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A Symposium on Jacques Derrida's 'Specters of Marx'
Ghostly Demarcations: A Symposium on Jacques Derrida's 'Specters of Marx', edited and introduction by Michael Sprinker; 278 pp. London: Verso, 1999, $20.00.
"Comrades, encore un effort!" (p. 233) is the Communist battle cry by which Derrida signals to his fiercest Marxist critics that he is not ready to throw in the towel and concede defeat. The ten essays included in Ghostly Demarcations are intended to remedy what the editor in his brief introduction describes as the insufficiency or incompleteness of Derrida's first major attempt, in Specters of Marx (1993), to come to terms with Marx, more so than with Marxism. As Sprinker puts it, if one came to the book "in the hope that now, at long last, Derrida's . . . relationship to Marxism will be profoundly clarified, or definitely resolved, one will almost certainly be disappointed" (p. 1). Derrida himself feels good about Specters of Marx, He wrote that book with a "certain gaiety of affirmative thinking," he says. "It is," as he sees it, "a gay, humorous book. It is more light-hearted than I am, undoubtedly . . ." (p. 259), which he could hardly claim for its sequel, "Marx & Sons," the essay by which Derrida responded to his critics in Ghostly Demarcations.
The texts included in this polemical volume present a broad spectrum of views, some of them critical enough to deeply wound Derrida. It takes Derrida nearly five pages of deconstructive maneuvers to warm up for his rebuttal. [End Page 356] Then, with all his fresh energy, the first punch is directed at a woman, obviously one of his demons, since there are no essays by women included in this volume. Addressing this absent female foe, Derrida speaks of her "unbridled manipulation of a rhetoric" (p. 223), her "final gleam of lucidity" (p. 222), and "outright inability to read" (p. 223). He is actually referring to absent Gayatry Chakravorty Spivak whose superb reading, translation and preface to Derrida's Of Grammatology in 1974, contributed in no small measure to Derrida's initial success by making his work accessible and comprehensible to English speaking scholars.
Derrida's appreciation of the nine, all-male contributors, whose essays are indeed present in Ghostly Demarcations, appears in direct relation to the amount of critique or homage paid him and his deconstructive theories. The shortest (five pages) but clearly the most provocative essay, is by Terry Eagleton who, similar to other Marxists, refuses to accept Derrida's claim that deconstruction is a "radicalization of Marxism" (p. 101). "There is also something unavoidably opportunist about his political pact" (p. 86), says Eagleton, his "sudden dramatic somersault onto a stalled bandwagon" (p. 84). "Where was Jacques Derrida, he asks, when we needed him?" (p. 83). Fearlessly, Eagleton likens deconstructive rhetoric to senseless Panglossian discourse using absurd word clusters such as "onto-teleo-theological animus," and "tele-techno-medio-economic and scientifico-military forces" (p. 85). En revanche, Derrida makes irate comments about Eagleton throughout his text, mocking the critic's "triumphant air [who] doubtless assumes that he will spark the plaudits, mirth, or wrath of the crowd . . ."( p. 251).
The longest, somewhat Proustian essay (44 pages) by Werner Hamacher, about "the messianism of commodity language," is a well written but essentially uncritical, deconstructive reading of Marx and Derrida built around abundant quotations from Derrida's text such as: "Pluriformative and reformative, the revolutionary performative of the absolute messianic promise is also a performative that turns against itself . . ." (p. 196). Derrida praises the "many luminous, powerful gestures [made to Derrida!] of his [Hamacher's] interpretation," calling it "impressive, admirable and original" (p. 224). Similar praise, for his "perceptive essay" (p. 244), goes to Warren Montag who adheres to Derrida's critical jargon and supports the philosopher's polemics surrounding "ontology."
While Antonio Negri is sympathetic to Derrida, he also feels, as do other critics, that "Derrida is a prisoner of the ontology he critiques" (p. 13): "In playing with...