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  • Specters of the Real
  • David Anshen
Michael Sprinker, ed. Ghostly Demarcations: A Symposium on Jacques Derrida’s “Specters of Marx.” New York: Verso, 1999.

The whole point, however is that Marx... did not confine himself to ‘economic theory’ in the ordinary sense of the term, that, while explaining the structure and the development of the given formation of society exclusively through production relations... [he] clothed the skeleton in flesh and blood.

—Henri Lefebvre, quoting Lenin

It is high time that communists should openly, in the face of the whole world, publish their views, their aims, their tendencies, and meet this nursery tale of the specter of communism with a manifesto of the party itself.

—Karl Marx in The Communist Manifesto

The time is out of ioynt: Oh cursed spight,/ That ever I was born to set it right./ Nay, come, lets goe together.[Exeunt]

—Jacques Derrida, quoting Hamlet

Ghostly Demarcations, a collection of essays edited by Michael Sprinker, is the first book-length response to the four ruminations that comprise Jacques Derrida’s beautifully written and brilliantly considered treatment of Marx’s thought and Marxism, Specters of Marx. This anthology, made up mostly of responses by theorists on the Marxist side of the Marxist/Derridian (dis)juncture, takes the reader into either a haunted house of thrills and chills, or a fun-house of mirrors that distort and alter but also allow views from many angles. The nature of the reading experience is determined by what the reader brings to this carnival of mediations, incantations, and speculations. Those who prefer the certainties of traditional thought may find themselves surrounded by unfamiliar apparitions, images that seem intangible and difficult to grasp. After all, the intellectual movement required by these works (Specters of Marx and Ghostly Demarcations), back and forth between deconstruction and Marxism, necessarily exposes one to radical and unconventional ways of thinking. But the effort pays off. Although at times confusing, out of this work real insight can develop.

The task of my essay will be to promote the need for a reading of Ghostly Demarcations along with Derrida’s exegesis of Marx’s texts, at a time when many readers may question the value of another treatment of the Marxist-deconstruction divide. There have been many polemics by Marxists against deconstruction, and the related but distinct formations of postmodernism and poststructuralism.1 There have also been numerous moments when attacks on “metaphysics,” “ontology,” “teleology,” “presence,” or even more directly, “metanarratives,” “totality,” and “representation,” have become attacks on Marxism, or at least, as Derrida says, certain “spirits” of Marxism.

This long and often heated argument reverberating through the halls of the academy is reopened in these works at a very high level. Even Derrida’s sharpest opponents in the anthology acknowledge his critical acumen. The volume also includes an essay in which Derrida responds to, and at times fiercely polemicizes against, his critics, who include Fredric Jameson, Terry Eagleton, Pierre Macherey, Aijaz Ahmad, and Antonio Negri. Although the essays are uneven, all of them offer rewards commensurate with the time and effort required to read them.

The stakes at issue in these essays are high. Derrida’s Specters was also a consciously timed political intervention. It was a response to what he terms “dogmatics attempting to install its worldwide hegemony in paradoxical and suspect conditions” (51). What are these “conditions”? Derrida “cries out” in a particularly lucid manner that we live in “a time when some have the audacity to neo-evangelize in the name of the ideal of a liberal democracy... [despite the fact that] never have violence, inequality, exclusion, famine, and thus economic oppression affected as many human beings in the history of the earth and of humanity” (85). Derrida forcefully explains that the so-called end of Marxism, the death of Marx, and the attempts to exorcise Marx’s spirit(s) and specter(s), are all forms of political dogma that he rejects. He also maintains, in his exchange with his critics, that he has never been engaged in such a project. This is met with skepticism by some, such as Terry Eagleton, who labels this “a handy piece of retrospective revisionism which hardly tallies with the...

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