That the majority of cultural artefacts described as hauntological consist of sound is linked to the ease with which sound lends itself to conceptions of spectrality and present non-presence. However, this is not to say that there is not the potential for hauntology in other media. In anticipation of the haunto-porn which will soon be taking over the cultural world courtesy of E&V and IT, it is appropriate to turn our attention to Decasia, a film directed by Bill Morrison that bridges the gap between the sonic hauntology so often discussed and the hauntological punctum of the photograph. The punctum is a concept introduced by Roland Barthes in his melancholy meditation on photography, Camera Lucida. As opposed to the studium, which is the objective content of the photograph, the punctum is that which strikes the spectator, that which pierces them, and in Derrida’s words;
‘it is never inscribed in the homogenous objectivity of the framed space but instead inhabits or, rather, haunts it […] We are prey to the ghostly power of the supplement, it is this unlocatable site that gives rise to the Spectre.’
Decasia itself consists of a series of sequences of footage obtained from aged film stock that Morrison himself collected. All of the stock that has been included in the film has undergone severe decay, whether that be scratches, burns, water damage, or simply the disintegration of the acids in the film itself. Now it is obvious here that the work runs the risk of plunging into in some sort of eschatological jouissance, revelling in the ‘beauty of decay’, which functions as a symptom – by investing our knowledge of finitude and disappearance into a ‘ruined’ artefact we make it easier to perpetuate the lie of attainment and ambition. Now of course it cannot transcend it, but Decasia resists the picturesque through a number of methods; it is accompanied by a screechingly dissonant symphony by Douglas Gordon, which sounds like Part's Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten as if it, itself had disintegrated. The hour long film persists; the images keep on appearing, they are never intact but are always refusing to be destroyed, between life and death, suspending time by displaying it all at once. Effects that have been discussed in relation to sonic hauntology are deployed here; there is not a single sequence that unfolds at a recognisably realistic speed, ‘uncannifying’ the footage. Sufi dancers slowly twist around, their joyful worship becomes agonisingly lugubrious, nuns drift slowly in and out of a haze of sunlight which is ever-darkening and in the most celebrated sequence a boxer interminably does battle with an amorphous torrent of visual noise, locked in battle with as close to a positive visual depiction of ‘the void’ it is possible to come. Throughout all of the film cycles keep reappearing, from dancers to spinning wheels, to carousels, to ferris wheels, to film spools. This can be said to be a symbol of rebirth in all death and decay, but I think a more appropriate reading is that these cycles are drive.
In fact, Morrison selectively chose footage that depicted humans engaging in defiantly productive acts, dancing, training, exercising, orating, etc. There are no tears and no mawkish imagery, the point being to stress the disappearance inherent to every last moment of presence. This is almost precisely in tune with Derrida’s messianicity without messianism: the minimal persistence that opens outward in the face of all that is oppressive, that forever insists. This seemingly interminable depiction of drive is what sets Decasia apart from ‘ruininlust’.
The visual hauntology of decasia could be thought of as a way of generating or perhaps even arresting the punctum, conjuring it out of the materiality of the artwork. In fact, I would go so far as to assert that all hauntological production is engaged in a certain séance, attempting to bring forward the punctum, solidify its particular spectra, make it apparent, to diminish the body of the work and allow it to be possessed entirely by the spectre; the impossible limit-condition of hauntological production is creating a work that is entirely punctum.