This article explores the way that the voices of the past trickle through to the modern world in traditional Mediterranean societies, as portrayed in the works of women writers like Elena Ferrante and Elif Shafak, who both have served as touchstone writers for my thesis in Creative Writing. Contrary to northern European cities like London and Paris, both Rome and Istanbul are not so much built on ruins of the past as living amalgamations of past and present, where the physical remains of lost empires and the spectral voices of conquerors, concubines, slaves and new religions, take on a less disembodied but far more pervasive presence. A fruitful way of interpreting the nexus between past and present is that of trying to decipher the voices of spectral presences that haunt the cityscapes of today, as suggested by Michel Certeau. In this article, I study the importance that magic and sacred spaces take within the historical, spatial and architectural dimensions in Mediterranean cultures—especially in the writings of my touchstone writers but also in Grazia Deledda and Orhan Pamuk—at the same time as I analyse the way I navigate these historical/spectral places in my own short stories on the same theme. In the Mediterranean sister cities Rome and Istanbul, a strong spirit of citizenship and local patriotism makes many of their inhabitants, both in the real and the literary world, feel strongly that theirs is an ‘eternal’ way of living that is authorized and fortified by its sense of continuity with Antiquity.
Keywords: Mediterranean — Women writers — Haunted spaces — Ghosts — Cityscapes — Spectral turn
Is it possible somehow to convey simultaneously both that conspicuous history which holds our attention by its continual and dramatic changes –and that other, submerged, history, almost silent and always discreet, virtually unsuspected either by its observers or its participants, which is little touched by the obstinate erosion of time?
Fernand Braudel (1995 : 16)
One of the most striking qualities of most Mediterranean cities is the persistence with which their historical characteristics continue to impress themselves on their living inhabitants. Rome and Istanbul, for instance, are not just built on ruins of the past, as are northern cities such as London or Paris, but function much more tangibly as living amalgamations of an ancient past and quotidian present, where the physical remains of a very distant historical identity (as opposed to a broadly early modern civic and architectural past) constitute a daily presence in the inhabitants’ lives. In this kind of cityscape, the ancient past constitutes a less disembodied, far more pervasive and ‘complicating’ presence than its equivalents in the north. Does this inevitable intrusion of the past influence people’s perceptions of their cultural identities and even daily lives? If so, how? And considering the multiple layers of history, religion and culture in a part of the world that has seen Egyptians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Etruscans and other civilizations rise and fall, each leaving their visible religious and civic traces, which part of their heritage might citizens of such deeply layered cities identify with? These are some of the key questions that, as a writer of short stories set in the Mediterranean, I am particularly interested in exploring. And, during my research, I have discovered that many other Mediterranean writers of the 20th and 21st centuries have also built their fictions around these preoccupations.
One potentially fruitful way of interpreting the nexus between past and present is that of trying to decipher the voices of spectral presences that haunt the cityscapes of today, as suggested by Michel de Certeau (1984: 108): ‘… there is no place that is not haunted by many different spirits hidden there in silence, spirits one can invoke or not’. Certeau, whose theories on ghosts ultimately can be traced back to Derrida’s Specters of Marx (1994), even claims that haunted places are ubiquitous and the only ones that people can live in. Acknowledging the truth of that, what are the distinctive hauntings that might apply to these Mediterranean places of particular complexity and historical depth?
In Specters of Marx (1994), Derrida first characterized ghosts as sentinels of social injustice and, echoing Shakespeare, a sign that time was disjointed with no clear boundaries between past, present and future. Behind these theories that led to the so-called ‘spectral turn’ there is also Freud’s concept of the uncanny (das unheimliche), of course, and, at a later stage, de Certeau (1984) and Avery Gordon (1997). In her Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination, Gordon defines ghosts as traces of individuals, things and ideas that were banished, excluded and repressed in the past, but precisely because their forced disappearance went so deep, they continue to haunt the world today (1997: 108).
It is interesting then to explore how these more broadly based spectral theories might inform more geographically specific historical theories like those of Fernand Braudel (1949) who interpreted the common Mediterranean heritage as part of the longue durée history that dates to an era long before monotheism. In a similar way, Henri Lefebvre and Catherine Régulier (1996) stress that despite their diversity, Mediterranean cities have certain distinctive qualities in common that continue to surprise visitors, the most striking of which is their continuity with the ancient past. To some extent they share a common lifestyle that is characterized not only by the geography and climate and consequent common culinary traditions (the Mediterranean diet), but by the way society and cities are structured, by the history of city states, of cultures that perceive of states as outer shells that never penetrate the internal workings of society and history as something that continues to happen.
