Duke University Press
  • Spectral Nationality: The Living On [sur-vie] of the Postcolonial Nation in Neocolonial Globalization *

[From the period 1775–95 onward,] the opposition between the organic and inorganic becomes fundamental. . . . Pallas and Lamarck formulate this great dichotomy—a dichotomy with which the opposition of the living and the non-living coincides. “There are only two kingdoms in nature,” wrote Vicq d’Azyr in 1786, “one enjoys life and the other is deprived of it.” The organic becomes the living and the living is that which produces, grows, and reproduces; the inorganic is the non-living, that which neither develops nor reproduces; it lies at the frontiers of life, the inert, the unfruitful—death. And although it is intermingled with life, it is so as that element within it that destroys and kills it. “There exist in all living beings two powerful forces, which are very distinct and always in opposition to each other, so much [End Page 225] so that each perpetually destroys the effects that the other succeeds in producing.”

—Michel Foucault, The Order of Things

In the late twentieth century, nationalism is probably one of the few phenomena we associate most closely with death. The end of this millennium is marked (and marred) by endless acts of fanaticist intolerance, ethnic violence, and even genocidal destruction that are widely regarded as extreme expressions of nationalism: patriarchal fundamentalism in Afghanistan and other parts of the “Islamic world”; the atrocities designated by the proper names of Rwanda, Bosnia, and Kosovo; the recent revival of the nuclear race in South Asia as a result of religious official nationalism in India and Pakistan, to name only a few examples. Indeed, one might even say that in our age, nationalism has become the exemplary figure for death. The common association of nationalism with recidivism and the desire for the archaic implies that nationalism destroys human life and whatever futures we may have because its gaze is fixed on the frozen past.

Yet the nation’s seemingly inevitable affinity with death is paradoxically inseparable from the desire for life. For the destructive, or, better yet, sacrificial, tendencies of nationalism are part of an attempt to protect or maximize the capacity for life. In nationalist discourse, the nation is not only conceived in analogy with a living organic being but is also regarded as the enduring medium or substrate through which individuals are guaranteed a certain life beyond finite or merely biological life, and, hence, also beyond mortality and death.1 The nation, in other words, guarantees an eternal [End Page 226] future. Its alleged organic power of birth and origination is intimated by its etymological link with the words nativity and natality. What is presupposed is a vitalist ontology that opposes life to death, spirit to matter/mechanism, and, ultimately, living concrete actuality to abstract ghostly form.

We would, however, be mistaken to assume that this vitalist ontology is peculiar to nationalist discourse. As I will suggest, this ontology of life underwrites the discourse of revolutionary decolonization and contemporary theories of postcolonial nationalism regardless of whether they are organicist or sociological, or whether they defend the nation-form or denounce it as an ideological construct. Indeed, the familiar thematic oppositions we use to describe all forms of political community—oppositions that pit either the state against the nation, the people, or civil society, or capital against labor—rely on ontological metaphors that subordinate the dead to the living.

In this essay, I want to explore the question of whether this vitalist ontology, which conceives of the future in terms of eternal present life, provides an adequate basis for understanding the persistence of the nation-form in the current neocolonial global conjuncture and the future of postcolonial nationalism as an emancipatory project. I will argue that the modality of becoming of the decolonizing and postcolonial nation cannot be understood in terms of any human, natural, or even organic form of life in the conventional meaning of these terms. I make this argument by way of a critical analysis of Jacques Derrida’s provocative and illuminating reflections on spectrality. Derrida’s hauntology is the thought of radical finitude, and I want to outline some of its implications for theories of political community. But if Derrida’s reflections are invaluable to my understanding of the spectrality of the postcolonial nation, he is also dismissive of the spectrality of the nation-form, especially in his use of the figure of the arrivant and a discourse of hospitality to characterize the challenges posed by contemporary globalization. For him, nationalism is without promise. It can promise nothing and has no future to-come. In my evaluation of this gesture of repudiation, I suggest that, in this respect, at least, Derrida inherits the Marxist determination of nationality as a subcase of ideology. Thus, even though his analysis of spectrality is a questioning of Marx’s vitalist ontology, Derrida, like Marx, also wishes to exorcise the spectrality of the nation. I conclude with a brief look at the future of the postcolonial nation-state in contemporary globalization. [End Page 227]

1. The Nation-People and Its Ontology of Life

Let me begin with an exemplary instance of how the discourse of revolutionary nationalism relies on an ontology of life: Frantz Fanon’s description of the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya. “Every native who takes up arms,” Fanon writes, “is a part of the nation which from henceforward will spring to life. . . . [T]he national cause goes on progressing, and becomes the cause of each and all. . . . Everywhere . . . we find a national authority. Each man or woman brings the nation to life by his or her action.”2 This idea of the spontaneous organic dynamism of the nation-people is essentially an ontotheology. Fanon conceives of the people in analogy with a self-causing Absolute Being (causa sui). Put another way, the eternal source of ever present life has become embodied in the transfigured human agent as national subject.3 The state is merely the corporeal incarnation of the national spirit, for the nation-state is only a secondary institutional manifestation or by-product of national consciousness. The state is established when the cultural forms expressing nationhood require political-institutional embodiment as the condition of their survival.4

Fanon’s biogenetic schema for understanding the relation of the nation-people to the state makes explicit the ontological metaphors of life and death underpinning the sociological topography that opposes the nation-people to the state. Like the political party from which it grows, the state is like dead letters without intentional significance. It is mere matter or mechanism awaiting animation by the national-popular will: It “is not an authority, but an organism through which they as the people exercise their [End Page 228] authority and express their will.”5 An authentic nation-state is one that is truly popular-national. Only then will it be an organic whole that exhibits an immediate unity of the government, the people, and the task of nation-building. In contradistinction, indigenous bourgeois nationalism and political institutions that resort to spurious forms of nativism as a cover for their failure to express popular social consciousness are merely “the hollow shell of nationality,” an empty form of national consciousness that lacks real life: “The bourgeois leaders of underdeveloped countries imprison national consciousness in sterile formalism. It is only when men and women are included on a vast scale in enlightened and fruitful work that form and body are given to [national] consciousness. Then the flag and the palace where sits the government cease to be the symbols of the nation. The nation deserts these brightly lit, empty shells and takes shelter in the country, where it is given life and dynamic power.”6

Obviously, Fanon’s thought is informed by the familiar sociological oppositions of state and nation, the party leadership and the common masses, the indigenous urban bourgeoisie and the rural peasantry, the capital and the country. We should already know these oppositions by rote since they saturate the entire discursive field of the social sciences. However, Fanon’s deployment of these oppositions makes very explicit something that largely remains implicit in their repeated use in the social sciences: namely, that these oppositions, which we take as positive social facts, are constitutively imbricated with the metaphysical oppositions of empty form and concrete actuality, sterile artifice and creative organic work, death and life.

