Ghost Written The Winchester House as Cinematic Trans-mediation

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Cameron Macdonell
John Sicat


This visual essay presents a feminist counter-fiction to the likely fictional narratives the media has used to describe Sarah Winchester’s reclusive life in the labyrinthine mansion she designed for herself in the Santa Clara Valley, California (1886–1922). Given Winchester’s continual construction of uninhabited rooms in that house and given her decision to offer no explanation for her designs, the media has projected narratives of haunting and madness onto Winchester and her house. Without dismissing the possibility of those readings, our feminist counter-fiction does not presume to assign a specific meaning to Winchester’s designs. Instead, we ghost-write two soundtracks along the edges of filmstrips that trans-mediate the narratives of so-called yellow journalism and of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s story of haunting and madness, ‘The Yellow Wall-Paper’ (1892), into the sepia tones of early cinematic imagery. Specifically, we visualise Winchester as a media construct and the media’s fabulation about the columns in Winchester’s house and about her would-be seance room, where the public apparently saw nothing more than a woman’s silhouette projected onto a curtained window. While we offer nothing to penetrate that curtain, which we have trans-mediated to a cinematic screen that divides us from her interiority, we see traces of objects and a shadow ostensibly tracing a pattern from behind the curtain. Thus, we draw inspiration from Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s uncanny ability to ghost-write the hymenal curtain/screen between Jacques Derrida’s labyrinthine columns of text. Tolling the bell of Derrida’s Glas, this essay positions Winchester’s pendular body in a space where the interiority of her designing pleasure eludes representation because that pleasure is not dependent on the reproduction of meaning. We pastiche certain forms from the Winchester House, but these forms, akin to the impossibility of Gilman’s yellow wallpaper, do not amount to the meaning of a total design.

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How to Cite
Macdonell, Cameron, and John Sicat. 2022. “Ghost Written: The Winchester House As Cinematic Trans-Mediation”. idea journal 19 (01):128–137.