| Foyer| Dining Room| Living Room| Bedroom & Study| Di’s Lounge| Garden| Blog| Urgent

Ghost Stories

August 9, 2005
Melbourne, Australia

Dear friends, readers and Web explorers,

I know once again it has been a long time since I last spoke in this space—in one sense I have been trying to find my voice in these American brutal times, a voice that could help fix things, could make Bush and all his mad cohorts of national vanity and death dealing, all the Right’s celebration of the end of 60’s dreaming, all the victory war cries of America’s ruling classes, lose some solidity. How vain I have been, what a poor excuse for my silences. I read The Nation, partake in demos when I am in New York, and read and read as if I must store up imagination for another whole lifetime. My friend Judith sends me chapters of her novel, telling me of a pledge taken with an artist friend that they would not let the ugliness, the despair that billows like smoke from our hearts broken that so much could be undone so quickly, stop their alternate imaginings. And I know that on the Web, thousands are talking about how wrong things are, about the triumph of lies, about the patriarchal stupidities that pour out of Washington, posing as foreign policy, about the ironies no writer could invent—the narrow proper shoulders of Condoleezza Rice lugging around the world the killing visions of her fatherly masters, this woman whose history tugs at her heels, whose successes set her up for their use and her own stern madnesses.

“The Americans have been successful at getting their minorities,
their Jews, their Blacks, to become their propagandists,“ she said....
—“Also the homosexuals. Don’t forget us. We love to shop. We’re
the frontline of capitalism.”
                   (from Dead Europe, by Christos Tsiolkas, Vintage, 2005)

Forgive me for my loss of words in this my 65th year as a queer Jewish woman in this world, for the self-indulgence of my own lost ways—I grasp at the wrists of other writers, needing to be pulled back into Word, and they tell me, in this time of horror stories, do not be afraid of ghosts, of chimeras, of new life forms that bring with their unusual bodies new forms of hope. I think of the Iron Council of China Miéville (Macmillan, 2004), the living iron train of history dragging itself into the future, carrying in it, on it, over it, under it, the solid hopes of the exiles, the communes, the queer, always under assault from the authorities but petrified with never-ending possibilities.

Hope can have its ghosts too—ghosts of refusal and resistance, of other histories with their own reckonings, the ghost of Allende, the democratically elected President of Chile, the American-assassinated, democratically-elected president of another country, who now lives above the Great Lawn, who drinks in the Rose Garden the nectar of farce every time this small-time man tells the world of his dedication to Democracy. This is truly a haunted house, this white house. Ghost armies of other people’s children, Iraqi and American, push at the gates from within the guarded fences to get out, to escape the twisted sense of patriotism that entraps their spirits in the jingo world of those who do not send their own protected—by class—children to war but gladly encourage the rural, the poor, the wanting so to be needed, the adventurous without resources, the warriors without a future.

In a boiling heat, on July 31st in Fort A. P. Hill, at a national gathering of Boy Scouts and their parents, the-doesn’t-know-he-is-haunted President exhorted the gathered children, “Thousands of scouts have shown the highest form of patriotism by going on to wear the uniform of the United States...” Not “...have gone on to feed the hungry or build homes for the homeless or to create alternate ways of doing business so more is shared with more”— no, the president used this time in the broiling sun to recruit children for future wars. “But remember,” he said, “lives of purpose are constructed on conviction that there is right and there is wrong, and we can know the difference.” The parents, we are told, cheered this future planning of their children’s lives, but the ghosts of dead boys made rabbit’s ears behind the important man’s back, hoping the hot children would see the joke.

Writers that give me body (2004-5):

  1. Christos Tsilolkas, Dead Europe (Random House Australia, 2005). I owe my belief and use of ghosts to this writer.

    At publisher’s website

  2. China Miéville, Perdido Street Station (Pan Books, 2000; Nightshade Books, 2005), The Scar (Del Rey, 2004), Iron Council (Del Rey, 2004). Miéville’s imagination is world enough, filled with the tenacity of cities and a plentitude of difference, all told with a lyrical toughness that feels like lovemaking, sometimes with pieces of glass.

    Perdido Street Station: Hardcover | Paperback Digital: Adobe Reader | Microsoft Reader
    The Scar: Paperback Digital: Adobe Reader Microsoft Reader
    Iron Council: Hardcover | Paperback  Digital: Adobe Reader | Microsoft Reader

  3. Lauren Berlant, The Queen of America Goes to Washington City: Essays on Sex and Citizenship (Duke University Press, 1997). One of the writers, thinkers, who keeps the ghost classes chattering, that sound so hated by the fright Right.

    Hardcover | Paperback

  4. Michel Foucault, The History of Sex—he is a companion now.

    The History of Sexuality, Vol 1: An Introduction (Vintage Paperback)
    The History of Sexuality, Vol. 2: The Use of Pleasure (Vintage Paperback)
    The History of Sexuality, Vol. 3: The Care of the Self (Vintage Paperback)

  5. Duong Van Mai Elliott, The Sacred Willow: Four Generations in the Life of a Vietnamese Family (Oxford University Press, 1991)—for my Vietnamese family and for myself, to understand a little of a country who lives only as a war in the American scheme of things.

    Hardcover | Paperback

  6. Colm Toibin, The Master (Picador, 2004). William and Henry and Alice and Oscar and above all the soft mastery of Toibin.

    Hardcover | Paperback

  7. Shirley Hazzard, The Great Fire (Virago, 2003). I need to understand distances and the intimacies that survive them—this novel helped.

    Hardcover | Paperback | Audio CD   Digital: Adobe Reader | Microsoft Reader

  8. Alistair MacLeod, Island: Collected Stories (W. W. Norton & Co., 2001; Vintage International, 2002). Again, lives on the verge of being lost that sing with life and place, saved.

    Hardcover | Paperback | Audio CD

  9. Stuart Macintyre and Anna Clark, The History Wars (Melbourne University Press, 2003). Here the same battle—between national hubris and a complex history of peoples in this place—a neighbor who lives on the street behind our house, no hellos as he sits in his study’s window and writes.


  10. Frederick Brown, Zola: A Life (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1995). Zola, who came with me to a year of chemotherapy, in the person of his novels and now in his life, a comrade for these times.

    Hardcover | Paperback

  11. and for the second time, Adam Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism, in Colonial Africa (Houghton Mifflin, 1998). All the capitalistic and ruler’s vanities of today are here and the suffering they still cause, but the ghost of Roger Casement and his living courage gives hope.

    Hardcover | Paperback

Ghost Stories: Previous Entry

16 May 2005Aging in a Time of War

© 2005 Joan Nestle

The River Diaries (2001-2002) have moved to

Messages for Joan? Problems with this site?
Please contact the WebMs.