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Staging Everyday Ghosts: Conor McPherson's Shining City.

In the first scene of Irish playwright Conor McPherson's Shining City (which debuted at London's Royal Court Theatre in 2004), John, a recently widowed man in his fifties, explains to his new therapist why he is unable to go into his own house. His wife Mari, who died in a "horrific crash" (10), has appeared to him twice in the home: "I mean she was just there, and it was real" (12). Ian, the therapist, acknowledges that his patient has experienced something traumatic: "I believe you, in that I don't think you're making it up [...] but if you're asking me if I believe in ghosts, I ..." (16). The scene ends on this note of ambiguity, but in the play's final moments, when Ian is alone in his office, the ghost will appear beside him on stage, "looking at" him (65).

From the vampires of St Nicholas to the seances of The Veil (which debuted in October 2011 at London's Lyttelton Theatre), McPherson's twenty-year oeuvre shows a persistent fascination with the fantastic. Both The Weir, with its tales of fairy creatures and the restless dead, and Shining City have travelled to Broadway, enjoying unusual success for "serious" dramas that dabble with the supernatural. As Helen Heusner Lojek observes, McPherson's plays frequently begin "in a naturalistic world" (49), even inspiring comparisons with Chekhov. Colloquial dialogue and linear narratives convince us that normal rules apply. The solidity of this world is emphasized on stage through elaborately naturalistic sets: The Weir's Irish bar, complete with working taps and peat stove; The Veil's weathered estate home; Shining City's low-budget therapist's office ("a stage almost defined by its normalcy" [Watson 203]). For the most part, these sets represent the full extent of the playwright's investment in spectacle--his fantastic creatures and events are evoked through monologues or tales the characters tell one another. This tendency has given some of McPherson's commentators the impression that his plays are only indirectly fantastic--many analyses say little if anything about their ghosts and fantastic events. In an oft-quoted review of The Weir, Ben Brantley places primary focus on the moment when the play shifts away from ghostly tales: "Suddenly, the subject isn't just things that go bump in the night, but the loss and loneliness that eventually haunt every life. There's a new chill abroad, evoking something more serious than goose flesh" (qtd. in Wood 311). The strength of the play resides, for Brantley, in its capacity to move beyond fantastic events (equated with mere spookiness) to deeper, "more serious" issues and feelings. I would argue, however, that gooseflesh in McPherson's theatre is rarely only skin deep.

The years since St. Nicholas have seen a number of studies on the relationship between theatre and spectrality. David Savran, for instance, draws on Derrida and Butler to interrogate recent theatrical ghosts as complex engagements with melancholia and mourning. Though focussing on American theatre, Savran could be writing about Shining City when he describes specters as symptomatic of "a crisis in the constitution of the subject," and of "a melancholic process whereby the subject attempts to incorporate that which he or she has lost" (587). The ghost in John's house reflects an inability to convert melancholia into mourning, to integrate the disavowed elements of his devastating loss, to resolve crises of desire and guilt. As Savran argues, however, "the ghost is not only a product of highly subjective, personal memories but also an embodiment of social, political, and economic forces" (588), and correlatively, the spectral dynamics of Shining City are extended beyond personal memory. "The Shining City of McPherson's title," writes Ariel Watson, "is, in fact, the new Dublin of the European Union, superficially partaking of the bland comforts of globalization but haunted by the specters of place and religion" (206). John's personal melancholia is juxtaposed with the spectral turbulence of his therapist Ian, who had been a priest before deciding to "turn [his] back on the church": "But ... the fucking huge mistake I made was thinking that that was the end of the journey for me--and it wasn't" (22). Ian's world is still populated with remainders of a historical-cultural past which, like the "distant church bells" that begin the play (7), continue to reverberate in the present. "History," as Watson argues, "has an afterlife in McPherson's play, and this afterlife intrudes on the sharp certainty of the present's sanity" (206). In this way, Shining City reflects Savran's analysis of the theatrical ghost as "a figure uniquely positioned in relation to both memory and history" (587)--it "testifies to the fact that we still live with the ghosts of those persons and social institutions we thought we had put behind us" (588).

But if the dynamics of melancholia are clearly pertinent to McPherson, what the recent work of Maria del Pilar Blanco and Esther Peeren seeks to critique is the potentially exclusive temporal emphasis that has come to characterize ghost theory. Spatiality is not excluded by Savran--his study considers ghosts that have arisen in a particular space, America--yet for an analysis of theatre it is surprisingly devoid of references to spaces and spatial relations (not a set-piece is evoked throughout). Blanco and Peeren insist on defining ghosts' agency "as grounded in [...] a disturbance of space as much as of time" (xvii). Ghosts should be regarded "not simply as useful metaphors for enduring and difficult memories of things past, but as commentaries on how subjects conceive present and evolving spaces and localities" (Blanco 6). This thrust is linked to an insistence on exploring ghosts' relations to the "everyday." Specters operate "to reveal something of the enigma of everyday life, the way it can no longer be taken as straightforward [...] and is itself beset by ghosts" (Blanco and Peeren xiii). To consider Shining City through a predominantly temporal framework, I argue in the first section of this article, is to risk overlooking McPherson's complex engagement with both spatial dynamics and everyday spectrality.

With these thrusts in mind, the second and third parts of the article will "look awry" on the potentials of psychoanalytic theory for investigating theatrical specters and the everyday. Blanco and Peeren's approach is premised in part on a critique of psychoanalysis, which they associate with both a temporal focus ("the reactivation of trauma and the return of the repressed" [xvii]) and an over-theorization that risks transforming ghosts into "meanings." This critique overlooks the ways in which contemporary psychoanalytic theorists, most notably Slavoj Zizek, have dedicated themselves to these same issues and deadlocks, moving dramatically beyond what critics of psychoanalytic theory often reduce it to. A primary focus of Zizek's Lacan-inspired work is everyday reality's constitutive relationship with specters, the way it is supplemented and sustained through a complex interplay with the ghostly. It is in this respect that psychoanalytic thinking can take Blanco and Peeren's commitment to spatiality and the everyday even further. What Shining City makes forcefully clear, I will argue, is that everyday specters are by no means mere metaphors or symbols; to explore the ghosts of the everyday is to treat them as most real. Thus, after explicating how Zizekian theory brings to light the "short circuits" between human desire and the fantastic in Shining City, I will argue that McPherson's conclusion dramatically complicates a traditional psychoanalytic emphasis on symptoms and repression, staging the powerful fetishistic dynamic of ghosts in contemporary reality.

