Consoling GhostsStories of Medicine and Mourning from Southeast Asians in Exile

Consoling GhostsStories of Medicine and Mourning from Southeast Asians in Exile

Jean M. Langford

Print publication date: 2015

ISBN: 9780816687176

Publisher: University of Minnesota Press

Abstract

Consoling Ghosts is a sustained contemplation of relationships with the dying and the dead as inspired by conversations with emigrants from Laos and Cambodia. Emigrants’ thoughts and stories often refer and defer to spirits, from the wandering souls of the seriously ill to the dangerous ghosts of those who died by violence, and from restless ancestors displaced from their homes to adjudicating spirits of Southeast Asian landscapes. Langford considers how and why such spirits become implicated in remembering and responding to violence, whether the bloody violence of war or the more structural violence of minoritization and poverty. What is at stake, she asks, when spirits break out of their usual semiotic confinement as symbolic figures for history, heritage, or trauma, in order to haunt the corridors of hospitals and funeral homes? Why does it seem that spirits are both those who most required to be consoled and those who offer the most powerful possibilities of consolation? Emigrants’ theories and stories of ghosts, Langford suggests, implicitly question the metaphorical status of spirits, challenging, in the process, both contemporary bioethics of dying and dominant styles of mourning. Emigrants’ perspectives expose the theological assumptions that underwrite both contemporary management of death and prevalent theories of biopolitics, foreclosing recognition of the social existence of ghosts. Ultimately, she suggests, an alternative ontology of ghosts enables different relationships to death and the dead.