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Diacritics 31.1 (2001) 56-72

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Deconstruction and Zionism
Jacques Derrida's Specters of Marx

Christopher Wise

No differance without alterity, no alterity without singularity, no singularity without here-now.

—Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx


Following Jacques Derrida's first sustained critique of Marx and Marxism in Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International (1994), an expanded version of his lectures delivered at the University of California, Riverside, in May 1993, numerous "Marxist" theorists have responded to his provocative (and, for some, "untimely") intervention. Several of these critical responses have been gathered in Michael Sprinker's volume Ghostly Demarcations: A Symposium on Jacques Derrida's "Specters of Marx" (1999), which includes contributions from such diverse theorists as Pierre Macherey, Antonio Negri, Fredric Jameson, Terry Eagleton, Aijaz Ahmad, and many others. Important omissions from Sprinker's book include Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak's "Ghostwriting" (1995), an essay that Derrida nonetheless comments upon in his response "Marx & Sons," or any other feminist analysis of Specters of Marx, a curious absence in a text so riveted by questions of patriarchal affiliation. An even more startling omission from Sprinker's book is any analysis of Derrida's discussion of the Middle East, especially his remarks on the State of Israel and "a certain Jewish [i.e. Zionist] discourse on the Promised Land" [Specters of Marx 60] ("un certain discours juif de la Terre" [Spectres de Marx 104]). The myopic range of Marxist critiques of Specters of Marx is regrettable insofar as both Derrida and his Marxist critics ostensibly offer "radical" or "oppositional" perspectives on George H. W. Bush's New World Order while ignoring imperialist practices in places like Jerusalem, Golan Heights, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. In The End of the Peace Process (2001), Edward W. Said observes, "[w]hen one considers the broad lines of Jewish philosophy from [Martin] Buber to [Emmanuel] Levinas and perceives in it an almost total absence of reflection on the ethical dimensions of the Palestinian issue, one realizes how far one has to go" [208]. Said does not include Derrida in this trajectory of Jewish philosophers, possibly because Derrida has repeatedly disavowed any explicit affiliation with Judaism as religion, but I will argue here that Derrida's disavowal is implausible if not altogether disingenuous. In Ghostly Demarcations, Marxist responses to Derrida reveal how little real progress has been made in Western literary theory since the early 1980s, when now-tired debates about the Yale School echoed in nearly every humanities' corridor in the [End Page 56] United States. There are surely more compelling reasons to read Derrida today than to settle old scores with Ithaca-Irvine varieties of deconstruction. A key goal of this article is to enunciate Derrida's elision of the Palestinian question, not so much to undermine Specters of Marx, but to extend its power by venturing into domains that Derrida himself refuses to explore, a factor that weakens without totally disabling his deconstruction of Marxist theory. 1

The Rhetoric of Alterity

In Specters of Marx, Derrida offers a complex, challenging, and virtuostic evaluation of Marx, focusing largely on "The Communist Manifesto" and The German Ideology. In particular, Derrida fixes his attention upon Marx's hostile and allegedly "obsessive" critique of Max Stirner, a rival Hegelian and "egological" anarchist. Derrida's criticisms of Marx turn on questions of spectrality, a suggestive way of describing the process whereby alienated or reified objects project illusory autonomy back upon the human subject. For purposes of the present essay, I draw attention to the rhetorical dimensions of the exchange between Derrida and his Marxist interlocutors, rather than the many subtleties implied by their respective analyses of this "new" concept formation. Such a strategy is useful not only because Derrida himself relies upon it in his essay "Marx & Sons," but also because it reveals key assumptions held by Derrida about deconstruction's political value, especially in the Middle East. Various contributors to Sprinker's volume do an impressive job of analyzing Derrida's critique of spectrality, especially Jameson, Warren Montag...