Haunting Spaces: Specters, Spatiality, and the Everyday

The opening scene of Shining City offers a first-person narrative of a haunted house, a traditional trope corresponding historically to the rise of the fantastic in the nineteenth century. But in the theatre, this narrative is itself situated within a complex spatial context, one which is developed progressively during the play. Shining City's single set functions not simply (a la Todorov) to establish a state of concrete worldliness against which to juxtapose fantastic events. A subtle but pervasive liminality, an in-betweeness, pertains to the play's setting from the very beginning. The occupant of the room, undetermined when the play begins (he's in the bathroom), is not yet fully moved in: books are strewn about "as though they have been unpacked but have yet to be put away" (5). "I'm still sort of only getting myself sorted out here" (8), Ian will explain to John when he enters (after struggling with the intercom, which Ian has yet to master). At this point the audience hasn't even been given sufficient clues to determine where "here" is. The room is neutral enough that it could be an apartment, leaving us unable to situate the action. Before the ghost has even been mentioned the play is marked by pervasive irresolution about where we are, and as critical response affirms, this liminality has frequently been enhanced by features of live performance. In the 2004 Royal Court production, directed by McPherson himself, Rae Smith's set interacted with Mark Henderson's lighting to create a "magnetic eeriness" (Fisher) and an overarching impression of "unsettling impermanence" (Billington). Indeed, Ben Brantley's description of the Broadway production (directed by Robert Falls at the Biltmore Theater) imparts an unnerving agency to the therapist's office. Designer Santo Loquasto created a room of "indomitable shabbiness" that had "seen and discarded many previous tenants."

If much critical theory, as Peeren argues, insists mistakenly on "perceiving the ghost and the everyday as mutually exclusive realms," McPherson's play demonstrates her contention that "the everyday is inevitably suffused by numerous forms of otherness so that in it we can never expect to find ourselves on solid ground, unambiguously present or 'at home'" (107). John, displaced indefinitely to a B&B by Mari's apparition, is by no means the only one uprooted, compelled to shift around and dwell in strange, provisional surroundings. What all McPherson's characters have in common here, what paradoxically unites them, is that none of them is able to be "at home." Ian--like the protagonist of Tom Murphy's Gigli Concert (with which Shining City shares some notable similarities)--is in fact camping out in this psychotherapy office. For reasons he is unable to explain to his girlfriend Neasa, he is compelled to live away from her and their newborn child--the second scene revolves around the question of why he can't "come home" (22). But even that home is not a home in any meaningful sense. He and Neasa have been living in a room at his brother's place, a temporary and unsustainable arrangement: "Squashed into your brother's house" (20). Laurence, the prostitute Ian brings back with him in scene four, is likewise doubly displaced. He needs to earn money so that he can return to the "flat in town" (52) where he was staying with a cousin. He is spending a provisional night with Ian--a total stranger, whose own home is an office where he probably will not stay--in order to return to a provisional arrangement.

Dislodged or driven from homes where they might settle peacefully, McPherson's characters are both haunted and haunting, ghostlike in their displacement. Neasa's predicament is developed in conspicuous parallel with John's haunted condition. "How can I go back there on my own again tonight?" (21), she asks Ian of their dwelling, where she feels tormented by the invasive gaze of his brother's wife: "always fucking looking at me like I'm going to rob something" (20). But these characters simultaneously haunt, taking on the status of ghosts, which, as Pamela Thurschwell reminds us, exemplify unsettledness and troublesome out-of-placeness: "ghosts encroach upon and crowd the live people who perceive them; kicked out of the world of the living, they refuse to settle into a grave or afterlife, and instead occupy space where they should not properly be" (240). Neasa's cry, "I have nowhere to fucking go!" (18), echoed by Laurence in the last line of his scene ("I have nowhere else to go" [54]), finds its correlative in the ghost itself which, even when silent, bespeaks a dislocation from any proper place, an inability to find rest in a home suitable to it. The ghost reflects the characters' own in-between status, deprived of substantial ground and drifting incessantly between domains.

Many of McPherson's stage directions call directly upon his actors to find ways of (paradoxically) embodying this haunted condition, this out-of-jointness with physical surroundings. A "nervous, twitching energy" (47) is required of the actor playing Laurence, and when Ian, having run out of things to do, is left alone on stage, he must appear "disconnected" (48)--"almost not part of his own life" (48-9). Michael McElhatton seems to have captured this aura of dislocation in the McPherson-directed Royal Court production. His "excellent nervy Ian" looked "as permanently on edge as a greyhound with a digestion problem" (Halliburton). Critics of various productions have frequently foregrounded the effectiveness of simple stage business, such as Ian's attempt "to open a bottle of wine with a knife" (Stokes), in conveying this anxiety-inducing displacement. It is all enhanced through the actors' strained relation to the physical space--they shift uneasily about the room, squirm uncomfortably on inappropriate chairs or station themselves restlessly on sofa arms.

If the uncanny, as Ernst Fischer writes, pertains "to spaces and objects unlocatably suspended in a state of flux, of not yet--or any longer--being either absent or present but, potentially, being both and also" (199), Shining City encourages a correlation between this flux and the dynamics of urban spaces, bringing to mind Anthony Vidler's influential analysis of the uncanny as "spatial dis-ease." As Vidler observes, "from the 1870s on, the metropolitan uncanny was increasingly conflated with metropolitan illness, a pathological condition that potentially afflicted the inhabitants of all great cities" (6). Shining City reflects the range of anxieties evoked in this tradition, its characters simultaneously isolated, paradoxically alone amidst so many people, and far too close to their neighbours, lacking a bulwark that could stave off the intrusive presence of others. Brantley's response to the Broadway production suggests the uncanny way in which these anxieties can emerge powerfully on stage: "There are never more than two people together at a time [...]. Yet the stage feels as crowded and as solitary as a big-city subway at rush hour." In McPherson, such over-proximity is tangibly threatening--Mari's death in a traffic accident recalls Walter Benjamin's analysis of city life as involving the subject in "a series of shocks and collisions" (171), exemplified by busy and dangerous intersections.

