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Specters and Spectacle: Performing the Haunted House of Woodneuk / Tyersall
by LIM Xin Yi, Dawn
This dissertation seeks to examine the idea of ‘haunted-ness’ as a performative, rather than an essentialistic characteristic of a ‘haunted house’. Through the domestic sphere of the Woodneuk/Tyersall house, which is rumoured to be haunted, this paper hopes to challenge the assumption of the haunted house as a singular and permanent physical entity.
Empirically, the validity of ghosts and the paranormal simply cannot be justified. Therefore, my aim is not to determine if the house is truly haunted, but rather, to investigate the spatial and architectural; formal and tectonic; performative and eventful dimensions of the haunted house. Through these dimensions, I hope to understand how ‘haunted-ness’ is performed through spatially structured events that shape our perception of haunted spaces; and how the ‘domestic uncanny’ surfaces from the performatives of these spaces.
The notion of the haunted house tends to be loosely objectified and generally associated with the ‘ghostly’. Thus, my questions are: Does the ghostly need to be fundamentally grounded in space – a physical setting or particular spatial environment – before it is able to manifest itself? Between the existence of a commonplace house and the point at which it becomes haunted, how does this object of familiarity become so feared? Freud’s theory of the uncanny is able to explain how the ‘heimlich’ (homely) becomes to mean ‘unheimlich’ (un-homely), clueing us in on how the safe and the familiar and can also suddenly become unsafe and unfamiliar. But more importantly, it is crucial to know when and how exactly does the singular entity of a house begin to take on the identity of a haunted house.
Through three related themes of performance structured within the Woodneuk/Tyersall -- the pre-performed configuration of the homely; the spatial performance shaped by the play between memory and experience, and the homely objects that enable the acknowledgement of ghostly existence -- I propose the idea of ‘haunting’ as a performative action and the ‘haunted house’ as a performance space. Setting the house like a stage, I seek to observe how the architecture of the ‘haunted house’ performs to magnify haunting and the existence of specters.
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