Of course, these metaphysical oppositions have a long philosophical history. Their widespread use to characterize forms of political organization, however, stems from the modern conception of freedom that arose in the wake of the separation of mechanism from human reason effected by the Newtonian/Cartesian predication of the natural or material world as the sum total of objects governed by arational mechanical laws. Henceforth, freedom is precisely what is not or cannot be blindly determined or given [End Page 229] by something else—for example, past events that are part of the mechanism of nature. The mechanism of nature also includes human techne, or instrumental reason, since this is considered a lesser or degraded form of reason, the causality of which is also governed by mechanical laws. Freedom is fundamentally linked to the possibility of a living future that is not determined by the past. In contradistinction, the mechanical lies on the side of death, even if, like Jacques de Vaucanson’s automatons, which profoundly haunted Kant’s account of the spontaneity of moral freedom, the mechanical can simulate life.7

This sundering of the realm of human freedom from the material world of mechanism is, of course, part of the larger shift from a cosmological to an anthropologistic view of the world. Ideal models of political community in the contemporary world, which aim to provide the optimal institutional basis for the realization of freedom, attempt to reconcile freedom with the arational world of mechanism. They almost invariably do this by means of an analogy between organic life-forms and the technic of social and political organization, in which techne is sublated into intelligible organic life and the artificial is seen as ultimately working in the service of life. It is important to remember that the organic is not just brute nature or matter devoid of life. It is organized matter, matter imbued with animating purposiveness, which thereby becomes an organism that possesses life. Insofar as political organization makes nature organic/organized matter by imbuing it with an internal vitality and purposiveness that exceed mechanism, insofar as political organization is a form of the actualization or objectification of rational ideas through purposive willing, it would be an exorcism and sublation of death. It is in this spirit that Kant thinks of “natural purposes” as organized beings and constitutional political organization as an analogue of organic life, and Fichte characterizes the German nation as “a truly original and primary life.”8 Similarly, Hegel describes spirit (Geist), the highest objective appearance of which is the ideal state, in the following terms: “To say that [End Page 230] spirit exists would at first seem to imply that it is a completed entity. On the contrary, it is by nature active, and activity is its essence; it is its own product, and is therefore its own beginning and its own end. Its freedom does not consist in static being, but in a constant negation of all that threatens to destroy freedom.”9 The same vitalism informs the idea of creative labor that underwrites Marx’s account of the formation of the proletariat as a universal class.

This ontology of life is ubiquitous and extremely tenacious. Its fundamental metaphysical oppositions resurface in discourses about postcolonial nationalism across various disciplines. For instance, in his sketch of the troubled life of the postcolonial nation in Culture and Imperialism, Edward W. Said characterizes the genesis of the postcolonial nation not so much as a stillbirth but as the monstrous birth of a pathological chauvinism:

Nationality, nationalism, nativism: the progression is, I believe, more and more constraining. In countries like Algeria and Kenya one can watch the heroic resistance of a community partly formed out of colonial degradations, leading to a protracted armed and cultural conflict with the imperial powers, in turn giving way to a one-party state with dictatorial rule. . . . The debilitating despotism of the Moi regime in Kenya can scarcely be said to complete the liberationist currents of the Mau Mau uprising. No transformation of social consciousness here, but only an appalling pathology of power duplicated elsewhere—in the Philippines, Indonesia, Pakistan, Zaire, Morocco, Iran.10

Said’s cautionary moral narrative is the all-too-familiar story of a fall that informs most postcolonial cultural theory. Coming after the formal success of political independence, postcolonial nationalism is the anticlimactic betrayal of the promise of freedom in decolonization, in which, as a result of its consummated marriage to the postcolonial state, the nation-people becomes subordinated to particularistic state imperatives. The path of becoming that is charted out here—Said calls it a “progression”—is linear. Its violent outcome is not unpredictable, because it follows the inherently constraining logic that is proper to the nation as an artificial-technical construct. To this manipulative and hierarchical essence of nationalism, unfolded and realized as statist ideology, Said opposes the spontaneous populism of decolonization [End Page 231] movements. We need only to scratch a little at the surface to see that this opposition between spontaneity and instrumental manipulation is essentially the opposition between life and death.

This thematic opposition between the spontaneous dynamism of resisting peoples and their institutional capture by the techne of reactionary class and state apparatuses informs almost all theories of postcolonial nationalism, and it can take the form of different sociological permutations. Even accounts as opposed as Partha Chatterjee’s neo-Marxist critique of Indian nationalism as a statist ideology and Benedict Anderson’s well-known defense of the nation as an “imagined political community” are governed by this opposition. In the conclusion of Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World, Chatterjee follows the orthodox Marxist rejection of cultural nationalism as a discourse that inevitably ends up as a statist ideology. Relying on Antonio Gramsci’s theory of passive revolution, he argues that in the Third World, anticolonial cultural nationalism is the ideological discourse used by a rising but weak indigenous bourgeoisie to co-opt the popular masses into its struggle to wrest hegemony from the colonial regime, even as it keeps the masses out of direct participation in the governance of the postcolonial state.11

The topography Chatterjee sketches is of the subsumption of populist forces by the nation-form so that this dynamism can be captured by the bourgeois state qua relatively independent instrument of capitalist development. Simply put, the nation-form is an ideological cultural community used to yoke the people to the bourgeois state. Postcolonial nationalism and national culture would therefore be a false resolution of the contradiction between the people and capital:

The conflict between metropolitan capital and the people-nation it [nationalist discourse] resolves by absorbing the political life of the nation into the body of the state. Conservatory of the passive revolution, the national state now proceeds to find for “the nation” a place in the global order of capital, while striving to keep the contradictions between capital and the people in perpetual suspension. All politics is now sought to be subsumed under the overwhelming requirements of the state-representing-the-nation. . . . Any movement which questions this presumed identity between the people-nation [End Page 232] and the state-representing-the-nation is denied the status of legitimate politics. Protected by the cultural-ideological sway of this identity between the nation and the state, capital continues its passive revolution by assiduously exploring the possibilities of marginal development, using the state as the principal mobiliser, planner, guarantor and legitimator of productive investment.12

In subsequent work, Chatterjee suggests that the opposition between state and civil society in Western social and political theory ought to be rejected in favor of an opposition between capital and community on the grounds that the former inevitably confines radical political action to the debilitating nation-state form.13 My point here is that regardless of whether we see the fundamental contradiction of social existence to be one between civil society or the nation-people and the state, or one between community and capital, the fundamental opposition is always between popular spontaneity and its ideological manipulation.

This opposition also informs Anderson’s Imagined Communities, even though it is an impassioned defense of nationalism against Marxist critiques such as Chatterjee’s. Anderson argues that in its initial emergence, the nation is a mass-based imagined political community induced by a constellation of historical forces in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, such as the rise of print capitalism and a new mode of homogeneous empty time. But to this pioneering style of emancipatory popular national consciousness, he counterposes a second style of nationalism—the reactionary official nationalism deployed by European dynastic states to naturalize themselves in response to the challenges of popular nationalism.14 The problems of postcolonial nationalism are then explained in terms of a Janus-like modulation between good and bad, popular and [End Page 233] statist models of nationalism adopted by each decolonizing nation after it achieves statehood.

These influential accounts of postcolonial nationalism therefore insist on a strict demarcation between organic spontaneity and technical manipulation: between the nation-people and the state in Anderson’s case, and between the people/community and capital in Chatterjee’s case. This limit or line separating the spontaneous people from the state or capital ultimately turns out to be the line between the organic and the artificial, between life and death. For Chatterjee, the nation is an artificial, ideological extension of the bourgeois state, a tool of dead capital. And Anderson, even as he suggests that the nation is a political community imagined in language, nevertheless stresses the organic nature of patriotic love:

Something of the nature of this political love can be deciphered from the ways in which languages describe its object: either in the vocabulary of kinship (motherland, Vaterland, patria) or that of home (heimat or tanah air [earth and water, the phrase for the Indonesians’ native archipelago]). Both idioms denote something to which one is naturally tied. . . . [I]n everything “natural” there is always something unchosen. In this way, nation-ness is assimilated to skin-colour, gender, parentage and birth-era—all those things one can not help. And in these “natural ties” one senses what one might call “the beauty of gemeinschaft.”

