The Crack Down the Spine – Part 1

Opening a consideration of the Ghost Story, drawing on…


…the valorization of the realm of a culture’s ghosts and phantasms as a significant and rich field of social production rather than a mirage to be dispelled… *** …a Marxist genealogy fascinated with the irrational aspects of social processes, a genealogy that both investigates how the irrational pervades existing society and dreams of using it to effect social change. Gothic Marxism has often been obscured in the celebrated battles of mainstream Marxism, privileging a conceptual apparatus constructed in narrowly Enlightenment terms. The Enlightenment, however, was always already haunted by its Gothic ghosts… 

Margaret Cohen, Profane Illumination


Miracles; murders; demons driven out and stones roiled from tombs. The cheap glamour did not taint the sense beneath. It was only, in the natural history of the mind, the bright feathers that drew the species to mate with its secret self.

Clive Barker, The Forbidden



I first encountered ghost stories in the sense I mean the term, the modern Ghost Story, in the spare room of the paternal grandparents’ bungalow.  I used to stay with them for a week or two every summer holiday when I was a kid.  They – and I suppose I mean my grandfather really – used that room to store the books he didn’t want on display.  Alongside all the old issues of Readers Digest, and the condensed novels, and my father’s old football and cricket annuals, there were lots of old books.  I don’t mean old books in the sense of dusty, leather-bound tomes, their pages wormy and crumbling, attached by chains to the shelves.  I don’t mean Foxe’s Book of Martyrs or In Praise of Folly.  I don’t mean the Tractate Middoth or the Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred or The King in Yellow.  I mean from the 1950s and 60s.  Cheap little paperbacks, and hardbacks with tatty paper jackets of at most two colours, both usually yellow, bearing artless illustrations and prices in shillings and pence.  There were more recent paperbacks too.  All dogeared and ragged, some losing their yellow pages when opened, their glue binding turning to powder, their spines cracked.  The anthologies of science fiction stories and ghost stories were the ones that grabbed little me.  The numbered Fontana collections with their amazingly eerie covers.  The trashier ones covered in studio staged photos of cobweb-draped skulls.  It was here that I first encountered Lovecraft, the two Jameses (M.R. and Henry), the two Bensons (A.C. and E.F.), Machen, Hodgson, and Blackwood.  Oliver Onions and Saki.  Dickens and Poe and Stoker and Le Fanu.  And lesser lights like Chetwynd-Hayes, and outright inferiors whose names I don’t remember – but which I often liked best at the time, if I’m honest.  And so on.  

Of course, this wasn’t my introduction to stories about ghosts.  But it was my introduction to Ghost Stories.  



If you come to think of it, the one thing which the human mind cannot grasp is the finite, not the infinite, the temporary, not the eternal.

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