Reading and Writing about Visual Experience: Hauntings
Ghosts, literal and metaphorical, are found in the blurry boundaries of understanding, memory and identification: on the fringes of science; between selves and histories both personal and cultural; between people and the objects they create or with which they surround themselves; between populations and the environments they build and inhabit. In this class, we will study works of art from the late 18th to the 21st centuries- paintings, photographs and films – that examine, interpret or attempt to capture different kinds of haunting. We will investigate how artists approach the task of giving form to insubstantial beings by comparing late 18th and early 19th century depictions of classic stories that involve ghosts and visions, such as the poems of Ossian, Hamlet, and Macbeth. We will also explore the mid- to late-nineteenth century phenomenon of Spiritism and how its spread was aided by photographic technologies that seemed, to many, to reveal the true shapes of spirits. We will read and discuss some of the many works of literature that present artworks themselves as haunted, either by their creators or by those whom they depict, and consider how this trope relates to one of the most basic goals of art: to preserve experiences, ideas, characters or events beyond their moment. Finally, we will look at how new imaging and information technologies that seem to challenge traditional definitions of embodiment – photography, film, and recently the internet – give rise to stories about ghosts that allegorize the relationship between the individual and the collective, or between the physical body and virtual experience.
This class will also prioritize close reading and analysis of scholarly sources, and we will therefore be introduced to the broader spectrum of ways to look at and to think and write about art. We will also be practicing the basic skills involved in researching, reading and writing effectively in an academic context.