Rachel Stevens racheljstevens at gmail.com
Tue Nov 26 08:30:58 AEDT 2019

Greetings! Thank you so much for the opportunity to join in this magical
and generative discussion.

I have my *Two Chairs* (curatorial collective) hat on today and am happy to
share with you an exhibition currently on (October 29-December 7) at
Bennington College called *Queer Paranormal (an exhibition concerning
Shirley Jackson and The Haunting of Hill House)*. The exhibition occupies
the Usdan Gallery, Jennings music building, The Lens at CAPA and the field
between these sites. The show was curated by Two Chairs in collaboration
with Anne Thompson, Director of the Usdan Gallery and the participating
artists are: Peggy Ahwesh, APRIORI, Tony Do, Anna Campbell, Lana Lin, Susan
MacWilliam, Senem Pirler, Susan MacWilliam, Macon Reed, Zoe Walsh.


Today I am posting the Two Chairs essay laying out specific frameworks for
the exhibition. In the coming days I will post information on projects by
each of the ten artists/artist collectives that activate these ideas and
the spaces on campus still haunted by the legacy of writer Shirley Jackson.

*Full disclosure:* Margaretha is one of APRIORI (Efren Cruz Cortes;
Margaretha Haughwout; Suzanne Husky; Ela: [Lynne DeSilva Johnson]; and Gabi
Schaffzin). More on them later, but I want to mention that I personally am
excited by the ways in which their work extends ideas of queer and
paranormal beyond the human/human sexuality, while managing to be
generative for humans. Aspiring young witches and botanical agents on
campus can take away information, spells, seeds and mugwort bundles from
the in-gallery kiosk or learn from the signage identifying spell-casting
properties and associations of plantings in the field.

/ / / / /

*Queer Paranormal (an exhibition concerning Shirley Jackson and The
Haunting of Hill House)*

This exhibition includes a range of artistic practices haunted by
historical, political, and sexual difference. Framed around Shirley
Jackson's classic novel The Haunting of Hill House and its 1963 film
iteration, *Queer Paranormal* explores the limits of the corporeal, the
architectural, and the ontological. The works and ideas we've assembled
form productive relations and identifications among artists, theorists, the
author, her novel and the subsequent film.

The setting of Jackson's narrative is an alleged haunted house, in which a
scientist has staged a gathering of susceptible strangers to find evidence
of the supernatural. Described in the film as "an undiscovered country
waiting to be explored," the house is the locus of an indeterminate force
that disrupts the hegemonic ordering of the symbolic through the
superimposition of the paranormal along with a queer rerouting of desire.
Asserting that the paranormal is queer opens up a range of possibilities in
relation to its routine constituent—the normal—as Olu Jenzen and Sally Munt
describe in *Paranormal and Social Change*:

Sitting aside—maybe astride—the normal, its parallel purpose is to be
askew, to perform a queer reflection, to uphold a distorting mirror. It is
therefore in perception that social change begins. Being able to think or
to see  "otherwise" proffers imaginative forms, potential forms, ghostly
forms even. Because we are always other to ourselves, the paranormal pushes
out that which can be seen or known, and hence dynamics of alterity can
take hold. Take possession of us. Make manifest the strange. Mobilize
affect and collective embodiment. Embody the spirit of change. (i)

Both housebound and visionary, Jackson was a longtime resident of North
Bennington, while her husband taught at Bennington College. There she wrote
seven novels and short story collections, three works of nonfiction, and
three children's books, all while raising four children and struggling with
the pressures of the prevailing domestic ideology. As Jonathan Lethem
(Bennington, '86) writes about Jackson:

The relentless, undeniable core of her writing ... conveys a vast intimacy
with everyday evil, with the pathological undertones of prosaic human
configurations: a village, a family, a self. She disinterred the wickedness
in normality, cataloguing the ways conformity and repression tip into
psychosis, persecution, and paranoia, into cruelty and its masochistic,
injury-cherishing twin. (ii)

In addition to being a PTA member and faculty-wife, Jackson was the author
of the acclaimed and shocking short story "The Lottery," published in *The
New Yorker* in 1948. In her following short story collection, which with
the "The Lottery" included stories that explored the tyranny of
heterosexual relationships in mid-century America, Jackson added selections
from a seventeenth-century book on witchcraft, Glanvill's *Saducismus
Triumphatus*, to introduce each section. Jackson's interest in witchcraft
was well known and occasionally derided. Much to her dismay, editors and
publishers used it to promote her books, offering an easy target for
certain reviewers to slight them. W. G. Rogers wrote: "Miss Jackson writes
not with a pen but a broomstick." (iii) Yet her writing practice,
incorporating her interest in magic, witchcraft and the paranormal, was a
way to transcend the constraints of marriage, which, for Jackson, meant at
times the disintegration of (her)self. She writes:  "Just being a writer of
fiction gives you an unassailable protection against reality." (iv)

