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Philosophical Thought

Prisracology (chontology) as a philosophical search for another modernity

Dorozhkin Egor Leonidovich

Senior Educator, the department of Philosophy and Aesthetics, Nizhny Novgorod State Conservatory named after M. I. Glinka

603950, Russia, Nizhegorodskaya oblast', g. Nizhnii Novgorod, ul. Piskunova, 40
Other publications by this author








Abstract: This article explores a critical tool of modern philosophy, called "prismology" ("chontology") in the works of Jacques Derrida and Mark Fischer. The aim is not just to consider the origin of this approach, but also to reveal its philosophical foundations in the historical and problematic context of modernity. For this purpose , an intertextual analysis of the works of Zh . Derrida, M. Fischer and several of the main authors on whom they are based (K. Marx, Z. Freud, F. Jamison, etc.). Hermeneutical explication of semantic connotations is also performed, which are not deployed by the authors themselves, but contribute to a better understanding of the desired approach. The result of the study is the definition of "prisracology" ("chontology") as a transdiscipline tool for searching for "another modernity" in the absence of a historical alternative, a tool for restarting the interrupted cultural revolution. This restart is carried out through work with forms of obsessive absence ("ghosts") in the cultural experience of modernity, manifested in the pandemic of depression, the nostalgia industry, etc., that is, through critical work with a common feeling. The relevance of this approach lies in the possibility of a completely new look at the research of many cultural and political processes of our time, in the possibility of discovering determinants inaccessible to classical approaches. Ultimately, honology is a tool for liberating the imagination.


honology, ghost, Jacques Derrida, Mark Fisher, modernity, future, ideology, subjectivity, depression, music

This article is automatically translated. You can find original text of the article here.

"Prisracology" ("l'hantologie") is a neologism constructed in 1993 by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) in the work "Ghosts of Marx" [4, p.24]. The book is a deconstructivist reading of the "Manifesto of the Communist Party" by K. Marx and F. Engels, and the image of the ghost is taken from the famous beginning ("The ghost wanders through Europe – the ghost of communism" [8, p. 23]). However, then the word "ghost" is conceptualized and becomes the concept of something that does not exist, but paradoxically exists in the interval between life and death - something that does not exist yet, or something that does not exist anymore, and what, for example, the work of sorrow faces. There is no "ghost", but he is an actor of actual processes.

In the 1990s, after the collapse of socialist regimes and the advent of the era of victorious capitalism, intellectuals in the West were faced with the question – can the history of the communist idea be considered complete, dead? Derrida, in turn, poses a counter–question - how can something that never existed die? Did communism ever have to end? In the "Manifesto of the Communist Party", written back in 1848, we read: "A ghost haunts Europe – the ghost of communism." This means that there is no communism, but it haunts minds as an opening prospect of a possible future – disembodied, unaccountable, but persistent. Appealing to conscience and dreams rather than being clearly imagined in reality. And further, after the works of Marx himself, through a series of Marxist internationals, through the flourishing of many left-wing theories and even through the formation of a number of socialist states around the globe in the XX century, which took communist ideology to the banners, communism itself was nowhere. Therefore, if it never existed, how can it end, die? The socialist regimes of the XX century appeared and died, but communism did not exist, and there is no. However, this "no" itself is not an empty, negative nothing – it remains an actor present in its absence. Like the childhood dreams that have flown away, which did not come true in the past and which we no longer think of realizing now, but the unconscious trace of which will not be erased by any stubborn reality.

Jacques Derrida did not create a detailed prismological doctrine or method, but introduced this neologism exclusively within the framework of deconstructing the agenda of the death of the communist idea in the 1990s. He did not create it, but defined its character and connected it with the problematization of modernity, with an indication of its "ghostly" character. Further, already in the 2000s, prismology (chontology) was freed from the deconstructivist context by the British philosopher and music critic Mark Fisher (1968-2017) in many articles devoted to the analysis of popular music and culture in general. With his characteristic sincerity and insight, Fischer discovers ghosts in many cultural phenomena of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, that is, in the culture of postmodernism and victorious capitalism. He shows that this socio-cultural formation is possessed by ghosts like no other, since it claims to be the uncontested "end of history" [14, pp.12-19]. For postmodernism as the logic of the late (victorious) capitalism [5] is characterized by the depression of imagination and, as a consequence, the exploitation of nostalgia, retrofuturism, the constant revival of old forms. After all, if you live at the "end of history", then history itself ceases to be a philosophical and political exploration of the movement of time and becomes a ghost, and culture is nothing more than a museum exhibit. Moreover, Fischer not only points to ghosts, but also binds them into a single critical perspective, which is designed to free the artistic and political imagination from the framework of this depressive formation, to open a vision of some other modernity.

