My dear friend,
I am writing this letter in a bit of a creative despair, with a deadline on top of me. A deadline, moreover, quite deadly. A literal (and quite literary) invitation to cross the line that separates us, the living, from the dead. Furthermore, the publication that invited me to discuss ghosts did it under the condition that my text should remain unsigned, anonymous.
I have been trying for days to write about my experience with ghosts, my deeply personal connection with the spectral realm, but every time I tried to erase my name, even hypothetically as a working proposition, my story would crumble. My voice would fade. Here is what I learned: my story is nothing without my name.
My name, my proper name, is intrinsically enmeshed with my knowledge and experience with the half-dead. The secrets they told me can’t be revealed unless there is a proper invocation of my name, not without betraying them. After all, there are some very specific ghosts that talked to me, and very specific reasons why they chose me, the carrier of the proper name, to reveal their hauntings. Perhaps those reasons are buried in my history, the one that made me care for them in the first place. As you know well, a certain caring is a precondition for a ghost’s materializing.
After letting some time pass, it occurred to me that the proposition I was invited to partake in was quite a bit more complicated than what I had initially thought. This, of course, made it more interesting. Furthermore, the name I inhabit had already given its word. I was committed to it. The latent circumstance I discovered in this proposal was that by linking my participation to anonymity, this was not just an invitation to talk about ghosts, but to become a ghost myself.
Of course, the figure of the ghost writer should have come immediately to my mind. After all, before confining myself in this apartment, I used to frequent the streets of this West Coast metropolis and its cafés, crowded with writing bodies. I had myself been subjected to the disappearance of my voice in the generic writing of press releases and grant applications in various administrative jobs at art institutions. But disappearing in the generic, being engulfed by different bureaucratic vocabularies, for pay or for the hopes of reward, is a kind of linguistic and digestive transaction I learned long ago. It’s survival: I put words on the page, a check gets signed, my belly gets fed. By this I mean that it does not cause me pain, at least, not anymore.
But I did not think of ghost writers when I gave my word, perhaps because the proposition did not include any monetary compensation. This was something else; an opportunity given to me to offer my gift, a seemingly friendly petition, an invitation to play a game just for the fun of it.
Why are they inviting me, specifically me, to be part of this conversation if not for my personal history, which is the fiber from which my thinking is woven?” I thought. “The history linked to my proper name?”
But I often find myself being too serious, with a heavy consciousness, a bit too Socratic for contemporary times. And no, not playful. This, of course, makes me feel lonely, something the pandemic made even harder to bear. So all together, my name, my consciousness, and I proceeded to accept the invitation. I told myself it is just a game, an exercise! How could this possibly hurt?
So there I was, getting ready to detach myself from my ghosts. To talk about them in a text with quotes and footnotes, Chicago style. Ready to deploy my intellect and history through a structure that I was thinking was expected of me—the me that is not signing this letter.
It was then when I discovered the ghost.
You know how ghosts impose themselves: looming in the attic of your limbic system, making doors squeak whenever you want to sleep, make love, or let yourself go to soft places. The terrifying moment when they confront you never comes quite as a surprise.
So there I was and there I found it. Drowning in fear, my mouth literally got haunted – my tongue went numb. It wasn’t heavy, it was melting, dissolving in the surrounding saliva that then dried up; I was just teeth.
With the little bit of me that was not taken, I put a thought together, really it was a question:
“What do you want?”
“My name.” it said, in textures of cold air.
I closed my eyes. Its name was Anonymous.
Anonymous had a certain Mephistophelian spirit—a flare, horrific, yet seductive. I must admit, I was tempted. Opening my mouth, I let it in. In the void of anonymity, its voice grew inside of me full of revenge, insidious and glorious like fungi.
The manners of Anonymous were capricious. Channeling its words required that I become tolerant of its histrionics. After all, its gestures belonged to another time. In attempting to deploy the tone of its voice, I imagined a cape:
Your South is not my South, your North is not mine; different from mine is your language and your gamut of specters. If this white surface on the screen were a sheet of paper, if you would take it with your hands and smash it into a ball, if this ball were the world, and you would turn it and turn it again, disorienting its axis, smashing it and stretching it to its liminal integrity point, then the world I come from would be in your hands. In this world, words are indented with different values; different are the bodies they eat. Say my name and I’ll tell you my story.
And that was all. In a gasp of air, it was gone.
I was stupefied.
