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Absent friends: Edward Bond's corporeal ghosts

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  • W400 Drama
  • Astronomy
  • Design
  • Philosophy
  • Political Science


This paper provides a genealogy of Edward Bond’s use of the ghost in his drama and interrogates the symbolic function that it performs in his political and aesthetic cosmology. It argues that Bond’s deployment of the ghost is a signifier of a materialist aesthetic that counter-intuitively embeds these ethereal figures within the corporeal, attributing the same material properties to them as living characters and thereby locating them squarely within his own scheme of affective biopolitics which understands the body as a site upon which the operations of power are painfully inscribed. Using Bond’s theoretical postulation of the late-capitalist world as a ‘posthumous’ society, the paper reads Bond’s ghosts as the distilled essences of the oppressively dead and dehumanising societies depicted in the plays which he believes should be discarded or rejected, with a particular focus on their unique materiality and specifically corporeal spectrality. Beginning with the metaphorically dead society of Saved (1965), with Harry’s white-clad appearance the first iteration of a revenant in Bond’s oeuvre, the paper examines the ghosts of Early Morning (1968), Lear (1971), and The War Plays (1985), culminating in Bond’s most recent, and, perhaps, virtuosic use of the ghost: the reanimation of the undead host of KZ Muselmänner in Born (2006). The paper proposes that in this final scene, the conjunction between the constantly redeployed trope of the living dead in Bond’s plays and the nuclei of ideas in his theoretical writings associated with the difficulty of producing what he terms ‘humanness’ or ‘human values’ in a ‘posthumous’ society come startlingly together.

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