To some extent, a sensitive perception of the melancholic-ghostly effects of postmodernism was inherent in him because of his own depression, the struggle with which lasted for many years, and which in the winter of 2017 led to his suicide... The personal side of the philosopher's relationship with depression did not hinder prisracological research, on the contrary, it made them more insightful, since this approach does not imply the exclusion of the "personal", but its critical use as a tool, which we will discuss in more detail below.

Part of Fischer's prismatic texts was edited by the author himself and published in 2013 under the title "Ghosts of my Life" [15], and part in 2018, after his death, under the title "k-punk: Selected and Unpublished Works by Mark Fischer (2004-2016)" [20]. However, many texts remained fragments in the Internet blog K-Punk [21], which he intermittently led for 10 years (2003-2013). By the efforts of Mark Fischer by the 2010s, i.e. by the past decade, we already see prismology in the sense we are interested in, but nevertheless his own texts are not an articulated development of the prismological method. Fischer explores rather the context of the application of this concept, briefly hints at his difference from Derrida and immediately proceeds to the specific material in which the ghostly is explored. He is an outstanding author, but he was primarily engaged in the philosophy of culture, and not in the development of fundamental questions of epistemology and ontology, which he assimilated through Nick Landa, Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Lacan and other thinkers of the XX century.

From all of the above it follows that we have the concept of "prisracology" ("chontology") in the texts of Jacques Derrida and Mark Fischer, we have a lot of Fischer and, to a lesser extent, Simon Reynolds [10] studies of the ghostly in postmodern culture, but there is no specific text that is an introduction or a detailed presentation of this concept. If we add that this approach is very poorly known in the Russian-speaking academic environment (as evidenced by the almost complete absence of publications on the topic), the relevance of its clarification becomes obvious.

To begin with, let's clarify the concepts themselves. In the French original, Jacques Derrida calls "prismology" "l'hantologie", i.e. he takes as a basis not the noun "spectre", which would directly indicate a certain spirit or ghost, but the verb "hante" ("to pursue"), denoting the action of this "spectre". The same is true with the English "hauntology", which uses not "ghost" ("ghost", "spirit"), indicating a certain entity, but "haunter". This word, like "ghost", can mean "ghost", but at the same time "stalker" or "obsession". Thus, the English translation, in accordance with the French original, implies not the essence, but the property: "haunt" ("to pursue"), "haunting" ("haunting", "obsessive"). This makes us immediately discard the translation into Russian through "ghost", which implies something that has appeared, not haunting, and etymologically goes back to the Proto-Indo-European "to see" and "to know". The situation with the word "ghost" is somewhat different. Firstly, it comes from the Old Slavonic "zrti" ("to look"), which on the one hand makes it synonymous with "ghosts", and on the other hand forms the possibility of a different interpretation – not only what is seen, but also what itself looks after you. In this connotation, one can see an analogy with the English "haunter", i.e. with stalking, surveillance. Secondly, explanatory dictionaries (for example, Ushakov or Efremova), as the meaning of the word "ghost", in addition to the synonym "ghost", indicate "something unreal", "which does not really exist". This, in turn, also plays into the hands of transmitting the desired meaning – something that is not there, but that does not lag behind. Thirdly, the word "ghost" allows you to preserve purely contextual associations ("A ghost haunts Europe – the ghost of communism"). Russian Russian translation of "hauntology" ("l'hantologie") can thus be translated into Russian as "ghostology", although it is much more accurate to make a tracing paper "hontology", but in the case when it comes to the subject of hontology, use the Russian "ghost". Then we will do so.

