Torch songs to modernity: ghost signs as emblems of the urban soul

Antonina Lewis, Kirsten Wright

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (Book)Researchpeer-review


When we speak of torch songs, we conjure love songs of a very particular kind. Characterised by a lyric that actively constructs identity from a state of loss, the torch song is recognisable for its performative style as a staged lament. Confessional yet melodramatic, conflating distance with intimacy; torch songs show the present aspect of an affective past. Haunted and haunting, torch singers give voice to familiar psychological sentiment: the compulsion, when confronted with loss, toward recollection and projection (or memory and desire). Fuelled by reminiscence and an instinct for emotional survival, the impetus of torch song is the enactment of absence as a sustaining force. What is gone drives us on. Urban ghost signs function in a similar regard-psychic triggers sited in physical landscape, they operate as touchstones to dogged persistence1 even as they signal the renewal of identity through processes of erasure. And, just as the relationship dramatized in torch song is at heart not that which plays out between two people but rather a negotiation of the self between past and present, so too there is a rich seam of fabulation to be found in the temporal relationship between the collector and the ghost sign, or the citizen and the archive.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAdvertising and Public Memory
Subtitle of host publicationSocial, Cultural and Historical Perspectives on Ghost Signs
EditorsStefan Schutt, Sam Roberts, Leanne White
Place of PublicationNew York NY USA
PublisherTaylor & Francis
Number of pages11
ISBN (Electronic)9781317389132
ISBN (Print)9781138934689
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes

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