In these respects it is difficult not to perceive the play as a kind of counterpart to The Weir, a mirror inversion of its most prominent dynamics. Set in "a small rural bar" in "a rural part of Ireland" (1), The Weir (first staged at the Royal Court in 1997) presents characters who seem defined by a refusal or incapacity to move from a fixed place. Brendan's bartending job is a direct extension of his home (the bar he operates is part of his residential property); Jim, in his forties, is still living with his mother; Jack's big speech, capping the play, is a tale of being unable to leave even when wonderful things awaited: "And I don't know why it was a thing with me that I ... an irrational fear, I suppose, that kept me here" (45). Fittingly, the play's most "real" ghost reflects the uncanniness of urban existence, a world beyond this rural setting. Niamh, the dead daughter of Valerie, who has recently moved from the city, is marked by a complex and troubling relationship to space, manifested before her death in nightmares of over-proximity: "at night ... there were people at the window, there were people in the attic, there was someone coming up the stairs. There were children knocking, in the wall. And there was always a man standing across the road" (38). This anxiety is coupled with a terror of losing place, of having the particularity of one's home stripped away. Niamh had been scared to wake up "in the house on her own. [...] And all the furniture and carpets and everything would be gone" (38). After death, Niamh is stuck in a comparable realm, assailed by the disturbing over-proximity of others and deprived of fixed markers that could guarantee substantial home: "she thought she was at Nana's [...] But Nana wasn't there [...] And would I come and get her?" (39). This uncanny relationship to space finds its "speculative correlative" in Shining City's living occupants, no less displaced and dislocated in their everyday life.

But Shining City also discourages any simple reduction of its characters' spectral dislocation to the sociological conditions of urban life. True, it invites consideration of economic factors (the characters' inability to purchase homes of their own) and sociological shifts (a disintegration of familial ties, such that family itself appears strange and invasive). But its overarching anxiety, I would suggest, is tied to McPherson's refusal to offer any absolute or consistent means of accounting for the characters' unsettled condition. Their displacement is left a ghostly mystery, defying the comfort of handy socio-economic diagnoses. Neasa's insistence that Ian's sister-in-law is the reason she is so anxious and out of place seems an all-too convenient explanation, a means of rationalizing the effects of unlocalizable anxiety and a more profound inability to settle. Her infidelity to Ian (she confesses having drifted to another man's home when left alone) is patently irreducible to the explanation she provides: "I just couldn't ... keep going back up to your brother's house on my break, with her always there, Ian" (25). Nor can Ian's inability to settle into his current office ("I've only been here two weeks, and I'm not sure ... between ourselves ... that I'm going to ..." [8]) be convincingly chalked up to his struggles with the intercom. Home, for these characters, seems fundamentally haunted--Mari's ghost "gives body" to a seemingly inherent obstacle on account of which they are perpetually out of joint with any substantial place, condemned to temporary, shifting arrangements. Just as the fantastic occurrences in McPherson's ghostly tales cannot be easily dismissed through empirical explanations, so the play's pervasive anxiety derives from the irreducibility of its characters' hauntedness to specific diagnostic narratives.

A comparison with The Weir also opens an anamorphic perspective on the specifically psychotherapeutic space of Shining City. In its own way, The Weir establishes a psychotherapeutic dynamic, the evening at the local bar turning into a session of mutual analysis and purgative self-disclosure. Then again, psychotherapy per se is implicitly associated in The Weir with the (dislocating, intimidating) city and cast as a kind of threat to one's delicate relationship with the spectral. Valerie's husband had insisted she "get some treatment, and then ... everything would be okay" (40), and Valerie's resistance to this demand is what seems to have precipitated their separation and her move from the city. The threat of therapy, rather than the ghost per se, is what prompts her exodus--she moves not because of her daughter's ghost but because she's not ready to give it up. The night at the bar is thus presented in contrast with the procedures offered in the city, as though a kind of alternative therapy--healing through an acknowledgement of common ghosts, a shared confrontation with the inexplicable.

But if The Weir casts clinical psychotherapy as a kind of counterpoint to the spectral, Shining City once again encourages a "speculative" inversion. Psychotherapy, on McPherson's stage, becomes a highly ghostly enterprise in its own right, provoking its own quandaries of (dis)possession and unheimlich insubstantiality. Ian's office is the "home" of the drama itself, a fixed, material site that it will return to consistently, undergirding its ghostly succession of displaced wanderers, but the play's scenic doubling also accentuates the evanescent or indeed performative dynamics of the psychotherapeutic setting, which can be conjured into existence through simple words and actions. One can say "this is a psychotherapy office" as easily as Shakespeare can say (through Rosalind) "this is the forest of Arden." Otherwise indistinct, the room becomes an office insofar as Ian and his client agree to perform a drama of psychotherapy there, while for Neasa (for whom it is simply Ian's hideout) or for Laurence (whose current profession has even less need of stable places) it exerts little performative efficiency. In contrast with the material and symbolic substantiality of the cathedrals whose spires "loom" in the background (5), the psychotherapy office is what Baudrillard might call a highly "disposable" place (46). In the fifth scene, as Ian prepares to move out, the location is already losing the traces of its psychotherapeutic life--psychotherapy itself emerges as yet another wandering spirit.

This instability is doubled on the level of performance. The improvised nature of John's interaction with Ian in the first scene--his awkward fumbling to discern what the therapist expects of him ("No I just, I wasn't sure if, but, you know, we ..." [11])--accentuates the absence of those specific structures and formal procedures associated with the churches looming behind, or indeed with more established psychotherapeutic traditions. The psychotherapy Ian is employing in this ambiguous location is itself difficult to place in a specific theoretical home, and in this respect too, we don't really know where we are. McPherson's directions evoke elements of the classic Freudian blocking (the patient on a couch as the therapist takes notes) but Ian's approach is much more informal--in the London and New York productions he was seated facing his patient, rather than behind him (as in Freud), and his patient sometimes shifted about the office as he talked, helping himself to tissues or glasses of water. A similar dislocation characterizes Ian's relation to the profession itself, a temporary, provisional arrangement for someone dislodged from a previous (professional and spiritual) home. The play's repeated refrain, "I have nowhere else to go," seems equally applicable to the former priest's relationship with psychotherapy, a profession he's rented by completing a single "course" (21).