(IC, 143)

Thus, like Chatterjee, Anderson also views the vicissitudes of postcolonial nationalism as the consequence of the contamination of spontaneous life by artifice and manipulative techno-mediation. “Often,” he writes, “in the ‘nation-building’ policies of the new [decolonized] states one sees both a genuine, popular nationalist enthusiasm and a systematic, even Machiavellian, instilling of nationalist ideology through the mass media, the educational system, administrative regulations, and so forth. . . . One can thus think of many of these nations as projects the achievement of which is still in progress, yet projects conceived more in the spirit of Mazzini than that of Uvarov” (IC, 113–14; my emphasis). Decolonizing nationalism is thus a spontaneous project of becoming that is perverted in the aftermath of independence, when the postcolonial nation becomes possessed by the state it thinks it controls. Anderson evokes this possession and stultification of the living national body by official nationalism by means of images of the ghostly technical infrastructure of a house and the suffocating anachronistic [End Page 234] garb that are strikingly reminiscent of Fanon’s images of the palace as a brightly lit empty shell and the flag as an empty symbol of the nation.

The model of official nationalism assumes its relevance above all at the moment when revolutionaries successfully take control of the state, and are for the first time in a position to use the power of the state in pursuit of their visions. . . . [E]ven the most determinedly radical revolutionaries always, to some degree, inherit the state from the fallen regime. . . . Like the complex electrical system in any large mansion when the owner has fled, the state awaits the new owner’s hand at the switch to be very much its old brilliant self again.

One should therefore not be much surprised if revolutionary leaderships, consciously or unconsciously, come to play lord of the manor . . . . Out of this accommodation comes invariably that “state” Machiavellism which is so striking a feature of post-revolutionary regimes in contrast to revolutionary nationalist movements. The more the ancient dynastic state is naturalized, the more its antique finery can be wrapped around revolutionary shoulders.

(IC, 159–60)

From my reconstruction of Chatterjee’s and Anderson’s theories of decolonizing nationalism, we can see that regardless of whether one is for or against the nation, regardless of whether one sees it as an ideological phantasm of the bourgeois state or as a dynamic growing body, one is always on the side of the open-ended and spontaneous becoming of the people, which is conceived either as a community of language or as the collective agent of class struggle. And one is always against the territorial state, which is regarded as an artificially bounded entity that seeks to impose stasis on the becoming of the people by diverting this dynamism in the service of dead capital.

Now, the metaphysical oppositions between life and death, the organic and the artificial, or physis and techne, structure Chatterjee’s and Anderson’s provocative theories of postcolonial nationalism in a complex way. Neither author simply dismisses the artificial in favor of the organic. Indeed, both are critical of simplistic organicist theories of the nation that regard it as a natural genetic principle. Instead, what we see is a more complicated gesture that tries to reconcile the artificial to the organic, death to life, to subordinate the former to the latter through an organicization of the technical that puts it in the service of life. Anderson suggests that the nation is a sociological organism, an artificial product of modern sociological conditions that is nevertheless experienced as an organic form of community; [End Page 235] Chatterjee suggests that popular struggles against capital can “subvert the ideological sway of a state which falsely claims to speak on behalf of the nation” if they become performatively constituted as the universal subject of class struggle through the technic of consciousness raising.15

The technical becomes a source of perversion and death only when it cannot be organicized. It is here that Anderson and Chatterjee reveal themselves as heirs to the vitalist ontology that Fanon inherited from German idealism and Marxist materialism. For even though their approaches to nationalism appear to be irreconcilably opposed to each other, they are united by an admirable belief in an uncompromised or pure collective subject of resistance, an ever present and self-originating source of life that renews itself through purposive collective self-actualizing action. Both share a basic distrust of the state as an instrument of dead capital and its corollary, a basic belief in the spontaneous transfigurative power of the people.

Of course, both of these contemporary theories of decolonizing nationalism are disillusioned and sobering. They do not exhibit the catastrophism and eschatology of a Marx or a Fanon. They are formulated in the wake of the betrayal of the ideals of decolonization and they attempt to account for this betrayal. As we saw earlier, for Fanon, the state is a techno-phantomatic object, something formed by a secondary process of the people’s self-objectification. The state can be inspirited by the nation-people precisely because it is the work of the people that has become estranged or alienated from the people during the process of externalization or objectification. This estranged or alienated object, this techno-phantom, needs to be reappropriated and returned back to its original living source. In contradistinction, although Chatterjee still regards the entire civil society–nation-state complex as a superstructure, he is forced to concede that in its malignant turn against its creator, this phantomatic edifice has become a more tenacious external fixture that may have completely escaped the grasp of its creator. At the very least, its exorcism is not possible in the present. Anderson goes even further by suggesting that the state is completely foreign to the nation-people. It is an evil foreign body that cannot be reappropriated without contaminating revolutionary nationalism.

However, if Anderson and Chatterjee both touch on the historical obstacles that stood and still stand in the way of the actualization of nation-people as a free collective subject, they do not actually question the idea of actualization or self-objectification itself. In the final analysis, all obstacles [End Page 236] to the actualization of freedom remain external to the process of actualization. Indeed, these obstacles are by definition contingent, because the actualization of freedom in and by a pure, uncompromised collective body is the removal of all obstacles for that collective body. Thus, Anderson’s figuring of the relation between nation and state by means of a simile of the possession of the human occupant by the ghostly infrastructure of the house may be a despairing view of the transfigurative power of the people, but it is nevertheless a pessimism that tries to hold this power of becoming in reserve as a future horizon. A revolutionary leadership, he notes, may inherit the second-hand switchboards and palaces of the previous state, but people are never the beneficiaries of this spectral legacy (IC, 161). Which is also to say that the living people never willingly receives the ghost of techne into its home.

I want to be as precise as possible about where I agree with and differ from these two provocative contemporary theories of decolonizing nationalism. On the one hand, it is clear that the vicissitudes of nationalism issue from the necessary relation between the nation-form per se and the state, as Chatterjee suggests, rather than from a fundamental qualitative difference between a popular nationalism that is completely free of the state and an official nationalism that emanates from the state. This is because the line between the state and the nation-people is especially fuzzy in Asian and African decolonization. Since the nation-people as a bounded community is arbitrarily generated from colonial state frontiers, popular national consciousness is initially weak and needs to be actively fostered through the artifice of political organization, which can always be monitored by the state. Furthermore, the masculinist and patriarchal nature of revolutionary nationalist movements such as the National Liberation Front (FLN) in the Algerian liberation struggle indicates that nationalism is not a completely egalitarian force even in its popular phase.16 The contaminated nature of popular nationalism indicates that one can no longer point to the technical [End Page 237] apparatus of the state as the sole source of the oppressive practices of the postcolonial nation. In any event, any analytical separation between an oppressive, hierarchical nationalism and a good, demotic nationalism needs to account for the common element or continuity between these two forms. It is this continuity that allows nationalism as such to modulate between its good and bad faces without any sharp transition.