Why would the ghost of Anonymous haunt me? Why would the phantasm of anonymity appear to me with such threatening force? Why would identifying with the ghost come with no resistance? So immediate, arresting my heart with violence and making me feel, by pronouncing its name, that I already didn’t exist?
My head was boiling. Was this apparition real, or was it just me? I jumped onto a train of questioning. The words of Anonymous had left their mark.
What is this thing, that which from a flat and totalizing perspective some may call personality, but that from a layered perspective is something full of habitats, cavities of soft and hardened consistencies, of propitious grounds for ghosts? Why was this obstinate phantom performing its resistance, silencing my speech and making me angry? What was the microphysics of its pain? What ancestral fibers of its name were interwoven with mine?
In an attempt to get to the root of the problem, I approached the ecosystem of concepts that make up my ghost’s name, believing that, perhaps, a look into its origins would lead me to untying this knot in my speech.
The origin of the word Anonymous is a Greek adjective composed of the suffix an (without) and the noun onoma (name). It passes through late Latin to English, and its first uses in English are documented around the seventeenth century. In modern English it means nameless, lacking a name, of unknown authorship or origin, not named or identified, lacking individuality, distinction, or recognizability, according to various online sources.
There wasn’t anything in particular in this word that touched me.
It was only after some more time passed that the key to my haunting made itself evident. This happened by means of translation and displacement. Ruminating on the effects of words on bodies and beings, the Latin expression, Nomen Nescio, usually abbreviated as N.N., came to mind. Nomen Nescio “Unknown Name” and Anonymous are semantically synonymous. Nomen Nescio, or its acronym N.N. is in fact my most familiar experience with anonymity. N.N., pronounced ene-ene in Spanish, is the name given to the countless unidentified cadavers that mark the history of my country. N.N. brings me closer to my culture and perhaps explains the horrific appearance that the ghost had for me.
N.N. are the disappeared, in dictatorship and in democracy, those too poor, too lonely, too sad, with whom no one among the living maintained a bond sufficient enough to be able to name them. Deleted, buried, forgotten. In the place I call home, a product of colonization, just like this country, but which could not be more different, effacement and oblivion are doled out much like here: women, people of color, blacks, indigenous people, sexual dissidents—in no particular order, and when summed up, in exponential proportions.
White patriarchal structures spread and splinter. They infect. They become part of your education. You abide. To avoid aggression, you end up accepting these rules some way or another. Are you part of any of these unfitting groups? You will make your self small, docile. You will smile. You will speak softly. You will learn your place. At the end of your socialization you’ll become the prefabricated mask that was waiting for you from the beginning. And you’ll do this in the name of your own happiness. You’ll think there is something wrong with you: you are too shy, too insecure, too sloppy, too exhibitionist, you are too sensitive. Maybe by adulthood you’ll come to realize you are also a product of the violence inflicted against you. Maybe, if you are lucky, you’ll overcome self-hatred and achieve a sort of collective solidarity, a sort of community. Maybe not.
There is a verb in Spanish that my body knows well, and that I love because of its descriptive power: ningunear. It denotes the transitive action of making someone into no one. To ignore, to make them feel that they are not worth it, to remove all authority and authorship from them.
This is what was hidden in the name of Anonymous. For me, embracing the position of being turned into no one has a self-effacing effect that becomes truly unbearable. My ghost came to tell me what I did not know I knew, or what I had forgotten in the everyday labor that existing in this culture implies for me—the me that remains unnamed.
My friend, now that you know why I have not been able to write and fulfill my promise, now that you know my sadness, let me tell you one last thing. After my encounter with Anonymous, a voice appeared in my dreams. It came from nowhere, full of dust (perhaps, I dreamed, it was the ghost of culture). These are the horrifying words it told me, and they scare me. They scare me.
I am the broken child behind the adult you perform. I am the part of you that you left in the closet. I am the puritan inside your radical thinking, the ideologue of your feelings. I am the shade left out of the chiaroscuro of your political thinking. I am the churches inside your art school. I see you but you can’t see me. I mock your identity, your integrity, your national pride, your personal pride.
I follow you. I am the capitalist in your creativity. The flesh of children in your machines. Your clothes. I am within your sense of safety. I stop time: I am the creator of eternity and boredom. I am the guillotine. I haunt your aspirations. Toxic and productive, I make worlds.
I am the knee on the neck.
Put your hands on your face, feel my warmth.
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