The specifically Irish context of McPherson's play encourages a further complication of any apparent dialectic between psychotherapy and the spectral. Irish theatre's own history reveals an interest in the paradoxical correlations between psychotherapy and undead realms. This is nowhere more apparent than in Yeats, who articulates in his writings and dramatizes through his plays a purgatorial process which, argues Brenda S. Webster, "is comparable in important ways to the reexperiencing of past events and relationships in psychoanalysis" (186). What Yeats calls the "Dreaming Back" and the "Return," processes to be painstakingly completed by the dead, are for Anthony Roche akin to "the Freudian working-through," a "conscious and consciously dramatic re-enactment of all the events, impulses, thoughts, and emotions of a single life" (56). This journey, and in particular its emphasis on the exploration of "sexual feelings" (Webster 159), is especially evident in Yeats's The Only Jealousy of Emer, a play which offers striking parallels with Shining City. Emer is the woman that Cuchulain married but "repeatedly passed over in his drive for new amorous conquests. The consequences of his actions for Emer are what Cuchulain now takes on in his own person, directly experiencing the painful emotions caused by his heedlessness" (Roche 56). John's psychotherapeutic sessions present a similar "dreaming back" as he explores the causes and consequences of his brief but disruptive pursuit of Vivien. Just as the "dreaming back" involves for Yeats an attempt to "trace every passionate event to its cause until all are related and understood" (qtd. in Webster 159), so John must work through the dynamics of the affair and its consequences for his relationship with Mari before he can "return" to normal life. Of course, John's "dreaming back" is conducted by a living man in a psychotherapist's office, rather than by a soul in an in-between realm, but with the previous analysis in mind, it would be facile to simply contrast McPherson's psychotherapy sessions with Yeats's interfusion of the spectral and material. Shining City's living characters, deprived of substantial ground and wandering ghostlike through in-between realms, transpose Cuchulain's purgatorial dynamics into the everyday.

Ultimately, the most conspicuous difference between John's process and Yeats's ghostly realm can be located in the duration and complexity of the soul's purgatorial struggles. Yeats's process can endure for centuries since, as he writes, "The more complete the Dreaming Back the more complete the Return and the more happy or fortunate the next incarnation" (qtd. in Webster 186). This acknowledgement of duration and repetition finds its correlative in the necessarily "long duration of analysis" as conceived by the likes of Freud and Lacan (Zupancic 175). John, in vivid contrast to both Yeats and psychoanalysis, is able to return very quickly and efficiently. Only months after the horrifying death of his wife and her subsequent appearance as a ghost, he is dating again: "a new chapter is opening up" (60). In Shining City, psychotherapy itself has the status of another temporary, provisional site, the relationship with the therapist concluding very swiftly--an effect accentuated in the theatre, where we move from initial consultation to the "new chapter" in little over an hour.

Here the discussion of everyday spectrality dovetails with Ariel Watson's analysis of the play's engagement with the psychotherapy profession. McPherson, she argues, offers "a portrait of therapy at its most complete integration into everyday life" (206). "[A]s the means to self-examination becomes yet another commodified service, it is reduced to the status of quotidian task, a confined and manageable hour of the work week, without mystery and without threat" (206). To go a step further, it is not simply that psychotherapy is presented as a "secularized," rational substitute for metaphysical investigations (either Catholic or Yeatsian), or as an antidote to ghostly revenants. From a psychoanalytic perspective, Shining City's is a psychotherapy deprived of truly fantastic dimensions, stripped of its potential as a radically disruptive encounter that could destabilize one's existing universe and prompt transformation. Tellingly, John's ultimate lesson concerning the ghost is not simply a rational-scientific understanding of its non-existence but its complacent integration: "I'll tell you, you know, even if I saw [a ghost], Ian, it's not ... I mean, seeing something is one thing but ... it's how it makes you feel, isn't it? [...] Someone could see something and it doesn't really matter" (62-3). His new outlook quite literally strips the fantastic of its fantastic-ness. A ghost is now something that "doesn't really matter"--its destabilizing potential has been utterly neutralized; it has been rendered "everyday."

Spectral Passions: Short-circuiting Desire and the Fantastic

My approach has stressed two interrelated relationships: between specters and space, and between specters and the everyday. To extend this discussion by drawing on contemporary psychoanalytic theory would seem at odds with Blanco, who argues that ghosts have too often been interpreted as representing "the reactivation and repetition of past traumas (what in Freudian terms is the 'repetition compulsion'), and the unwanted return of the repressed" (15). This emphasis is indeed common to theories of the fantastic, emerging prominently in Rosemary Jackson's and Lance Olsen's work ("The fantastic," writes Olsen, "is the sudden release of deeply repressed material" [21]). But to draw on psychoanalysis is not necessarily to return to these returns. Contemporary psychoanalysis is indeed uniquely positioned to interrogate the very concerns that Blanco and Peeren identify. A primary preoccupation in Zizek's work, for instance, is everyday reality's intimate relationship with the spectral. And if a key objection, for Blanco and Peeren, resides in the putatively temporal orientation of psychoanalysis, Zizekian dynamics can help to explicate the spatial dimensions of spectrality from a different angle. Shining City, I will argue, demonstrates the paradox of spatial anxiety as correlative to a dissolution of spectral dimensions, a loss of those ghosts on which the stability of everyday life depends.

If a defining feature of McPherson's work is its consistent engagement with the fantastic, John's "dreaming back" foregrounds an even more specific recurring element. The playwright's spectral forays are deeply imbricated with the dynamics of desire, sexual attraction, and love. St Nicholas, an early work about a theatre critic's encounter with vampires, reveals a simultaneous fascination with the destabilizing nature of love itself: "And that person you fell head over heels for. What the hell was that? What was the moment it hit you?" (178). The Veil's Audelle, who has travelled to a rural Irish region expressly to seek contact with its ghosts, speaks of passionate desire as an equally metaphysical quest: "[W]hen I looked into her face," he says of his first wife, "her grey eyes were so disarming I had always felt as though I was looking through her eyes into something so meaningful that I swore that somehow I could behold God there" (65). John's encounter with Vivien likewise evokes a sense of contact with noumenal dimensions beyond everyday appearances. "I felt I could just look behind everything because it was only scenery, everywhere I went. Because, I suppose in a mad way I believed that something else was my reality!" (37). In these plays, everyday phenomenally-given reality takes on the character of a veil, beyond which passionate desire takes aim.

McPherson's short-circuiting of these two domains would come as no surprise to Zizek, for whom, in a sense that is far from merely metaphorical, desire and love are directly implicated with spectral, fantastical, metaphysical dynamics. The target of Audelle's passion--an infinitely "meaningful" dimension that he glimpses "through" his beloved's eyes (65)--reflects the operations of what Lacan calls the objet a, described repeatedly by Zizek as a specter par excellence: "the specter of an ineffable X beyond words" (Living 68). This mysterious psychoanalytic "object" designates an entirely immaterial "something more" discerned in the desired one, irreducible to any particular, objective quality, "its substantial identity merely a reified specter" (Less 665). If, for horror fans, the Shining of McPherson's title evokes the hauntings of Stanley Kubrick's famous film, it also reflects the short-circuiting of cause and effect that defines this objet a. "Shine" means to be the source of a glow ("The sun is shining") but also to glow with reflected light: "a quality of brightness, especially through reflected light" (OED). Lacanian desire foregrounds this fundamental duality--the desired entity's glow appears to originate within, though its blinding splendour is (also) the reflection of desire. As Zizek emphasizes, the spectral mystery of passionate desire is that its target is ultimately just an everyday entity, irradiated by the force of desire and by the symbolic position it has come to occupy (Metastases 95).

