I feel that one does not need to have read Ghosts to understand a question such as “who or what are ghosts?”
1. Who or what are the ghosts?
Here are a few thoughts:
One easy answer is “time.” This connects Aira’s Ghosts to many of my favorite time machines. The Ghosts here, however, are not come back from the dead (time cannot come back from the dead). They function for most of the novel or construction as almost decorative elements, and I feel that they are specific to the unfinished, gaping state of the building, which does not reach “completion” by the end of the book with Patri’s death. What does it mean for time to be decorative? Or what does it mean for unfinished-ness to be decorative? For time to be decorative, perhaps one must be constantly looking backwards, relaxing, stepping away.
The humor of the book is gentle, like the ghosts, who loiter, drift, and float, covered in cement dust, all white and without skintone. They are harmless, and no one pays attention to them. Aira’s satire manages to be avoid an air of judgment, someone pulls on a ghost’s penis and lets it snap back. Ghosts serve as the hands of a clock, which stretch, they serve as the detachment or dissociation of Patri and the narrator’s in relation or anti-relation to the building of the book. Neither interior nor exterior, they are the detachment, the popping of the bubble.
Those who are not ghosts are also ghosts, because the ghosts are treated, just as the human are, as facts or facets of the environment.
I once loved a person with “depersonalization disorder” which I think is a fancy phrase for ghost. Someone with actual DD has recurring out of body experiences, and literally watch themselves go through the world without real “sentiment” or investment.
Patri is not an easy case of existentialism. Nor is she someone with DD. She is, like the others, very much embedded in her being, which is embedded in her family’s desires, her environment, her own questions. Her internal life is material, external. The only thing outside of her irritating fate is the ghost’s party. If the ghosts are an expression of time, Patri does not want to experience time by passing through it, but she would rather be interior with it, inside, one with the ghosts themselves. What does this mean? I don’t know.
2. In this interview, Aira states, “The one thing I’m sure about is that I don’t write novels, an anachronistic genre that exhausted itself in the nineteenth century, experienced all of its posthumous transformations in the twentieth century, and today only retains its relevance in ‘commercial fiction’. What I do might be labelled ‘short stories’ or ‘fiction’, or, more precisely, ‘Dadaist fairytales’.”
How does Ghosts address the novel’s extinction?
Like Patri, Ghosts as a novel is irritated and irrevocably connected to everything around it, the everyday, which absorbs and constitutes the novel and also extinguishes it. It is a novel taken with the “mysterious smile” which seems to be an answer that avoids the question. Anyone can give a mysterious smile to a questioner. The novel can only live on as harmless ghosts, a feature of the background, its spine sitting quietly and dustily on a shelf never touched but by figures like Patri, who see their own place among things, but long for answers to questions unasked, questions that will never be asked. I like the idea that novels are irrelevant. Extinction happens prior to itself.
3. What is gained, if anything, in an unsentimental suicide?
It might be interesting to remember Patri’s lack of suffering or regret. The ghosts suggest that human death is not to be mourned, or at least does not have to be. Lucas has already mentioned the kinship between Patri and Melancholia’s Justine. Both see the banality of evil, the annoying flatness of real human life, a project that can never complete itself, and probably should not. If Ghosts is a novel that rejects redemptive narratives or any transcendent outcome or themes (including beauty), it is a construction that calls for even more attention to the infinity of details. Eternal postponement of completion could be a type of extinction. It doesn’t allow for the cyclical or the teleological, only the finite and the inconsequential. This is not a gain. But it’s no loss, either.