The space here is very limited, so this article will concentrate on the works of Elif Shafak from Turkey and Grazia Deledda from Italy, and how these ‘touchstone’ writers explore the way that the ancient voices of the past trickle through to the modern world. Orhan Pamuk, Elena Ferrante and Virgil will also be part of this analysis. Through their works, I hope to trace the workings of history and hauntings within the framework of traditional Mediterranean cultures, and how the historical and spatial dimensions of haunting influence people’s lives. I will also briefly discuss the role that magic and sacred spaces occupy within these dimensions, since these aspects can be traced back to specifically ancient, pagan traditions rather than early modern legacies of attitude and belief.
In both Rome and Istanbul, a strong spirit of citizenship and local patriotism makes many of their inhabitants—both in the real and the literary world—feel strongly that theirs is an ‘eternal’ way of living, authorized and fortified by its sense of continuity with the past. In fact, Rome has carried the epithet of ‘urbs aeterna’ or ‘città eterna’ since the poet Virgil wrote The Aeneid some two thousand years ago, using that epithet to prove that Rome is a space that will remain constant through time, if only its inhabitants remain true to their values and beliefs. Magical space, like spectral space, is characterized by a lack of limits in time or space. It also changes those who enter into contact with it.
In her article ‘No bounds in space or time’, Suzanne Adema (2013) chooses Aeneas’ descent into the Underworld as an example of how magical space can transform the ‘real’ world. When Aeneas descends into the space of the Underworld, he ‘experiences eternity … so that he is able to instigate eternity in the Upper world when he lays the foundations of Rome’ (Adema 2013: 8). Jupiter himself has set no bounds in time or space for Roma aeterna (Virgil 19.1.278-279) but without Aeneas’ piety and stubbornness the wheel of destiny would have passed the never-ending glory the gods had planned for Rome. Although Aeneas paid the price of losing his beloved Dido, he fulfilled his mission of bringing eternity to Rome, as the gods wanted him to. The message to his descendants is clear. Even today his statue watches over Rome’s central square, Piazza Venezia. Somewhere along the way, East Rome/Constantinople/Istanbul also adopted the same nickname and people use it today to attract tourists to experience the glory that was.
An intriguing example of the way in which people in Istanbul connect their own existence with the past and its undying presences can be found in Elif Shafak’s The Gaze, where an Istanbulite taxi driver describes a client who, in a rather befuddled state, wants to ask a one-time sultan some serious questions:
I had a customer just like that … his face misshapen … pickled as a newt … almost dawn … five in the morning … the guy insisted ‘Come on … let’s find Sultan Mehmet the Conquerer’s (sic) tomb … let’s have a word with him … what the hell did you conquer this city for? ... dragging your ships over the hills … so many men martyred … all for this stupid place? ... Mehmet Sultan! Sultan Mehmet! Where are you? Get up and look around! … Look what a state they’ve put your descendants in!’ (2006: 121)
To this ‘good-natured drunk’ the Muslim conquest of Constantinople in 1453 seems like yesterday and Sultan Mehmet is a father figure he wants answers from. Although the historical Turks were originally a tiny warrior caste that got the upper hand of the local population in Asia Minor, modern-day Turks like the taxi driver often see themselves as their heirs in a quite literal sense. Another example of this tendency is the matronly Aunt Nesibe in Orhan Pamuk’s The Museum of Innocence who claims that ‘before we Turks came here from Central Asia, we spent a huge amount of time with the Chinese’ (2008: 519). For that reason, she believes that the Chinese way of believing that objects have souls might have influenced the Turks. The past she identifies with is that of a tiny Siberian tribe, although only a small percentage of modern-day Turks in fact descend from that tribe. For her, Istanbul only became part of her own ancestral history the day it was conquered by the Turks in 1453, and Constantinople with all its echoes of past eras became absorbed by the history of its new rulers.
It is interesting that Aunt Nesibe stresses the pre-Muslim, Asian heritage of the Turks. To both the drunk and Aunt Nesibe, the past is part of an evolving continuity that is not replaced by modernity and the future, but augmented by its co-existence and co-presence in lived experience. Sultan Mehmet is someone who can be addressed in the same way that characters in Turkish soap-operas often go to their dead lovers’ or parents’ graves and talk to them: he is a father-figure that continues to listen to the living from his tomb and the not uncommon practice of speaking to the deceased on graves facilitates ‘access’ to him. As Christina Lee (2017: 9) points out, the departed can be found both in places and ‘through bodies, routines and objects; in landscapes of upheaval; in fragments of memories … and in daily practices’. In a similar way, Aunt Nesibe finds a trace of her (partly imagined) Asian ancestors’ beliefs in modern-day Turkish beliefs; for her, time is relative, tied to the past, shared with her forebears.