It has already been said above that the chontological approach assumes a personal, subjective dimension as a component of its critical method. This is partly justified by the left-structuralist theories of ideology of Louis Althusser [1] and Michel Foucault [16], demonstrating that subjective life is not something opposed to the socio-ideological, which ideology would try to destroy, turn into a passive object. The subject is not a bulwark against external manipulations, but something through which ideology can only act, and, consequently, subjectivity itself is constituted by the forces of the external. In the chontological "personal" we are not talking about psychologism or simple opposition to the public. On the contrary, it turns out to be a kind of navigation system of the impersonal – only at the border of subjectivity is a ghost grasped (the very actor who is obsessively present in his absence). The ghost acts on the collective, it is not "subjective", but it can be distinguished only through a specific subjective perception, since in a certain sense subjectivity itself is ghostly.

In other words, the "subjective" does not turn the chontological approach into a personal diary or into an intimate conversation where one can share the innermost, but rather conceptualizes this innermost itself. Hontology methodologically plays the penetration of the moment in which we realize ourselves not as individuals, i.e. as separate integral entities, but as part of a common problematic ocean, where the individual merges with... What? This is where one of the beginnings of chontology is located, after all, and what exactly does penetration merge with? With the Whole? So it is not there – innumerable distances are drowning in the flow of time, unable to return to themselves. The total unity of any being, be it society or the world, is always only in representation, but not in being. The destruction of the metaphysics of the Whole, which we cannot dwell on here in detail, is one of the constitutive features of poststructuralist philosophy, in the ontological horizons of which there is a chontology. But nevertheless, in spite of individual barriers, there remains that soulful, through which we are still "together", remaining ourselves and even becoming ourselves. This is not a simple synchronicity of being in the same Newtonian space, in the same language or with the same passport, as if stamping us from the outside, but a really happening preoccupation with something - liberating, not binding. And this very "something" is nothing more than ghosts. The fact is proved that the soulful compatibility is connected precisely with the ghostly, and not with something "tangible", "positive", the impossibility of repeating this very compatibility. Whether it's a love meeting of two, a creative revelation of an art group or a revolution of an entire nation, it's always an event of the unfolding future, not technology or style. Any attempt to repeat it becomes a representation (both in the sense of representation and in the sense of the performance being played out), which is incorporated into the structure of ideology, into the structure of the depressive retention of what is. If ideology is the replacement and concealment of the missing Whole, false consciousness [9, p.25], then ghosts are the underside of ideology, the bleeding wound of the manifested absence of this Whole. A wound from which time itself blows – penetrating, binding and separating…

A ghost is not just an obsessive trace that does not refer to any entity and haunts the imagination as a trauma or a curse. A ghost is also a soulful togetherness, indicating a common experience of time, which, unlike a specific event of falling in love or a political revolution, never took place. It's a strange thing – something was not there and that's why it is. This is the chontological content of the concept of "ghost". But where exactly do we mix with ghosts? Where is their (presence) insistently sewn into the experience of the current situation? Where does modernity itself, with its technological tangibility, media visibility and popular science persuasiveness, become ghostly?

It should be remembered here that modern research draws attention to the characteristic increase in statistics of depressive and anxiety disorders in recent decades. There are many texts interpreting this psychiatric statistics, but among them stands out the work "Capitalist Realism" [14], written by Mark Fischer in 2008. The book immediately turned out to be in demand, as if it filled some urgent void in the current intellectual agenda, but this is not the place to talk about it as a whole. The essence that interests us boils down to the following. There has long been a huge industry of psychopharmacology and non-drug psychotherapy in the world, tons of research and grants, but they fail to solve the problem. And the point here is not that the number of depressed individuals is not decreasing (one could, for example, assume that some percentage in the population is the norm) - their number continues to grow. Hence Fischer asks – so maybe it's not about the individuals themselves, in whom they are trying to look for a cause and a solution? Perhaps we should take a transindividual position and recognize that pathological processes in individuals are the effects of the very paradigm in which we have historically found ourselves? Just as the poverty of the worker is produced not by the worker himself, but by capitalism, so the pandemic of depression is produced not by the individual, but by "capitalist realism".

