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February 2002, Week 2


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"Sarah L. Higley" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Sun, 10 Feb 2002 14:44:43 -0500
TEXT/PLAIN (53 lines)
I apologize ahead of time for the cross-posting:

A colleague of mine, whose book on film is forthcoming from Duke, has
given me permission to cite (in my book on the Blair Witch with J.
Weinstock--forthcoming from WSUP) her interesting discussion of a film
definition of "ectoplasm."  According to the third edition of the American
Heritage Dictionary, the word "ectoplasm" picks up a third meaning, aside
from 1) the substance in a cell and 2) the substance said to emanate from
a ghostly presence.  The third definition is: "_Informal_. An image
projected onto a movie screen."  We both would like to pursue this strange
appearance of "ectoplasm" which vanishes as soon as you touch it.  It's
not in the first or (I think) second edition of the AHD, or in the recent
fourth edition.  Nor is it in Webster or the Oxford English Dictionary, or
on  It appears, of course, in Ralph Ellison's _Invisible
Man_ in the first two lines: "I am an invisible man.  No, I am not a spook
like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your
Hollywood-movie ectoplasms."  Can this be the AHD's sole source for their
definition?  Unlike the OED or Samuel Johnson, AHD does not give
attributions for use. :-)

What she and I would like to know is the amount of circulation this word
and its meaning had beyond Ellison in the film world, if it did.  The
removal of this third definition from the latest edition of AHD is in
itself interesting... the invisible man goes back to being invisible. Was
it a slang term with a short life, or an eccentric use in Ellison's novel?
The connection of ectoplasm to film has strong metaphoric relevance to
both our separate works: hoaxes, vanishings, filmic "proof" of the
paranormal, etc.; it's a potent connection, and we would of course be
interested in knowing if "ectoplasm" had wider circulation in the forties
or earlier.

For Screen-L: Last summer I asked about "ghost photography" and received
some helpful answers. Thanks!  The Eastman House Library has a copy of
Gettings' _Ghosts in Photographs: The Extraordinary Story of Spirit
Photographs_, but this strange lexocographic (perhaps solely literary)
association of ectoplasm and film is intriguing and frustrating.

Sarah L. Higley                            [log in to unmask]
                                           [log in to unmask]
Associate Professor of English                office:  (585) 275-9261
The University of Rochester                   fax:     (585) 442-5769
Rochester NY, 14627
Py dydwc glein / O erddygnawt vein?
"What brings a gem from a hard stone?"               Book of Taliesin

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