Tupac’s “Holographic Resurrection”: Corporate Takeover or Rage against the Machinic?

Tupac Hologram
Tupac hologram at Coachella, 2012.


My only fear of death is coming back reincarnated

Tupac tattoo inscription


The apparatus that brought Tupac Shakur back from the dead after some fifteen years of absence to perform “live” at the Coachella concert in 2012 confirms Giorgio Agamben’s theorizing about such devices: “I shall call an apparatus literally anything that has in some way the capacity to capture, orient, determine, intercept, model, control, or secure the gestures, behaviors, opinions, or discourses of living beings.” [1] Judging from the audience’s enthusiastic response, cellphone cameras held high to record Tupac’s simulation rising “superfuturistically” from the depths of the stage, the subject in question had been convincingly “captured” and displayed—by all accounts, definitely worth the price of admission. Captured, copyrighted, and controlled by corporations, figures such as Tupac can now be summoned forth and retrieved from whatever Underworld to which they have been consigned. No more shall the dead bury their own dead, for the Kingdom of Simulation is at hand. As all firm foundations start to slip away from under us, however, we must wonder what hidden costs might be extracted from both the living and the dead in this new state of affairs.

The digital sorcery at work here encourages the audience to respond to and interact with this simulation as though they are actually witnessing Tupac alive and present on the stage. The simulation elicits this response, this participation mystique, by directly acknowledging and calling out—interpellating—the audience: “Yeah. What the fuck is up, Coachella?” The soundtrack of the dead rapper’s voice is spliced in here to seem to proceed from the present moment. This address is followed by “Do you know who the fuck this is?”—a seemingly unnecessary question but meant to encourage the audience to affirm the actual person and simulation as one.

Tupac’s first song, “Hail Mary,” underscores the ritualistic, participatory quality of the performance, a Last Supper scenario: “And God said he should send his one begotten son/To lead the wild into the ways of the man./Follow me; eat my flesh, flesh of my flesh.” [2] The song’s refrain bolsters the illusion of a bodily resurrection: “Come with me, Hail Mary/Run quick see, what do we have here/Now do you wanna ride or die?” The crypt is empty, however, and the only trace of a body is this simulation with a dubbed-over voice now proclaiming “Makaveli exists!” This invocation of Tupac’s final stage persona plays into conspiracy theories among the cognoscenti, those who believe that Tupac never died but followed the advice of Nicolō Machiavelli about faking one’s death to elude one’s enemies. Death be not proud, indeed.

The appearance of Snoop Dog, live on stage, for a carefully choreographed rendition of “Ain’t Nuttin’ but a Gangsta Party” adds one more dimension to this bizarre affair, a duet between the living and the undead. He calls out to Tupac: “Tell them what kind of party we’re having.” Turning to the audience, Tupac yells in a call-and-response fashion, “C’mon, y’all!” They join in, like congregants at a church revival. Ignored—suspended—for the occasion is the fact that the party had ended before it had begun for Tupac. In death as in life he is “a ghost in these killing fields.” By the end of the set, the simulated rapper proves the truth of the following line from “Hail Mary”: “Institutionalized I lived my life a product made to crumble.” Arrested, with his head bowed, the simulation is engulfed in a bright flash, suddenly dissolving into crystalline shards of light before crumbling altogether into nothingness. The magic show is over for now. Tupac’s shade must return to whatever Underworld it was consigned until conjured up for a new performance.

The digital return of Tupac comes on the heels of a number of “resurrections” of long-dead figures. As Julie Miller reports, so-called “synthespians” such as Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and now Tupac Shakur are being digitized and copyrighted by corporations such as Digicon, a company specializing in these productions. [3] It is eager, in Monroe’s case, “to jump-start virtual Marilyn’s career as ‘a performer, spokesperson, cultural pundit and computer avatar.’” Dubbed VM2, the Virtual Marilyn Monroe will be a “hyperrealistic” production who “can perform in every language as the digital personification of Hollywood and glamour for generations to come.” Moreover, an ideal “employee” from the corporate perspective, a virtual Monroe or Shakur poses no problems of down time due to sleeping pill addictions or felony convictions. Fungible for the original, VM2’s costs “can be amortized over decades of useful life.” Notice that “useful life” here is a corporation’s quantitative, monetary measure, not the qualitative measure we might employ to determine the relative value of some living being’s time on this Earth. What was once of use to the living being is now entirely the marketable product of a holding company. Amortization here takes on its root meaning of a “killing off,” a drawing down and conveying of the subject’s identity and vitality to the corporate purchaser.

That the audience has accepted this “resurrection,” this substitution of the simulated Tupac on stage for the live performer, is witnessed by the unprecedented surge of album sales and song downloads immediately following the Coachella performance, a surge formerly only accomplished when performers went on live tours. [4] For the marketers, the commodification of the simulation constitutes thereby a hefty down payment on its amortization costs. Still, while the Coachella production offers audiences a technological refinement on earlier efforts to conjure up the “auratic” presence of a ghostly figuration, it falls far short of fostering the optical unconscious that Walter Benjamin hoped would arise from such spectacles. [5] From a hauntological perspective, its conjuring of Tupac does not constitute what Avery Gordon describes as that “particular form of calling up and calling out [of] the forces that make things what they are in order to fix and transform a troubling situation.” [6] Holographic Tupac puts the finishing touches on what Darnell L. Moore describes as the dominant culture’s “ignorant escapist moves to disjoin the [Black] body from the spirit or mind”; more disturbing still, it furthers the project in which that Black body has been “imaged, treated, and used as a marketable good.” [7] Indulging in such spectacles continues what David Marriott describes as “the spectacle of black lives consumed painlessly, virtually, teletechnologically. . . the commodity value of black death-in-life.” [8] We should resist the machinic allure of recombinant, “reanimated” figures brought back from the dead when they offer only nostalgia and nescience rather than opportunities for transformative insight and growth.

1. “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. . .”

Inheritance from the “spirits of the past” consists, as always, in borrowing. Figures of borrowing, borrowed figures, figurality as the figure of borrowing. And the borrowing speaks: borrowed language, borrowed names, says Marx. A question of credit, then, or of faith. [9]

Celine Dion’s virtual duet with Elvis Presley on American Idol underscores the relative success of the Tupac production while also exposing the mechanism behind such productions, and their problematic nature, judged by hauntological standards. In an episode entitled “Elvis Has Left the Building,” featuring various talents singing songs from Presley’s repertoire, Dion appears on stage singing Presley’s “If I Can Dream,” a song that debuted in 1968, the year of her birth. She is soon joined by Presley’s simulation. In a badly choreographed “duet,” Dion tries to create the effect of two live performers interacting on the stage by glancing several times toward an Elvis completely unaware of her. Little wonder. In Simon Reynolds’ terms, he differs from the traditional ghost who has a message to deliver: he is more in the nature of a “residual phantom,” who is “usually unaware of change in its surroundings and continues to play the same scene repeatedly.” [10] Unlike the Coachella production, which portrays two performers at least seeming to call out to each other and to the audience, Presley comes across here as a cut-out, cardboard figure, isolated from the live performer who takes turns singing the song. In Sherry Turkle’s parlance, they perform “alone together.” [11]

While the Dion/Presley remix/mashup of two distinct time periods has a split-screen feel to it, the Tupac/Snoop Dog production is relatively smooth and seamless, creating a sense of temporal and spatial simultaneity. It conveys an auratic quality. Even Snoop Dog, Tupac’s performing partner, was taken in by the Coachella simulation, describing the experience as “spiritual.” The audience itself is taken in, willingly suspending their disbelief and responding to the figure as if it were the real person.

