Derrida's _Spectres_

David McInerney davidmci at coombs.anu.edu.au
Wed Nov 1 22:16:24 MST 1995


>You may have already talked about this, but I was wondering if anyone has
>looked at Derrida's _Spectres of Marx_ in enough depth to post a brief
>critique/discussion.
>
>Jane Gregg
>Dept of American Studies
>University if Canterbury, New Zealand
>
Jane,

I read the extract in _New Left Review_ No. 205 and the response by Aijaz
Ahmad in _NLR_ # 208.  I lent my copy of _NLR_ # 205 to 'somebody' who I am
unable to remember.  I purchased the book when it came out but it doesn't
seem to offer much more excitement than the _NLR_ piece.  It's all so rusty
now but what stuck with me about Derrida's piece was that he recommends
discarding practically all of marxism except for a throw-away line about
'spectres' which he then interprets in the terms of Laclau's 'New
Reflections on the Revolution of Our Time' as a sort of return of the
repressed which arises out of every attempt at hegemony.  Of course, this
sort of thing is deconstruction's strong point, and the mad prince of
deconstruction, dear old Derrida himself, has privileged access to all that
remains valid in marxism and therefore becomes the leader of the
decontructivist Fourth International, and a veritable fifth column in the
academy, finding lots of repressed things in Shakespeare and thereby
holding up the banner of his idealist revolution ... The cynic in me
suggests that Derrida wants to repress the few remaining marxists in the
acedemy, usurp their rich theoretical legacy, reduce it to a bit of
bullshit about Hamlet's dead father, and then claim he's 'doing it all for
us'.  Suitably paternalistic for the son, who, in the grip of the
Oedipus-complex, looks to replace the father and take control of the
family.

I haven't read Jameson's article.  It seems longer and perhaps more
'balanced' than Ahmad's openly political piece.  Perhap's I lost interest
in it for that very reason.  I think the important thing to remember here
is 'what side are you on?', as, in the words of another ghost, 'philosophy
is a political weapon'.  I recommend all Marxists on this list to read
Derrida's piece in _NLR_ and Ahmad's response.  Here's a quote from Ahmad
on Derrida's relation to this other ghost:

>As regards the way Derrida formulates the issue of 'teleology' and
>'messianic escatology', he is right when he says that Althusser's
>philosophical project dissasociates Marxism from both of these.  Althusser
>surely sought to retain a concept of scientificity and to derive the
>project of socialism from the contradictions of capitalism itself, not
>from some voluntaristic or quasi-Hegelian notion of History whereby the
>working class is *ordained* to overthrow capitalism (i.e. a teleological
>but also primitive, cyclical notion of history in which the communist
>society of the future returns to the primitive communism of the remote
>past, only at a much higher stage, thus closing the circle in the form of
>a Second Coming in accordance with the messianic prediction of Salvation).
>(Ahmad, 'Reconciling Derrida', p. 94)

Nevertheless, Ahmad is somewhat kinder on Derrida than I.  Read it.  I'm
sure that several of Derrida's notions (like those of Jacques Lacan) may be
useful to Marxists.  But in what way, and by what criteria?  But by no
means should we let the deconstructivists and the psychoanalysts ride on
our backs.  If need be, we should crush them under our (theoretical?) feet.

David.


Mr. David McInerney,
Political Science Program, Research School of Social Sciences,
The Australian National University, Canberra, A.C.T., AUSTRALIA  0200.
e-mail: davidmci at coombs.anu.edu.au; ph: (06) 249 2134; fax: (06) 249 3051




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