McPherson's theatre also presents the "speculative correlative" of this dynamic, taking as its central object the ghostly dimensions of the desiring subject. "[W]e probably had it, you know?" says John of his relationship with Mari--"But it's, it's hard to ... accept ... that this is it. You ... you go ... searching, not searching, I wasn't going anywhere searching for anything, but, I think I was always slightly ... waiting" (30). John's confession accentuates both the tendency of the objet a ("it") to appear in hindsight ("at the very moment of its loss" [Zizek, Parallax 61]) and the undead condition of human desire, for which this is never that, for which there is no definitive home. McPherson frequently gives this dynamic an explicitly spectral form. Characters in The Veil compare desire to a succubus preying upon the living, a "sapping spirit" (52) which simultaneously afflicts mortals and undeadens them. Fingal, in the play's culminating speech, speaks of passion as a "big trick" played on human beings by a divinity, compelling them to incessant pursuits: "It's just a big joke that keeps us all running around in God's playground for his amusement. And we all think it's so real" (112). This equation of desire with an undeadening force, thrust upon human beings and derailing natural rhythms, links McPherson's theatre with contemporary psychoanalysis--his insistent reference to spectral domains accentuates human passion as ultimately irreducible to physical-biological impulses. At stake here, indeed, is what Zizek calls the "ultimate lesson of psychoanalysis"--that "human life is never 'just life,'" derailed as it is by an "inhuman" surplus of which it can never get rid (Parallax 62). In this light, to regard Shining City through a psychoanalytic lens, far from reducing its specters to symptoms of disorders or past traumas (and thereby returning us to rational, concrete grounds), involves a recognition of the inverse--the play's psychoanalytic "lessons" reside in its transposition of the spectral-fantastic-metaphysical into the human, correlative to that which divides everyday humanness from itself.

Put more simply, by shifting so abruptly from fantastic topics to everyday desires, Shining City encourages us to engage with its everyday scenes as though they were fantastic tales. The affair that forms the subject of John's "dreaming back," if seemingly an all-too mundane occurrence in today's permissive Western society, is not simply a reversion from the fantastic--we could easily perceive it, for instance, as a contemporary variation on E. T. A. Hoffmann's "The Sand-Man" (the central referent of Freud's The Uncanny). Hoffmann's Nathaniel falls in love with the beautiful Olympia, who turns out to be a mere automaton. The girl, who mostly gazes into emptiness, is unusually reticent, saying little other than "Oh! Oh!" and "Goodnight, love," but in spite of this--or because of it--she becomes the ultimate object of Nathaniel's desire, invested with endless significance and metaphysical force: "She says but a few words, that is true, but these few words appear as genuine hieroglyphs of an inner world full of love and a higher knowledge of the spiritual life in contemplation of the eternal Beyond" (117). As Mladen Dolar puts it, "A blank screen, empty eyes, and an 'Oh!': it is enough to drive anybody crazy with love" (144). John's relationship with Vivien initially involves even fewer words from the beloved and an even blanker screen. "Great to see you the other night. Happy Christmas" (34), reads a text message that magically appears on his cellphone, which, in spite of his reply, remains blank and mute for weeks afterward, staring into emptiness. And when the texting resumes, its sparseness exceeds even Olympia's: "it was just normal stuff," he explains to Ian, "Nothing. 'How are you doing?'" (36). This mere "nothing," for John, is simultaneously akin to something from the realms of the fantastic, reverberating with the potential of an otherworldly, unimaginable domain.

Contemporary text-affairs, we could say, go even further than Hoffmann. Nathaniel is in the presence of a body of sorts whereas the text message only gestures to one. This indexical status is also, of course, the source of the text's magic. Arriving from an undefined place, evoking only the silhouette of its sender, it opens the space for fantasy and desire. This paradox is brought to its fetishistic extreme in John, for whom a text from Vivien assumes sublime proportions, something upon which reality itself comes precariously to hinge: "I wanted to look at it again as something to hang on to" (35). But the comparison with Hoffmann also encourages a strange inversion. As Dolar explains:
   [T]he problem is not simply that Olympia turns out to be an
   automaton [...] and is thus in the uncanny area between the living
   and the dead; it is that Nathaniel strangely reacts in a mechanical
   way; his love for an automaton is itself automatic, his fiery
   feelings are mechanically produced [...] The question arises as to
   who is the real automaton in the situation[.] (144)


Even John's awkward articulation of his passion presents it as something "automated," an extension of the mechanical device that conveyed the text: "something had ... I mean whatever it triggered off ... you know ... here I was all of a sudden, just really thinking about this woman" (35). Or as he puts it later, "I was like a robot" (39).

If, as Blanco and Peeren observe, "the everyday exhibits an ever-growing reliance on spectral technologies like the Internet, mobile telephony, and digitalized media" (xiv), Shining City demonstrates the kind of cross-fertilization--between figurative and non-figurative ghosts--that they recognize as a defining feature of contemporary ghost-art. Technology in John's "dreaming back" reflects the seepage of spectrality into the stuff of daily life. To go a step further, this link with technology also opens new dimensions in the discussion of spatial dynamics, and here we might draw on what Eugene O'Brien refers to, in a book on Globalisation and Ireland, as "spectral mobile subjectivity" (68). Mobile phones and text messaging have had a profound impact on our relation to space, "deconstructing" notions of presence: "[N]o longer do we go to a specific place to make a phone call, or to use a computer or access the internet" (68)--these communications are increasingly liberated from material correlatives. We should add that this technological "spectralization" is far from a merely thematic element in a production of Shining City, insofar as, in the theatre, we will almost certainly be reminded before the performance to disable our own cell phones. If, as John Stokes puts it, "clicking one's mobile for a reassuring text has become as compulsive a reality check as reaching for a nervous cigarette once used to be," the theatre is a place that deprives our reality of a key support--even as it forcibly grounds us in a single space.

