Ghosts come in a variety of guises. They serve to unsettle the present, reminding us of unfinished business from the past. They also comfort, recalling loved ones who are no longer with us. They can gesture towards those who are yet to be born if, along with Jacques Derrida, we accept that ghosts disrupt chronological time.1 In all cases, however, ghosts are characterized by a play between absence and presence, self and other, silence and speech. As Susan Bruce argues, ‘absence [is] the paradoxical evidence of the ghost’s existence’.2 Ghosts do not necessarily assume human form: animals are not very present in this issue, but places certainly are. The concept of place as made up of layers formed over time and which bleed into each other, as found in Walter Benjamin’s The Arcades Project,3 is taken up by many critics and creative practitioners.4 In what follows, cities, villages, islands and continents shimmer in and out of view, as do loved ones, lost ones and ones who resist being forgotten even though their actions suggest they should be.
In her book on spectrality in contemporary women’s writing, Martine Delvaux describes Derrida as undertaking a ‘ghost hunt’ in Marx’s work.5 The articles in this issue engage in a similar exercise. Agata Handley’s article focuses on the struggle of dealing with loss and re-living the past in Jane Urquhart’s The Stone Carvers (2001). Referring to the concept of the death mask and the classical topoi of nekuia and katabasis, Handley discusses the way in which the theme of haunting is interwoven by Urquhart into a larger narrative, forming an ongoing meditation on the migrant experience, traumatic memory and artistic endeavor, while reflecting the transience of human existence. As its name suggests, Amy Coquaz’s critical-creative ‘Writing absence: troubled and troubling texts’ centers on questions around absence: in the first instance, the absent fathers in Delvaux’s Governor-General’s Award shortlisted novel, Blanc dehors (2015) and her own forthcoming novel, Toi. These ghostly paternal figures go on to become prompts for exploring what it means to write absence and, ultimately, stimuli for writing itself. Doubling— of self, of voice, of language, of fact and fiction— works as a haunting which deliberately seeks to trouble and disturb by challenging homogeneity and normativity. Coquaz claims, ‘it is a long-understood principle of creative writers that what is not said is as important as what is said’ (page 23). Ceri Morgan’s ‘Sonic spectres’ analyses the different kinds of haunting and their connections with the said and unsaid in Madeleine Thien’s Dogs at the Perimeter (2011) and the digital map she produced with media artist, Philip Lichti entitled ‘Fictional Montreal/Montréal fictif’ (2016–17). Reflecting on the ways in which both novel and map play around absence and presence, Morgan argues that they embrace the potentially utopian aspect of spectrality identified by Derrida.6
Sound also features in Evelyn Deshane’s and Travis Morton’s ‘The Words Change Everything: Haunting, Contagion and the Stranger in Pontypool’ (1998). Using Bruce McDonald’s 2008 film as a case study for exploring issues around contagion— notably linguistic contagion— Deshane and Morton argue that it challenges some of the genre conventions of the zombie movie. Claiming that Pontypool effects a shift in focus from ‘invasion’ associated with spectacular gore, to ‘haunting’ (page 23) as expressed through language, the authors suggest that it has the potential to promote linguistic and gender inclusivity. Questions of genre come into play in Vanja Polić’s ‘The Hauntings of Canada in Michael Crummey’s Sweetland’ (2014). Viewing Crummey’s novel through the lens of the gothic, Polić draws attention to the ways in which it challenges conceptualizations of Canadian national identity— and, indeed, national identities in general— by insisting on the significance of the local. Jasmina Bolfek-Radovani examines the notion of ‘postcolonial hauntings’, and their role in the construction of the language of memory, in two narratives by francophone authors of mixed background: Robert Lalonde’s Sept Lacs plus au Nord (1993) and Nina Bouraoui’s Mes mauvaises pensées (2005). Applying a method of a close textual reading, Bolfek-Radovani investigates different aspects of the postcolonial framework, including but not limited to the notions of postcolonial ambiguity; the re-appropriation of native space; and the idea of the moment of ‘stillness’ as a resurgence of memory.
Several of the articles were first given as papers at the British Association for Canadian Studies conference in London in April 2017 as part of a special panel entitled ‘Absent presence/present absence: hauntings in Québécois and Canadian literature and film’. As the UK prepares to leave the European Union, it is, perhaps, a timely moment to think about a project undertaken by colleagues in Croatia, Poland and the UK as itself a kind of ghost— of international cooperation, collaboration and friendship across disciplines and languages.