“To Look at Oneself and All the While See Nothing”: Haunting, Testimony and Mediated Memory in I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House

Josh Grant-Young


This article explores the topic of mediated memory as expressed in the film I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House (2016), chiefly concerned with the challenge of communicating memory from a spectral position. As the film’s narrative is related to audiences through the testimony of the ghost of Lily Saylor, it seems crucial to establish how one might commune with ghosts (or phantoms). In the first section of the article, I compare the richly mined conception of hauntology as imparted by Jacques Derrida and the recently re-examined precursor to his thought in the psychoanalytic tradition, expressed by Nicolas Abraham and Mária Török. Following a comparative analysis, I take up both as methods for interpreting the film, considering how each might speak to various hauntological themes in the film which correspond with their accounts (temporal indeterminacy, the role of memory, testimony and the past, trauma and the nature of ghosts/phantoms). A secondary concern of the film, explored through a feminist reading of the film, is the role of women and their confinement and silencing within the domestic.  Finally, I consider the question of what is to be done with the specters in the film: should one follow Derrida’s ethical injunction to make space for the spectral, or ought one exorcize the potentially malevolent influence of the spectral on our lives and break the recurring cycle of transgenerational trauma that it haunts us with?


mediation; testimony; hauntology; memory; I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House

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Filmography & Other Media

Body Heat. Dir. Richard H Kline, USA, Warner Bros. Pictures, 1981. 113 minutes.

I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House. Dir. Osgood Perkins, USA/Canada, Netflix, 2016. 87 minutes.

The Shining. Dir. Stanley Kubrick, USA, Hawk Films, Warner Bros. Pictures, 1980. 144 minutes.

‘You Keep Coming Back Like A Song’ Blue Skies. Perf. Bing Crosby, John Scott Trotter and His Orchestra. Decca, UK, 1946, 2 mins, 50 secs.


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Journal of Communication and Languages |  ISSN 2183-7198

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.