O'Brien argues that the spectralization inherent to texting is not limited to the exchange itself, or to the person whom one is texting. The recent phenomenon of "people talking in company with friends and texting someone else at the same time" gives rise to a fundamentally ontological question: "Are they fully present in actuality or in text?" (86). If Vivien, through the cellular phone, is spectrally present for John as he goes about his everyday life with Mari, John himself, in spite of his bodily presence, becomes a specter in relation to Mari. As the illicit texting increases in frequency--"it continued then all day really" (35)--he and Mari continue to talk, shop, go for walks together, but he is not really there, existing more fully in an immaterial text-reality which evades his wife's empirical perceptions. In such instances, as O'Brien remarks, texters are "spectrally present to the person to whom they are [actually] talking" (86). Shining City encourages us to twist this paradox even further--John illustrates not only how an utterly spectral communication can assume intense substantiality, but how its force is in fact heightened by its ghostly status: "Nothing is as strong as a secret like that, I mean for binding two people. In my mind anyway!" (37).

It is this very dynamic which is threatened when John and Vivien do meet for a flesh-and-blood date. John's selection of a restaurant "miles out of the way" (37) reflects a desire not simply to avoid being caught but also to preserve Vivien as eminently distant from his everyday realm. What ultimately threatens this fantasy-space is not simply the fact that a corporeal Vivien can never compete with his fantasy-image. The fantasy's substantiality is initially intensified by the entrance of the "real thing": "I couldn't believe it when I saw her coming through the door. [...] This is real" (38). What primarily undermines the fantasy is the congestion of those lacks and empty spaces that had characterized their previous spectral communication. In her nervousness, Vivien "just starts talking, talking, talking" (38), and this excess of speech, deprived of the very gaps and openings that had fueled desire, functions almost instantly to threaten her sublime status: "And there was this horrible feeling that all this going on and on was just really a bit annoying, you know?" (38). The amorous encounter quickly transforms into a battle to preserve the fantasy on which John's very reality has come to depend. "I didn't want the whole ... illusion of it ... wrecked," he explains, emphasizing both the precarious nature of the objet a and the way it can serve as a fundamental support: "I was putting everything into this--the whole lot--all the eggs in the one basket" (38).

The whole venture ultimately fails horribly, not because of guilt over the transgression but because the delicate balance of the objet a is disrupted. In Lacanese, the scene stages a disturbing passage a l'acte--the would-be lovers, in their desperation to preserve illusion from the corrosive effects of over-proximity, pass far too quickly to the act itself. John interrupts Vivien's nervous chatter by "madly" confessing his need to "hold" her, and he is both surprised and repulsed when she so blankly succumbs: "she goes, 'Yeah, okay, let's ...' But then I'm like slightly, like 'Don't just do this for me!'" (39). What follows in the "freezing" hotel room (39) is the true horror ("frightening really") of a physical exchange entirely deprived of spectral dimensions:
   And we ... started ... sort of ... kissing, but, I wasn't ... it
   was just so obvious that this wasn't what she wanted. And to tell
   you the truth I was completely out of practice and I ... tried to
   put my hand up her skirt and ... you know, but she just stopped me.
   And neither of us were ... it was just a huge mistake. [...] It was
   just fucking awful to tell you the truth. (39)


John recognizes that the most intense moment was also the most spectral moment, now forever lost: "I wanted to just go back to before, when we were just going to meet, you know?" (39). The paramour thus offers a vivid demonstration of Zizek's assertion that, in the objet a, the "highest and the lowest coincide" (Fragile 49): it is inscribed with the "ever-present threat that the one will shift into the other, that the sublime Grail will reveal itself to be nothing but a piece of shit" (26). In John's own words, his sublime object shifts in the space of moments from "a dream--of a ... special communication or a secret ... relationship" to "a piece of shit" (40).

John's loss of Mari and her subsequent spectral reappearance are thus juxtaposed with a prior loss. What vanishes for John is the spectral it itself, the "something more" exceeding appearances and everyday reality. His brothel visitation, fast on the heels of Vivien's horrifying "de-sublimation," is a desperate attempt to affirm the existence of a domain (of true enjoyment, or what Lacan might call transgressive jouissance) beyond his daily life. The dismal failure of this mission--he is ignored at the brothel, then beaten and thrown out for complaining--leaves him bereft of the very fantasy of "something more" behind the everyday scene, deprived, in Zizek's terms, of "any hope that an escape is possible from the constraints of meaningless everyday life" (Opera 134). Unlike Yeats's Cuchulain, John's issue is not primarily guilt over having indulged in pleasures beyond marital Law (technically speaking he has not even successfully transgressed) but rather the deadlock and suffocation of a reality deprived of the specter of this very dimension. Life with Mari is technically no different from before, except it has been stripped of its fantasmatic support, a shimmering otherness for which John "was always slightly ... waiting" (30).

It is here, I'd argue, that McPherson's play is most innovative in its engagement with everyday spectrality. The play encourages us not only to interrogate the haunted relationship between past and present--the playwright's technique consists in a shift from a temporal to a topographical dynamic, such that two modes of haunting are placed side-by-side. Simply put, John's house was already haunted well before the death of Mari. "Everything just developed into a kind of paralysis," he explains of his relationship with her--"You just can't fucking move, you know?" (45). This paralysis finds a direct correlation in his response to the spectral visitation: "And I fucking just stood there, I froze" (12). In both cases--before and after Mari's physical death--John is dislocated from his dwelling by an unnerving, repulsive presence: "I started pretending I had to stay down the country, for work, you know, overnight, but I was really just staying in places just so that I didn't have to deal with the terrible pressure of going home" (40-1). The dynamic of everyday life with Mari (subsequent to the failure of his affairs) is set side-by-side John's later haunted condition--each is marked by an uncanny paralysis, a combined inability to be at "home" and to definitively move on or out.

The point is not, of course, that the two situations are directly analogous--they might rather be said to occupy the same place on two sides of a Mobius strip. The specter haunting John after Mari's death finds its "speculative correlative" in the claustrophobic paralysis of life deprived of supplementary spectral dimensions. Literal hauntedness--an encounter with something that threatens to deprive everyday life of its stability--brings into vivid relief the paralyzing hauntedness correlative to an inability to find sublimity in the everyday.

