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  • Ghostly Demarcations: A Symposium on Jacques Derrida’s Specters of Marx
  • Tim Walters
Michael Sprinker, ed., Ghostly Demarcations: A Symposium on Jacques Derrida’s Specters of Marx. London and New York: Verso Books, 1999. 278 pages.

Ghostly Demarcations states its problematic and begins its argument even before the book is opened. The cover features a blurred, barely recognizable image of Marx—that it is recognizable at all is testimony to Marx’s lasting influence. But the prospective reader is not the only one suffering from inadequate vision. The second word of the title runs like a veil or visor in front of Marx’s eyes, obscuring his view and rendering him literally short-sighted. Demarcation—with its ghostly hint of de-marxification—thereby appears to be as much a problem for Marx ‘himself’ as for the bleary-eyed viewer.

It goes without saying that the ten contributors to this volume (the editor, Michael Sprinker, adds a brief introduction) would not agree on how to go [End Page 1157] about achieving, or even formulating, the task implied by the cover, namely to bring Marx(ism) back into focus. But it may come as a surprise that the fundamental disagreement concerns, in effect, whether this task is desirable at all. Derrida, Werner Hamacher, and, to some extent, Fredric Jameson, argue forcefully that the future of Marxism (and that means, for them, the future as such) depends upon not having it in focus, not seeing it clearly, and, above all, not seeing it as a telos or goal at all. If “What is to be done?” remains a (or the) Marxist question, Derrida would, in effect, urge us to avoid answering it. The only way to be responsible with regard to the future opened up by the question is to avoid responding to it. This dis-orientation toward the future, this suspension of every project, demands that radical will be conceived as (or can only be) radical critique. “All . . . depends,” writes Derrida, “at every instance, on new assessments of what is urgent in, first and foremost, singular situations, and of their structural implications. For such assessment, there is, by definition, no pre-existing criterion or absolute calculability; analysis must begin anew every day everywhere, without ever being guaranteed by prior knowledge” (239–40). As Jameson economically demonstrates, it is not far from here (on a path that traverses not only Specters of Marx but the greater part of Derrida’s published work) to the realization that the present, therefore the being-present of the world, and therefore ontology itself—broadly defined by Jameson as “the conviction that it is some basic identity of being which can serve as a grounding or foundational reassurance for thought” (37)—is dislocated. When “time is out of joint”—and it always is—then, according to Derrida, the comforting forms of thinking reality must give way to spectrality and ontology can appear only as hauntology.

It is easy to see that Derrida’s proposals are unlikely to be warmly embraced by self-described Marxists. Setting aside for a moment the essays by Hamacher and Jameson (and bracketing entirely Rastko Moc=nik’s singular analysis), the respondents to Derrida fall into two groups. To varying degrees and for different reasons, Aijaz Ahmad, Terry Eagleton, and Tom Lewis represent what Derrida calls “those who already feel duty-bound to be annoyed” (214). Ahmad initially allows that Derrida has “opened up the space for a dialogue—a contentious dialogue, maybe—between Marxism and . . . deconstruction” (89), but this gesture is transformed into a jeer by Ahmad’s blithe confession that despite the fact that his essay was written in great haste after reading only an abridged version of Derrida’s book in 1994, he could not see a compelling reason to revisit, rethink, and rewrite the critique in the intervening five years. So much for dialogue. Eagleton has never distinguished himself as a critic of deconstruction and, in my view, his essay here is an embarrassment. Derrida’s declaration that deconstruction is and always has been, for him, a “radicalization” of a “certain spirit of Marxism,” elicits a torrent of abuse from Eagleton, who, however, immediately leaves Derrida behind in...

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