To forestall being taken in too easily ourselves, we can heed Katherine Hayles’ advice to “attend… to the material interfaces and technologies that make disembodiment such a powerful illusion.” [12] Although “Presley” was originally reported to be a hologram, Steve Wilson notes: “Elvis appeared more ‘real’ from certain camera angles,” hardly multidimensional. [13] The author of “Elvis on Idol: How It Was Done” lifts the curtain to reveal the legerdemain by which this illusion has been perpetrated. It involved a three-part process in which the live performer was first recorded alone. Next, Dion was partnered with a Presley body double “who lip-synched Presley’s song and matched his moves from his 1968 performance.” Finally, Elvis’s performance was cut from the original footage and, through the editing process of rotoscoping, pasted into a new, fabricated environment.

Similarly digitally re-mastered, Tupac has been broken up into bits and (sound)bytes, belying the first two claims of Ed Ulbrich, Digital Domain’s Creative Officer: “This is not found footage. This is not archival footage. This is an illusion.” [14] The rotoscoper here operates in a fashion similar to Benjamin’s camera operator, who worked with ”fragments… assembled under a new law,” creating “a series of mountable episodes,” “separate shootings,” and “montage.” [15] Rotoscoping aligns Tupac with the new law of post-Fordist modes of production, which subjects the cognitariat to its own brand of “fractalization,” what Franco Berardi describes as “the fragmentation and the recombination of working time according to different sequences.” [16] Berardi sets forth the precarious terms of service that are the lot of the servile cognitariat under the regime of post-Fordism:

Capital needs no longer to employ a human being in order to deduct the objective time that the person holds. It can take possession of separated fragments of the worker’s time in order to recombine them in a separated sphere from his individual life. [17]

While the post-Fordist worker, although interchangeable, at least remained the “producer of microfragments of recombinant semiosis,” “Tupac” is both the product (microfragment) and enactment (recombination) of an informatic and immaterializing mode of production. [18] Not only the labor but the laborer himself has been rendered immaterial, conjured up, and put to work. Outsourcing here takes on the character of “outsorcery,” a conjuring of the dead to do work once the sole province of the living.

The nostalgic fascination of audiences for such recombinant figures signifies for Reynolds, author of Retromania, that the culture “has stopped moving forward” in its obsession with the “immediate past.” [19] In perhaps the best fictional take on this theme, Eddie and the Cruisers, former band member Frank Ridgeway bitterly reacts to a scheme of the band’s former manager, Doc Martin, to restart the presumably dead Eddie’s defunct rock-and-roll band twenty years after its leader’s disappearance:

“Make like a Cruiser.” Sure, Doc. Grease is the word. How about digging up some Eddie Wilson imitators? A lookalike talent hunt. Hasn’t that occurred to you? Or why not do a James Dean? Hit the junkyards and blowtorch the car he died in into little pieces for the tourist trade. Pass the word: he’s still alive, he had plastic surgery. He froze himself. He cloned. Only leave me out of it. [20]

The blow-torched pieces of Eddie’s car recall the pieces of the cross sold by charlatans in the Middle Ages as remembrances of Christ’s own crucifixion and resurrection. Benjamin, no doubt, would find troubling the religious dimension at work here. A fraudulent practice, it plays upon what Michael Eric Dyson describes as Tupac’s “ascent to ghetto sainthood.” He describes this ascension as “both a reflection of the desperation of the youth who proclaim him and a society that has had too few saints that could speak to the hopeless in our communities.” [21] Resurrections without bodies afford no close examination. They lend themselves to manipulation.

Tupac’s own “resurrection,” like the passage from the analogical to the digital, is more implicit and insidious than is James Dean’s, mash-up added to smash-up. Here the past is repackaged and disguised as the present. Admittedly, through the magic of “prestidigitalization,” [22] this production does create the illusion of “full presence or present-ness” that Reynolds claims is beyond such reenactments; however, it does so by covering over “a split within the act itself,” a duplicity not only in duplicating the figure but in doing so by mashing together disparate time-frames. [23] Here the apparatus does not put the represented figure’s self-alienation into “a highly productive use,” as in Benjamin’s formulation. Nor does it fulfill Brian Massumi’s requirement for successful desubjectification, which involves identities being “abstracted from actually existing bodies and transposed onto another dimension: from the here and now into the great beyond.” [24] For Tupac, the “great beyond” is a limbo state in which the here and now is simply a selective recycling of the there and then. Nostalgia is the primary productive value arrived at here.

For the largely white audience at Coachella, the phantasmal reproduction risks deflecting or smoothing over the living Tupac’s call out to them. For Charles Aaron, “hip-hop has sounded like the rebellious truth for increasing numbers of white youth.” [25] Cultural analyst Henry Giroux finds an even deeper source of its appeal: “Hip-hop is the only popular culture that takes seriously the relationship between race and democracy in America.” [26] As Aaron might chime in: “Hip-hop rules the world of youth and pop culture for a reason—it’s talking about what everybody’s thinking.” Music entrepreneur Jimmy Iovine argues that, in addition to its alluring beat, “the best hip-hop feels accurate to these kids’ emotions, not literally, because most of these white kids haven’t had the same experiences as these artists, but emotionally.” [27] In the midst of what Giroux describes as a “politics of despair,” hip-hop reaches across the racial divide in speaking to “a generation of youth [both White and Black] growing up amid the fracturing and menacing conditions of a postmodern culture.” [28]

In re-mediating Tupac, reconstituting and reprogramming him on a rigged soundboard, those controlling him can adjust the sliders to their own specifications. Subject to the corporate-controlled mixing board, resonances described by Iovine can be manipulated, digitally absorbed, and remastered. Evidenced by the song selection at Coachella, the corporate masters have chosen the gangsta message over the more socially relevant one that focused on the underlying forces that Giroux describes as bedeviling the increasingly “disposable” youth of both races. Worse yet, under such control Tupac redivivus borders on becoming a parody of his former self. One newscaster’s response to the Coachella appearance is instructive in this regard: “Hologram if ya hear me!”

2. “I am thy father’s spirit,/Doomed for a certain term to walk the night.”

Only the conscious horror of destruction creates the correct relationship with the dead: unity with them because we, like them, are the victims of the same condition and the same disappointed hope. [29]

That such specular productions are not inherently opposed to the productive outcome sought by Benjamin and Gordon is demonstrated by a nineteenth-century play entitled “Pepper’s Ghost,” a staging of Charles Dickens’ novella The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain (1862). [30] Labeled after its innovator, John Henry Pepper, it draws upon the same trick of optics as the Coachella production (and actually first described in Giambattista della Porta’s Magia Naturalis [1584]: “How we may see in a Chamber things that are not”). [31] What would interest Benjamin and Gordon here is the interplay between the technology and the moral to be extracted from the production.

In the stage version of Dickens’ work, an angled piece of glass between two identical but differently lit rooms—one visible to the audience, the other not—was employed to project a figure in the unseen room as a “ghost” image in its counterpart. In Dickens’ tale, the melancholic chemistry teacher Redlaw is visited by a phantom double of himself, an “animated image”:

Ghastly and cold, colourless in its leaden face and hands, but with his features, and bright eyes, and his grizzled hair, and dressed in the gloomy shadow of his dress, it came into its terrible appearance of existence, motionless, without a sound. As he leaned his arm upon the elbow of the chair, it leaned upon the chair-back, close above him, with its appalling copy of his face looking where his face looked, and bearing the expression his face bore. [32]

What unites the two even more than physical characteristics and pantomime, however, is a similar desire for Lethe, amnesia: “Thus,” said the Phantom, “I bear within me a Sorrow and a Wrong. Thus I prey upon myself. Thus, memory is my curse; and, if I could forget my sorrow and my wrong, I would!” [33] The devil’s bargain this apparition strikes up with Redlaw allows the chemist to forget the painful memories of his own past. The only catch, as the Ghost informs him, is that “the gift that I have given you, you shall give again, go where you will.” In the course of the play, Redlaw realizes the folly of his choice: “I have lost my memory of sorrow, wrong, and trouble,” says the chemist, “and with that I have lost all man would remember!” [34] As Milly, the moral spokesperson for the tale, indicates without memory one forfeits the ability to forgive and to grow as a human being. Realizing this truth, Redlaw is reformed and the ghost vanishes. Rejecting the false promise of the simulation thus occasions self-knowledge and growth.