But, on the other hand, as Anderson suggests, political love for the nation is not reducible to an ideological mystification that the state inculcates in the minds of its citizens. Marx himself failed to anticipate the tenacity of nationalism because he hastily deduced the ideological and phantomatic nature of nationality from the economic and cultural nationalism of the European states of his time, thereby foreclosing the popular dimension and emancipatory potential of nationalism. This popular-emancipatory side of nationalism, which is exemplified in decolonization (linked by Anderson to the “good” nationalism of Giuseppe Mazzini), is especially important in view of the uneven globalization of capital.17 Echoing Hegel’s description of patriotic sacrifice as a form of self-consciously willed death, in which the transcendence of human finitude is achieved, Anderson suggests that the endurance of the nation as a political community ought to be thought of in terms of the quasi-religious moral pathos of purification through death:

The great wars of this century are extraordinary not so much in the unprecedented scale on which they permitted people to kill, as in the colossal numbers persuaded to lay down their lives. . . . The idea of the ultimate sacrifice comes only with an idea of purity, through fatality.

Dying for one’s country, which usually one does not choose, assumes a moral grandeur which dying for the Labour Party, the American Medical Association, or perhaps even Amnesty International can not rival, for these are all bodies one can join or leave at easy will.

(IC, 144)

But these two positions—rejecting the nation as an ideological extension of the state and affirming it as the source of popular emancipation—are irreconcilable only if we assume, as Chatterjee and Anderson apparently do, that the nation or the people can only be either contaminated or [End Page 238] pure. Chatterjee and Anderson make this assumption because, as we have seen, their work is irrigated by a vitalist ontology according to which techne, if it is not to infect and contaminate the transfigurative power of the living people, must be sublated and put into the service of life. To reiterate, if the technical cannot be organicized and made part of the body of the people in its self-actualization, it must be expunged. Otherwise, it will remain as a source of perversion and death. The historical vicissitudes of postcolonial nationalism and its enduring imperativity in the current neocolonial global conjuncture, I want to suggest, render untenable this ontology of life. For the fact that the nation or the people qua source of transfigurative power is utterly compromised at the origin suggests that the possibility of contamination is inscribed in the very structure of the people’s actualization.

Put another way, I am suggesting that the relationship between the people and the postcolonial nation-state (Chatterjee, Said) or the people-nation and the postcolonial state (Fanon, Anderson) cannot be adequately understood in terms of the contamination of a living spirit by techne, in terms of a perverse diversion, detour, or deferral of a true becoming as the result of the intrusion of an external or contingent artificial foreign body. For if the people and living national culture need the state to survive, and the state comes into being and continues to exist within a neocolonial capitalist world order, the transcendence of which is not in sight, then the contamination of national culture by the bourgeois state is not a matter of the intrusion of an artificial alien body that can be either sublated or permanently removed. The contamination of national culture involves a more original susceptibility to infection by the technical: an a priori receptivity of the people, the people’s opening out onto that which is other to it, the people’s welcoming of an other that dislocates it even as this other constitutes the self-identity of the people.

The questions I have posed about these influential accounts of postcolonial nationalism amount to a philosophical problem insofar as I have attempted to question the ontology of life that underpins these accounts. When the state is characterized as an abstraction, or when national culture is described as an ideology, we think of them as creatures of death or phantoms that invade the living body of the people and obstruct its life. However, if these prostheses turn out to be necessary supplements to the living national body, then the line between life and death can no longer be drawn with clarity because death would be inscribed within the heart of life. The living people would be constitutively susceptible to a certain kind of death that can no longer be thought within a vitalist ontology that asserts [End Page 239] the unequivocal delimitation of death by life and the victory of the latter over the former. It is a death that must be interminably negotiated. I want now to turn to Derrida’s reflections on spectrality, because they help me figure the peculiar living-in-dying of the nation.

2. Of Life-Death: Derrida on Spectrality

Derrida’s recent work on spectrality is an important intervention in discussions about the future of nationalism for at least two reasons. The more obvious reason is that a discourse on death necessarily involves a rhetoric of borders. As Derrida observes, because death delimits “the right of absolute property, the right of property to our own life,” it is the ultimate border, a border “more essential, more originary and more proper than those of any other territory in the world.”18 Indeed, as we have seen, the line between the nation-people and the neocolonial state is always a line between life and death. Derrida will figure the subject’s aporetic experience of its own finitude and futurity—an experience of the impossible—in terms of absolute hospitality and an opening up to the arrivant. In Specters of Marx, Derrida will denounce the nation-form as ontopologocentric because it fails to practice this absolute hospitality that keeps alive the promise of the messianic without messianism.

It seems to me, however, that the most interesting aspect of Derrida’s recent work for understanding the peculiar life of the postcolonial nation-state is not his critique of nationalism but his notion of spectralization as a general process of paradoxical incorporation, a state of originary prosthesis that needs to be distinguished from ideology even though it is the condition of possibility of ideological mystification. I suggested above that attempts to characterize the relationship between the people and the postcolonial nation-state in terms of the incarnation of life-giving spirit or the animation of finite corporeality by spirit, and the subsequent corruption of this spirit by that technical-artificial (ideological) body, missed the constitutive interpenetration of the two terms in neocolonial globalization. Derrida helps me to understand this mutual haunting between the nation and the state, because he suggests that spectralization is an irreducible possibility in any incarnation of spirit, since it is the constitutive condition of incarnation as such. [End Page 240]

What does Derrida mean by spectralization? Spectralization is the incarnation of autonomized spirit in an a-physical body that is then taken on as the real body of the living subject.

The specter is of the spirit, it participates in the latter and stems from it even as it follows it as its ghostly double. . . .

. . . The production of the ghost, the constitution of the ghost effect is not simply a spiritualization or even an autonomization of spirit, idea or thought, as happens par excellence in Hegelian idealism. No, once this autonomization is effected, with the corresponding expropriation or alienation, and only then, the ghostly moment comes upon it, adds to it a supplementary dimension, one more simulacrum, alienation, or expropriation. Namely, a body! In the flesh (Leib)! For there is no ghost, there is never any becoming-specter of the spirit without at least an appearance of flesh, in a space of invisible visibility, like the dis-appearing of an apparition. For there to be ghost, there must be a return to the body, but to a body that is more abstract than ever. The spectrogenic process corresponds therefore to a paradoxical incorporation. Once ideas or thoughts (Gedanke) are detached from their substratum, one engenders some ghost by giving them a body. Not by returning to the living body from which ideas and thoughts have been torn loose, but by incarnating the latter in another artifactual body, a prosthetic body, a ghost of spirit.19

The specter would thus appear to be a negative by-product or undesirable residue/waste of culture as human self-objectification/self-actualization or collective rational work (Bildung). It is the incorporation of an idealization “in a body without nature, in an a-physical body, that could be called, if one could rely on these oppositions, a technical body or an institutional body” (SM, 127).

