To not be a ghost.


Most Western thought teaches us that we are spirits mired in base matter, ghosts in the machine, prisoners of Phillip K. Dick’s Black Iron Prison – or even worse still, that the creature we think ourselves to be is nothing but an ephemera; a trick of time and matter. Descartes with his brain in a jar, Plato in his cave, that old Gospel song of throwing off our old bodies to be robed anew…

This is not a polemic against religion. Or philosophy.

I would rather this was a praise-song for that crude materia; that dirt that we have so long despised.

Matter; clay; corpus; dirt; earth; crud; weight; unformed; lumpen; gravamen.

That matter which is mysterious and contradictory at its heart; sub-quanta popping in and out of reality, supposedly borrowing it’s existence from the future because it yearns so much to be alive. That matter which is multi-layered; the golden sands that are the crushed bodies of prehistoric marine life, or the oil that once stood as trees of the Jurassic. Dull earthen tracks that have been shaped by the tramp of feet for hundreds – perhaps thousands of years, taking on the minute particles of shoe leather or skin or hopes and directions from a million travellers.

Everything breaks down, given time. Even empires, even ideas.

Everything is rebuilt too, over time. Bodies and tyrannies and continents.

Matter; clay; corpus; dirt; earth; sod; soil; loam; clay; argil; nutrients; minerals; fertility; biology; bioavailability; biodiversity.

To not be a ghost, then. What does that mean in a world ‘that is constantly trying to make us something else?’ to paraphrase Emerson. That monstrous mutability attacks us from both sides – from the feedback loop of molecular replacement happening to our bodies all the time, to the psychic replacement of ideas – a constant stream of should be’s, could be’s, wanna be’s and maybe’s hurled at us from society.


When I started this investigation into Ghost Ontology, it was about Social Media. It was filled with trepidations of the burgeoning digital life – like a Universe B that grows larger and larger alongside us – an alien Tlön, perhaps; that threatens to replace our psychic everything with its own ghost-fetish. If humanity feared it might be nothing but ephemera, then it seems that fear was turning into a nihilistic joy that we could happily clothe ourselves with.

I hate my hair. I hate the way I look. Every time I travel to the cities it feels like everyone looks like their Instagram profiles now. Everyone is a model; a rough-but-elegant indy rock star. The taking of a Selfie beside the Real is more truthful than the Real itself.

That initial Ghost Ontology naturally had tendrils that led towards capital; the borrowed-virtuality that we’re all subscribed to; the recreation of our dreams, careers, friendships, wants and desires online to become harvestable data for the right buyer.

Debord had been right about the Spectacle.


Now the tendrils of ghostmodernism have led me towards thinking about matter. About dirt. About substance.

About how not to become a ghost.

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