By hauntological standards, Tupac’s “ghost” is non-confrontational, anodyne. Rather than encouraging in the audience what Nicolas Abraham and Mária Török describe as “the gradual assimilative work of mourning” for Tupac’s death, the phantom offers an illusory writ of habeas corpus, a “restored” and animated body no longer encrypted and lost. [35] In her discussion of Benjamin’s complex notion of the aura, Miriam Bratu Hansen connects it to the figure of the tselem, “a ‘personal daemon’ that shadows and determines a person’s being, less in the benign sense as the person’s ‘perfected nature’ than in the negative sense of an ‘antithetical self’ or ‘adversary angel.’” [36] Redlaw’s phantom double functions precisely as an antithetical self, pushing him—and by extension the audience—into that higher state of awareness that Benjamin valued as the outcome of the self-alienating process. Hansen describes Benjamin’s own masterful synthesis in this regard: his ability “to think salient features of auratic experience—temporal disjunction, the shocklike confrontation with an alien self—as asymmetrically entwined rather than simply incompatible with technological reproducibility and collective reception.” [37] By way of negative example, Redlaw’s tselem warns both the protagonist and his audience about the dangers of giving oneself over to the simulated figure and the free-floating, amnesiac detachment it offers from human concerns and affairs.

In contrast to Redlaw’s antithetical self and its moral instructions, Tupac’s own phantom double, for all its seeming authenticity and mimetic talents, has no such lessons to offer as it beckons its audience to drink deeply from the Lethean waters: “Tupac never died. He is on tour, live!” For Moore, the Black body “is the site of trauma located in the space between wanting to remember and a longing to forget.” [38] Here, though, any writ of habeas corpus is denied. Like Redlaw’s double, the ghost of Tupac bestows only forgetfulness upon those whom it encounters. It suggests the loss occasioned by his death can be spliced out and skipped over. Baudrillard describes virtual reality as “the product… of a surgical operation on the real world.” [39] No doubt, the anesthetized “patients” here feel no pain, so skillfully has the unpleasant memory been excised and replaced.

A recurring trope in the African-American experience, the genuine hauntological spectacle is never so forgettable and anesthetic. Referring to how The Shining “digs beneath the hauntological structure of the American family and finds an Indian Burial Ground,” Mark Fisher notes how (the film) “Beloved pitches us right into the atrocious heart of America’s other genocide: slavery.” [40] He attributes the film’s commercial failure partly “to the fact that the wounds are too raw, the ghosts too Real.” Indeed, even leaving the cinema “there is no escape from these spectres.” [41] Disjunction rather than soothing illusions is what elicits an optical unconscious from the audience. Colin Davis distinguishes between phantoms who “lie about the past” and specters who “gesture towards a still unformulated future.” [42] Invoking nostalgia and escapist fantasy, Tupac is a revenant who does not confront but who comforts and obfuscates. Not simply borrowed, but bought, Tupac’s amortization here portends one more down payment for the audience on “the slow cancellation of the future” that Berardi characterizes as the price of nostalgia and retromania. [43] Reynolds diagnoses the contemporary music scene’s fascination with the past as symptomatic of the culture’s having “lost the ability to grasp and articulate the present.” [44] For Fisher, such nostalgic “hauntings” signify “failed mourning,” a refusal “to give up the ghost.” [45] Genuine mourning can only occur when the ghost and the intergenerational trauma summoning it forth are confronted and interrogated, not simply conjured up for entertainment purposes.

“Holographic” Tupac is a far cry from what Davis describes in hauntological terms as “a deconstructive figure hovering between life and death, presence and absence, and making established certainties vacillate.” [46] Benjamin, too, placed a high value on the disjunctive nature of hauntings. As Susan Buck-Morss indicates, his goal “was to connect the shock of awakening with the discipline of remembering and thereby mobilize the historical objects.” [47] In political terms, the technology behind the Coachella production is neither emancipatory nor revolutionary in its impact. As in Benjamin’s critique of the technology of his own day, it is, in the summation of Buck-Morss, “held back by conventional imagination that sees the new only as a continuation of the old.” [48] It does not awaken its audience from what Buck-Morss describes as “the collective dream of the commodity phantasmagoria.” [49] Most importantly, it does not fulfill the requirement that such processes should result in “a something-to-be-done.” [50] Rather than offering such illuminations or recognitions, “Tupac” represents one more example of what Gordon identifies as our problematic “investment in ontologies of disassociation.” [51] She cites stories circulating about CIA ghost prisons, secret interrogation centers known as black sites where “ghost” detainees are spirited away and held in an indeterminate state of exile and imprisonment.

Of course, both Marx and Benjamin felt that new technologies had the potential not only to conceal but also to reveal. Here Benjamin’s “optical unconscious” and “profane illuminations” coincide with Gordon’s view of haunting as offering “transformative recognition” [52] In counterpoint to Tupac’s own ontological disassociation, we do witness ways in which technology can overcome disassociation and offer possibilities of resistance to the dispositif. For example, the controversial rapper Chief Keef overcame, at least temporarily, his banning from performing in Chicago by appearing as a hologram, although the show was promptly shut down once its venue was discovered. [53] Similar strategies for employing the technology’s subversive potential have emerged. Opposing a gag law restricting public demonstrations, thousands of Spanish protesters marched last year in Madrid—as holograms. A “ghostly demonstration,” the protesters’ holographically recorded faces were projected on the front of the Congress of Deputies Building. Describing the protest as “ironic,” spokesman Carlos Escano noted, “with the restrictions we’re suffering on our freedoms of association and peaceful assembly, the last option that will be left to us in the end will be to protest through our holograms.” [54] The fact that various government agencies have sought to ban such digital presentations and testimony lends them credibility as oppositional, subversive strategies, the holographic figure now “occupying” a site of resistance.

In contrast, the use of technology behind “Tupac” frustrates any such return, any such witnessing. The Coachella audience is encouraged to forget the past and its attendant traumas. Like those whom Adorno and Horkheimer describe as having “a disturbed relationship to the dead,” they repress history as a means of evading “the disintegration of their own lives.” [55] An opportunity is lost. In the proper hands, the technology could have been employed for political mediation, linking the past with recent events that have sparked the Black Lives Matter movement, as in the introduction to the “Holler” video:

How many more funerals do we gotta go to and how many more scenes of the crime do we got to watch them chalk out black figures on the concrete before we realize that the only way to get out of this predicament is to struggle to survive? [56]

For Gordon, haunting involves a ghost who “is a crucible for political mediation and historical memory.” [57] What better crucible than Tupac to induce the shock of awakening…

And look for me in the struggle
Hustlin ‘til other brothers bubble

…with the discipline of remembering…

And now I’m like a major threat
Cause I remind you of the things you were made to forget.


Properly directed, the technology behind Tupac’s resurrection would have made the term “Black Ops” take on a whole new dimension. Certainly the conditions Benjamin identified as necessary for an awakening are present here. “Hail Mary,” for example, creates an aura of animistic religion and communion, a Benjaminian quality of innervation that elicits from the audience a participatory consciousness via the spectacle. If the liminal space that opens up here is a staging place for nostalgia and amnesia in service to commodity driven forces, it also has the potential to stage an awakening. No doubt there is a yearning in at least some members of the audience for an initiation of sorts: to be awakened to and engaged in natural historical processes. The key question arises here: does the apparition remind the audience of the things they were made to forget?