However, Derrida emphasizes that a specter is not an ideologem in the Marxist sense. It is not merely a mystification that is confused with and lived as concrete reality. Whereas an ideologem is an illusion that begins from the living body and ought, in the final instance, to be referred back to its material historical conditions by immanent political critique, spectrality [End Page 241] is a process without beginning or end, because it is the movement that constitutes all finite bodies. Thus, Derrida writes,

all the grave stakes we have just named . . . would come down to the question of what one understands, with Marx and after Marx, by effectivity, effect, operativity, work, labor [Wirklichkeit, Wirkung, work, operation], living work in their supposed opposition to the spectral logic that also governs the effects of virtuality, of simulacrum, of “mourning work,” of ghosts, revenant and so forth. . . . [D]econstructive thinking of the trace, of iterability, of prosthetic synthesis, of supplementarity, and so forth, goes beyond this opposition and the ontology it presumes. Inscribing the possibility of the reference to the other, and thus, of radical alterity and heterogeneity, of differance, of technicity, and of ideality in the very event of presence, in the very presence of the present that it dis-joins a priori in order to make it possible [thus impossible in its identity or its contemporaneity with itself], it does not deprive itself of the means with which to take into account . . . the effects of ghosts, of simulacra, of “synthetic images,” or even, to put it in terms of the Marxist code, of ideologems, even if these take the novel forms to which modern technology will have given rise.

(SM, 75)

For Derrida, the process of spectralization is intimately connected to our radical finitude as beings in time. He suggests that the persistence, survival, or living on of the form of a present being through time—the form that makes something actual, that allows it to be materialized, and the persistence of which represents a momentary arresting of our dying in any given instance20—is a minimal idealization before idealization proper, because this persistence allows us to identify this present being as the same throughout all its possible repetitions. This differing-deferral (differance) of a present being in the living on of its form is a type of automatism. But this automatism, while it is clearly not an effect of human reason, society, culture, techne, or language, is also not an effect of the mechanism of nature. As the iterability that constitutes the present in general, that which [End Page 242] makes any and all presence possible, this minimal idealization is the trace of the inhuman and unnatural spectral other within the present in general. But more importantly, spectrality is also the condition of possibility of the externalization of ideas proper, of their incorporation in an external body qua present object, as well as the condition of possibility of ideologization. This is because spectrality is the originary opening up of any present being by and to the other. It is precisely this internal vulnerability of any present being to iterability/alterity—its pregnancy with the movement of alter-ing—that allows something to alter, change, or transform itself in time, or to be changed, transformed, or altered by another in time.

It would not be excessive to say that we are broaching the condition of possibility of causality as such, since spectrality is that which allows something to act on and affect itself or another (and also to affect itself as an other), or to be acted on or affected by another (and also by itself as an other). It is that which allows any action (transitive and intransitive) or event—which is to say, any production and also any creation—to take place. This is why, among other things, spectrality also inscribes technicity within the organic—because it opens up every proper organic body to the supplementation of artifice.

Derrida’s idea of spectrality goes to the heart of the vitalist ontology that underwrites the theories of the postcolonial nation I have considered above. We need to remember that, generally speaking, the nation is either affirmed as a vehicle for the transcendence of human finitude or rejected as an ideological apparatus of the bourgeois state, which is an instrument of dead capital. As such, nationalist discourse is a secularized version of a traditional religious discourse of finitude that contrasts our finitude as creatures of nature with an infinite self-causing divine creator who gives us our being. We justify our finite existence and give meaning to it through our faith in the infinite. In a secularized world, the sphere of culture (Bildung or Kultur), which sometimes takes the form of the political community of the nation, has become a substitute for the infinite.

In contradistinction, spectrality is coextensive with our radical finitude, which should be rigorously distinguished from any traditional understanding of finitude. Our radical finitude refers to our sheer persistence as beings in temporality, our continuing temporalization. It refers to the fact that our continuing presence is given (to us) by an alterity which is so radical that it is not a thing or another present being, not even an infinite and absolute self-causing presence called God. This alterity is absolutely contingent, but it is, at the same time, the absolutely necessary condition of our existence. [End Page 243] Radical finitude is nontranscendable because there is no refuge of eternal presence into which we can cross over.

What, then, are the political implications of radical finitude? The aporia of radical finitude is not a logical impasse or blockage that would lead to nihilism or apolitical quietism. It is a practical experience of the impossible—that which is impossible but which is nevertheless given to experience—that has to be endured interminably. The experience of radical finitude is an experience of the impossible because the imminent possibility of our own death remains something that is fundamentally undecidable for us, something that is unpresentable to us and that we can never know.21 By the same token, this ordeal, in which we are exposed to undecidability, has to be interminably endured because we can never be guaranteed of our own persistence in time beyond any given instant. In each and every instant, we live only in and through the possibility that in another instant, perhaps the next, we might die. But at the same time, the experience of radical finitude is a practical experience. Without our persistence in time, no decisive action or incarnational work (Bildung), and therefore, no politics, can take place. The experience of radical finitude is the origin of imperativity and responsibility insofar as this impossible other, which is not of the realm of presence, nevertheless enjoins us to act in the here and now (which is no longer even as we speak), without waiting and thinking too much, before it is too late. And, perhaps, our actions will always have been too late. Perhaps it will already be too late. Always perhaps, because unless we resolve to act immediately, we will never know if it is indeed too late for us to act, for our actions to make a difference, for them to alter present conditions of existence. As Derrida notes in his reading of Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte:

This anxiety in the face of the ghost is properly revolutionary. If death weighs on the living brain of the living, and still more on the brains of revolutionaries, it must then have some spectral density. To weigh [End Page 244] (lasten) is also to charge, tax, impose, indebt, accuse, assign, enjoin. And the more life there is, the graver the specter of the other becomes, the heavier its imposition. And the more the living have to answer for it. . . . The specter weighs (pèse), it thinks (pense), it intensifies and condenses itself within the very inside of life, within the most living life, the most singular (or, if one prefers, individual) life. The latter therefore no longer has and must no longer have, insofar as it is living, a pure identity to itself or any assured outside: this is what all philosophies of life, or even philosophies of the living and real individual, would have to weigh carefully.

(SM, 109)22

Thus, at the same time that spectrality constitutes the present, it is also the condition of (im)possibility that disjoins the present. It disjoins even as it renews the present in one and the same movement. The revenant, or returning spectral other, tears time conceived as a continuous succession of “now’s.” But it is precisely the rending of time that allows the entirely new to emerge. Hence, at the same time that spectrality contaminates and compromises all our rational efforts at incarnating ideals, or, better yet, precisely because it compromises all these efforts, it also generates the unerasable promise of a future to-come. This future to-come is not the future present promised by Hegelian or Marxist teleology; it is a future that is always arriving but that never arrives finally.

Strictly speaking, of course, the lesson in the affirmation of the future to-come that Derrida draws from his hauntology is not a modality of becoming since it is not of the order of “being.” The “to-come” is precisely not a be-coming, a coming-to-be, the reaching toward a future present. Yet even though development and industrialization are modalities of becoming, Derrida still brings us very close to the mutual haunting of the nation-people and the state. Commenting on the ontology of life in Marx and Max Stirner, Derrida writes:

Both of them love life, which is always the case but never goes without saying for finite beings: they know that life does not go without death, and that death is not beyond, outside of life, unless one inscribes [End Page 245] the beyond in the inside, in the essence of the living. They both share, apparently like you and me, an unconditional preference for the living body. But precisely because of that, they wage an endless war against whatever represents it, whatever is not the body, but belongs to it, comes back to it: prosthesis and delegation, repetition, differance. The living ego is auto-immune, which is what they do not want to know. To protect its life, to constitute itself as unique living ego, to relate, as the same, to itself, it is necessarily led to welcome the other within (so many figures of death: differance of the technical apparatus, iterability, non-uniqueness, prosthesis, synthetic image, simulacrum . . . ), it must therefore take the immune defenses apparently meant for the non-ego, the enemy . . . and direct them at once for itself and against itself.

