In the last decade, literary and cultural historians’ scrutiny of relations
with those who have gone before – their own dead and those of their
subjects – has taken a ghostly turn. Literary history has become haunted.
As Helen Sword comments in the epilogue to her Ghostwriting
Modernism, ‘hauntology’ of various kinds has become a ‘crowded
bandwagon’. Among critics of literary modernism, in particular, the
trope of haunting has been much used to think about the period’s relation
with the past, and modernists’ own obsessions with ‘the world unseen’
are increasingly being regarded, not as rather embarrassing marginalia,
but as central to their aesthetic, formal and political concerns.
Modernist writing could well be defined as that which attempts selfconsciously
to redefine its relation with those who have gone before, to
rattle the bones of literary history until they are rearranged. The trope of
haunting goes further in allowing us to see modernism as both an
exorcism of the past, and an uneasy possession by the past.