Unfortunately, the technology employed even more recently in “resurrecting” Tupac is merely a mash-up for a beer commercial featuring dead celebrities cavorting on an otherwise deserted Caribbean island, their only concern remaining hidden from the occasional ship passing by. [58] And yet the possibilities for a positive re-mediation had been held forth by the rapper himself in words just as meaningful in death as they once were in life: “I’m still around for ya/Keepin my sound underground for ya.”

Successful summoning up of the past, whether involving an artwork or a lifework, is both injunctive and disjunctive, demanding new modes of seeing and understanding. Summing up Benjamin’s understanding of a text or a work of art, Graeme Gilloch points out how meaning “is continually being reconstituted and reconfigured through textual mortification, political appropriation and individual/collective remembrance,” legibility achieved when “past and present intersect, as a critical constellation is formed.” [59] Beyoncé’s recent Super Bowl 50 performance in which she links the fifty-year anniversary of America’s defining ritual with the anniversary of the founding of the Black Panther Party proved more hauntologically effective than Tupac’s resurrection. Described as a Black Power anthem, “Formation” politically appropriated the cheerleader and marching band themes while eliciting the optical unconscious of spectators whose gaze was turned from the I-formation to a new “eye-formation” as the thirty black-bereted women formed an X in tribute to Malcolm X. A controversial, disjunctive critical constellation, her performance sparked 147,000 tweets a second. While the political protest here may not prove to have a long-lasting effect and has its own problematic features, it did succeed, in one tweeter’s estimation, “in telling the world #BlackLivesMatter.” [60] The individual/collective remembrance was invoked as the past, remembered and reordered, illuminated the present.

For Gordon, true haunting involves “the sociality of living with ghosts.” [61] It is a continual dialogue with ancestors that lends them autonomy and life while freeing them from the technoslavery of instrumentality. Such sociality, in the form of a productive interrogation of ghosts, can be found in Kendrick Lamar’s “Mortal Man,” a cut from his 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly. [62] Lamar begins by invoking the “ghost of Mandela” and asking his aid as he leads “this army” of fans, and risks falling into “mistakes and depression.” He then proceeds to address Tupac as “one of your offspring of the legacy you left behind.” Interspersed in this rap are segments from a 1994 interview Tupac gave to Mats Nileskår, a Swedish radio journalist. Nileskår describes his aims in arranging the interview:

“What I sort of try to do is to put African-American music in a social context, make it a hybrid of music journalism, social reporting and art, to some extent,” he explained. “So I remember, what I did was put him in a sort of free space, a free zone. Because he had a hard time, everybody was after him. It was the rape charge; he had recently shot a riot cop in the ass in Atlanta. Everybody was after him. So I tried to put him in a free zone and going off a sort of more or less metaphysical vibe to make him feel freer and so we could talk about the artistry and everything. So I created a space for him to be intense. Or I tried to do that.” [63]

Lamar picks up on the “metaphysical vibe” induced here, inserting himself as an interlocutor as a means of bridging the generational divide between him and Tupac. Like an Odysseus in the Underworld, he asks Tupac “what you think is the future for me and my generation today?” Tupac prophesizes violent revolt, on a Nat Turner scale. Responding “That’s crazy man,” Lamar pins his hopes on “music and vibrations.” He talks about getting behind the mic and not knowing “what type of energy I’mma push out, or where it comes from. Trip me out sometimes.” Expressing his own belief in “music and vibrations,” Tupac responds: “Because the spirits, we ain’t really rappin’, we just letting our dead homies tell stories for us.” [64] Tupac’s observation here validates Lamar’s mash-up. Indeed, John Perele‘s review of the album in The International New York Times confirms not only the artistry of Lamar’s effort but also its success as measured by hauntological standards: “a dense caldron of funk, jazz and soul that draws hope and determination from the past, confronting problems that past eras have left unsolved.” [65] While Lamar’s extended meditation on the perils of success, the dangers of violent resistance, and the capriciousness of fans does not fully resolve these issues, his use of Tupac as a sounding board demonstrates the transformative potential of reckoning with ghosts, of wanting to remember rather than longing to forget.

Asked about his own take on Lamar’s rendering of his interview, Nileskär describes the production as surreal: “It’s like breaking the boundaries of life and death.” Past and present intersect, as Lamar’s appropriation of Tupac’s words demonstrates a political resonance. Thus the journalist is struck by “how the same things have come back around again, 21 years later.” He observes how “some of these quotes can be the backbone of what I see as a new Civil Rights movement right now happening in the U.S.” Unlike the afterlife meted out to him by Digicon, Tupac’s afterlife here is one which Gilloch might note accords with Benjamin’s own concept of the work of art (or in Tupac’s case, lifework): “Meanings emerge (and disappear again) posthumously, during the ‘stage of continued life.’” [66]

Not entirely “sociable,” Lamar at several points confronts Tupac as an antithetical self who was guilty of not seeing past his own thoughts and even taking wrong turns at times. Thus we can find a critique of Tupac when he likens the situation of young Black males to that of a caterpillar trapped in a societal “cocoon which institutionalizes him” to such an extent he is trapped and “can no longer see past his own thoughts.” Employing Tupac’s legacy as not just a sounding board but a spring board, Lamar then describes a process of inner change in which the caterpillar transcends its “harsh outlook on life” that “pimps the butterfly” as weak: “Finally free, the butterfly sheds light on situations/That the caterpillar never considered.”

3. Serving an After-Life Sentence

“Let me hear no smooth talk of death from you, Odysseus, light of councils. Better, I say, to break sod as a farm hand for some poor country man, on iron rations, than lord it over all the exhausted dead.”

The Odyssey. [67]

Even while we was goin through our drama i wouldnt wish death on nobody cause there aint no comin back from that…

“Runnin (Dying to Live)” [68]

The digital apparatus that “resurrects” Tupac and encourages the audience to vest its belief in the simulation-as-real displays an even more infernal effect upon the Black subject it purports to represent. Such apparatuses, Agamben informs us, “produce their subject” through “a pure activity of governance devoid of any foundation of being.” [69] The missing foundation constitutes the liminal space in which rappers such as Tupac performed. Sharon Holland identifies that space as the space of the dead, inhabited as well by the Black subject whose presence in the culture, like the notion of death itself, is marginalized, made invisible and ineffable until rappers like Tupac (or events like Ferguson) bring it to the fore of the nation’s consciousness. It is a space Tupac is constantly reminded of by the death of friends: “Now that you’re gone I’m in the zone/Thinking I don’t want to die all alone” (“Life Goes On”). [70]

Flaunting the inevitability of his death, in Holland’s words, “performing the event of his own death and packaging it as art,” Tupac stage-managed that space so that it functioned as an arena for a productive, mercurial social critique. On the one hand, this strategy allowed the subject to expose “the end-point of governmental policies and programs which materially and psychically ‘kill’ the nation’s black subjects.” Holland cites in this regard the parsing of “Thug Life”: “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everyone.” [71] On the other hand, the Black subject who speaks from that space (and the person who uncritically accepts the premise of his discourse) runs the risk of legitimizing the link between the black male subject and death. In his discussion of the Afropessimist stance, Fred Moten points out the inevitable contradiction here: “It’s annoying to perform what you oppose.” [72] Annoying, no doubt, but the only way to express what he labels the fugitivity of Blackness, “the various stages of my flight from the conditions of its making.” [73]

For Tupac those conditions constituted a form of living death, animation and negation rolled into one. With reference to this paradoxical state, Jasmine Guy, his mother’s biographer, finds a parallel between mother and son, who both lived through their own “concentrated period of time” (1968-1971 for Afeni and 1992-1995 for Tupac). [74] Afeni reveals to Guy the mindset this accelerated life caused, no doubt recalling her own situation as an “enemy of the state” during her Black Panther days:

I saw this desperation in my son. Like he knew he was only here for a limited time. That’s why it scared me so. I know that place Tupac was in. It’s not a nice place to be. It’s a place that will save you because you take yourself to the limit. To all the options of all the bad things that can happen. You take yourself there, and you accept them. [75]

Both mother and son were acutely aware of what John Edgar Wideman describes as “the double whammy of enslavement and colonization,” the sense that a people who has once experienced them is “eternally unsafe, their lives at high risk, because in the eyes of those who once owned them, their only raison d’ être is to serve. Or disappear.” [76]

While there was a certain statistical truth to Tupac’s envisioning of his inevitable death—“We both gotta die but you chose to go before me”—Holland finds a troubling “disidentification with life” in this expression of fatality, as summed up by Tupac’s own assessment of his work: “My music is spiritual. It’s like Negro spirituals, except for the fact that I’m not saying ‘We Shall Overcome.’ I’m saying that we are overcome.” [77] This sense of fatality lent urgency to Tupac’s career. Prophetically, Tupac represents to Lamar the tragic trajectory of his own life:

In this country a black man only have like 5 years we can exhibit maximum strength, and that’s right now while you a teenager, while you still strong or while you still wanna lift weights, while you still wanna shoot back. Cause once you turn 30 it’s like they take the heart and soul out of a man, out of a black man in this country. And you don’t wanna fight no more. And if you don’t believe me you can look around, you don’t see no loud mouth 30-year old muthafuckas. [78]

Notwithstanding this sense of fatality, uttering truths about the Black experience from the space of death gave an edge and vitality to the living Tupac’s performance. As Wideman observes, “even if your fate’s decided, you can always imagine ways to refuse it. So what if the opportunity to refuse never explicitly comes?” [79] Carey Walsh points out the dangers of “Incarnation,” which, “precisely because it is in the world, is at risk of being snuffed out, crucified by that world.” [80] Nonetheless, the incarnate rapper, unlike his disincarnate double, is more authentically grounded: he runs the risks that too often define the Black male’s existence in our society. As the living Tupac expressed it after he suffered gunshot wounds in a robbery attempt: “bullets burn.” On the contrary, they merely pass harmlessly through a phantom double. The hollowed out hologram bears witness to Agamben’s pronouncement on the desubjectified figure captured by such apparatuses: “In the nontruth of the subject, its own truth is no longer at stake.” [81]

Writing before the advent of a “holographic,” “resurrected” Tupac, Holland at this point would have to adjust her critique. She might very well find that the liminal space between life and death in which the Black rapper operated no longer serves here as a space for a provocative, productive discourse. Holland’s discussion of Menace II Society is a case in point. She observes that the film’s audience assumes that its narrator, Caine, escapes the ghetto and comes out alive at the end of the film; a “happily-ever-after” ending. By film’s end, the audience realizes he has died. Caine’s words, she argues, “reach from the place of the dead into the space of the living.” [82] Ironically, since the space of the living was always already closed off to him, it is as a dead man that he gains power and authority by exposing its conditions.

At first glance, Caine and Tupac’s situations seem comparable. Alive, Tupac also spoke from the space of the dead in his apprehension of dying. His dying was a fulfillment of that speaking, a premonitory truth. Resurrecting him, however, takes us back to Menace’s “happy ending” scenario. Thus, the audience, starting out from the knowledge that Tupac died, is offered him up “alive.” The living person performing and flaunting his death is now replaced by the comforting illusion of the simulation now flaunting its own triumph over that decedent’s death. In this new arrangement, Tupac has been replaced by the personification of Death itself. What we witness here is not a resurrection of Tupac but a coup-de-grâce, a second—and final—death. More troubling still, what is put to rest here, foreclosed upon, is the “certain discourse on the relation between blackness and death” that Fred Moten indicates should be the focus of Black studies: Wideman ponders, rhetorically, “’Where in this spectacle am I supposed to find the pursuit of freedom, bloody resistance.’” [83]

This ghosting and restricting of Tupac reaffirms the image of the Black subject in the national imagination: a threatening, haunting figure that is controlled, in Holland’s words, by being imaged as “spirit” and “disembodied,” consigned to “poor urban spaces.” [84] While the living Tupac wondered if Heaven had a ghetto, the “resurrected” Tupac confirms that the Underworld most certainly does. Doing time in this Underworld, periodically called up to perform “work release” for those with rights over him, Tupac, who once lived (at) large, is now diminished. Here a second, juridical sense of “apparatus” comes into play, what Agamben describes as “a judgment… the section of a sentence that decides, or the enacting clause of a law.” [85] Tupac’s own sentence is one with no chance of parole: “Imagine life as a convict/
That’s getten’ old” (“Life Goes On”).

If, for Agamben, the dancing women of the Dim Stocking commercial covered over “the long lines of the naked, anonymous bodies led to their death in the Lagers (camps),” synthespian Tupac covers over a different set of anonymous bodies: the disproportionate number of Black males serving time in America’s “prison Lagers,” where he now shares with “fellow prisoners” an indeterminate sentence. [86] He joins the ranks of other “dead men walking,” prisoners whose own incarceration knows no terms of amortization. (Indeed, popular among prisoners today is the tattoo of a clock without hands.) Time and time again, Tupac insisted they not be forgotten, as in “Changes”: “It ain’t a secret don’t conceal the fact… /the penitentiary’s packed, and it’s filled with blacks.” In this new arrangement, the last line of Tupac’s shout-out to prisoners now has an ironic ring to it:

My homeboys in Clinton and Rikers Island
All the penitentiaries
Mumia, Mutulu, Geronimo Pratt
All the political Prisoners
San Quinton
All the jailhouses
I’m with you

“Hold Ya Head” [87]

In creating a separate sphere in which body is separated from soul, the latter put to work, commodified in the service of corporate interests, a form of social control is achieved. Holland argues that such social control is absolutely necessary since “there is no such thing as power without the fear and force of Blackness, which enacts it in the first place.” [88] That fear and force occasioned by blackness must be contained and channeled. The social anxieties generated here must be laid to rest by incarcerating Black bodies, removing them from public view, covering them over. Tellingly, the “resurrected” Tupac that appeared at Coachella rose slowly from underground, as though called up from the Hades of Homeric Greece. Under such circumstances, we are offered “after-images of used-up men,” ghosts that Thomas de Wesselow might label “mere shadows of their former selves.” [89]

A reanimated, speaking Tupac, seemingly retrieved from death, does not come accompanied by the adversary angel that made such a compelling if ultimately tragic story of his life and art. He is closer in spirit to the tselem of a “perfected nature.” The “resurrected” body, generated from a model through computer programming, is detached, rotoscoped, from its origins and personal history. (Sur)rendering that body to an image boils it down—“renders” it—into easily manipulated bits and bytes. Its meaning is decrypted in what amounts to digital grave-robbing. Tupac’s body, once digitized, becomes “rendered” in another sense, the subject of an extraordinary rendition in which it is transferred from one jurisdiction to another, the actual to the simulated. Indeed, the judgment rendered here expresses the juridical function of the apparatus of capture. As a copyrighted image, Shakur becomes a contemporary instance of the Dred Scott case, in which the slave was defined as private property that could not be taken from its owner “without due process.” He has been pursued not across state lines but across those that once divided the living from the dead, forcibly brought back from that “undiscovered Countrey, from whose Borne” no traveler should return. While the escaped slave Margaret Garner, who inspired Beloved, chose to save her daughter from slavery by killing her, no such “escape clause” is in store for Tupac. Bought and paid for, he must do his owner’s bidding, forever in thrall.

