I want to be careful. What was it Emily Dickinson said? “Nature is a Haunted House – but Art – a House that tries to be haunted.” I desire my ghosts to be instructive, fail though they may. We try.
If it’s true we create ghosts to haunt ourselves and this is likely I think, then what constitutes a furtherance by which we mean improvement? The house that tries to be haunted must need something. Of course it needs a good scare. A shakeup. We know all ghosts (whether they wish us good or ill) flit against custom.
Salman Rushdie who I admire beyond easy measure said “Now I know what a ghost is. Unfinished business, that’s what.” Custom is certainly the house of unfinished biz. Hamlet, The Turn of the Screw, Banquo’s ghost, Christmas Past, all speak to the injustices and corruptions of whatever we mean by “getting on with it.”
Emily Dickinson saw the ghost as muse much as Stephen King does though she thought harder about art. Stephen King writes turgid morality plays, Dickinson writes lyric philosophy.
Still the house that tries to be haunted aims for something, several somethings in fact.
First we must admit the ghosts we chase we’ll never catch. Ghosts pursue us. This is unfair but that’s how nature works. And yes nature abhors a vacuum but it loves ghouls.
I’ve always said Henrik Ibsen was the first psychoanalyst and not Josef Breuer and certainly not Freud. Ibsen wrote: “It’s not only what we have inherited from our father and mother that walks in us. It’s all sorts of dead ideas, and lifeless old beliefs, and so forth. They have no vitality, but they cling to us all the same, and we can’t get rid of them.”
Think of attenuated dead ideas attached to every man or woman like lamprey eels.
Where did my instructive ghost go? Well Ibsen is one. I’d say my great great grandfather who was a wheelwright and made infant coffins and sleighs is in me. He’s certainly there whenever I say its a nice day because he says “for now” and for me the easy customs are no longer so easy.
Which is the good work of ghosties.