Ghost Stories

So, I’ve still been thinking about my deep-seated jealousy of the idea of a “traditional” song, that might have a bunch of different versions, but which a lot of folks know, and which a singer can show some prowess and generate good-will with her audience by performing, because the audience knows the song, or knows similar songs.

And I’ve been trying to think of when in writing you encounter something similar.  NM mentioned when folks perform Shakespeare, but again, they’re performing.

I think, though, that there’s something to that–that it’s not just the thing (the song, the story, the play) but the performance of it in a way that generates participation that is important.

And so I’ve been thinking about ghost stories.  Here’s something that has an oral componant–people tell them–and a written componant–people write them down and publish them in books or on the internet or collect them–and a performative componant–people retell them or go hunting for those ghosts.  And then, in order for the story to be and remain meaningful, it must seem somewhat plausible, have an easy to remember set of “facts,” and something that is creepy or sad or surprising or… what you might say is some kind of pithy ending… that lingers in your audience’s mind and then causes them to try to turn around and tell it themselves.

This appeals to me.

5 thoughts on “Ghost Stories

  1. I like that. When I was a ghost tour guide in the French Quarter, I never tried to represent my stories as truthful – I thought of them as oral traditions. When folks (usually men, honestly) challenged me by saying they’d heard a similar story somewhere else before, I’d say that there must be some reason that some stories are told over and over while others are not – some stories resonate with the human condition, or something like that.
    And I said these things to maintain an air of authority in order to earn tips, but also because they seemed true-ish to me.

  2. Yeah, that’s kind of it, too, right? We sing the songs we sing because it’s a way to partake in a tradition. And I think that’s true with ghost stories as well. They speak to a lot of those same concerns.

    It’d be really interesting to do a study of a college and see if the ghost stories change over time and, if so, how. I suspect they do, pretty radically. I’d love to know what stories about ghosts are being told at IWU and how they differ (or don’t) from when I was there.

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