In this scenario, Tupac is condemned to an afterlife of canned performances. As Massumi observes, virtuality not only abstracts bodies but it also “imposes conformity” in a “glorification of habit.” [90] Such “encore” performances conveniently ignore the last acts behind those stories (whether by drug overdoses or, in Tupac’s case, a brutal gangland assassination). Rather than presenting Elvis as a ballooning, white-sequin-suited figure condemned to performing endlessly on the Vegas strip, audiences are treated to a much more marketable, youthful Elvis. No doubt, too, a truly resurrected Tupac, his simulated body riddled with bullets, would no longer promulgate an escapist fantasy. Technology triumphs over tragedy as a drive-by shooting and a body riddled by bullets no longer register.

A Faustian process, amortization draws down on bodily resources as it secures the performer’s soul. Berardi identifies the exchange here:

Digital technologies are based on the loss of the physicality of the world, on simulating algorithms, capable of reproducing all life forms, except for only one quality: their tangible reality, their physical form and therefore their caducity. [91]

In separating the lived reality of the body from the soul, holographic Tupac is the culmination of a process in which the Black body, as described by George Yancy, “provides only the illusion of self-evidence, facticity, ‘thereness’ for something ephemeral, imaginary, something made in the image of particular social groups.” [92] The victim of such social imaginings, projections, Yancy speaks of the experience of hearing car doors being clicked on his approach, of being treated by whites as “the dark savage, even as I comport myself to the contrary.” Entrapped by the White gaze that treats him as “the specular negative image of itself,” he imagines acting out the role imposed on him: “Surprise. You’ve just been carjacked by a ghost, a fantasy of your own creation. Now, get the fuck out of the car.” [93] The reanimating and “ghosting” of Tupac puts the final seal on the condition of being Black in America, for Yancy nothing more than an ontological dead end:

To ex-ist as Black is not “to stand out” facing an ontological horizon filled with future possibilities of being other than what one is. Rather, being Black negates the “ex” of existence. [94]

Holographic Tupac is thus twice removed from any ontological reality. It is the culmination of the dominant culture’s specularization of the Black body. Possessing no “horizon filled with future possibilities,” in actuality, it marks off the space of absence, of cancelled opportunity, of what Marriott describes as “the whitened-out obscurity of their [Blacks’] own creaturely indetermination.” [95] Once the body has been removed, even the chalk marks start to dissolve.

If this animate dead body resurrects anything, it is the condition of being Black in America, the specular projection/production of the dominant culture’s seeing. Describing this seeing as “mediatized,” Marriott notes how “black life confirms our distance from the real and our ironic attachment to willed disbelief,” constituting at the same time “the dark remainder of the real’s frightening opacity.” [96] Surveying Wideman’s The Island: Martinique, Marriott claims that such seeing has falsified the island’s history. It has caused the Black objects of its gaze to become “strangely disembodied,” a state the author compares to the “keeping alive of what’s never been alive.” [97] In doing so, “Race, an incantatory word, remains in that other world of phantoms.” [98]

The “corporate” takeover here, a digital grave-robbing via bodily cover-up, forecloses upon what Dyson claims is the value autopsy serves in hip-hop’s cultural critique, a critique that exposes “the social pathologies that grow inside the body politic”:

In hip-hop examining the dead black body—its beauties, its contributions, its distinct marks, its arrested aspirations, its foreclosed opportunities, its lost life, its representative expressions, its causes of death—is both scientific and magic. [99]

The referential body has the potential to disrupt the experience of the simulation-as-real by confronting audiences with the caducity of an “Elvis” or a “Tupac.” By analogy, the more detached the simulation is from any bodily reference, the greater is its power of interpellation over an audience. The holographic body reenacts the State-controlled apparatus’s paradoxical ability to hide or obfuscate at the same moment it displays a subject. On its own terms, the bullet-ridden body evidences Dyson’s finding in Tupac “two warring ideals… (w)rapped in one dark body.” [100] One expresses his Black Panther roots, the dream of Black solidarity. Thus, immediately above “THUG LIFE” on Tupac’s abdomen is an AK-47 with “50 Niggaz” inscribed above it. The most popular interpretation of this tattoo runs along this line: “50 N****z stands for 1 black from every state of the USA, all them N****z would be stronger than every weapon, if they would be united.” [101] The other “ideal,” sowing disunity, speaks to the desire for commercial success that led to the East Side/West Side factionalism behind Shakur’s death.

While presenting him openly to public view, the jarring autopsy photograph already begins the process of a “cover up.” Here even the physical marks of his death, the bullet wounds riddling his body, have been “covered over” by the pathologist’s scalpel. It is as though the body has suffered a second set of wounds.

Tupac Death Picture from Documenting Reality: Media the Way It Was Meant to Be Viewed—Uncensored, 2006.

Such photographic “evidence” establishes not so much the fact of his death as it announces that the case is closed. It prematurely forecloses upon a genuine autopsy that might have resulted in a productive inquiry not into the physical causes of his death, already apparent, but the far more revelatory and disturbing social factors. Tupac becomes just another one of the docile bodies Holland describes as “imprisoned by the panoptic medical gaze.” Such photographs support Holland’s contention that bodies, particularly Black bodies, are seen as dangerous commodities that an anxious and troubled State apparatus seeks to control.

The x-ray of the dead rapper’s body, while promising to delve even more deeply into the causes of its demise, moves us further away from its physical form and tangible reality, its “arrested aspirations,” and into the “holographic” realm.

Tupac Death Picture from Documenting Reality: Media the Way It Was Meant to Be Viewed—Uncensored, February 2013.

Lacking either wounds or scalpel-cut marring, the “holographic” body, a pale substitute for the original, presents a smooth surface, a simulated whole that belies the “brokenness” and contradictions of its subject either in life or death. For Gordon, encounters with such ghostly figurations—hauntings— should reveal “repressed or unresolved social violence” leading to a transformative experience. [102] No longer wanting to remember, the audience is encouraged to forget.

Image sundered from that body in a simulated double, perfected and made whole, Coachella’s Tupac co-opts the personal history and dispositions of its original, no longer capable of protecting his own interests. As in CNN’s claim to have holographically captured a reporter from Chicago and transmitted her to appear in its New York studio, the “holographic” Tupac is based upon a false claim and false advertising. Etymology points towards the motive here. [103] The “holograph” (or “holographic instrument”) is a term that precedes “hologram,” although both “holograph” and “hologram” share in the same root sense of offering an authentic representation of their subject. For example, the holographic instrument written in the testator’s own hand is recognized as representing its author’s intended purpose: “that of making a valid, indisputable disposition of the author’s real property, personal assets and wishes or declarations, at the time of his or her death.” [104]

Ownership and control are at stake here. The more holographic the simulation seems, fully capturing and displaying its subject, the more indisputable is the claim over that “captured” subject qua property. As a “signature” production, a “holograph-ic” Tupac’s “dispositions” are now signed over to whatever corporation holds the rights to him. While it is true that musical performers have always engaged in an on-going struggle with the “privatization” process of legal contracts that, in one reviewer’s estimation, “siphon off profit and soul,” those contracts invariably have term limits and thus are subject to re-negotiation—often from a position of strength on the performer’s part if s/he has achieved increased success. Set on a course of eventual full amortization, a Death Row sentence of sorts, the undead performer has no hand in such negotiations nor in the future direction his or her “career” will take. What is foreclosed upon here is “soul,” which Berardi situates in the body, defining it not “in a spiritualist sense” but as “the condition of possibility for productive action, social action.” [105]

