Villains, Ghosts, and Roses, or, How to Speak with the Dead

Sandra Huber 1
  • 1 Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture, Concordia University, Montreal


If narratives that uphold secular humanism have led to an “unparalleled catastrophe” as Sylvia Wynter notes in an interview with Katherine McKittrick, then it is time to unwrite them. In this essay, I examine the dead as a category that exceeds metaphysical classifications of subject and object and provides alternate possibilities of communication and hybridity. To do so, I call on work by Claire Colebrook, Jacques Derrida, John Durham Peters, Eve Tuck, and Unica Zürn, among others, with the cultural work and words of Sylvia Wynter as a guide and galvanising force. Here, I repopulate the life/death seam with gorgons, witches, fates, and revenge stories. If ghosts are seen simply as other beings, albeit taboo ones like bacteria, or require alternate cultural narratives like villains, or exist both in the symbolic sphere of the mystical and the so-called natural world like roses, what kinds of methodologies can be opened? What do the dead have to say and how do we listen?

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

  • Césaire, Aimé. “At the Locks of the Void.” Solar Throat Slashed [1948]. Translated and edited by A. James Arnold and Clayton Eshleman, Wesleyan University Press, 2011, pp. 129-131.

  • Césaire, Aimé. “Poetry and Knowledge.” Lyric and Dramatic Poetry: 1946-82. Translated by A. James Arnold, University Press of Virginia, 1990, pp. xlii-lvi.

  • Colebrook, Claire. “On Not Becoming Man: The Materialist Politics of Unactualized Potential.” Material Feminisms, edited by Stacy Alaimo and Susan Hekman, Indiana University Press, 2008, pp. 52-84.

  • Conley, Katherine. Automatic Woman: The Representation of Woman in Surrealism. University of Nebraska Press, 2008.

  • Coulthard, Glen. “Beyond Recognition: Indigenous Self-Determination as Prefigurative Practice.” Lighting the Eighth Fire: The Liberation, Resurgence, and Protection of Indigenous Nations, edited by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Arp Books, 2008, pp. 187-203.

  • Derrida, Jacques. Specters of Marx: The State of Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International. Translated by Peggy Kamuf, Routledge, 1994.

  • Essene Church of Christ and Order of the Blue Rose. “Introduction to the Essene Order of the Blue Rose and the Ancient and Modern Essene Church.” Essene Church of Christ,

  • Federici, Sylvia. Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation. Autonomedia, 2014.

  • Gordon, Avery F. Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination [1997]. University of Minnesota Press, 2008.

  • Guiley, Rosemary. The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits. Facts on File, 2009.

  • Gumbrecht, Hans Ulrich. Production of Presence: What Meaning Cannot Convey. Stanford University Press, 2003.

  • Haines, Agi. “Sacramental Antibiotics.”

  • Jackson, Zakiyyah Iman. “Outer Worlds: The Persistence of Race in Movement ‘Beyond the Human.’” Dossier: Theorizing Queer Inhumanisms, GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, vol. 21. nos. 2–3, June 2015, pp. 215–18.

  • McKittrick, Katherine. “Unparalleled Catastrophe for Our Species?: Or, to Give Humanness a Different Future: Conversations.” Sylvia Wynter: On Being Human as Praxis, edited by Katherine McKittrick, Duke University Press, 2015, pp. 9–89.

  • McKittrick, Katherine.. “Yours in the Intellectual Struggle: Sylvia Wynter and the Realization of the Living.” Sylvia Wynter: On Being Human as Praxis, edited by Katherine McKittrick, Duke University Press, 2015, pp. 1-8.

  • Muñoz, José Esteban. “The Sense of Brownness.” Dossier: Theorizing QueerInhumanisms, GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, vol. 21. nos. 2–3, June 2015, pp. 209-10.

  • Novalis. Henry von Ofterdingen [1802]. Translated by Palmer Hilty, Waveland Press, 1964.

  • Paijmans, Theo. “The Iconic Fountain (1917) Is Not Created by Marcel Duchamp.” SeeAllThis, June 2018,

  • Peirce, Charles Sanders. Collected Papers. Belknap Press, 1974-1979.

  • Peters, John Durham. Speaking into the Air: A History of the Idea of Communication. University of Chicago Press, 2010.

  • Povinelli, Elizabeth A. Geontologies: A Requiem to Late Liberalism. Duke University Press, 2016.

  • Stein, Gertrude. Four in America. Yale University Press, 1947.

  • Stein, Gertrude.. “Tender Buttons.” Writings and Lectures: 1909–1945, edited by Patricia Meyerowitz, Penguin, 1971, pp. 161–206.

  • Stengers, Isabelle. “Experimenting with Refrains: Subjectivity and the Challenge of Escaping Modern Dualism.” Subjectivity, vol. 22, no. 1, May 2008, pp. 38-59.

  • Suntory Global Innovation Center. “Stories of Development,”

  • Tuck, Eve, and C. Ree. “A Glossary on Haunting.” Handbook of Autoethnography, edited by Stacy Holman Jones et al., Left Coast Press, 2013, pp. 639-658.

  • Will, Barbara. “The Strange Politics of Gertrude Stein.” Humanities, vol. 33, no. 2, March/April 2012,

  • Wynter, Sylvia. “The Ceremony Must Be Found: After Humanism.” boundary 2, vol. 12, no. 3, Spring–Autumn 1984, pp. 19-70.

  • Yeats, W.B. A Vision [1937]. Collier Books, 1966.


Journal + Issues