The narrative is underpinned by a sense of unrest in the face of the political, social, and environmental landscape of the twenty-first century. The film introduces Jacques Derrida’s concept of hauntology through its anachronistic temporal structure, a partially veiled narrative suggesting responsibility to those dead and those not yet born, and a character who is haunted by the past in the face of a future still to come. [31]

Short extracts from Spectres of Marx feature in the closing section of the film describing the human as unheimlich. What post-concussive syndrome bought to the fore was a sense of the fragility of selfhood. Some time into the illness, I reflected upon knowing that I was not always like this, but was unable to recall how I had previously felt. With mental illness came an uncertainty of who I was in the world and an awareness of the precarious times in which we live. 

Colin Davis considers the similarities between the phantom of Abraham and Torok and the spectre of hauntology.[32] Derrida’s spectre is a deconstructive figure that opens up uncertainty and brings into question the self-sufficiency of the living present.[33] Abraham and Torok see the phantom as the presence of a dead ancestor in the living ego.

Some of the atrocities recounted in the voice-over of Unhomely Street are little known. Most, for good reason, are not dwelt upon. Combined they amount to humankind’s dark secrets that impact upon the collective living ego, like Abraham and Torok’s transgenerational phantom. 

In Spectres of Marx, Derrida criticises Francis Fukuyama’s ‘jubilation of youthful enthusiasm’,[34] reminding us that in the 1950s he had the ‘bread of the apocalypse’ in his mouth.’[35] When Derrida talks of the ‘apocalyptic tone in philosophy’,[36] he describes Fukuyama as late for the funeral. However, this déjà vu can also be seen as a growing trend, gathering pace in light of historical events. Although eschatological contemplation is a cross-cultural, pan-historical human tendency, the increasingly widespread use of the term Anthropocene among geological scientists — a term referring to a proposed epoch in which human activity impacts on the Earth’s ecosystem — suggests that the arrival of the industrial revolution in the late eighteenth century could mark a new geological period.

Regarding the future-to-come, Derrida considers whether its expectation prepares for its coming or if it ‘recalls the repetition of the same’.[37] This sentiment is echoed in the film by the protagonist’s expectation that history will repeat itself. When Derrida talks of ‘the extremity of the extreme today’,[38] and suggests that the future can only ‘announce’ itself in relation to a ‘past end’ or ‘last extremity’, he describes a future as informed by the past.[39]

Mark Fisher interprets hauntology as characteristic of these times, that we live in an age of mental illness, unable to envisage an alternative future.[40] With reference to popular music but also presented as a wider mood of the times, Fisher describes the twenty-first-century as ‘oppressed by a crushing sense of finitude and exhaustion’.[41] In Ghosts of My Life, he describes his writing as a process of ‘externalising negativity’ that helped him work through depression.[42] 

I account for the negative tone of Unhomely Street in the first instance by the emotions resulting from brain damage. The quality of thought images are a representation of that tone but the specific content must be attributed to the socio-historic field: Unhomely Street is a twenty-first-century film and expresses the mood of the times. If one is anxious, one must be anxious about something, and in seeking what that about might be, the mood of the times offers plenty to be anxious about. In some ways, hauntology, as accounted by Fisher, could amount to a sort of mental ‘flu’ that I caught at a time when I was susceptible to illness. One of the defining characteristics of the condition was living in a present that was wholly defined by a past (a history of atrocity) that would undeniably bring about a certain future (repetition of the same). Ultimately living with this view was unsustainable and I found I had captured Julia Kristeva’s metaphor: ‘I spit myself out’.[43]

I question why historical atrocities, some of which I have known about for years, became such an obsessive focus. The material body is made of cells, each of which individually demonstrates an inclination towards survival. A brain injury is likely to promote defence action on the part of the psyche and could account for the obsessive anxiety and preoccupation with death. If Damasio is correct, then the images in my mind arose from my physiological state, although this does not account for the specificity of these images.

[31] Derrida, 1994.

[32] Colin Davis, ‘E´tat Présent Hauntology, Spectres and Phantoms’, French Studies, 59.3 (2005), 373–379.<> accessed 08/09/17

[33] See Frederic Jameson, ‘Marx’s Purloined Letter’, in Jacques Derrida and Terry Eagleton et. al., Ghostly Demarcations: A Symposium on Jacques Derrida's Spectres of Marx (London: Verso, 2008).

[34] Derrida, 1994,  p.17.

[35] Derrida,  1994, p.16.

[36] Derrida,  1994, p. 16.

[37] Derrida,  1994, p. 45.

[38] Derrida,  1994, p. 45.

[39] Events that became the focus of post-concussive syndrome anxiety were the Holocaust (1941‒1945), and lesser known atrocities of the second Sino-Japanese War (1937‒1945) including the Rape of Nanking and Unit 731, a human experimentation research unit that saw the death of an estimated quarter of a million people. 

[40] Fisher, 2014, pp. 1‒47.

[41] Fisher, 2014, p. 8.

[42] Fisher, 2014, p.29. It is with sadness that I re-read this chapter as Mark Fisher tragically lost his battle with depression earlier this year.

[43] Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, trans. Leon S. Roudiez, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), p. 3.


I find the words of Kristeva reflect my feelings when she describes her depression in uncanny terms, as ‘lethargic rays’ of a black sun coming from some ‘eerie galaxy’.[44] She writes:

I owe a supreme, metaphysical lucidity to my depression. On the frontiers of life and death, occasionally I have the arrogant feeling of being witness to the meaninglessness of Being, of revealing the absurdity of bonds and beings.[45]

With the view that the power of destructive forces has never been as unquestionable and unavoidable as now,[46] she describes a perverse aspect to the depressive affect, often visible in works of art, that fills a void and evicts death.[47] She later indicates that this ‘taming’ of sorrow, and allowing grief to settle, may be a defensive act to protect against death.[48] She asks whether the ‘beautiful object’ — the work of art — can be sad, and whether this beauty follows war and destruction as a testament to the possibility of surviving death, of immortality.[49]

[44] Julia Kristeva, Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1992), p. 3.

[45] Kristeva, 1992, p. 4.

[46] Kristeva, p. 221.

[47] Kristeva, p. 48.

[48] Kristeva, p. 84–5.

[49] Kristeva, p. 97–8.