2013 — What the invisible looks like


Offerings made on the location of an open air burial, Harhiraa, Uvs, Mongolia (©Gregory Delaplace)

What the Invisible Looks Like. Ghosts, Perceptual Faith and Mongolian Regimes of Communication

in Ruy Blanes and Diana Espírito Santo (eds.), The Social Life of Spirits, Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 2013, p. 52–68.

ISBN: 9780226081779


This chapter draws on Mongolian herders’ stories of their own encounters with “ghosts” (süns, chötgör), and highlights the specific narrative techniques by which people describe their sudden perception of what is otherwise known as “invisible things” (üzegdehgüi yum). Ghosts, it is argued, are better defined by their specific regime of communication –i.e. the conditions in which they might become perceptible to some people– than by their ontological properties –i.e. the conditions in which they are thought to exist. Indeed, while herders tend to doubt the existence of ghosts in general, they readily admit that certain particular sensations undoubtedly shake one’s sense of dwelling, hinting that the world, to paraphrase Merleau Ponty, might not always be what we see. Expanding on this idea, this chapter proposes to envisage ghosts’ mode of existence through the prism of their mode of manifestation.