(SM, 141)

Derrida points out that Marx wants to get rid of this ghostly other within life, “as if he still believed in some de-contaminating purification in this regard, as if the ghost were not watching the spirit, as if it were not haunting the spirit, precisely, from the threshold of spiritualization, as if iterability itself, which conditions both the idealization and the spiritualization of the ‘idea,’ did not erase any critical assurance as to the discernment between the two concepts” (SM, 123–24). This schema of the irreducible inscription of death within life, of living on with, in, and through a certain kind of death, I want to suggest, describes precisely the relation of the living national body to the bourgeois postcolonial state: the opening up of the proper body of the living nation-people to technicity as instantiated by the formative role played by modern knowledge, techno-mediation, and organization in the genesis of the nation; the importance of literature and culture in the narrow sense as image-creating phenomena in the formation (Bildung) of a national public sphere; the penetration of the state by the light of public reason and, conversely, the opening up of the nation by the very same formative technics to monitoring and manipulation by the state in the service of dead capital; and the stifling of the national will to overcome the current world order by the global circulation of neocolonial cultural images.23 [End Page 246]

But speaking more generally, if we consider the precarious life of the postcolonial nation-people in terms of the current economic conditions within which this body, conceived in analogy with a living body, has to maximize its capabilities and well-being, then, its relation by means of the bourgeois state to the outside in uneven globalization—flows of technology, flows of foreign direct investment, flows of cultural images, and so on—is a case of spectrality, or the interminable experience of the aporia of life-death. For uneven globalization produces a polarized world in which national development in the periphery is frustrated because of state adjustment to the dictates of transnational capital. But in a global capitalist system, the transcendence of which is not in imaginary sight, transnational forces are also a means for the development of the national body. The state, however, can resist capitulation to transnational forces only if it is transformed from a comprador regime into a popular nation-state. This is the hope we saw in Fanon, Anderson, and others—the belief that popular rearticulations of the nation can be ethically imperative and not automatically dismissed as ideologies, even though the exclusionary dimension of popular nationalism can always be manipulated by state elites.

The point here is not to reject these projects of postcolonial national Bildung as ideologies. For if I understand Derrida correctly, the specter is neither living nor dead, neither ideology nor the spontaneous will of the people, but the sliding movement or flickering between the two. And the spectrality of the nation is especially pronounced in contemporary globalization. As long as we continue to think of “the people” or “the people-nation” in analogy with a living body or a source of ever present life, then the postcolonial state qua political and economic agent is always the necessary supplement of the revolutionary nation-people, the condition for its living on after decolonization. The nation-people can come into freedom only by attaching itself to the postcolonial bourgeois state. It can live on only through this kind of death. The state is an uncontrollable specter that the nation-people must welcome within itself, and direct, at once for itself and against itself, because this specter can possess the nation-people and bend it toward global capitalist interests.

This line of thought, however, would not be sanctioned by Derrida. [End Page 247] Regardless of how contentless he purposely leaves the future to-come, it is definitely antinationalist. For even though this is a quasi-transcendental argument that “deduces” the messianic to-come from the structural openness of finite beings, Derrida dresses up the place of spectrality as the scene of migrancy and transnationalism:

awaiting what one does not expect yet or no longer, hospitality without reserve, welcome salutation accorded in advance to the absolute surprise of the arrivant from whom or from which one will not ask anything in return and who will not be asked to commit to the domestic contracts of any welcoming power (family, State, nation, territory, native soil or blood, language, culture in general, even humanity) . . . messianic opening to what is coming, that is, to the event that cannot be awaited as such . . . to the event as the foreigner itself, to her or to him for whom one must leave an empty place, always, in memory of the hope—and this is the very place of spectrality.

(SM, 65)

I want to be as precise as possible about what I understand Derrida to be saying here. He does not say that the specter is a migrant to whom we must play absolute host; he does not put it so vulgarly or bluntly. In Aporias, he is quite careful to say that the arrivant is indeterminable, does not cross a threshold separating two identifiable places, and is therefore not to be reduced to a traveler, an émigré, or a political exile, refugee, or immigrant worker.24 Nevertheless, the place of spectrality is definitely not national, because nationalism is dismissed as a discourse and a project that will not allow for the promise of the messianic.

Writing in reference to contemporary interethnic wars, Derrida argues that nationalism cannot give place, because it is an ontopology, an outmoded doctrine or discourse of self-present place:

Inter-ethnic wars are . . . proliferating, driven by an archaic phantasm [which is presumably not a specter, because it is tied to a past present] and concept, by a primitive conceptual phantasm of community, the nation-State, sovereignty, borders, native soil and blood. Archaism is not a bad thing in itself, it doubtless keeps some irreducible resource. But how can one deny that this conceptual phantasm is, so to speak, much more outdated than ever, in the very [End Page 248] ontopology it supposes, by tele-technic dislocation? (By ontopology we mean an axiomatics linking indissociably the ontological value of present-being [on] to its situation, to the stable and presentable determination of a locality, the topos of territory, native soil, city, body in general). For having spread in an unheard-of fashion, which is more and more differentiated and more and more accelerated (it is acceleration itself, beyond the norms of speed that have until now informed human culture), the process of dislocation is no less arch-originary, that is, just as “archaic” as the archaism that it has always dislodged.

(SM, 82; first interpolation is mine)

Not only have population transfers in contemporary globalization rendered the nation-form obsolete, the current age also attests to its violence:

In the virtual space of all the tele-technosciences, in the general dis-location to which our time is destined—as are from now the places of lovers, families, nations—the messianic trembles on the edge of this event itself. It is this hesitation, . . . it does not “live” otherwise, but it would no longer be messianic if it stopped hesitating: how to give rise and to give place [donner lieu], still, to render it, this place, to render it habitable, but without killing the future in the name of old frontiers? Like those of the blood, nationalisms of the native soil not only sow hatred, not only commit crimes, they have no future, they promise nothing even if, like stupidity or the unconscious, they hold fast to life.

(SM, 169)

Strictly speaking, of course, an ontopology is not an ideology in the Marxist sense. Yet the archaic phantasm of the nation is definitely not the life-death of the specter. It is simply on the side of eternal death and cannot cross over the undecidable border between life and death because it can promise no life. My point here is that, in this respect at least, Derrida inherits the Marxist treatment of nationality as a subcase of religion and mysticism that has been rendered effete by globalization even though he is critical of the Marxist ontology that opposes rational work to mystical belief. Thus, Derrida notes that Marxist internationalism is “in principle non-religious, in the sense of a positive religion; it is not mythological; it is therefore not national—for beyond even the alliance with a chosen people, there is no nationality or nationalism that is not religious or mythological, let us say ‘mystical’ in the broad sense” (SM, 91; my emphasis).

