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  • From the Editor: More than One Specter
  • Laurent Dubreuil

More than one specter haunts the neo-globalized world. These specters roam at the periphery of our cities, or they float above the no-man’s-lands and non-places that proliferate in today’s society. If those ghosts could be pictured, they might look like the enigmatic figures that artist Cédric Le Borgne inserts into landscapes for his series entitled Les Voyageurs: photographs of his voyageurs appear on the cover and throughout the pages of this special issue. If such phantoms could be described in words, their names and promises might appear in the four articles we have brought together here.

As in 1848, one of the specters visiting us is communism, or—to be more specific, perhaps—Marxism. Despite all the fallacies, betrayals, and destructions associated with and created by different bouts of so-called Marxism, the hope that this political philosophy conjures continues to be felt: the profound dissatisfaction with the contemporary state of domination gives way to revived modes of haunting, something that Derrida’s Specters of Marx anticipated.

In this issue, Banu Bargu revisits Louis Althusser’s thought, giving new weight to the concept of “aleatory materialism” that the French author developed at the end of his life. While staying true to Marx’s lessons, the “old” Althusser tried to liberate dialectical materialism from its teleology. In this endeavor, and according to Bargu, Althusser found the initial turning point when he began reflecting on theater, and, in particular, on a play directed by Giorgio Strehler. Here, the shadow of Bertolt Brecht is inevitable. Paul Haacke, in “The Brechtian Exception,” carefully explains the difficult, and at times contradictory, situation of the German playwright regarding politics and its relations to art. From his dialogues with Walter Benjamin about Nazism and Carl Schmitt to his testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee or the notes in his diary written in East Germany, Brecht attempted to construct his own category of exceptionalism. “Distanciation” (the Verfremdung of the V-effect) is still a seminal concept and a powerful practice, in that it allows separation within closeness. Making the case against “The Turn Away from Marxism,” Charles Sumner delivers a critique of distance and surface readings, while casting doubt on “thing theory.” Sumner sees in Marxism, or in its appropriation through literary criticism, a crucial way and method to actually read a text.

The summaries I have just given would be enough to make one believe that, if Marxism is still a specter of today, it is in fact legion. This might be the most enduring problem of our era: totalizing paradigms and conceptual idols are not dead, they survive under multiple guises, and all their differentiated manifestations grow into an army of wraiths. Maybe the most significant specter haunting the world is this very propensity for things to appear as spectral. Serge Margel, in the wake of Derrida and Debord, formulates a broad hypothesis about the new “Society of the Spectral.” Margel confronts a meditation on the biopower of death with the meaning and machinery of contemporary glamorous bodies, through the visual (from Marlene Dietrich to Star Academy) and discourse [End Page 3] (with Heinrich von Kleist or Antonin Artaud). Margel is one of the two or three most talented philosophers writing in French today, and we are proud to introduce his work to an English-speaking audience.

This issue is the second in our mini-series, “At the City’s Limit” (the first—diacritics 39.2, “Negative Politics”—appeared last year in a special issue I edited). In many respects, the present collection of texts is also an indirect homage to the editorial work of my predecessor, Bruno Bosteels, who positioned our journal at the forefront of “radical” and political theory.

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IMAGE: Cédric Le borgne, LES VOYAGEURS

Geneva, Switzerland, 2008

Photo courtesy boris Kester

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Laurent Dubreuil