Moira Hille

Ghost Ship - Ghostly Aesthetics, Border Regimes, and Politics of Place

Media images of the Mediterranean Sea in recent years have focused intensely on depicting refugee boats, dead bodies on the shores, life vests floating in the sea. In these pictures, representation is marked by an abstraction, in the sense that they show a seascape, a body of water that could be anywhere. In my paper, I will argue that the Mediterranean Sea as a place is systematically banned from our perception, a process which I refer to as the ghosting of the Mediterranean.

In doing so, I follow folklorist and oral storytelling of ghost ships, and their haunting appearances and narration since the 18th century. Ghost ships start to emerge in white cultural production around the middle of the 18th century. They appear in drawings, poems, songs, and lyrics. Sometimes there is a connection to a real ship that was lost at sea, and that appears from time to time in various places across - and this is very significant for the ghost ships of the 18th century - the Atlantic Ocean. Some ships are only constructed in legends, or are at least not traceable to a real existing ship, they appear, yet as soon someone wants to approach them, they disappear. Since the early 2010 European media started to apply the term ghost ship to so-called refugee boats in the Mediterranean Sea. In my presentation, I will argue the connection between the historical ghost ships, and current ones through ghosting, the shifting of the boats out of an operating realness and place into a sort of timelessness and placelessness.

While today, ghosting is often understood in reference to social media, i.e. the practice of defriending someone without telling them, and ghosting could, therefore, be seen as a current cultural expression of cutting relations without equal negotiations, I suggest reading the practice of ghosting within a long tradition of western separation, racism, colonialism, and white innocence to understand the multiple forms in which western thinking manifests its violence today. Here I build upon various concepts such as Gloria Wekker’s “white innocence”, and Eve Tuck’s and K. Wayne Yang’s “settler moves to Innocence”.