Other People's Ghosts: the Specter as Fetish

While John's monologues offer tremendous scope for a performer (Oliver Platt was nominated for a Tony Award for his "absolutely riveting" performance in the Broadway production [Scheck]), to analyse only the stories he tells would be to ignore the most vital feature of the play's onstage dynamic, i.e., the way John's delivery is supplemented and complicated by the constant onstage presence of Ian. If, in the theatre, silent characters are always capable of "speaking volumes," the silence of a therapist is a peculiarly complex inscription. In psychoanalytic terminology, Ian plays the ghostly role of what Lacan refers to as the "subject supposed to know," a necessary specter in the process of transference. "The patient talks," writes Zizek, "and the analyst's silence stands for the absent meaning of the patient's talk, the meaning supposed to be contained in [what Lacan calls] the big Other" (Less 515). The analyst's ability to serve as a provisional stand-in for this big Other, temporarily occupying its place, is what "induces the patient into 'free associations'" (Dolar 147). John offers his lengthy and often desultory accounts of the past for a qualified professional who will, supposedly, "put the pieces together," understand the larger meanings of his symptoms, help generate a coherent narrative in which the ghost will assume clear significance. John's statement, that in Vivien he was putting "all the eggs in the one basket" (38), is not a bad way of describing transference itself: the analyst serves as "basket" or fundamental support to the fragile and undeveloped elements of the patient's free-associated recollections.

In this light, live productions of Shining City invite parallels between the narrated relationship and the one enacted before us. John's affair with Vivien, who, for all the sparseness of her communication, exerted an immense impact on his world, finds a paradoxical correlative in his onstage dynamic with Ian, who says even less, who remains an even more enigmatic cipher, and whose impact is directly related to the (sublime) place he occupies in John's symbolic order. Dolar's analysis of "The Sandman" evokes a similar link, noting how Nathaniel's relationship with Olympia prefigures clinical analysis: "the analyst, too, utters at the most an 'Oh!' here and there (and perhaps a 'Good night, love!'); he makes himself an automaton" (148). There is, of course, a big difference between how the objet a functions in romantic relationships vis-a-vis therapeutic sessions, but from a psychoanalytic perspective, McPherson's juxtaposition of these domains (romantic and clinical) sheds light on the paradoxical way in which love operates in the clinic itself. Transference love, Dolar suggests, is "perhaps love in its strictest and purest sense" (147), no less transcendent than romantic love insofar as it evokes a domain beyond phenomenal appearances--the big Other as a "ghostly" domain wherein the ultimate meaning of the patient's symptoms resides. In this concluding section I will suggest that it is apropos of transference and the big Other that the theatrical dynamics of McPherson's final scene--in which the ghost of Mari physically appears on stage--shed most revealing light on everyday spectrality. The crucial feature of the play resides in its exploration of a kind of inverse transference--at stake are the spectral dynamics of the therapist's own reality.

The play's conclusion has had its share of detractors. Michael Feingold's review of the Broadway production could hardly condemn more categorically the ghost's appearance: "[T]he curtain fell, on a trick ending so glib, arbitrary, and pointless that it reduces the play to a cheap and not very scary ghost story." Mari's apparition is either a juvenile stunt, out of place in an otherwise insightful drama, or an unnecessarily heavy-handed thematic device, telling us "something we already knew" (i.e., "the therapist has solved the patient's problems but not his own").

We could defend McPherson from a number of angles here. As Roche argues, the materialization of ghosts has a long legacy in Ireland: "its drama insists on the presence of ghosts and on their corporeality, refusing a purely symbolic treatment as unreal and a form of betrayal of the dead" (44). McPherson himself has also spoken unabashedly of his attraction to theatrical ghost-play as an end in its own right. In a recent article he praises the staging of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Remorse "in which a woman rose from the dead":

Coleridge was proud of the feeling generated in the audience at this moment. He was struck by how moved--and fascinated--they seemed to be. He had managed, for a few moments, to get the audience to suspend their disbelief. They had accepted the impossible. [...] It's an ambition I share and understand. ("The Veil at the National Theatre")

Many critics of Shining City seem to share and understand this ambition too. Referring to the same production as Feingold, Frank Scheck calls the ending "absolutely chilling"--"Suffice it to say that you won't want to find yourself at home alone anytime soon." For Brantley it was not only "the most shocking ending on Broadway" but also "an inspired alternative to those inadequate tools of communication called words."

I suggest we can take a further step here by observing the complexities of McPherson's characters and the subtleties of the apparition's staging. This ghost appears far less "arbitrary" than Feingold claims when considered beside Ian's previous statements:
   John, there was a time I would've given anything to see one. Just
   to know that there was ... something else. [...] Just something
   else, besides all the ... you know ... the pain and the confusion.
   Just something that gave everything . some meaning, you know? I'm
   talking about God, really, you know? (63)


In a first step, ghosts are cast as a sign of a transcendent "something else," equivalent to Lacan's big Other, a framework that bestows "meaning" on the contingency and seeming arbitrariness of life (e.g., "the pain and the confusion"). This ghost wouldn't need to bear a specific message in order to speak--the medium would be the message. As a supernatural entity it would testify to something other than phenomenal reality, a transcendent gaze for which apparently contingent events are meaningful, even if that meaning is unspecified or unknowable to us. Ian directly links this "something else" with God, though it is not difficult to recognize parallels with the "subject supposed to know," the mere supposition of which exerts efficiency on the patient.

If Mari's ghost, in this light, "gives body" to Ian's desire to retain a big Other in spite of having renounced the church, two peculiar features of the apparition encourage us to complicate this dynamic. First, the ghost that appears in the room with Ian does not, properly speaking, belong to him--it is someone else's ghost, not simply a revenant from a previous time but from another's tale. Why should Ian be visited by John's dead wife Mari? Second, although this ghost appears on stage, Ian himself does not directly perceive it--the play ends before his gaze alights on it: "he seems to sense something and turns. Lights down" (65). What is the status of this ghost that the audience sees before the character himself has seen it?

Zizek's exploration of the contemporary "de-subjectivization" of belief may be of particular value here, especially apropos the issue of everyday specters. When Zizek asserts that, today, "the true formula of atheism is not 'God is dead,' but 'God is unconscious'" ("Dialectic" 297), he has in mind the ways in which we may, like Ian, subjectively disavow God per se, while nonetheless living as though some form of big Other were operative and capable of bestowing structure or larger significance on experienced reality. Perhaps this is not simply a matter of giving a different name to our belief ("I don't believe in God, but I do believe in ghosts, or teleological forces, or ..."). Ian, after all, desperately wanted to believe (in "something") but could find no grounds for it. The Zizekian twist consists in recognizing how belief can function even when de-subjectivized. I do not need directly to assume belief in order for its structural benefits to be preserved in my life. It is enough to believe that others believe. The "subject supposed to believe"--Zizek's variation on the Lacanian "subject supposed to know"--designates the way in which we can believe through others.

