Between the Living and the Dead

A Halloween Conference
30th October 2021 – 31st October 2021



Investigating the Veil – Modern Paranormal Groups at Halloween and Beyond.
Dylan Jones
Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen

Key Words:
commodifying, preoccupation with the dead, ritual, haunted spaces/places, paranormal.

Depictions of paranormal phenomena and individuals who investigate it have long been represented in films and television. Belief in paranormal phenomena pervades throughout history and global civilisations, and in 21st century Britain and the USA, the majority of people reportedly believe in at least one paranormal belief or phenomena, suggesting human preoccupation with the dead. Anecdotal evidence suggests that shows like Ghost Hunters and Most Haunted have inspired countless individuals to become investigators in the USA and UK. Modern Paranormal Groups regularly visit “haunted” places and spaces, but on Halloween this endeavour to investigate such phenomena will reach its peak. They attempt to capitalise on the moment when the veil is reputedly at its thinnest, drawing upon ritualistic behaviour, practices and technology. Ghost-hunting event companies will also offer participants the opportunity to hunt ghosts at some of the most haunted locations – for a premium price. Drawing on preliminary doctoral research, this presentation will address the role of ghost hunting rituals, practices and use of technology as they negotiate their relationship with the beyond. Firstly, it will explore how their subculture exists within contemporary society. Secondly, it will address the possible influence of media narratives upon amateur paranormal investigation rituals and, in effect, upon parapsychology itself. Thirdly, it will explore how Modern Paranormal Groups commodify professional practices and utilise technology in paranormal investigations to pierce the boundary between living and dead. Finally, it will explore how the author will be exploring each of these areas in his PhD research utilising an ethnographic approach to paranormal media and field study. To conclude, this presentation will reflect on how the practices of Modern Paranormal Groups can help us to understand the commodification of spiritualistic and pseudo-scientific rituals, and how these facilitate our enduring fascination with the spirit world.

Death Reimagined: The Case of Spain
Leticia Cortina Aracil
Independent researcher

Key Words:
Spanish Folklore, Popular Costums and Traditions, Halloween, All Souls’ Day

Spain has a vast lore relating the bond between the world of the living and the dead that ranges from institutional art (such as the gruesome depictions of the Lying Christ of the Baroque) to the overabundant anecdotes of ghostly encounters. This includes local and national festivities, the veneration of relics, folk traditions and even seasonal sweets. Still, due to a peculiar mixture of enlightenment and secularization (both of which reduce this to superstition or ideological tribute), the social concealment of death (its medicalisation and expulsion of cemeteries from the urban environment), and the derivation of mortuary rites to specialised companies, many of these traditions have passed into the background or disappeared. Nevertheless, the thirst for contact with the world of death is not extinct but has sought other modes of expression, such as the participation in related leisure experiences that do not force the participants to question their beliefs or the adoption of foreign traditions, such as alternative rituals and practices, that are perceived as endowed with a deeper meaning; among them stands out the celebration of Halloween. This faces a noteworthy rejection from some sectors of the population, both for its eminently commercial and imitative nature of USA’s audio-visual productions and for being perceived as superstitious (particularly from the religious and scientific spheres.). Taking as a focus the Catholic celebration of All Souls’ Day, this paper will briefly address the historical relationship of the Spanish culture with the world of death at different levels and the contemporary emptying process of its historical traditions. It will be defended how the controversial adoption of foreign lore and practises shows its cultural drive for a permanence of a relationship with the sphere of death, concluding with a critical appraisal of the rooting function that this relationship has in this cultural context.

Eerie Victorians: Tim Burton’s Neo-Victorian Aesthetics
Lorraine Rumson

-no abstract available-

Animals Who Return: Ghost Animals, Pet Psychics, and the Cultural Politics of Animal Souls
Michele Hanks
Clinical Associate Professor Expository Writing Program New York University

Key Words:
Animal/human relationships, ghosts, psychics, mediums, anthropology, death, souls

Historically, from Cartesian philosophy to Christian theologies, the presence of a soul has acted as a key dividing line between human and non-human animals in the West. This presumed absence of a soul has meant that when animals die, no part of their consciousness, soul, or spirit was thought to survive. The contemporary world, though, is characterized by stories of animal ghosts and spirits who defy these expectations: dogs who haunt churches, cat spirits who visit their beloved human companion, and people who can communicate with the spirits of these dead animals. Drawing on long-term, ethnographic fieldwork with paranormal investigators, mediums, and psychics in the U.S. and the U.K., this paper analyzes the emergence of animal spirits and the people who seek them out. The vast majority of animals who return as ghosts as well as the animals that pet psychics and mediums communicate with were companion animals. Indeed, these animals are overwhelmingly those humans loved and those who humans perceived to love them back intensely. What, then, does this mean for contemporary understandings of animal souls? The ensoulment of animals, this paper argues, reflects the affective ties of humans for their animal companions. This paper ultimately argues that examining the presence and absence of animal spirits reveals the contingent, or flexible, quality of animal souls and the flexible nature of souls themselves. This has important implications for understanding the cultural meaning of animal death and, more broadly, the nature of human/animal relationships in the North Atlantic world.

