uGogo: Residing with the Spectral in South Africa

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Seminar Date
April 28, 2010
This paper is an ethnographic exploration of the otherworldly; a telling of events that focuses on the shared imaginary of the mystical, a ghost living inside a condemned apartment complex in the city center of Durban, South Africa. There is no singular or definitive explanation that accounts for why this apparition emerged as it did when it did, taking on the particular form that it did: that of an elderly, Zulu grandmother (uGogo). I never saw uGogo. I merely witnessed her aftereffects, a participant to the despair and turmoil that always followed in her wake. Here I do not intend to undermine the reality of uGogo by situating her within an episteme of ghostly encounters. uGogo is not about truth versus fiction, fact versus fantasy. Rather my investigation of uGogo, like many anthropological accounts of the mystical, entails a fundamental consideration of everyday social action. As such I emphasize the experiential effects of uGogo, the oppositional forces of life and death that give shape and meaning to her presence. Furthermore I argue that to vanish unexpectedly is not just an attribute of the spectral. It is the lived reality of all those who live inside this apartment building. Still even in absence, in the dissolution of the material, a lingering presence remains – a memory of the deceased, the departed, the displaced, and the lost.
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