The question is natural, however, what does ghosts have to do with it, where is honology here? To understand this, it is necessary to distract from the framework of the prevailing approaches to depression as an individual problem (deficiency of certain neurotransmitters, etc.), and try to look not at the individual symptoms, but at the very structure of this phenomenon. Remembering that in previous eras "depression" was called "melancholy", let us turn to the classic article by Sigmund Freud "Sorrow and Melancholy" [13], with which Jacques Derrida and Mark Fischer were familiar. In it, both concepts are conceptualized through loss, but in a different way. Freud's definition connects melancholy "with the loss of an object inaccessible to consciousness, in contrast to grief, in which there is nothing unconscious in the loss" [13, p. 213]. In other words, there was a certain object, it is known, let's imagine, but it has disappeared and this activates the work of grief. In melancholy, loss takes place, but not the object. Let us supplement this distinction with the thesis of Jacques Lacan, a structuralist follower of Freud, that the Real is inaccessible [6, p.72], that it is always displaced by reality [7] as something imaginable and understandable. Reality is not being as such and not matter, but a picture of the world with ideas about the possible and impossible inscribed in it, it is a construction. It is necessary to change the subject, i.e. its "place" in a certain language and certain dispositions of knowledge and power, as you will get a different reality in which the boundaries of the possible and the impossible, the conceivable and the unthinkable, the imaginable and the unimaginable will be reassembled differently. This is the reality that hides the Real. It turns out that in addition to anxiety, which, according to Lacan, is a signal of a meeting with the Real itself, melancholy, understood as the real loss of a thing that is not represented in reality, also appears in some relation to it. Melancholia is in a situation of libidinal entanglement with an unrepresented and unrepresentable lost object. A real ghost, which does not exist, but which, nevertheless, paradoxically exists, pulling libido into itself, paralyzing the unconscious willing life of the subject. The imaginary absence and the real absence in this case coincide, because there is no difference in the absence itself, it is impossible to distinguish nothing. Melancholy grieves for a real thing that never happened in reality.

All the dialectics of presence and absence found in depression, undermining ideas about the positive reality of existence, perfectly fit into the context of fundamental ontology (Nothing in M. Heidegger [17]) and poststructuralism (criticism of the metaphysics of presence in J. Derrida [3, p.126-130]; virtual at Zh. Deleuze [2, pp.264-283]). Mark Fischer draws attention to this specific character of it [15, p.28], although he does not investigate it separately. Together with the above-mentioned transindividual interpretation of the depressive pandemic as a collective, formational phenomenon, its "ghostly" structure forces us to raise the following question. If depression turns out to be an integral part of the modernity of capitalist realism, and not a problem of an individual, and if it represents the loss of a real thing that has never been present in reality, what is this lost in modernity itself? Fischer's answer is the future [15, pp.13-22]. The future, which was the driving force of modernity, turned out to be lost. The very formulation of the problem of the loss of the future, the abolition of modernity and the interrupted cultural revolution does not belong to Fischer. Before him , F. spoke about it . Jamison [5], and N. Srnicek and A. Williams [12] wrote about it in parallel with him, not to mention many others, including S. Zizek. Since about the 1990s, this problem has been strongly discussed in the current philosophical literature and the very appearance of the ghost theme in Derrida's text is associated with this agenda of the "end of history". The point, of course, is not in agreement with the well-known thesis of F. Fukuyama, and exclusively in the critical understanding of the ideological situation of the completed modernity itself, in the problematization of the impossibility of thinking of another modernity. The ghosts of the lost future, the vanished diversity of time – these are the ghosts that haunt modernity. The future never existed in the present, in reality, but it was revealed in modernist revolutionary practices, with the interruption of which we inherited cultural and political forms filled with a sense of the absence of something that actually never existed, ghosts.

Through such feelings, through currents of depression, nostalgia and anxiety in modern culture, honology looks out for these ghosts that violate the integrity of modernity by their presence. This very absence is uncritically felt by us even without chontological foresight, since it is actively exploited by the market. Films, cartoons, TV series, commercials, music, fashion and even political propaganda – all this is determined not so much by long-term projects of the future, as, say, in the middle of the XX century (the goals of industrialization, the creation of completely new markets or the implementation of visionary projects), as by ghosts. When we see various nostalgic retro effects everywhere in cinema and popular music (not necessarily in the form of complete stylization, it is often arranged very subtly), the point here is not in the fashion trend and not in the simple aesthetic flirtations of individual authors. The production of nostalgia is caused by an urgent need that subordinates various actors who are not connected by any common production, financing or education, but only by modernity itself, in which only this ghostly nostalgia works quite effectively. Ghosts are not just a hobby of honology, but part of the logic of modernity itself, without which many things in popular culture and politics are simply incomprehensible. However, unlike modern capitalism, honology does not exploit these ghostly effects as self-evident and superficial. It is precisely a critical tool that allows not just to give a name to a general feeling, but to clarify its ghostly logic, to distinguish specific traces of the ghostly and thereby interact with virtual time lines, lost and unprecedented. It allows us to better understand what is, and, having understood, to free the artistic, theoretical and political imagination for something new. Chontology is a philosophical search for another modernity in conditions of its impossibility.