Beyond Death Do Us Part: Patriarchal Control Over Female Bodies in Nalo Hopkinson’s “Glass Bottle Trick”
Alannah Ari Hernandez
University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus

Key Words:
Jamaican duppies, afterlife, ghostly rebellion, domestic violence, female solidarity

The Caribbean is a geography very much in tune with the idea of a continuing presence of the departed among the living. This is due to the syncretic convergence of beliefs about the afterlife that come from the original Arawak and Carib populations, as well as the ‘imported’ European and African cultures. The short story by the Jamaican author, Nalo Hopkinson, is basically a rewriting of the Blue Beard fairytale within a Caribbean locus. It presents the readers with a diegetic realm that is not only shaped by the hierarchical construct of male superiority and female submission but also by the colonial notions of colorism as a human ranking system. Within this pigmentocratic re-rendering of the fairytale, the living and the dead share the same domestic space. This space is inhabited and governed by a paterfamilias who controls the women in his life by stripping them of the activities and people that are important to them and he goes as far as using Caribbean folk knowledge and praxis (trapping spirits inside glass bottles) to control the women even after their deaths. Thus, constructing a dystopian family that is comprised of living and dead members. is a This paper intends to examine the patriarchal practices of female oppression within a Caribbean/Jamaican context where female intelligence is curtailed and female biological creativity is punished. It will also address the phenomenon of female solidarity and rebellion, between a living woman and two dead women who have turned into duppies, as an attempt to restore power dynamics and obtain justice beyond death.

“Between the Devil and the Zombie: Collapsing Reality and Acts of Becoming in Juan Cardenas’ Los estratos” (Strata)
Carlos Mejía
Gustavus Adolphus College

Key Words:
Colombian contemporary novel, trauma, demonic pact, zombie

In Juan Cárdenas’ novel Los estratos (Strata) (2013) a main character sees his reality decompose as fragmentary memories of his childhood make their way to his everyday life. The indeterminate nature of the events that prompted the trauma appear as movement and affect without motivation. This lack of connection between images and movement in the character’s agency throughout the plot is replaced with two clear supernatural elements that the narrative clings to to, unfruitfully, make sense of the events: the devil and the zombie. As representation of the undoing of the bounds of reality, these narratives provide a framing threat that ultimately become dead ends. The devil and the zombies are, thus, markings of areas where conventional reality becomes undone and threats the socio-cultural sense of belonging on which the main character is rooted. At the same time, these areas have replaced the fixity of conventional strata (the character’s bourgeois, “white”, Catholic, and “living” backgrounds) with what Delleuze and Guattari refer to as “becoming”, an area of intersubjectivity and deterritorialization. The story of devil of Churupití and the zombie linger as narratives that enforce the constrains of the system, but at the same time indicate that in which the character “becomes.”

Revisiting Memento Mori as Health Advice in a US Newspaper after March 2020.
Julio Quintero
University of Dayton

The Stoic philosophical tradition privileged notions of the inevitability of death as a motivation for fully committing to the present and to an ethical life founded on collaboration with other human beings, communion with nature, and a benevolent outlook and disposition towards life’s unexpected situations. “Since it is possible that you might depart from life at this very moment,” said Marcus Aurelius in his Meditations, “regulate every act and thought accordingly.” For this school, philosophy stems from a reflection on what death is as the human mind considers that a being is “nothing else than an operation of nature.” This reasoning led Stoics to affirm the deep level of equality that exists particularly among human beings, despite a variety of differences in relation to several markers of identity, such as ability, origin, and social rank, among others. This warning of “remember that you will die” (memento mori) became a common trope that traversed the middle ages and the renaissance.
March 2020 and the events that followed the declaration of the Covid-19 pandemic were interpreted in a way that utilized fragments of the traditional discourse of the inevitability of death and its ethical and philosophical consequences. As millions of people got sick and thousands died in the United States, while others lost their jobs or experienced some sort of hiatus in their normal lives, magazines and newspapers made sense of the new order of things by revisiting death as the ultimate frontier and equalizer, codifying humanity’s obsession with the dead one more time as advice for health and well living.
This presentation analyzes the main characteristics of the discourse of memento mori after March 2020 as expressed in a selection of articles in the health and living-well sections of newspapers such as The New York Times, including the readers’ comments.

“Interweaving Life and Death: Visual Narratives of Mental Illness in a Colombian Asylum”
Sandra Lucía Castañeda
Independent scholar and artist

The first mode of grappling with sexual violence in the Holocaust in Israel was the controversial literature of Auschwitz survivor, Yechiel Feiner (Denur), in his books, House of Dolls (1953) and Atrocity (1958), which depicted sexual slavery and abuse in concentration camps. The second attempt to address sexual violence in the Holocaust was the no less controversial literature of Stalags, a phenomenon that coincided with the commencement of the trial of Adolf Eichmann in April 1961 in Jerusalem (after his apprehension in Argentina). Stalags were pocket-sized books whose plots revealed lusty female SS officers sexually abusing camp prisoners. During the 1960s, sales of this pornographic literature broke all records in Israel and hundreds of thousands of copies were sold at kiosks. The Stalags were written in Hebrew, by Israeli authors, in the style of genuine memoirs (in the first person), masquerading as translations from English. The popularity of the Stalags declined after the court found the publishers guilty of disseminating pornography in 1963.

My presentation discusses Ari Libsker’s documentary Stalags: holocaust and pornography in israel (2007). It explores the temporal coincidence of the Eichmann trial and the Stalags, and the relationships of the latter to K. Tzetnik’s books. I argue that the film, in contrast to the narrator’s (the filmmaker) declaration, ultimately links the two literatures to the experience of sexualized violence in the Holocaust. Moreover, while, according to his defenders in the film (who have studied his literature), K. Tzetnik’s descriptions of sexualized violence are based on first-hand accounts, the Stalags, as my analysis of the film shows, resulted from a repressed or silenced sexual trauma by Holocaust survivors, who unconsciously transferred it to their children, ‘the second generation.’ The latter expressed the aftermath of sexualized violence in their writing of this genre, as well as in its consumption.