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139 9 Historiography as Hauntology: Paranormal Investigations into the History of Rhetoric Michelle Ballif [I]n order to watch over the future, everything would have to be begun again[,] namely with haunting, before life as such, before death as such. —Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx Given that a revenant is always called upon to come and to come back, the [writing] of the specter, contrary to what good sense leads us to believe, signals toward the future. It is a [writing] of the past, a legacy that can come only from that which has not yet arrived—from the arrivant itself. —Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx We begin and end this corpus/corpse of the (un)canny (un)dead by reckoning with Jacques Derrida’s claim: “There has never been a scholar who really, and as scholar, deals with ghosts. A traditional scholar does not believe in ghosts—nor in all that could be called the virtual space of spectrality” (Specters of Marx 12). He continues to assert: “There has never been a scholar who, as such, does not believe in the sharp distinction between the real and the unreal, the actual and the inactual, the living and the nonliving , being and non-being . . . in the opposition between what is present and what is not” (Specters of Marx 12). This essay, then, undertakes to accept this challenge: to become a haunted scholar of rhetoric by investigating the paranormal possibilities for the historiography of rhetoric reconceived as “hauntology” (Derrida, Specters 10), as an ongoing conversation with ghosts, real or imagined, dead or very much alive. By so doing, by becoming, all of us, “ghost whisperers,” we would be “calling, calling, calling to the Other” (Vitanza, Negation 50), and by communing with them, we could invent our future and “learn to live finally,” ethically (Derrida, Specters xvi). Michelle Ballif 140 Why this ghastly ghosting? Why this uncanny conjuration? I begin with the presumption that historiography is always already the writing of the “history of death” (Derrida, Aporias 43). As such, our key responsibility would not be to write the history of death as a “grand” nor even “petit” narrative of our past. Rather, it would be to lend an ear to the ghostly whisperings of that which (continues to) haunt rhetoric, to investigate all those burials of our history—all those textual crypts1 that have served to ontologize the remains of “our” history of rhetoric. 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). But, already, we are too many steps out in front of ourselves, which is where we will want to have been: awaiting (the return of) the arrivant. As is often cited, Derrida in his exordium to Specters of Marx claims that “to learn to live” “finally” is a lesson that cannot be learned from life, but only from “the other and by death. In any case from the other at the edge of life. At the internal border or the external border, it is a heterodidactics between life and death” (xvii). Further, “nothing is more necessary than this wisdom [to learn to live finally]. It is ethics itself” (xvii). Our relation to death, to our own, to the other’s—whether as the possibility of impossibility (Heidegger) or, particularly, as the impossibility of possibility (Levinas)—structures our being and our ethical relation to the other (see R. Cohen). Thus, ethical—and just—being (in-the-world) necessitates stepping to and beyond the (impossible ) border between life and death, demands listening to, learning from, conversing with those inhabitants of this border: the dead as undead, the revenant as the arrivant. This, I propose, is our ethical injunction for a just practice of historiography to re/member the ghost, and it requires a certain uncertain step toward the border. 1. Hauntological historiographies might begin by investigating the foundations of already written histories of rhetoric—or, more to the point, by investigating what has been repressed, textually, by already written histories of rhetoric. What has been buried, for example, in a footnote? How does this burial haunt—irrepressibly—the text? It is precisely this haunting that hailed Byron Hawk, that conjured his “counterhistory ” of the field of composition studies. Two footnotes from one source and one from another, as so many verbal apparitions, appeared as ghosts to Hawk, and...


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