As in the case of depression and the poverty of the worker, I will also give a Marxist analogy here (this is appropriate, since Mark Fischer is inextricably linked with the Marxist critique of culture). The proletariat was the main force of industrial capitalism of the XIX century, but its interest was not represented at the level of the prevailing bourgeois ideology. The proletariat filled the industries that provided this formation, but the capitalists reaped the fruits, both symbolic and material. To realize oneself as such a real force and to realize one's interest in not coinciding with ideology, to activate this contradiction – that was the revolutionary potential. The rest is optional. Chontology also works in the same way – modernity paints itself as complete and self-sufficient, but we see that its cultural forms are possessed by ghosts, the very logic of their production cannot be understood without the participation of ghosts. The comprehension of ghosts, the activation of the contradiction between them and the cultural givens dependent on them is a chontological way of activating the interrupted cultural revolution – not the return of modernity or premodern, but the reboot of modernity itself.

The above is sufficient for a general description of the origin, content and philosophical foundations of chontology. In particular, it should have become clear that it is applicable to studies of various types of art (from music to cinema and architecture), mass culture, political processes, etc. This approach is transdisciplinary in its very essence. However, despite this, it is with music that honology has established a very special connection, with a brief description of which I would like to conclude this article.

This connection is partly due to the hypermediality of music, i.e. its wide nonverbal range, the fact that it penetrates into all socio-cultural spheres. For example, a person does not interact with higher mathematics in extensive cultural contexts, it is extremely narrowly mediated. With music, everything is exactly the opposite. It is enough to point out that, at least since the middle of the XX century, it has been the sphere of human life in which the most intensive experiments took place, which at the same time had a massive character. Music turned out to be the most effective means of the so-called "popular modernism". This phrase means a very dynamic cross-section of the cultural situation of the 1960s and 1970s, when the boom in the spread of radio and television, the formation of pop culture, created a huge scope for creative experiments aimed not at museums, festivals or the service of state modernism, but at the masses themselves. At the same time, new youth movements created a social environment charged with anticipation of the future, where all these experiments were picked up and developed. This was called "popular modernism", the most powerful and contagious force of which was music. From rock musicians and informal electronic artists to avant-garde experimenters, everyone influenced each other and formed a completely new experience of listening and behavior in relations with music. The interest of honology in music lies precisely in the fact that it intensely penetrated into all spheres of human life before the "abolition of the future", and precisely in the era of active and diverse development of this future by the masses (popular modernism). Therefore, today the ghostly trace is felt in her most intensely, which everyone can feel. However, there is another side of the connection of chontology with music, which, among other things, is able to clarify the reasons for the hypermediality mentioned above. This aspect requires a separate study, so we will outline it in the most general terms. It is well known that even Arthur Schopenhauer in his work "The World as Will and Representation" defined music as a direct objectification of the will itself, the very essence of the world [20], and this in turn had a strong influence on Richard Wagner, Friedrich Nietzsche and many others. In the light of this definition, he even argued that music in general is independent of the world of phenomena and, "completely ignoring it, could exist to a certain extent even if there were no world at all" [20, p.224]. This means that the music is closest to the ghostly. It grasps something that is absent in the world of phenomena, but paradoxically given in experience – in experience without representation. A ghost in the hontological sense cannot be seen, but it can be heard through music. That's what Mark Fischer tried to do – to look for ghosts in the listening experience, in musical culture.

Thus, in relation to music, honology allows us to better understand its hypermediality, due to the ability to grasp the limits of the socio-cultural formation, located beyond the actual horizon of the imaginable, or at least the inherent structure of feeling. In a broader sense, chontology is connected with the very situation of modernity as the capitalist end of history, defined by the ghostly logic of the lost, the logic of melancholy. To comprehend it and, as a result, to release the prospects of another modernity, it is necessary to work with ghosts. Chontology is a way of soft liberation from the dictatorship of the completed modernity, the integrity of which rests on the displacement of the illusory and reproduction of depression.