Do you believe in ghosts? Or rather: What does it mean to believe in ghosts? What are ghosts as objects of belief and why are they confined to the framework of belief, as opposed to knowledge? If one could “know” ghosts, how would one prove their existence—and what would proof or evidence mean in these contexts? At the same time, ghosts exist, at least in stories told across many cultures in the world and over the long histories of these cultures. And, to be sure, the representation of ghosts differs across these cultures and time spans, in ways that are often dependent on historical contexts, cultural understandings, and belief systems. For some cultures, the ghost is an unwanted guest, but for others, the ghost is connected by kinship and owed certain services and dignities; and in some periods, the ghost speaks to (and for) larger religious frameworks, while for others, the ghost is a malevolent force unmoored from all logics.
This course will take up the problem of the ghost from a variety of perspectives—aesthetic, epistemological, ethical, and empirical—though we will be grounded in ghostly representations in literature and film. As a class, we will read ghost stories, watch ghost films, and even participate in a ghost tour (and consider the critiques of such tours). Much of our work will begin with the question of how to think critically about cultural texts, whether these are literary works, films, philosophical writings, religious texts, or folkloric tales, and to be able to read these in a rigorously analytic manner. We will also discuss what the ghost represents in its specific cultural locus and historical moment, how the ghost complicates the boundaries of the living and the dead, what we owe to ghosts (if anything), what it means to be haunted, what evidence there is for the existence of ghosts, how we recognize a ghost, and above all, why there should be ghosts in the first place?