In The Haunting of Hill House, main characters Theo and Eleanor are
emphatically not married. Theo is a sophisticated, fashionable lesbian who,
in the film version, wears clothes by designer Mary Quant, while Eleanor
resembles a tired Hollywood lesbian stereotype: the spinster. The
interaction between Theo and Eleanor, each of whom embodies the paranormal
through their individual abilities or experiences in the realm of the
supernatural, is key to Jackson's novel and our exhibition. For example,
their contact takes a queer turn in the scene where Eleanor reaches out in
the night for Theodora's hand only to find that the hand she's been holding
is actually an apparition manifested by Hill House. That moment of
misaligned contact signals the original thought that prompted this
exhibition, where our lines of inquiry intersect. What Jackson has provided
is a masterful ghost story that embodies for us what Jose Esteban
Munoz, in *Cruising
Utopia*, characterizes as the way something "might represent a mode of
being and feeling that was then not quite there but nonetheless an
opening." (v)

Both hope and fear, Munoz explains, "are affective structures that can be
described as anticipatory." (vi) Eleanor, in particular, experiences both:
hope that being invited to participate in a parapsychological study will
enable her to move on to a more exciting chapter in her life, and fear of
what that chapter might be-­fear all the while compounded by the
supernatural goings on in Hill House. Or, as Jackson writes in her notes
for the novel: “The house is Eleanor." (vii)

It is important also to consider the telepathic Theo. In "The Canny
Lesbian," the concluding section of Patricia White's 1991 paper "Female
Spectator, Lesbian Specter: *The Haunting*" concerning the 1963 film
adaptation of *The Haunting of Hill House*, White hints at a way forward
for feminist film theory:

In developing a feminist film theory which would incorporate Theo, we might
recall the model of spectatorship she offers in the film. Telepathy, to
lesbians and gay men as historical readers and viewers, has always been an
alternative to our own mode of paranoiac spectatorship: Is it really there?

White touches here on our path to the queer paranormal, anticipating
Munoz's "queer visuality ... We may need to squint, to strain our vision
and force it to see otherwise, beyond the limited vista of the here and
now." (ix)


* Full title: *Anna Campbell, You know it pisses you off, because like
today, everything is so open and accepted and equal. Women, everyone goes
to where they wear slacks, and I could just kick myself in the ass, because
of all the opportunities I had that I had to let go because of my way. That
if J was able to dress the way I wanted and everything like that I, Christ,
I'd have it made, really. Makes you sick. And you look at the young people
today that are gay and they're financially well-off, they got tremendous
jobs, something that we couldn't take advantage of, couldn't have it. It
leaves you with a lot of bitterness too. I don't go around to the gay bars
much any more. It's not jealousy, it's bitterness. And I see these young
people, doesn't matter which way they go, whatever the mood suits them, got
tremendous jobs, and you just look at them, you know, they're happy kids,
no problems. You say 'God damn it, why couldn't I have that?' And you
actually get bitter, you don't even want to know them. I don't anyway.
'Cause i don't want to hear about it, don't tell me your success. Like we
were talking about archives, you know where mine is, scratched on a
shit-house wall, that's where it is. And all the dives in Buffalo that are
still standing with my name. That's it, that's all I got to show."*

—Two Chairs

(i)  Olu Jensen and Sally R. Munt, *The Ashgate Research Companion to
Paranormal Cultures *(New York: Routledge, 2016), 187.
(ii)  Shirley Jackson and Jonathan Lethem (introduction), *We Have Always
Lived in the Castle* (New York: Penguin, 2006), 258.
(iii) Ruth Franklin, *Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life* (New York:
W.W. Norton, 2017), 258.
(iv) Franklin, 261.
(v)  Jose Estaban Munoz, *Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer
Futurity *(New York: New York University Press, 2009), 9.
(vi)  Munoz, 3.
(vii). Franklin, 41 5.
(viii)  Patricia White, "Female Spectator, Lesbian Specter: The
Haunting," *Inside/Out:
Lesbian Theories*, Cay Theories (New York: Routledge, 1991), 169.
(ix)  Munoz, 22.

/ / /

Until soon!



Rachel Stevens
racheljstevens at gmail.com
rachel.stevens at hunter.cuny.edu

www.rachelstevens.net <http://rachelstevens.net/>
Editorial Board – Millennium Film Journal <http://www.mfj-online.org/>
Adjunct Assistant Professor – IMA MFA <http://ima-mfa.hunter.cuny.edu/>,
Film and Media Studies, Hunter College, NYC
Curatorial Collaborator – Two Chairs Projects
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