Today, I am happy to welcome a guest writer to this site, Dan Hanrahan, who eloquently captures our current moment of collective angst, remorse and longing in the context of ghosts and their meaning and message.
Watching the final episode of “The Haunting of Bly Manor” tonight, I was reminded of those details we always hear about hauntings: Some traumatic event or unfulfilled vengeance or unrealized longing anchors a person to a place. Whether it is the residue of one’s spirit sunk into an area or the actual animated consciousness of a self, there is a presence which will not relinquish its claim to a place and which must assert itself. Ghosts emerge out of the unresolved. They haunt us to say: see me, remember me or give me what is my due. And something about their monomaniacal, unrelenting quest renders them grotesque over time – contorted in order to pursue one aim.
Before we switched to over Netflix to watch “Bly,” we had watched a few minutes of the presidential debate. The idea suddenly struck me: Is Donald Trump a ghost? Is he pure, animated id, now become hideous and mono-pitched as his quest for something… loved denied, perhaps, has overtaken him entirely?
But the sheer, careening force of his malevolence feels larger than that. Donald Trump is a phantasm who appears to lack a self. He seems archetypal, as a monster in a folktale. I had the sense tonight that none of what I am saying about this is metaphor. I had the sense that Donald is the hungry… the insatiable ghost of America’s longing and crimes and greed, now manifest to haunt us. To make us pay. And, as in what is perhaps the greatest American novel, “Beloved,” it is only through access to our ancestral memory of a time from before the horror story of our history began, and only through community will and rite that we will vanquish the dumb, plodding, suffocating ghost of him.
There is an exit to the nightmare of our history – to the slave ships bobbing on the eastern horizon, to the dread hooves and creaking wheels of the settlers’ wagons pushing west, to the villagers running from the flying armaments above them and the exploding landscapes around them in the Philippines, in Vietnam and Central America, in Iraq and Afghanistan, to boots kicking down doors – but it requires us to leave behind all of it, to stop our pursuit of the false gods and to listen to the spirits in the land around us and to our deeper selves that precede the nightmare. Trees, rivers, creeks, hills and mounds and mountains, the animal descendants of those animals we have punished, the human descendants of those sacrificed on the bloody fool’s errand of The American Dream – they all retain the memory of something previous to this ghost-driven present. It is to them that we must listen.
Dan Hanrahan is a musician, writer, translator and actor. His essays, poetry and translations have appeared in Counterpunch, El Beisman, The Mantle, OpEdNews, Brilliant Corners and the American Academy of Poets archive, among other places. Dan has written music for Chicago’s Colectivo El Pozo theater and recently had a feature role in the first film produced by the collective, Cuaco (2020, official release delayed due to the pandemic). In 2020, Dan released his third full-length album, Radical Songs for Rough Times, a collection of original protest songs in English, Spanish and Portuguese. www.danhanrahan.net
*Title image and all other images in this piece are by Dan Hanrahan.