Semiotic Phantom (n)

related noun: semiotic haunting.

According to William Gibson, semiotic phantoms  are “bits of deep cultural imagery that have split off and taken a life of their own, like the Jules Verne airships that those old Kansas farmers were always seeing…Semiotic ghosts Fragments of the Mass Dream.” From “The Gernsback Continuum.”

A hallucinatory experience (or perhaps entirely real?) resulting from studying microhistory too much.  The ruins of previously imagined potential futures, ruins of desire, ghosts of never-realized entelechies.  Often the result of hallucination, drug use, or studying too much history, one finds oneself suddenly swept up in a world that could have been but never was.  The pentimento of intention.

According to Gibson you can be cured of these semiotic hauntings by really bad media: think porn, binge Netflix, or One Tree Hill:

“Hell of a world we live in, huh?” The proprietor [asked as I sat] anxious to….submerge myself in hard evidence of the human near-dystopia we live in. “But it could be worse, huh?”

“That’s right, I said, “or even worse, it could be perfect.”

He watched me as I headed down the street with my little bundle of condensed catastrophe.

Related: entelechy, pentimenti, if-only, future shock, mellagia.