Lefebvre and Régulier (1996: 233) explain that Mediterranean societies share a common heritage of experiencing time—even in the present—not so much as a running towards a bright future as the lapse between one religious festivity and the next; a circle of events that are performed as they always have been—or so people like to think—and therefore constitute a space out of linear time when people can commune with their ancestors and fellow celebrants equally. Mediterranean states dominate territories and manage space; they control external relations but remain undermined and comparatively powerless to prevent the citizens disposing more freely of their time or to dictate the activities and beliefs that rhythm the citizens’ daily lives. Having lived for a significant time in Rome and southern Italy, I was repeatedly made aware in casual conversations and political discussions that time is often seen as more fluid than in the standard Western worldview. A typical attitude to political change is that what was yesterday is now too, and the less we change the greater our chance of surviving the vortex of new laws and new political masters that keep invading the land. It often struck me that this attitude to a pervasive ancient past is one reason why tradition still has such a strong hold on modern Italians.
The work of Grazia Deledda illustrates the ubiquity of magical thinking in this Mediterranean context; the lingering sense that places are not only haunted by the ghosts of the departed, but also visited by living spirits like jinni, or perhaps panas—dead souls turned into very dangerous jinn-like creatures. The century-old novels of this Italian Nobel prize winner explore a time when this tendency was even more pronounced: indeed, when Deledda was born, Italy as we know it had only existed for a year. As Richard Gambino points out (2000: 252), the new state had a much smaller educated class than most other Western countries: 90% of the Mezzogiorno population in the south was illiterate. By 1900, the situation had improved somewhat, and only 70% were illiterate, but this was still a significant difference when compared to 0.11% in Scandinavia and Germany, or 5.8% in England.
In Deledda’s home town, women covered up, often to their noses, and females were not allowed to move outside their homes without a male guardian, nor were they allowed to look out of the windows during funerals or other official occasions (Pickering-Iazzi 1993: 10). Deledda (1871-1931) grew up in a middle-class Sardinian home but wanted to be a ‘primitive poet’ who spoke the language of the poor peasants she identified strongly with. In her introduction to Reeds in the Wind, Dolores Turchi (1999) emphasizes that Deledda never forgot that Sardinian peasants believed being literate was the same as having magical powers and that she, according to their logic, entered a magical world every time she sat down with pen and paper. Many of her characters live in a physical world that does not go beyond the universe of their village, but their knowledge of magical otherworlds, and creatures that aren’t earthbound, is infinite. The beginning of Deledda’s 1913 novel Canne al Vento—in its English translation, Reeds in the Wind—is an excellent example of her characters’ closeness to nature and the spirits that live there:
could hear the sound that the panas women who died in childbirth made while washing their clothes down by the river, beating them with a dead man’s shinbone….And dwarfs and janas ... were dancing in the large phillyrea bushes...(1999: Chapter I np)
Whereas most contemporary authors have ignored or made fun of the deep-rooted magical mentality that still makes people worry about the evil eye and the influence of the stars, Deledda examined but did not judge. In his Sud e Magia (South and Magic), Ernesto De Martino (1959: 130-157) stresses this fact, at the same time as he provides us with what still counts as the most important anthropological analysis of modernity, the evil eye (jettatura) and Catholic magic in the Italian south.
Efix’ firm belief in spirits does not prevent him from considering himself a faithful Christian. On the contrary, he continues to meditate upon the roles of God and destiny, both equally unquestioned presences in his life that help him to make sense of his rather miserable existence (Deledda Ch I np). It is God’s will that decides when the cherry trees will bloom, God’s will that decides if the mountain bandits will be caught. But can our prayers change that will? Is God’s will the same as predestination or do human beings play a role, too? And what about the janas and panas? Deledda’s skilful handling of the narrator’s voice sometimes renders it as distant as the Lord in heaven, sometimes it is the voice of a cowering woman or a relentless avenger of family shame, and we do not get any definite answers. Deledda manages to communicate her vision of the traditional Mediterranean universe in a simple and seemingly uncomplicated way; she raises questions without judging mentalities that diverge greatly from the thought-patterns of the modern world.
