural practices they engendered, as well as their representational figurations – was inextricably [End Page 670] linked with discourses surrounding the occult. By situating philosophical discourse and the rise of new literary genres like the Gothic novel within their historical and technological contexts, Andriopoulos shows the extent to which contemporaneous optical and print media not only conditioned, but were also in turn conditioned by, widespread “spiritualist” notions such as ghostly apparitions, “brain phantoms,” animal magnetism, and clairvoyance.
Based on the familiar juxtaposition of philosophical discourse, literary genre, and media technology, one might expect of Andriopoulos’s monograph another work of German media studies which methodologically adheres to Friedrich Kittler’s influential approach to the reading of philosophical and literary texts through the lens of their technological and medial preconditions. However, Andriopoulos is quick to point out in the introduction to his study that his treatment of ghostliness and the occult in relation to contemporaneous media technologies diverges in several crucial respects from the kind of media archaeology influenced by Kittler. First and foremost, Andriopoulos explicitly presents his study as a corrective of what he takes to be one of the major limitations of Kittler’s media theory: its technological determinism. Whereas Kittler is said to assert a general primacy of technology over culture – privileging “hardware” over and against the cultural and discursive conditions that allow for its emergence – Andriopoulos’s study adopts a “post-Kittlerian” approach to the history of media; rather than attempting to reconstruct a comprehensive historical or technological a priori, it aims at a more nuanced, less systematic account of the relationship between technology and culture. In contrast to the determinism which is said to guide Kittler’s thinking, Andriopoulos repeatedly stresses instead the reciprocal interaction between “spiritualism” and emerging technologies.
With respect to his analysis of the literary representations of ghostliness, Andriopoulos equally distances his approach from Jacques Derrida’s deconstructive reading of spectrality and spectral phenomena, contending that Derrida’s “one-sided” emphasis on language in Specters of Marx disregards the cultural and medial conditions of Marx’s invocation of ghosts (16). This brief critical engagement with the works of Derrida and Kittler allows Andriopoulos to clarify not only what is distinct about his own approach to media technology and the occult, but also to position his study as a critical intervention into an admittedly wide field. As Andriopoulos writes, rather than privileging language or technology as the sole, determining explanans, his study seeks instead “to preserve the historical specificity of these various conjunctures of media and the occult by analyzing the complex and reciprocal interaction between technological innovation and cultural change” (12). The challenge Andriopoulos lays out for himself is therefore twofold. In the first place, he must offer both a convincing historical account of several of the various cultural and technological forces that shaped the discourse of ghostliness between the eighteenth and late nineteenth centuries (in this respect, the focus of his study is much closer to recent research in the growing field of “historical epistemology,” such as Jonathon Crary’s Techniques [End Page 671] of...