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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Where is Marxism? Where is it going?, 5 Sep 2010
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This review is from: Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International (Routledge Classics) (Paperback)
This is a fascinating book. To make the most of what this work has to say, I recommend reading 'ghostly demarcations' afterwards, for a discussion of this book by Derrida and many marxist readers. 'Specters of Marx' is based on talks conducted by Derrida addressing the question 'whither Maxism?' - where does it stand? Where is it going? He outlines various answers to this, but the bulk of this work discusses what deconstruction's relation to Marx is, and what this seeks to achieve.

Derrida tells us that deconstruction follows a 'certain spirit of marxism'. There are many different aspects of Marx's thought which various 'marxisms' have picked up on and use as a critique/tool of analysis for modern political issues. Derrida draws upon Marx's notion of 'spectrality'. What is spectrality? It is 'a non-living present in a living present'. This sounds complex, so lets unpack what this meant to Marx, and then to Derrida...

For Marx, capitalism has transformed the nature of objects, they are no longer determined by their use value. Rather, we identify ourselves with commodities, they become a part of our identity, they dictate who we wish to be. Think today of how advertising is used to sell products - through the use of models, sexual imagery and so forth. The product is more than an object to use, it is seen as a means of transforming oneself into something ideal (but something that we can never, in reality become). Spectrality is thus what is never there, but not strictly speaking simply absent either. It haunts the present.

But for Derrida, Marx is mistaken that, through abandoning capitalism, we can shake off these specters. The specters are always there, every 'self-same' is haunted by its 'other', nothing is quite as simply, sharply determined as it may seem. Derrida constantly references Macbeth throughout this book, in particular the line 'this time is out of joint' is quoted frequently. Derrida challenges the idea that we can ever fully see the world as it is, its ontology, what it is 'in itself' (see it in-joint). Rather, out condition is that we see the world through a conceptual lens that is organised through language, but the meanings of words change, they defer, subtlely shift in relation to one another.

Derrida ties this into ethics and politics. Deconstructive ethics, then, is an openness to otherness, which is also an openness to l'avenir (the future-to-come). What this means is that we should never believe we can fully tie everything down, categorise everything, recognise everything, and everyone absolutely. We should not believe categories such as race, nation, class etc are simple reflections of the world in itself. Derrida wants us to open politics to otherness, that is, recognise that our perspective is context dependent, and that how we percieve things now is not simply 'right'. We need to be open to the possibility of change - changes that we cannot even fathom, and that this openness to the unfathomable is itself where justice lies, for, as Kierkeguaard once said, 'once you label me, you negate me'. Reality is not reduceable to any categories, any ontology. This reduction is what Derrida seeks to break from, deconstructive ethics and politics is 'infinitizing' for it remains open to a beyond categorisation. This is what Derrida calls a 'messianicity without messianism'.

The book is an interesting to read, it seems to flow from a philosophical critique to a work of literature in itself. It is very enjoyable and thought-provoking. Derrida wants to challenge the views of the right, in particular Fukuyama, who's recent work has celebrated 'the end of history', which amounts to the death of communism. He also warns against seeing Marx as merely a great philosopher, with no practical relevance on politics today. But he also calls for marxists to acknowledge the crimes committed in their name.

Challenges and shorcomings of this book are raised in the symposium I mentioned earlier, published by verso, entitled 'Ghostly Demarcations', so I shall outline those in more detail in a review of that book. I will, however, mention that perhaps the biggest problem with this book is that Derrida doesnt properly address the issue perhaps closest to the heart of nearly every form of marxism - class. In what way does deconstruction challenge the exploitation of the powerless?
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Specters of Marx: Jacques Derrida., 7 Dec 2011
By 
ShiDaDao Ph.D (London UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International (Routledge Classics) (Paperback)
Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) was an extraordinary thinker. He described himself as a Marxian thinker, that is a thinker who develops an evolved interpretation of classical Marxist observation, and out of this process, developed the theory of 'deconstruction'. Karl Marx (1818-1883), studied the history of political economy, and in so doing, discovered 'hidden' truths in the narratives of the texts he used. Derrida saw this reality, and developed the deconstructive technique. A text has an obvious surface meaning,(that is, the meaning most apparent to the reader). This apparent meaning is so powerful that it obscures the deeper or true meanings of a text. These discovered meanings influence the reader in a sub-conscious manner - so that the reader, although ingesting these meanings, is consciously unaware of doing so. This surface meaning presents only a partial truth, or a complete non-truth about a subject, to the reader. The reason for this phenomena, is for the continued maintainence of a dominant political view, and the power this view entails. Under the surface of the text lie the underlying meanings. Marx saw clearly the exploitative reality of the Capitalist system - and reported his findings through his work, for humanity to see. Derrida uses this Marxisn technique of narrative extraction from all texts, regarding all subjects. Western reactions to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 is the key narrative deconstructed in this book. Derrida reveals the inconsistencies and untruths in these responses.

The paperback (2006) edition contains 258 numbered pages, and is separated into five distinct chapters:

Editor's Introduction (Bernd Magnus & Stephern Cullenberg).
Notes on the Text.
Dedication.
Exordium.
1) Injunctions of Marx.
2) Conjuring - Marxism.
3) Wears and Tears (Tableau of an ageless world).
4) In the Name of the Revolution, the Double Barricade (Impure "impure impure history of ghosts").
5) Apparition of the Inapparent; The phenomenological "conjuring tricj".
Notes.

This book is translated from the original French by Peggy Kamuf. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, many of the intellectuals of the world associated this event, not with the collapse of a State Capitalist, imperial power, but instead insisted that with the collapse of an essentially intolerant regime (that only gave lip service to the thinking of Karl Marx), the entire intellectual edifice of the intellectual tradition of Karl Marx was proven redundant, out of date, and irrelevant to humanity. Jacques Derrida challenges these assumptions, and in the process, tackles Fukiyama's 'End of History' notion as being the product of Christian thinking, and bias toward liberal, democratic, free market economics. In other words, Fukiyama, (and other intellectuals), are being dishonest in their intellectualism by misrepresenting the ideological terrain, in an apparent attempt to declare Marxism dead and buried.

It is as if they are being huanted by the ghost (spectre) of Marx, and that the fear of this apparition is the stimulus behind their thinking. Derrida makes much of Marx's appreciation of Shapespeare, and assumes that the ghost Marx mentions in the first line of the Communist Manifesto - 'There is a spectre hsunting Europe today. It is the spectre of Communism...' - may well have been inspire by Hamlet. Marxian thinking can not be dead, because it is an essentially 'observant' body of deconstructive work, that draws 'truth' from 'fiction', and as such can not be further subjected to the 'deconstruction' method. Marx can not be declared 'dead' as a body of work, because, as a body of work, 'it' never lived in any conventional sense. Those who are 'haunted' by Marx are those who fear the consequences of his insight. Derrida published this book in 1993, and refused to be swept along by the self-righteous narrative of the times. He dedicates this book to Chris Hani - a South African Communist activist, who was murdered for his beliefs. A superb, if not 'dense' read, that is well worth the time of study.
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