To take another example from contemporary drama, perhaps the profoundest (if inadvertent) insight of John Pielmeier's Agnes of God can be located in its staging of this transferential dynamic. The psychiatrist Dr. Livingstone, though personally antagonistic toward religion and faith in the unverifiable, is increasingly fascinated by the young nun Agnes and the supposed purity of her conviction. Livingstone does not directly believe--or even want to believe--in miracles or God, maintaining from such things a safe distance; yet she simultaneously finds renewal and undergoes a vital "healing" via her supposition that someone else believes so forcefully. The play inadvertently stages what Zizekian psychoanalysis considers the true miracle, the miracle of another who believes for us, by virtue of whom we can retain the benefits of belief without really believing.

In this light, the most revealing interpretation of Shining City's ghost is also the most literal. The dead Mari does not simply represent the ways in which "ghosts of the past" continue to lurk in our lives. What we (enlightened subjects of the twenty-first century) may not have cured ourselves of are other people's ghosts--ghosts that may function all the more forcefully insofar as we do not assume them directly. Just as the characters in Shining City forever live in other people's homes, so they leech off each other's ghosts, relying upon them for a precarious, temporary stability.

It is also in this light that the theatrical dynamic of McPherson's conclusion takes on particular importance. At the precise moment when Ian, who "senses" something, turns his gaze toward the ghost, the playwright calls for a blackout. We have here, in its most basic form, what Lacanian psychoanalysis refers to as anamorphosis. As Zizek explains, the anamorphotic object (like the objet a) appears only when it is perceived obliquely ("as its own shadow"), when it is not gazed at straight on--"if we cast a direct glance at it we see nothing, a mere void" (Metastases 95). The ghost hovers to the side of Ian, exerting conspicuous influence on him, but when he turns to look directly at it, the show is over. Our contemporary relation to specters is similarly anamorphotic. That which, when looked at directly, strikes us as an obvious illusion, may nonetheless influence us obliquely.

If the ghost were no more than a symptom of Ian's inability to liberate himself from the past (the influence of the church, and correlative guilt regarding a gay sexuality), we could agree with Feingold--all it does is "symbolically" reinforce what Ian's decision to marry Neasa already tells us. What a Zizekian lens accentuates is not the symptomal but rather the fetishistic functioning of the ghost as such. Fetishism, in this sense,

does not operate at the level of "mystification" and "distorted knowledge": what is literally "displaced" in the fetish, transferred onto it, is not knowledge but illusion itself, the belief threatened by knowledge. Far from obfuscating "realistic" knowledge of how things are, the fetish is, on the contrary, the means that enables the subject to accept this knowledge without paying the full price for it[.] (Defense 300)

Ian is able to accept a world divested of the consoling "illusions" associated with God, deprived of the home that religion purports to provide, but the play's concluding moments reveal the way this "realistic" view is sustainable insofar as he retains a fetish in which illusion is displaced. These moments offer a vivid illustration of Zizek's insistence on the way everyday life, for even the staunchest empiricist, is supported by oblique relations to other people's ghosts. We should note that Mari's appearance coincides with the mundane tasks of Ian's everyday social existence--he is "at his desk, going through some old posts" (65).

We could risk an additional step here. Perhaps the answer to the question, "Why, in spite of his adamant insistence on parting from Neasa in scene two, is Ian now marrying her and taking up a conventional, heteronormative lifestyle?" is not simply that he is constrained by haunting remnants of his personal and cultural past. Such a reading gives us a relatively static character--an Ian who was always-already bound by ghosts, never really capable of moving on--and it overlooks the important ways in which his encounter with John has changed him. The most frightening reading is the more dynamic one. Ian's encounter with John (this "subject supposed to believe") is what enables him to marry Neasa and to resign himself to this conventional lifestyle. A man who, at the play's beginning, seemed driven to take radical, transformative steps in his life is now willing to consign himself to a determined social role insofar as he has found a fantasmatic supplement, a fetish to cling to. It is also in this light, we should note, that McPherson's play departs from and indeed inverts the dynamic of Murphy's Gigli Concert, in which the therapist J. P. W. King, initially trapped in self-destructive habits, is ultimately saved and transformed through his relationship to his patient's fantasy (85). Murphy's therapist opens the office door and goes out, his future uncertain yet open, whereas McPherson's therapist, supported by his spectral fetish, is moving out only to move backward. What is truly frightening, from my Zizekian angle, is how the persistent "returns" of such spectral supplements (which we may consciously disavow) squelch opportunities for substantial change.

This intersubjective dynamic also applies in the inverse direction, offering insight into what may be Shining City's most compelling "psychoanalytic" mystery. Why does John, an otherwise rational, enlightened man who "regards himself as a benchmark for normality" (8), emerge from therapy more assured than ever of the reality of ghosts, remaining attached to his symptom in spite of having understood its "meanings" and worked through the crises it reflects? What may become forcefully apparent in the subtext of performance is how John's belief (i.e., that what he experienced was, in no uncertain terms, a ghost) is more than partially a product of his therapist's own desire. Like a good performer, John senses what his auditor--who "would've given anything to see one"--yearns for. By clinging resolutely to the reality of the symptom, he makes himself an object of the Other's desire. He comes to believe as his therapist needs him to.

McPherson's drama, considered in this way, ultimately enables us to interrogate what may be a primary source of its own attraction. Simply put, it seems genuinely to believe, to take its ghosts seriously. Like John, a McPherson play may well convey a rational air; it may delve perspicaciously into a range of pressing and complex questions about human beings; but it does not seem inclined, in the process, to disown its ghosts. Its intellectual propensities are not equivalent to acquiescence to empirical reality, and this attachment to "something else" may appear especially novel in a medium which, in contemporary times, tends to carry such an aura of intellectual seriousness and liberal skepticism. What we risk overlooking, in a critical approach that simply "interprets" ghosts (i.e., as symptoms of unconscious crises, desires, etc.) is the way the ghosts of contemporary theatre may function as ghosts for us. Ian reflects contemporary audience members back at themselves: apparently analytical, subjectively disavowing the supernatural, yet nonetheless desiring belief--and thereby influencing the stories playwrights offer them.

If theatre, in Alice Rayner's words, is a place to "discover the material reality of what is not" (xv), McPherson's Shining City offers an extraordinarily rich grounds for discovery, dramatizing the complex range of ways in which specters are active in the everyday.

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Author:Wolfe, Graham
Publication:Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:4EUIR
Date:Mar 22, 2013
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