Literature, this paper argues, is a privileged language that can give form to those specters of existence that resist the traditional ontological boundaries of being and non-being, alive and dead. This I describe as the “hauntology” of literature. Literature, unlike our everyday, referential language, is not obliged to refer to a determinable reality, or to sustain meaning. It can therefore be viewed as a negation of the world of things and sensible phenomena. Yet it gives us access to vivid and sensory rich worlds. The status of this literary world, then, is strangely in-between
; its ontology is not present and fixed, but rather quivering or ghostlike
. The “I” that speaks in a literary text never coincides with the “I” of the writing subject, rather they haunt each other. This theoretical understanding is based on texts by Jacques Derrida and Maurice Blanchot. The paper also draws an analogy between this spectral dynamic of literature and an understanding of religious faith or belief. Belief relates to that which cannot be ontologically fixed or verified, be it God, angels, or spirits. Literature, because it releases and sustains this ontological quivering, can transmit the ineffable, the repressed and transcendent. With this starting point, I turn to Toni Morrison’s book Beloved
(1987) and to Beloved’s strange, spectral monologue. By giving literary voice to the dead, Morrison releases literature’s hauntology to express the horror that history books cannot convey, and that our memory struggles to contain.