The Haunting of the Spectral Signature(s)

Fredric Jameson

Fredrick Jameson says that the postmodern world operates as a world transformed into images of itself. We are haunted by the new technologies of communications. To be haunted means to be called upon and we join the social media posting the images of our life.  The image then has a social life of its own and begin to rule us in different ways.  Images have their way of coming back to us.  They carry our spectral signatures and we identify with them.  Jacques Lacan’s mirror stage can bring insight into how these images can enslave us.  Although Lacan deals with the identification of the self of the child with its image in the mirror, we can see how the image affects our imaginary and leads us to identify with our images in the web which are nothing less than our spectral signatures. Maybe we can take the metaphor of music offered by Helene Cixous to understand our entanglement with images.  We can thus understand how our ears are attuned to ‘a certain music’ that our spectral signatures bring in/to play.  We, therefore, enjoy the play of these signatures and we are lost in/to the simulacra of our spectral signatures.  This then leaves us dislocated from real life. But the call of the spectral signatures is such that we begin to prefer the world generated by them. We chose the second best thing in place of the face to face experience.  Our family life and social life then gets inundated with the world of our spectral signatures.  

Helene Cixous

The withdrawal in/to a world of spectral images seems to occur around a secret. We wish to guard this secret and feel that our privacy is violated if it is betrayed.   We have to understand how the spectral signatures seem to organize our life around a secret core. The secret score of our self is like a fortress which leaves no access to even our loved one.  Our smartphones are sacred to us and no one can try to trace the history of their use. We want to be secretive about it.  Thus, a kind of crypt offers us security and a sense of safety that allows us to draw a shifting line between us and our social life.  All this is merely a smoking gun for the big data analytics who prey on our spectral signatures to understand our intimate self and its vulnerabilities and manipulate us to benefit their commercial and political masters. All this seems to happen within the wall of security, the secret crypt that gives us a sense of freedom and safety.  This is why it may be important that we examine how secrecy and desire work in our life. The crypt does offer us the impression that we are free from the eye of the other to chase our desires.  But is this truly so?  How are we to hide from the peeping surveillance apparatus that is all around us?  There is no hiding spot under the sky for anyone using a smartphone. 

 How are we to learn to live in these challenging conditions? Maybe we need to learn to die.  Learning to die leads us to learn to live.  Just as our spectral signatures are in the realm of the living dead, maybe we have to live like a living dead.  This means a kind of vision of death that we hold will teach us lessons to live for.  This can bring morality and discipline to our life.  Derrida teaches us exactly this. He says that to begin to live we must have death because it is only from other and death that we come into a configuration of ourselves.  All of us have a vision of death. It is this vision of death that can illumine our life like a foresight that enlightens our path.  We have our life in our death.  All the paths that we take are carved out from this foresight.   Death is the guiding light for this life.  It is the secret, the crypt that we carry. It is the inheritance that we have that calls us to pay its debts. Our life is nothing but a striving to pay the debts of our death.  Death is the only true spectral signature that we carry. It is calling us to live for.  There is an injunction in/to it. But the injunction is a double bind. It calls us to make our choice. The choices that we make are guided by the crypt/ the spectral signature of death that returns as a debt/ as a promise to keep.  Thus, our life is an apriori living of our death. We are all living as living dead as Slavoj Zizek might tell us.  In some way, the dead lives in us. 

Perhaps our spectral signatures in the web are assisting us to substitute the spectral signature of death that we all carry. The images like the image of death have an injunction that calls us to make our choices.   We are under the cryptonym of death and we seem to substitute it with the cryptonym of our spectral signatures on the web.  We seem to have shifted the cryptonym of death with the cryptonym of our spectral signatures on the web. Maybe we have our freedom from this enslavement to our own spectral signatures in the return to the crypt of our death.  It is our only true inheritance, legacy and haunting. Its haunting is the one that guides our life.  This does not mean that we have to run away from our spectral signatures.  What we can do is learn to resist their unbecoming injunctions that force choices on us by learning to live our apriori death.  Returning to our inheritance is returning to the secret, the crypt.  It has lessons for our life.  We can truly learn to live by learning to die.  The signature of our death lives in us and we are moving towards it.  Maybe we have our freedom from the simulacrum of the world of images by our return to the crypt that keeps the secret of our death. Let us attune our ears to the music of the spectral signature of our death.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao