Author: Craig Kalpakjian --- Date: 11/11/95--- Copyright: ThingReviews NYC

Jacques Derrida
Specters of Marx:
the state of the debt, the work of mourning, and the new international

translated by Peggy Kamuf

Routledge, New York and London

How are we to respond to the so called "death of Marxism," announced around us by the New World Order? And what of the silence around the lack of viable alternatives to this global capitalism? These are the main questions which Jacques Derrida's "Specters of Marx" revolves around.

Focusing on this figure of the ghost or specter - those Marx dealt with and was haunted by, as well as the ghost of Marx which haunts us today, Derrida talks of the specter as occupying a different mode of being - trying to create a new 'hauntology' dealing with the apparition of the inapparent.

The Communist Manifesto begins "A specter is haunting Europe-the specter of communism." And Derrida assures us that this is still so - that wherever this New World Order is marched out, it is in fear of this specter. Relating this to Hamlet (haunted by his fathers ghost), and noting Marx's interest in Shakespeare, Derrida reaffirms our debt to this ghost, but stipulates a selective inheritance - there are many 'spirits' of Marx and Marxism, and its a matter of choosing.

Though brilliantly written, this remains a mostly preliminary work which doesn't go into quite as much depth as one might like. Still, its refreshing to find this reaffirmation (of the "project" or "promise" of Marx) by one who rarely deals with such things so directly:

"...There is no precedent whatsoever for such an event. In the whole of history of humanity, in the whole history of the world and of the earth, in all that to which one can give the name of history in general, such an event (let us repeat, the event of a discourse in the philosophico-scientific form claiming to break with myth, religion, and the nationalist 'mystique') has been bound, for the first time and inseparably, to worldwide forms of social organization (a party with a universal vocation, a labor movement, a confederation of states, and so forth). All of this while proposing a new concept of the human, of society, economy, nation, several concepts of the State and of its disappearance. Whatever one may think of this event, of the sometimes terrifying failure of that which was thus begun, of the techno-economic or ecological disasters, and the totalitarian perversions to which it gave rise (perversions that some have been saying for a long time are precisely not perversions, that is, they are not pathological and accidental corruptions but the necessary deployment of an essential logic present at the birth, of an originary disadjustument--let us say, for our part, in a too-elliptical fashion and without contradicting this hypothesis, they are the effect of an ontological treatment of the spectrality of the ghost), whatever one may think also of the trauma in human memory that may follow, this unique attempt took place...And whether we like it or not, whatever consciousness we have of it, we cannot not be its heirs."

-Craig Kalpakjian

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Morgan Garwood --

we'd better keep a sharp eye on seemingly innocent words like "alternative"; they suggest, or at least insinuate, that there is a workable, fully developed model that can be inserted once "capitaliasm" has been pulled out, like the battery out of the Energizer Bunny... I don't see communism, in any way, shape or form, as posing a credible threat, or even a passing concern to the contemporary politico-economic world. The problem with the Sysytem as it stands is that the System has reached a point where it has become a self sustaining/ self-organizing "machine" that no-one is in control of anymore, or even understands all that well, and the sucker mutates weekly.

Craig Kalpakjian --

The point about "alternative" is well taken. I actully think this is what is meant by "...ontological treatment of the spectrality of the ghost."-perhaps using the word "alternative" in this sence is unfortunate in that it implies the being of this other thing instead of retaining the sense of its spectral, or ghost like existance. Your using the word "communism" makes your statement more plausable (although I think that even this "communism" might still concern some politico-economic powers, credible threat or not). If, however, you substitute for "communism" "any spirit of Marx or Marxism, in any way, shape or form," I think it becomes a bit harder to defend.

Morgan Garwood --

yes, you've got a point there... but didn't Marx, at the end of his life, say that he wasn't a Marxist? I think "Marxism" has overinflated as a distinguishing term... it's hard to say, even inexactly, what it means anymore... does it suggest, or imply, a *coercive state* or not ? The BIG problem that seems to doom this thinking from the outset is that it is based on a *scientific conception* of good human relation... but science does not, and I suspect, can not, now, then, or ever, "create" an ideally ordered society... if, for no other reason that science is a system of inquiry, not one of ethics or aesthetics...

Jay Raskin --

It took Christianity over 300 years before it gained political control over a single country, and over 1,000 years before it ruled 1/5th of the Earth. Marxism pulled off the first trick in 70 years and the second in just over 100. That the philosophy has not held onto state power in a number of countries certainly shows a setback for Marxism, but anyone who believes a philosophy can conquer the world without set backs does not know much history. Capitalism, which kills 50,000,000 people a year and enslaves 4 billion others sets up the conditions to assure the continued good health and growth of Marxism, not in any particular country at any particular time, but generally throughout the world for the foreseeable future. I have just started to read Derrida, and contrary to what I expected, I don't find his writings at all antithetical or hostile to Marxism, at least so far.