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Hauntology is a genre or loose category of music and art that aims to evoke deep cultural memory, concerning itself with aesthetics of the past. It developed in the 2000s primarily among British electronic musicians and typically draws on British cultural sources from the 1940s to the 1970s, including library music, film and TV soundtracks, psychedelia, and public information films, often through the use of sampling.
The term "hauntology" was first coined by French philosopher Jacques Derrida on his 1993 book The Spectre of Marx, describing how the titular political theorist and his revolutionary ideals keep haunting Western societies long after his death. In its most popular form, however, the concept of hauntology revolves around the artistic evocation and recollection of past cultural hallmarks and technology, such as old TV shows, tape recordings and analog media in general.
The modern study of hauntology as an aesthetic began with the appearence of an underground British electronic music trend often associated with the Ghost Box label and artists such as Burial and The Caretaker - while the former aroused the attention of notorious music journalists Mark Fisher and Simon Reynolds, the latter quickly rose to Internet fame during the later 2010's thanks to his experimental albums An Empty Bliss Beyond This World and Everywhere At the End Of Time, both of which exploring memory and dementia through sampling and editing of pre-WWII ballroom music.
In parallel, musicians such as Ariel Pink and James Ferraro took inspiration from 70's and 80's electronic music to kickstart genres such as lo-fi and hypnagogic pop, paving the way for the Vaporwave movement to arise in the 2010's.
While hauntology isn't bound to a specific time period, it is mostly used to define works based upon relatively recent cultural artifacts, usually only going as far back as the early 20th century. Further academic scrutiny of the hauntological phenomenon has also been undertaken by the above-mentioned theorists, seeing its popularity as symptomatic of a deep and generalized dissatisfaction with modernity's lack of visionarism - in this sense, past cultural forms evoke a lost utopianism for futuristic, post-welfare societies that have since been superseeded by neoliberalism's enforced idea of a "terminal time" from which no alternative economical or social systems seem possible or feasible.
Writer and designer Richard Littler published a blog about a fictional English town called Scarfolk. Parody public information leaflets, posters, adverts and children's books evoke the false memory of a dark alternate timeline of 1970's Britain. The recognisable format is subverted to include distressing or violent messages and imagery. The blog eventually led to two books published in 2014 and 2019. Littler considers his work part of Hauntology.
In 2018 the UK government mistakenly included a Scarfolk poster in an issue of their in-house magazine regarding the history of government communications. The poster read, "If you suspect your child has RABIES don't hesitate to SHOOT".
A list of external links to help get a better understanding of this aesthetic.
- Hauntology - Spectres of a Forgotten Future (Spotify Playlist)
- The Caretaker - Everywhere at the End of Time