In Deledda’s novel, The Mother (1923), the protagonist believes firmly in the physical presence of the devil, malicious spirits, ghosts and various other evil forces: ‘[t]he mother had already closed the house door and barricaded it with two crossed bars, in order to prevent the devil, who on windy nights roams abroad in search of souls, from penetrating into the house.’ One night she even has a visit from either the devil or the ghost of the former village priest who leaves his socks for her to mend. In the nameless mother’s universe, wrapped up women crouch at the back of the church while the men go to mass, and the supernatural is as physically present as human beings. Her son the village priest performs exorcisms with great success but has his quiet doubts. To him, the most supernatural phenomena that he has experienced are his close emotional and physical bonds to his secret lover Agnese and to his mother. Indeed, giving up Agnese is his personal Calvary (Deledda 1923, Ch XIV). The same mixture of belief in God and spirits (jinni) as in Efix and Paolo’s mother can be found in Elif Shafak’s portrayal of an old servant woman in The Architect’s Apprentice:
Murmuring a prayer against unholy spirits she stood up briskly, despite her years … She took the other path, wending her way up towards the courtyard … Clustered in the opposite corner were the privies. She avoided them, as she always did. The jinn held their weddings there, and whoever disturbed them in the pitch of night would be left crippled until doomsday … (2014: 13)
Both themes constitute a thread through all Deledda’s and Shafak’s works, with traditional (essentially medieval and later) Catholic or Muslim faith mixed with sprites, omens and fear of the evil eye. In Shafak’s novels about modern Istanbul, it is not uncommon for the characters—like the protagonist’s aunt in The Bastard of Istanbul (2008)— to have a jinn hovering over their shoulder, or to trust the tarot cards rather than their friend’s advice. In the same way, ghosts and apparitions, witches and premonitions continue to frequent modern Italian novels like Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet (2012 - 2015) and Alba De Céspedes’s The Best of Husbands (1952).
It is often held that modernity and/or Westerners have extirpated religion and superstition from all institutions, confining such beliefs to a strictly private sphere (Wuthnow, Hunter et al. 1980: 61ff), but Italy is still a largely church-going country (at least compared to many other European nations) where every classroom has its crucifix and religion is part of the political discourse. Still visible beneath this religiosity, elements of older, pagan-inflected religion, superstition and magic, are all, to a great extent, part of popular beliefs that constitute these countries’ longue durée history: the everyday lives and habits of ordinary people that, as Braudel (1949) points out, professional historians find so hard to get at. Thus, fear of the evil eye and readiness to believe in miracles is very common in both Italy and Turkey today and often plays a part in modern Mediterranean (?) television and film: in the Italian Oscar-winning movie The Great Beauty (Sorrentino 2013), a centenarian saint attracts great crowds of people, and the Turkish television series Kuzey Güney (Çatay 2011 - 2013) sees an old lady brought in to cleanse the Tekinoglu family home from evil spirits. Fear of the evil eye (malocchio, jella or nazar) is a recurring theme in modern Turkish literature, film and television, as is the force of destiny (destino/kader), something Aeneas the Trojan—who today would have called himself a Turk—knew so well.
Time that is not linear but layered and pervasive is subversive. As Amit Chaudhuri says in his introduction to Walter Benjamin’s One Way Street and Other Writings (2009: xv), ‘the concept of the historical progress of mankind cannot be sundered from the concept of its progression through a homogeneous empty time. A critique of the concept of such a progression must be the basis of any criticism of the concept of progress itself’. Benjamin uses Naples and its inherent ‘porosity’ as an example of the inadequacy of traditional Western views of linear history and progress. In their essay on Naples, he and Asja Lacis define Neapolitan architecture as ‘porous’ like the rocks that surround the city, in the sense that no matter what buildings or public spaces were originally constructed for, Neapolitans tend to adapt these to their own needs. In that way, Neapolitan architecture resists well-defined functions, Benjamin (1985: 169) pointing out, ‘[a]s porous as this stone is the architecture. Building and action interpenetrate in the courtyards, arcades and stairways’. Or, as Sennett (1995: 56) puts it, that urban space is performed in the process of being appropriated. A rich network of practices transforms every available space into a potential theater of expressive acts of encounter. Benjamin (1985: 174) calls it ‘a passion for improvisation’ and claimed that this kind of public behaviour penetrates and articulates urban space, loosening asocially programmed correspondences between function and place:
What distinguishes Naples from other large cities is that each private attitude or act is permeated by streams of communal life; similarly dispersed, porous and commingled, is private life. To exist, for the northern European the most private state of affairs, is here a collective matter. So the house is far less the refuge into which people retreat, than the inexhaustible reservoir from which they flood out.