Admittedly, fame and fortune had already started to institutionalize Tupac as a product, but the living Tupac had the option of resisting such control, such privatization. The postmortem entity can exercise no powers of resistance to the arrangement, something that the frequently combative Tupac did during his lifetime. In “Only God Can Judge Me,” Shakur speaks from bitter experience about being mediated: “Recollect your thoughts don’t get caught up in the mix/Cause the media is full of dirty tricks.” The resurrected Tupac is no longer the person driven by the contradictory forces that defined his life. He is now, body and soul, a “studio” production. As Dyson sums up, “Tupac tried to live the life he rapped about, which had spectacular results in the studio but disastrous results in the world.” [106] Wrestling with his own adversary angel, Tupac expressed a bitter wisdom in being caught up in a remix partly of his own making. Acknowledging the cost of being in the media spotlight, he remarked: “I never had a record until I made a record.” Still living, Tupac might have found a way out of the vicious cycle of the gangster persona; “resurrected,” he can only retrace his steps. As Gordon informs us, “ghosts are never innocent: the unhallowed dead of the modern project drag in the pathos of their loss and the violence of the force that made them, their sheets and chains.” [108] No such revelations are on display here. Indeed, Tupac’s quest to make his way in the world, his struggle with the adversary angel of his own flawed but magnanimous nature, makes him far more intriguing and multidimensional than any shade conjured up from the Underworld of some corporate headquarters.



[1] Giorgio Agamben. What Is an Apparatus? and Other Essays. Trans. David Kishik and Stefan Pedatella, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009), 14.

[2] Tupac Shakur. “Hail Mary.” The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory. Death Row Records. 1996.

[3] Julie Miller. “Marilyn Monroe “Hologram” Concert Planned for Later This Year,” Vanity Fair (May 31, 2012): http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2012/05/marilyn-monroe-hologram-concert-2012-tupac-coachella (accessed on 2 June, 2015). Most recently, we are told that HologramUSA plans to bring back comedians Red Foxx and Andy Kaufmann. They will host shows that ““will have residencies in multiple locations in tourist-oriented cities across the country.” Holograms of Billie Holiday and Whitney Houston are also planned. “There are an awful lot of dead people with a lot of followers,” notes one company spokesperson. Dave Itszkoff, “Andy Kaufman and Red Foxx to Tour, Years After Death, as Holograms,” International New York Times (October 2015): http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/24/arts/andy-kaufman-and-redd-foxx-to-tour-years-after-death.html?_r=0 (accessed on 23 October, 2015).

[4] Tupac’s Greatest Hits (1998) reappeared as #129 on the Billboard 200 chart, with 4000 records sold (an increase of 571%). More telling still, the song with which he opened the Coachella performance, “Hail Mary,” drew 13,000 online downloads during the week following his performance for a 1,530% sales increase. Nicole Marie Melton, “Tupac’s Album Sales Soar After Coachella Hologram Performance.” Essence (April 12, 2012): http://www.essence.com/2012/04/29/tupacs-album-sales-soar-after-coachella-hologram-appearance (accessed on 7 March 2016). See also: Keith Caulfield, “Tupac’s Coachella Appearance Spurs Huge Sales Bump.” Billboard (April 26, 2012): http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/489895/tupacs-virtual-coachella-appearance-spurs-huge-sales-bump (accessed on 7 March 2016).

[5] Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1968).

[6] Avery F. Gordon. Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), 22.

[7] Darnell L. Moore. “Theorizing the ‘Black Body’ as a Site of Trauma: Implications for Theologies of Embodiment,” Theology and Sexuality 15, no. 2 (2009): 186; 178.

[8] David Marriott. Haunted Life: Visual Culture and Black Modernity, (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2007), 17.

[9] Jacques Derrida, Spectres of Marx, (New York: Routledge, 1994), 136.

[10] Simon Reynolds, Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to its Own Past, (New York: Faber and Faber, 2011), 313.

[11] Sherry Turkle, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, (New York: Basic Books, 2012). See also Sherry Turkle, Simulation and Its Discontents, (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2009).

[12] Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 47.

[13] Steve Wilson, quoted in “American Idol: Elvis Has Left the Building.” Wild Bluff Media: Entertainment Examined, http://www.wildbluffmedia.com/2007/04/27/american-idol-elvis-has-left-the-building/ (accessed on 7 March 2016).

[14] Ed Ulbrich quoted in Claire Suddath, “How Tupac Became a Hologram (Is Elvis Next?),” Bloomberg Business (April 16, 2012): http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/articles/2012-04-16/how-tupac-became-a-hologram-plus-is-elvis-next (accessed on 7 March, 2016)

[15] Benjamin, 234; 230.

[16] Franco “Biff” Berardi, Precarious Rhapsody: Semiocapitalism and the Pathologies of the Post-Alpha Generation, trans. Arianna Bove, et al., (London: Minor Compositions, 2009), 144.

[17] Ibid, 146.

[18] Ibid, 81.

[19] Reynolds, xiii.

[20] P. F. Kluge, Eddie and the Cruisers, (New York: Viking, 1980), 54.

[21] Michael Eric Dyson, Holler If You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur, (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 2001), 16.

[22] “Prestidigitalization” is a neologism I have coined to describe various practices of deceptive digital manipulation. It covers a wider range than “prestidigitization,” a specialized term introduced by Daniel Klein as “the act of putting something into digital notation via sleight of hand.” http://www.dictionary.com/browse/prestidigitization (accessed on 30 March, 2016).

[23] A notable example of such misappropriation and misdirection is Nike’s infamous commercial chastising Tiger Woods, accomplished by using an interview from his father, Earl Woods, out of context. Dead for four years, the father is made to seem as though he is addressing his son over the current scandal. I explore the corporate parenthood exercised here in “The UnNatural, or Who’s Your Daddy: Tiger Woods, Nike, and Corporate Parenthood.” CTheory, April 5, 2011.

[24] Brian Massumi, A User’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari, (Boston: MIT Press, 1992), 111.

[25] Charles Aaron, “What the White Boy Means When He Says Yo.” Spin. http://www.spin.com/2014/02/what-white-boy-means-when-he-says-yo-limp-bizkit-spin-charles-aaron/ (accessed on 7 March, 2016).

[26] Henry Giroux, quoted in Aaron.

[27] Jimmy Iovine, quoted in Aaron.

[28] Henry Giroux, “Doing Cultural Studies: Youth and the Challenge of Pedagogy,” Harvard Educational Review 64, no. 3 (1994): 278-308.

[29] Max Horkheimer and Theodore Adorno, “On the Theory of Ghosts” in The Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. John Cumming, (New York: Continuum, 1944; 1987): 215.

[30] Charles Dickens, The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain, (New York: Create Space, 2012).

[31] An excellent set of illustrations, “Pepper’s Ghost,” can be found at the Wiki site under the same title.

[32] Dickens, 31.

[33] Ibid, 36.

[34] Ibid, 40.

[35] Nicholas Abraham and Maria Torok, The Shell and the Kernel, trans. Nicholas T. Rand, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994).

[36] Miriam Bratu Hansen, “Benjamin’s Aura,” Critical Inquiry 34 (2008): 335-75.

[37] Hansen, 343.

[38] Moore, 185.

[39] Jean Baudrillard, The Perfect Crime, trans. Chris Turner, (New York: Verso, 2008), 44.

[40] Mark Fisher, Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures, (Washington: Zero Books, 2013).

[41] Fisher, 127.

[42] Colin Davis, “Hauntology, Spectres and Phantoms,” French Studies 59, no. 3 (2005): 373-79.

[43] Franco “Biff” Berardi, After the Future, (New York: AK Press, 2010).

[44] Reynolds, 202.

[45] Fisher, 22.

[46] Davis, 373.

[47] Buck-Morss, 272

[48] Ibid., 115.

[49] Ibid., 271.

[50] Gordon, 181.

[51] Ibid., xix.

