chapter  15
17 Pages

Ghosts in the Machines

How Centuries of Technological Play with Death Has Helped Make Sense of Life
ByWhitney Phillips, Ryan M. Milner

Dr. Albert von Schrenck-Notzing’s photographs—published alongside a series taken by his collaborator Juliette Alexandre-Bisson—seemed to provide proof of life after death. In one photo, a woman identified as Eva C. sits slumped in a chair as the disembodied head of an older bearded man floats above her chest. Generations before the advent of online social networking platforms and digital manipulation tools, true believers, firm deniers, and playful merrymakers were ghost hunting with just as much fervor as contemporary participants. The networked interaction, creative expression, and folkloric resonance of ghostly play thus serves to enhance life as it transcends death—regardless of whether this play inspires one to roll one’s eyes, to start shrieking with laughter, or simply to shriek. This chapter focuses on the act of seeing ghosts, with a particular emphasis on the technologies that transformed centuries-old paranormal conventions into modern mass entertainment spectacles.