Porosity is thus an essential characteristic of space in Naples and in many other Mediterranean cities. Defying any clear demarcation, spaces are separated and simultaneously connected by porous boundaries, through which everyday life takes form in mutually dependent public performances. And so, in Benjamin’s words (ibid.: 174), ‘just as the living room reappears on the street, with chairs, hearth and altar, so, only much more loudly, the street migrates into the living room’. Stavrides (2007: 7) speaks of the ‘passion of improvisation’ mentality which excels at activating in-between areas like rooftop terraces or staircases as crucial public spaces represented a kind of ‘urban osmosis’ that isn’t unknown in Athens either. Similar scenarios can be found in the works of Naguib Mahfouz, Alaa al Aswany and Aravind Adiga.
In Elena Ferrante’s novella, Troubling Love (2006), the protagonist returns to her hometown Naples to attend her mother’s funeral. Chaotic, constantly overpopulated, Naples is established as a setting through which the emotions and conflicts of living are encountered and dealt with by both the characters and the readers. Memory and time possess both personal and collective attributes throughout the story. A constant shifting between past and present, registered through physical locations becomes, as Lesley Caldwell puts it, a ‘rendering of states of mind, and of a process of self-realization’ (2011: 338). The past is constantly there: remembered, questioned, interrogated, sometimes indistinguishable from fantasies. In Troubling Love, time is strictly circumscribed—two days for the span of the novel—yet at the same time, the present is described as just as frenetic and externalized as Naples itself, and the past is constantly there within the temporality of the present. Caldwell further claims that ‘pastness’ forms an intractable aspect of all Mediterranean cities and their associations and that in this kind of culture ‘the past both facilitates and constrains the life of the present’ (ibid.: 341).
Arguably then, the porosity of Mediterranean cities and the not-so-linear perception of time, combined with the constant physical proximity of buildings that date back to Antiquity (and beyond), give their ghosts a different character from ghosts that haunt traditional Western cities. Basing their research on, amongst others, Goethe’s impressions of Naples as a place where outsiders loosen up and transform, Caldwell (ibid.: 340) declares that Naples is ‘a place where Europe’s Other is to be met within its own territory’ and that it is one of the continent’s most longstanding myths. But if ‘Europe’s Other’ can be found in Naples, it is at least partly because money has been scarcer there than in most of Europe for a very long time. Traditions have therefore resisted the pressure of materialist ‘progress’ which has diluted the force of the common Mediterranean heritage present to some extent in all countries around the Mediterranean basin, as J.G. Peristiany (1965) pointed out in classic Honour and Shame, The Values of Mediterranean Society. And at the same time as ‘un-European’ alternative conceptions of time and physical space leave more room for the phantasmal, the phantasmal itself ‘challenges the quotidian understanding of time as linear’ (Lee 2017: 2). The potential threat to modern conceptions of time and history is inherent to all experiences of hauntings and spirits, because they populate both history and the present with beings that all tell their own stories. For that reason, it is safer to render the past invisible and/or domesticate it through relegation to museums and carefully constructed monuments.
It is, of course, important to remember that ghosts and spirits are not always of the same nature, and that a different attitude to history and remains of the past automatically changes the nature of the echoes and un-living presences that also inhabit these locations. In fact, Lee (2017: 2) asserts that all places have a secret past that others—or rather, only a select few—are allowed to read. According to Dara Downey’s (2014) logic, amalgamated cities like Rome, Naples and Istanbul are more likely to threaten linear conceptions of time because the ruins of their past are not contained in museums and modern monuments, but rather, part of everyday life. For better or for worse, it is much harder to control the ghosts and spirits that haunt them. In his partly autobiographical work Istanbul, Orhan Pamuk (2005: 90) notes that Westerners tend to enshrine their past in elaborately constructed museums, whereas Turks live with the ruins as part of their own homes and everyday lives. Pamuk sees this as an opposition between East and West, but he seems to have missed out the fact that Rome and the Italian Mezzogiorno are equally as fine examples of this tendency as Istanbul. In Pamuk’s world, the West is often represented by northern Europe and the United States
Naples, like Istanbul an originally Greek-speaking city, contains clear traces of overlapping cultures that have succeed each other through the millennia. Its history is tangible and multi-layered: speech and architecture tells tales of Spain and, to a smaller extent, of Arabs; the volcano keeps everyone aware of the contorted bodies in the suburbs of Ercolano and Pompei; the dream of America has become a heritage to live up to; and the mafia and the church remain the guardians of traditional culture more so than in many other parts of Europe. At least that is the impression that books like Ferrante’s novels or Roberto Saviano’s Gomorrah (2007), a haunting account of his days with the camorra, transmit.
