"The theatre loves ghosts as much as people love ghost stories. So whether or not one can say with any credibility what they are, ontologically speaking, one can try to account for their production through theatre. Theatre constantly encounters the dead, and the appeal as well as the doubtful status of ghosts goes to the heart of theatre's appeal. Ghosts, that is, pervade theatre more thoroughly than any particular instance of staging, to the extent that theatre itself is a ghostly place in which the living and the dead come together in a productive encounter."Alice Rayner, Ghosts: death's double and the phenomena of theatre
In the last month or so I've been thinking a lot about ghosts, psychoanalysis and how they might converge in a play. Well, they already have, in last season's superb Shining City, by Conor McPherson. In May I reviewed it here and here. Right now I'm working on a long essay about the play for the Best Plays yearbook. It was a tremendous honor to be asked to write a piece for this august chronicle by its editor, Jeffrey Eric Jenkins. Being faced with a writing assignment roughly 10 times the word length of my typical TONY review is a stretch. But I'm enjoying the chance to dilate on a topic, roll some thoughts around.
The aforequoted text is from a recent study that seems perfect for this play and my line of inquiry, but alas, I doubt it will find a place in the final piece. Between quoting from the play and writing about it, there's not much room for secondary sources. Plus, while Prof. Rayner is terrifically suggestive about the apparitions and what they mean in theatrical representation, the book is written in a somewhat impractical academic jargon and doesn't actual provide a critical survey of ghosts in theater from the Greeks to today. Instead, she writes about ghosts and haunting in the broadest, most metaphorical and theoretical way possible. The result is some close reading of Tadeusz Kantor's memory-haunted work and the implication of mass absence in Ionesco's The Chairs, but mainly dense theoretical writing that I, far removed from my days as a Foucauldian fop at Bard College, cannot easily process.
(She touches only glancingly on Shakespearean spectres—an inexcusable omission. Gh0sts make appearance in at least 5 of his plays; by my count supernatural creatures of some sort—ghosts, fairies, spirits, gods, personifications—make entrances in 14 of his 37 plays.)
Still, there are passages that I find inspirational, like this one:
"If denial, whether of ghosts or Freud or Freud's ghost for that matter, is symptomatic of an unseen or unacknowledged or unconscious truth, no positive, uncontradictory proof is ever available. In this way, psychoanalysis is an analogue to the question of whether one believes in ghosts or not. Psychoanalytic pursuits, like ghostly apparitions, seem to be chasing the very things they have brought into being by the fact of the pursuit, and belief in either one requires a radical supsension of disbelief and an embrace of doubt and denial." [Italics mine.]
Makes you wonder: Are telling ghost stories and talking to your shrink pretty much the same thing? Here endeth my first ghost post.