But why is the nation-form so resolutely ideological and not spectral? We ought to pause before arriving at Derrida’s conclusion for at least [End Page 249] three reasons. First, the decolonizing nation is not an archaic throwback to traditional forms of community based on the blind ties of blood and kinship but a new form of political community engendered by the spectrality of modern knowledge, techno-mediation, and modern organization. Second, the persistence of the national question in Marxism indicates that the nation is not the mere ideological formation that is as easily exorcised as Marx thought it to be. Finally, one should note that neocolonial globalization does not necessarily render the nation-form obsolete, because notwithstanding increased transnational labor migration in the contemporary era, the de-territorialization of peoples remains limited for reasons that are structural to the global political economy. As the Marxist political economist Samir Amin has argued, in an uneven capitalist world system, the most deprived masses of humanity are largely confined to national-peripheral space. The globalization of production—liberalization of trade and capital flows—involves the global integration of commodities and capital but stops short of an unlimited integration of labor—the unrestricted opening of the centers to labor migration from less industrialized or nonindustrialized peripheries, where the bulk of capital’s Reserve Army is located. Consequently, “the mobility of commodities and capital leaves national space to embrace the whole world while the labor force [largely] remains enclosed within the national framework.”25 Thus, Amin argues, instead of producing large groups of de-territorialized migrant peoples who prefigure the nation-state’s demise and point to a postnational global order, uneven globalization makes popular nationalist movements in the periphery the first step on the long road to social redistribution.

The question I want to pose is whether, in light of the failed promises of postcolonial nationalism and, as Amin and others have argued, also its continuing imperativity as an agent of ethicopolitical transformation in neocolonial globalization, Derrida’s dismissal of nationalism as an ideology may be hasty. In any event, this dismissal is limited in focus because Derrida understands transnationalism and globalization only in terms of the broad figure of migration. His predication of the future as transnational migrancy forecloses the unevenness of capitalist globalization and its effects [End Page 250] on postcolonial nationalism. For instance, what does it mean for a country in the South to practice hospitality without reserve as a host for transnational capital? If, as Derrida suggests, globalization brings about “new forms of a withering or rather a reinscription, a re-delimitation of the State in a space that it no longer dominates and that moreover it never dominated by itself” (SM, 94), then, instead of dismissing examples of popular nationalism in the postcolonial South that arise in response and resistance to economic transnationalism as essentially and irredeemably ontopologocentric, one might see them as instances of spectrality.

3. Envoi: The Spectrality of the Nation in Postcolonial Southeast Asia circa 1997–1998

I have argued that we might see the postcolonial nation as a creature of life-death because, by virtue of its aporetic inscription within neocolonial globalization, the neocolonial state stands between the living nation-people and dead global capital, pulling on both even as it is pulled by both. I want to end this speculative essay with a brief coda, a concrete example that is also a promise of work to come. As is well known, the financial crisis that is still sweeping across Asia today “began” in June 1997, triggered by a massive attack on the Thai baht by currency speculators on 14–15 May 1997. This crisis has become a free fall into deep economic recession across industrialized and industrializing Southeast Asia and East Asia, indicated by increased inflation, declining production, and rising unemployment. What is so surprising about the collapse of the “Asian economic miracle” is its suddenness. Almost overnight, the strong economic fundamentals of many of these countries—the economic well-being of the nation conceived as an organic body—which were widely regarded by international financial and economic authorities such as the World Bank not only as sound but also as models for less-developed countries to follow,26 were driven down by global financialization.

Clearly, the ghost of money has contaminated the realm of real production. But more importantly, these rapidly developing postcolonial national bodies have been spectralized by the ghost of foreign money, which they cannot not welcome within themselves in order to develop, even though this autoimmunization is precisely also a certain kind of death. Indeed, prior to [End Page 251] the collapse, in their official cultural self-representations in the international public sphere, those countries had ironically colluded with the Northern liberal picture of the fiscalization of the globe, world trade liberalization, and foreign direct investment—“growth for all, leading to transnational solidarity”—by touting themselves as success stories of flexible or disorganized global capitalism.

Here are instances of both sides of the aporia, where the postcolonial national body must accept the other within itself but cannot clearly discriminate between what it welcomes into itself: On the one hand, as Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, the prime minister of Malaysia, notes even after the crash, Malaysia regards “genuine foreign direct investors” as vital contributors to the country’s industrial development. “We have always treated them as special guests of the country.”27 On the other hand, the very conditions that can secure future foreign direct investment, such as acquiescence to directives from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), are themselves harmful. Using Indonesia as an example, one commentator notes that “some of the IMF policies are wrong and deadly. Asking the IMF for assistance may well cause a moderately sick patient to develop a serious and life-threatening disease that will take much suffering and many years to get out of, if at all.”28

Far from being rendered obsolete by globalization, the living on of the postcolonial nation in the wake of the currency crash can be seen in the rise of both popular and official nationalisms in Southeast Asia in response to economic neocolonialism and IMF manipulation: protest by the Malaysian state against unregulated currency speculation, peasant protest in Thailand, and student radicalism in Indonesia that led to the ousting of President Suharto. The postcolonial nation must be seen as a specter of global capital (double genitive—both objective and subjective genitive): It always runs the risk of being an epiphenomenon or reflection of global capital to the extent that it is originarily infected by the prosthesis of the bourgeois state qua terminal of capital. But it is also a specter that haunts global capital, for it is the undecidable neuralgic point within the global capitalist system that refuses to be exorcised.

Pheng Cheah

Pheng Cheah teaches in the Rhetoric Department at the University of California at Berkeley and in the English Department at Northwestern University. He has recently coedited Cosmopolitics: Thinking and Feeling beyond the Nation (1998), as well as a special issue of Diacritics on Irigaray and the political future of sexual difference. He is currently working on two book projects: Spectral Nationality, and a collection of essays on global financialization and the inhuman.


* Reprinted from Pheng Cheah, “Spectral Nationality: The Living On [sur-vie] of the Postcolonial Nation in Neocolonial Globalization,” in Becomings: Explorations in Time, Memory, and Futures, ed. Elizabeth Grosz. Copyright © 1999, by Cornell University. Used by permission of the publisher, Cornell University Press.

1. For philosophical arguments about how the nation-people and the ideal state embody the transcendence of human finitude, see, respectively, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Addresses to the German Nation, trans. R. F. Jones and G. H. Turnbull, ed. George Armstrong Kelly (New York: Harper and Row, 1968), and G. W. F. Hegel, Philosophy of Right, trans. T. M. Knox (London and New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), §§325–28. Ernst H. Kantorowicz makes a similar historical argument about the ontotheological character of the European state by linking both patriotism and the absolutist idea of the mysteries of the state to the corpus mysticum in medieval theology. See his “Pro Patria Mori in Medieval Political Thought,” in Selected Studies (Locust Valley, N.Y.: J. J. Augustin, 1965), 320–21: “Once the corpus mysticum has been identified with the corpus morale et politicum of the people and has become synonymous with nation and ‘fatherland,’ death pro patria, that is for a mystical body corporate, regains its former nobility. Death for the fatherland now is viewed in a truly religious perspective; it appears as a sacrifice for the corpus mysticum of the state which is no less a reality than the corpus mysticum of the church. . . . [T]he quasi-religious aspects of death for the fatherland clearly derived from the Christian faith, the forces of which now were activated in the service of the secular corpus mysticum of the state.” In the same volume, see also “Mysteries of the State: An Absolutist Concept and Its Late Mediaeval Origins,” 381–98.

2. Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Constance Farrington (New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1963), 131–32.

