Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International

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Psychology Press, 1994 - Philosophy - 198 pages
4 Reviews
Specters of Marx is a major new book from the renowned French philosopher Jacques Derrida. It represents his first important statement on Marx and his definitive entry into social and political philosophy.

"Specter" is the first noun one reads in The Manifesto of the Communist Party. But that's just the beginning. Once you start to notice them, there is no counting all the ghosts, spirits, specters and spooks that crowd Marx's text. If they are to count for something, however, one must question the spectropoetics that Marx allowed to invade his discourse. In Specters of Marx, Derrida undertakes this task within the context of a critique of the new dogmatism and "new world order" that have proclaimed the death of Marxism and of Marx.

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Specters of Marx: the state of the debt, the work of mourning, and the New international

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Linking Hamlet's ghost with the opening of the Communist Manifesto, the noted French philosopher (Aporias, LJ 2/15/94) meditates on the state and future of Marxism since the fall of the Berlin Wall ... Read full review

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When are people going to learn that Derrida is not Habermas, or Austin, or even Rorty. In the reviews published thus far one complained that there is nothing new to be learned about Marx from this book. I wonder if perhaps the title of the work, in particular the term "Specters" may have tipped him off. Derrida is not attempting to provide yet another interpretation of Marx. Rather, he does us a much more profound service in calling our attention to the fact that the name "Marx" haunts us. Why? Because a certain generation, his own, has failed in its responsibility to properly read Marx, instead investing his name with all of the various ideological quests to which it has been attached in the 20th Century.
Importantly, the book begins with a scene from Hamlet. The old king is giving an injunction to do responsibility to his memory. Importantly, Hamlet has the pivotal line, "Time is out of joint." Precisely. We have a responsibility to READ Marx, not X, Y, or Z's interpretation of Marx. What does Marx say? We must clear the debris of both scholars and killers from his name and work. What did Marx have to do with the Gulag, the Soviet Union in any way what so ever? Nothing, of course. Nonetheless, Whether from the right or the left his name has been associated with so much perversity or promise during the 20th Century that we can see him only as a ghostly demarcation, and it is certainly no wonder that his message is not a kingly imperative.
Part of the debt of mourning we owe to those who bequeathed us their ideas is to take the responsibility to rediscover their works, the material that can be held in one's hand, precisely as their works. And make no mistake, this is a sacred responsibility. One to be upheld, in part at least, to combat the sort of bombastic "The King is dead. Long live the King!" shouting represented by, say, Francis Fukuyama's stunning book, The End of History and the Last Man. This vision--Hegel in triumph having been turned back upright to see the Reign of the Spirits of Capitalism and Christianity--would be the title's "New International." Fukahaha had no doubt that History has finally culminated in the victory the universalization of the free-market economy lead by it's Christian soldiers. (For the sake of fairness, Fukuyama had the intellectual integrity to repudiate most of this earlier work in a critique of his fellow Neo-Cons and their continued certainties, which one may lead right into Iraq 2003). Derrida, generally mild even in the process of eviscerating a particular point of view, took off the gloves here. He knocked Fukuyama on his ass in 1993. I have noted that he had the guts and integrity to stand back up 10 years later, in the midst of what else but the global catastrophe wrought by what, the very free market cum New International, which had crowed far before the dawn of a catastrophe the longest shadows of which we more than likely still await.
Specters of Marx is on of Derrida's more broadly important texts and deserves as what it is, not as what many who have reviewed it here thus far think it ought to be. Indeed, Derrida had now joined those intellectual forefathers to whom we owe so much. If he is read responsibly, and if he has taught us to read others with a sense of the honor due their legacy, then, love him or hate him, one must admire the way in which he improves our own work, our own time.


injunetions ofmarx
tahleau of an ageless world
in the name of the revolution the douhle harricade
apparition of the inapparent

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About the author (1994)

Jacques Derrida is Directeur d'Etudes, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris. He is well known to English-language readers for such works as Of Grammatology, Spurs, The Post Card, and Cinders. Acts of Literature, a collection of his essays, is available from Routledge.

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