At this point we can suggest that, above all, ghosts want to give us a message; their very being is determined by this overwhelming desire to communicate. They want to put us straight, make us remember what we have forgotten — the debt we owe them — so that they can then rest in peace. Yet the ghost’s presentation of self usually has more to do with figural appearance than it does with discourse. It is a figure that presents itself rather than something that comes as representation. The representational work has to be done afterward by the subject who believes he or she has seen a ghost. The ghost usually appears as a sudden and unexpected rupture into the field of vision. The manner in which the figure speaks, then, is through disclosure. This word implies a paradoxical opening up and also a concealment at the same time: the conspiratorial revealing of some secret not accessible in obvious ways or to all. To disclose is to reveal, or to confess or confide, or to divulge or whisper.
Phantasmagoria, therefore, is a nineteenth-century neologism, invented for a form of popular entertainment but also for one of the first pre-discursive articulations of a new set of subject-object relations. It is in the space of illusion, of image and spectacle, that the ghost appears as if to speak. Phantasmagoria: the image that has a voice — a voice quite different than that of discourse. To be within a phantasmagoria is to encounter the figural outside of discourse. The effects are those of shock. As a member of the audience, no doubt there to be entertained, the image one sees is a supposedly truthful one, but one that is at the same time called into question the possibility that one can believe what one sees with one’s eyes. If the principles of the camera obscura were more than a means of creating representations of the object world that might be used for science, art, or entertainment, but were a model for how people understood subject-object relations, then to expose people to those principles in form and to call them into doubt at the same time must begin to visibly challenge the model of both subjectivity and objectivity premised on those techniques. It was not that people necessarily believed what they saw in those shows — though there are contemporary accounts of startled audiences at phantasmagoria shows, nonetheless the suspension of disbelief was a well-practiced technique of theatre audiences that dates to long before this time — but that their sense of themselves as subjects was made open to question by this process. It was, rather, the very fact that they could no longer believe what they saw with their own eyes, could no longer trust the object-effect established by the camera obscura projection of images that expressed and articulated the growing crisis of representation and challenged the classical idea of the subject.
It is around this time that Marx’s use of the metaphor of the phantasmagoria as a means of understanding the principles of fetishism is at its most problematic. In effect, he acknowledges the false image of reality that it, along with the camera obscura in general, creates. He is perhaps the first to recognize in his description of the commodity a new object-effect where all is not as it appears. The fundamental problem with his approach, however, is that he does not allow that the viewing subjects he constructs within this theory of fetishism might also recognize that too, that they are, in fact, interpellated to do so by this viewing arrangement. While he acknowledges a changing object-effect he does not allow the same for the changing subject-effect. Marx’s capitalist subjects, those who live in the world of commodity fetishism, are alienated watches of a phantasmagoria show who are unable to see the concealment, unable to suspend disbelief, who must really believe that they are seeing reality rather than an illusion (68-9)."
— Kevin Hetherington, Capitalism’s Eye: Cultural Spaces of the Commodity