Invoking The Spectral Body: A Study of Potential Corporealities in the Work of Marina Abramovic and Francesca Woodman


  • Prema Purigali Prabhakar



At the beginning of his much written about Specters of Marx Derrida writes, “For there is no ghost, there is never any becoming specter of the spirit without at least the appearance of flesh, in a space of invisible visibility like the disappearing of an apparition.  For the ghost, there must be a return to the body, but to a body that is more abstract than ever,”  In Specters, Derrida is not only proposing a theory of history, a theory of hauntology, but in describing and redescribing the very substantive nature of the specter, he is also proposing a theory of corporeality, a theory of what the flesh is and can be.  By using Derrida’s theory of, what I will call, “spectral corporeality” in conjunction with the photographs of Francesca Woodman and the performance art of Marina Abramovic, my paper will ask such questions as: How can the specter return to the body, but not be of the flesh? How can a living fleshly body extend into a spectral body? And, what does it mean to have a theory of the body that is not of the flesh, blood, bone and sinew of the living body?

Abramovic’s grappling with bones (in “Cleaning The House” and “Balkan Baroque”) and Woodman’s faceless figure simultaneously going into and escaping from a grave stone , not only  contend with the spectrality of objects (relics), spectral histories inhabiting fleshly bodies and the spectral presence between audience and performer, viewer and artist, but with the gender of the spectral body.  To invoke “a body that is more abstract than ever”, Derrida wrestles with Marx, conjures the ghost of Hamlet’s father and summons Hamlet himself—an all male cast of spectral bodies; by examining Abramovic and Woodman’s art, I hope to understand how a female spectral body might make itself present, inhabit a  visual space of both flesh and ether.