[52] Ibid., 8.

[53] Joe Coscarelli, “Hologram Performance by Chief Keef Is Shut Down by Police,” The International New York Times (July 26, 2015), http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/27/arts/music/hologram-performance-by-chief-keef-is-shut-down-by-police.html (accessed on 7 March, 2016).

[54] Jethro Mullen, “Virtual Protest: Demonstrators Challenge New Law with Holograms,” CNN (April 25, 2014), http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/12/europe/spain-hologram-protest/ (accessed on 7 March, 2016).

[55] Gordon, 211.

[56] Tupac Shakur, “Holler If Ya Hear Me,” Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z., Jive Records, 1993.

[57] Gordon, 17.

[58] Vasiliy Zverev, “Beer Commercial Featuring Tupac, Bruce Lee, Marilyn Monroe, Kurt Cobain, John Lennon & Elvis.” YouTube (December 5, 2014), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RweXg3YMOHg (accessed on 7 March, 2016).

[59] Graeme Gilloch, Walter Benjamin: Critical Constellations, (Cambridge, England: Polity Press, 2001), 234.

[60] Chris Perez, “Beyoncé Honors Black Panther Party during Half-Time Show.” New York Post (February 8, 2016), http://nypost.com/2016/02/08/beyonce-honors-black-panther-party-during-halftime-show/ (accessed on 7 March, 2016). Charing Ball finds a dubious and mixed message arising from her performance: “Looking through the lens, ‘Formation’ is a reminder how, in terms of who we are as a community, we have crafted an identity that is both boastful and prideful in spirit but politically gracious and more aligned with the dominate [sic] culture than we care to admit.” “Beyoncé’s ‘Formation’ and the Failed Strategy of Black Capitalism.” Madame Noire (February 8, 2016). http://madamenoire.com/613117/beyonces-formation-and-the-failed-strategy-of-black-capitalism/ (accessed on 7 March, 2016).

From The Black Wall Street Journal: Edutainment, February 27, 2016.

[61] Gordon, 200.

[62] Kendrick Lamar, “Mortal Man,” To Pimp a Butterfly, Chalice Recording Studios, 2015.

[63] Dan Rys, “Journalist Mats Nileskär Discusses His Old Tupac Interview From Kendrick Lamar’s Album,” XXL: Hip-Hop on a Higher Level (March 24, 2015), http://www.xxlmag.com/news/2015/03/mats-nileskar-tupac-interview-kendrick-lamar/ (accessed on 7 March, 2016).

[64] Lamar.

[65] John Pareles. “The Best Albums of 2015.” The International New York Times (December 9, 2015), http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/13/arts/music/best-albums-of-2015.html (accessed on 7 March, 2016).

[66] Cited by Gilloch, 33; Illuminations, 70.

[67] Homer, The Odyssey, trans. Robert Fitzgerald, (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1998).

[68] Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls. “Runnin (Dying to Live).” Interscope Records, 2002.

[69] Agamben, 11.

[70] Tupac Shakur, Life Goes On,” All Eyez on Me, Death Row Records, 1996.

[71] Barbara Holland, Raising the Dead: Readings of Death and (Black) Subjectivity, (Raleigh: Duke UP, 2000), 385.

[72] Fred Moten, “Black Optimism/Black Operation,” https://lucian.uchicago.edu/blogs/politicalfeeling/files/2007/12/moten-black-optimism.doc (accessed on 7 March, 2016).

[73] Ibid.

[74] Jasmine Guy, Afeni Shakur: Evolution of a Revolutionary, (New York: Atria Books, 2005), 114.

[75] Ibid, 99.

[76] John Edgar Wideman, The Island Martinique, (Washington. D. C.: National Geographic, 2003), 43.

[77] Holland, 391; 392.

[78] Lamar.

[79] Wideman, 40.

[80] Carey Walsh, “Shout-Outs to the Creator: The Use of Biblical Themes in Rap Lyrics,” Journal of Religion and Popular Culture 25, no. 2 (2013): 239.

[81] Agamben, 21.

[82] Holland, 390.

[83] Wideman, 38.

[84] Holland, 440.

[85] Agamben, 7.

[86] Ibid, 49.

[87] Tupac Shakur, “Hold Ya Head,” The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, Death Row Records, 1996.

[88] Holland, 587.

[89] Thomas de Wesselow, The Sign: The Shroud of Turin and the Secret of the Resurrection, (New York: Dutton, 2012), 205.

[90] Massumi, 114.

[91] Franco “Biff” Berardi, “The Drift of Humpty Dumpty,” trans. Ariana Bove. Generation Online (May 2008), http://www.generation-online.org/p/fp_bifo10.htm (accessed on 7 March, 2016).

[92] George Yancey, “Whiteness and the Return of the Black Body,” Journal of Speculative Philosophy 19, no. 4 (2005): 216-17.

[93] Yancy, 218.

[94] Ibid, 237.

[95] Marriott, 2.

[96] Ibid, 2.

[97] Ibid, 6.

[98] Ibid, xxii.

[99] Dyson, 228.

[100] Ibid, 48.

[101] 2Pa2K.de, http://www.2pac2k.de/tattoos.html (accessed on 13 March, 2015).

[102] Gordon, 188.

[103] Filmed by 35 high-definition cameras circling her in a tented enclosure in Chicago in the run-up to Barack Obama’s 2008 victory, reporter Veronica Yellin was “holographically” transported to CNN’s studio in New York. As she “materialized” to the applause of the audience, interviewer Wolf Blitzer remarked: ““I want to talk to you as I would normally be talking to you as if you were really here face to face”; however, an “aura” or glowing outline had to be added to make her stand out more to the viewers, giving her a “somewhat fuzzy” appearance that nonetheless conveyed a sense of the supernatural ability of technological sorcery to deliver up bodies. To bolster the illusion of a material transfer of a body from one place to another, she remarked to Blitzer: “It’s like I follow the tradition of Princess Leia,” referring to the Star Wars character as well as the teleportation technology featured there. The message conveyed here is that bodies are dispensable commodities, that simulations can not only stand in for their human equivalents but can also replace them entirely. In “CNN’s Holograms Not Really Holograms,” Peter Nowak systematically exposes both the hype and the false claims made by the station in claiming to have achieved a first. The company’s anchors were really speaking “to empty space.” Peter Nowak, “CNN’s Holograms Not Really Holograms,” CBC News (November 5, 2008), http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/cnn-s-holograms-not-really-holograms-1.756373 (accessed on 7 March, 2016). Another commentator, Don Resinger, points out the prestidigitalization involved here: “The images were simply added to what viewers saw on their screens at home, in much the same way computer-generated special effects are added to movies.” Producing a true hologram, he notes, would have bankrupted the station. Don Resinger, “Stop the insanity: CNN’s ‘hologram’ was horrendous,” CNet (November 6, 2008), http://www.smh.com.au/technology/sci-tech/tupacs-performance-was-no-hologram-20120424-1xkai (accessed on 7 March, 2016).

[104] “Holograph,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holograph (accessed on 30 March 2016).

[105] “Drift.”

[106] Dyson, 16.

[108] Gordon, 22.


Please note: the quotation used as the title of section one, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain…” is from the film The Wizard of Oz, 1939. The quotation used as the title of section two, “I am thy father’s spirit…” is from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, 1.5: 9-10.


John Freeman is a professor of Renaissance literature at the University of Detroit Mercy. His most recent publications include essays on Shakespeare, Afeni Shakur, and digital media of various manifestations. He is currently in the final stages of exploring the intersection between artificial intelligence and playwriting (“Shakespeare’s Imitation Game, or: How Do You Solve a [Problem Set] Like Katherina?”) His scholarly portfolio can be accessed at http://hythlodaeus.weebly.com/



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