However, I would like to stress that just as nations are, at least to some extent, imagined in Benedict Anderson’s (1991) sense, links with history are also at least partly imagined, and so are the effects of hauntings. Although some Istanbulites—like the drunkard in The Gaze and Aunt Nesibe in The Museum of Innocence—think of their history as essentially Turkish and Muslim, other fictional Istanbulites choose to identify more strongly with an assembly of all past eras. For example, throughout The Gaze, the narrator’s destiny is closely linked with that of the prophetess Cassandra of Troy who lived only a short distance north of Istanbul. Like the prophetess, the nameless narrator tries to tell the truth about the past, present and future, and her partner, B-C, proffers Cassandra as an example of how it isn’t enough just to see, ‘one has to make others believe one can see’ although, ultimately, Cassandra died because she refused to sleep with her conqueror (Shafak 2008, “Istanbul - 1999”). Will the narrator of The Gaze be luckier than Cassandra who died for having challenged the male gaze? Will the 21st century allow a brave woman to speak of the kind of visions that cost Cassandra her life? We don’t know. Cassandra is a haunting presence throughout this novel; she is a courageous speaker of truths, but it is unclear if she is also a bearer of omens. The only certainty we have at the end of the novel is that Cassandra, the Ottoman pasha, and the Byzantine monk all transmit a living heritage to the characters in The Gaze; they are all parts of the narrator’s and B-C’s identities. In Shafak’s works there is a constant sense of the fluidity of Turkish/Istanbulite identities that she expresses through haunting presences and implicit questions that are subtly raised in her readers’ minds.
In Civilization and its Discontents, Sigmund Freud (1961) warns us not to read too much into ruins. He stresses that the ‘remains of ancient Rome are found dovetailed into the jumble of a great metropolis which has grown up in the last few centuries since the Renaissance’ and he warns against the tendency to see Rome as too immobile and eternal: ‘only in the mind is such a preservation of all the earlier stages alongside the final form possible’ (ibid.: 5). In fact, we will never experience Rome as the city was before the sack of the Goths in 451 AD. Nor does Russell Crowe’s face look particularly like that of the gladiators depicted in Pompei. Although I do not share Freud’s view that space cannot have ‘two different contents’, I strongly agree with him that then is never now. It might seem as if it were, but it is not (ibid.: 7).
Nevertheless, a profound sense of continuity with some kind of history and with one’s ancestors— real or imagined—is essential to the modern sense of self and the creation of haunting presences in both cultures; the characters in novels as different as Ferrante’s and Pamuk’s re-interpret these historically fraught places so that the spectral voices which echo in these places become part of their own reality. Certeau (1984) believes that seeing cities and landscapes as haunted spaces counteracts superstition. Lee (2017) agrees with Alex Murray (2010) that this sense of constant displacement constitutes the basis for spectrality and makes spectral London a place of alterity. Consequently, spectrality and hauntings are not necessarily supernatural concepts in this context, but rather, vague psychological definitions of the impact that ruins and old buildings and monuments have on people in the modern world; an impact that sometimes borders on an idea of a vague common spiritual bond with the past. These ancient locations become thresholds of interpretation in Gerard Genette's sense (1997:2 and 407), places where transition and transaction occur.
Braudel (1949) offers us an interpretation of Mediterranean history as a co-habitation (and/or collision) between rapid linear ‘progress’ and longue durée culture based on a millenarian, pre-monotheistic culture that constantly tries to create a ‘space’ out of time. This conception gives us a deeper understanding of the contexts in which spectres and spirits become perceptible and ‘present’ in Mediterranean cultures. In cities like Rome and Istanbul, a strong spirit of citizenship and local patriotism makes many of their inhabitants feel strongly that theirs is an ‘eternal’ way of living that is authorized and fortified by its sense of continuity with what is often perceived as a glorious past. Likewise, in these cities the physical remains of lost empires and the spectral voices of conquerors, concubines, slaves and new religions, take on a less disembodied but far more pervasive presence than in northern European or American cities. It is important both to be aware of the mechanisms that construct hauntings and to respect the fact that to many people, fictive or not, these presences are real.
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