3. The religious tones are unmistakable. See Fanon, Wretched of the Earth, 132: “In undertaking this onward march, the people legislates, finds itself, and wills itself to sovereignty. In every corner that is thus awakened from colonial slumber, life is lived at an impossibly high temperature. There is a permanent outpouring in all the villages of spectacular generosity, of disarming kindness, and willingness . . . to die for the ‘cause.’ All this is evocative of a confraternity, a church, and a mystical body of belief at one and the same time. No native can remain unmoved by this new rhythm which leads the nation on.”

4. See Fanon, Wretched of the Earth, 244: “In the colonial situation, culture, which is doubly deprived of the support of the nation and of the state, falls away and dies. The condition for its existence is therefore national liberation and the renaissance of the state.” Note that there are three terms: culture, nation, and state. The nation is consciousness, culture is the expression of that consciousness in the form of spirit, and the state is its institutional embodiment.

5. Fanon, Wretched of the Earth, 185.

6. Fanon, Wretched of the Earth, 159, 204. See also 169–70: “This party has sadly disintegrated; nothing is left but the shell of a party, a name, the emblem, and the motto. The living party, which ought to make possible the free exchange of ideas which have been elaborated according to the real needs of the mass of the people, has been transformed into a trade union of individual interests. . . . [T]he party has made itself into a screen between the masses and the leaders.”

7. A more careful reading of the figures of the automaton, the marionette, and the turnspit that Kant uses in his discussion of the mechanism of nature as opposed to the spontaneity of pure practical reason in the Analytic of the Second Critique would be productive. See Immanuel Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, trans. Lewis White Beck (New York: Macmillan, 1989), 97–105; Ak. 94–102.

8. See Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment, trans. Werner Pluhar (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1987), §65, 253–54; Ak. 374–75. Kant also describes constitutional monarchy as “an animate body” and absolutist monarchy as a “mere machine” (Critique of Judgment, 227; Ak. 352). See Fichte, Addresses to the German Nation, 120.

9. G. W. F. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History: Introduction, Reason in History, trans. H. B. Nisbet (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), 48.

10. Edward W. Said, Culture and Imperialism (London: Chatto and Windus, 1993), 277.

11. See Partha Chatterjee, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse? (London: Zed, 1986).

12. Chatterjee, Nationalist Thought, 168–69.

13. See Partha Chatterjee, The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993), 235–36: “What Marx did not see too well was the ability of capitalist society to ideologically reunite capital and labor at the level of the political community of the nation, borrowing from another narrative the rhetoric of love, duty, welfare, and the like. . . . It is not so much the state/civil society opposition but rather the capital/community opposition that seems to me to be the great unsurpassed contradiction in Western social philosophy. Both state and civil society institutions have assigned places within the narrative of capital.”

14. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, rev. ed. (London: Verso, 1991), 86. Hereafter, this work is cited parenthetically as IC.

15. Chatterjee, Nationalist Thought, 170.

16. See, for instance, Marnia Lazreg, The Eloquence of Silence: Algerian Women in Question (New York: Routledge, 1994); Marie-Aimée Hélie-Lucas, “Women, Nationalism, and Religion in the Algerian Liberation Struggle,” in Opening the Gates: A Century of Arab Feminist Writing, ed. Margot Badran and Miriam Cooke (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990), 104–14; Cherifa Bouatta, “Feminine Militancy: Moujahidates during and after the Algerian War,” and Doria Cherifati-Merabtine, “Algeria at a Crossroads: National Liberation, Islamization, and Women,” both in Gender and National Identity: Women and Politics in Muslim Societies, ed. Valentine M. Moghadam (London: Zed, 1994), 18–39 and 40–62, respectively.

17. I have argued this at length in “Given Culture: Rethinking Cosmopolitical Freedom in Transnationalism,” boundary 2 24, no. 2 (summer 1997): 157–97, and in “The Cosmopolitical—Today,” in Cosmopolitics: Thinking and Feeling beyond the Nation, ed. Pheng Cheah and Bruce Robbins (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998), 20–41.

18. Jacques Derrida, Aporias: Dying—Awaiting (One Another at) the “Limits of Truth,” trans. Thomas Dutoit (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1993), 3.

19. Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International, trans. Peggy Kamuf (New York: Routledge, 1994), 125–26. Hereafter, this work is cited parenthetically as SM.

20. For a “fuller” elaboration of “living on,” see Derrida’s essay, “Living On/Border Lines,” trans. James Hulbert, in Deconstruction and Criticism, ed. Geoffrey Hartman (New York: Continuum, 1979), 75–176. This essay, which was written fifteen years before Specters of Marx but which clearly anticipates the direction of the later book, is ostensibly a reading of Blanchot but also of Shelley’s Triumph of Life, and it links “living on” to the condition of possibility of narrative.

21. Our death is always possible, but it is a possibility that is impossible for us because we can never experience it. By the time we can “experience” “our” death, it will be too late. Derrida’s extended argument is that as the possibility of the impossible, the experience of radical finitude is the radical contamination of the proper (including what is proper to man): “If death, the most proper possibility of Dasein, is the possibility of its impossibility, death becomes the most improper possibility and the most ex-propriating, the most inauthenticating one. From the most originary inside of its possibility, the proper of Dasein becomes from then on contaminated, parasited, and divided by the most improper” (Aporias, 77).

22. In a footnote, Derrida stresses that he is not opposing a philosophy of death to a philosophy of life: “We are attempting something else. To try to accede to the possibility of this very alternative (life and/or death), we are directing our attention to the effects or the petitions of a survival or of a return of the dead (neither life nor death) on the sole basis of which one is able to speak of ‘living subjectivity’ (in opposition to its death)” (SM, 187, n. 7).

23. For Derrida’s formulation of why the constitution of the publicness of the public sphere by means of techno-mediation requires a hauntology that is prior to and that makes possible ontology and any discourse on life and death, see SM, 50–51. See also Jacques Derrida, “Call It a Day for Democracy,” in The Other Heading: Reflections on Today’s Europe, trans. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael B. Naas (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992), 94–95, in which he suggests that the spectrality of the public sphere requires categories of analysis that take us beyond the basic alternative of manipulation and unorganized spontaneity. My argument has been that even sophisticated theories of nationalism that take into account the complexity of organization still rely on an ontology of life.

24. See Derrida, Aporias, 33. Derrida’s understanding of globalization through the figure of transnational migrancy becomes even clearer in the list of ten injunctions in The Other Heading, 77–79. See also Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Limits and Openings of Marx in Derrida,” in Outside in the Teaching Machine (New York: Routledge, 1993), 111–15.

25. The analytical distinction Amin makes is between Marx’s theory of the capitalist mode of production on a world scale (presupposing a truly generalized world market that integrates commodities, capital, and labor, and results in global homogenization) and capitalism as an existing world system (leaving labor unintegrated and leading to polarization). See Samir Amin, Re-Reading the Postwar Period: An Intellectual Itinerary, trans. Michael Wolfers (New York: Monthly Review, 1994), 74.

26. See, for instance, Howard Stein, ed., Asian Industrialization and Africa: Studies in Policy Alternatives to Structural Adjustment (New York: St. Martin’s, 1995).

27. “Dr. M: We Don’t Need ‘Hot Money,’” Star (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), Sunday, 14 June 1998; my emphasis.

28. Martin Khor, “IMF ‘Cure’ Pushes Indonesia to Crisis,” Star (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), Monday, 11 May 1998.

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