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

Jacques Derrida
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 25 2006 Routledge Classics

Prodigiously influential, Jacques Derrida gave rise to a comprehensive rethinking of the basic concepts and categories of Western philosophy in the latter part of the twentieth century, with writings central to our understanding of language, meaning, identity, ethics and values.

In 1993, a conference was organized around the question, 'Whither Marxism?’, and Derrida was invited to open the proceedings. His plenary address, 'Specters of Marx', delivered in two parts, forms the basis of this book. Hotly debated when it was first published, a rapidly changing world and world politics have scarcely dented the relevance of this book.


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From Library Journal

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. Developing two highly expanded lectures, Derrida notes that the current talk of the "new world order" and "the end of history" is the recurrence of a old debate, an attempt to exorcise the "spirit" represented by Marxism, just as Marx was concerned with the "ghosts" and "conjuring" of capitalism. Derrida argues that the deconstructive doctrine of "differance" and Marxism as an act posit many Marxisms. It is therefore the interpreter's duty to preserve the spirit of Marxism by pursuing the ghosts and laying bare the conjurings. This is Derrida's first major statement on Marx; an important book for academic collections.
T.L. Cooksey, Armstrong State Coll., Savannah, Ga.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"Its importance within the Derridean canon cannot be overemphasized ... The text that scholars turn to ... to understand the politics of deconstruction." – Southern Humanities Review

"One of Derrida's best books." – New Statesman and Society


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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
3.7 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Amazing Work Aug. 11 2001
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Derrida is definately "not a good Marxist." He is not trapped in the decaying dialectic model, but works his way around, examines the processes, and allows the readers to arrive at their own conclusions. This book is not about Marx, but rather about the specters, their attendant ideological implications, and historicity. If you are looking for a political Derrida, you will not find him here.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The political ghost March 31 2001
Format:Paperback
In typical Derridian fashion, Derrida circles the subject of Marx, peeking at it directly sometimes, but always speaking of it. "Of" instead of "to" as Politics of Friendship points out. Derrida is haunted, as we all should be. The question is whether or not this is an ethical treatment of the problems brought to bear (a list of 10 - the ten commandments?) in the section entitled "Wears and Tears (Tableau of an agless world)." This is a book about ghosts, about specters (and of course the specter of Marx). His insights are once again profound (yet maybe a bit expected) when he calls the specter that which is neither present nor absent. The specter's call, is of course, ethical, yet Derrida focuses less on this than would be expected. Instead, Derrida is focuses on naming a few of the ghosts that flitter by. This is less a book about politics than about the metaphor of the ghost, which I find unfortunate. However, I did find this a valuable read. Derrida has the ability to break questions wide open with his sharp deconstructive intellect, and this book holds no exceptions. The specter is a figure of the "to come", as well as that which is already here. This book is like the begginging of a spider's web which can be stretched in many directions politically, thus it is certainly applicable and even practical (so maybe he's more Marxist than i give him credit for). If one identifies the system as the ghost, then a large connection has been made which can span many political divides. I recommend this book to any Derrida fan (like myself) and anyone interested in the critique of current politics. The concepts worked out here are a great primer and beginning to the work which must come after, the work "to come". This book is the present of the "to come". Debt, Mouring, and Politics. Read it.
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4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars 2 Stars: A Gift for Derrida Aug. 5 2001
Format:Paperback
Derrida gets 2 stars for FINALLY coming around to writing about social and political issues. The book itself is interesting, but the fact of the matter is, it's not good Marxism. He's remained ambiguous even since the 1968 French University protests of 1968. His only discussions of Marx revolved around his critique of Hegel, and I believed he dropped Lenin's name a few times in "Positions". Still, Derrida's entry into Marxism is a disappointing one. While he never claims to be a Marxist, one would expect him to be aware of the basic tenents of Marxism. The problem with Derrida's book is it's fetishism of the spirit. The specter takes precedence over the material. Ultimately, Derrida misses the point of historical materialism completely. History is ALWAYS present...there is no specter. In Marx's view we are always creating our own history, as part of our nature as human beings. Furthermore, Derrida's dialectics in the book is far from dialectical materialism. Despite what he claims to be a thorough reading of the German Ideology, he falls into the same traps of the Young Hegelians Marx critiques. His dialectics posits an a priori state, beyond history, language, and everything. Derrida claims he doesnt but this "presence non-presence" of the specter applies something beyond both the material and memory. Regardless, neither of these options suit Marx. Consciousness (das Basswussein I believe?) is the life-blood of the human being, and her/his existence. It is material in and of itself. There is no to come, it is always in process, always becoming, it is in transition. It is not a state of being as "to" implies...it IS being. Anyone who wants a refutation of Derrida need merely read the "camera obscura" passage of the German Ideology. Read more ›
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  13 reviews
38 of 44 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Addressing Some Basic Misconceptions About Derrida's Work Jan. 17 2007
By Etienne ROLLAND-PIEGUE - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Reading this book will help dispel (or at least nuance) two criticisms that are often addressed to Jacques Derrida's work. The first is that the brand of philosophy that he promotes under the name of deconstruction is irretrievably obscure and that it constitutes a refutation of the notion of objective truth as well as an attack on the Western canon of literary works. The second is that Derrida cultivates a radical posture that is detached from the realities of the day and unashamedly leftist, as the reference to an outmoded Marx would suggest.

Let us first address the accusation of obscurity. Nobody expects philosophy to be easy, and readers who have no experience of reading theoretical texts may have difficulties with this one. I must confess that there are times when I could not follow the author's line of reasoning, and I may have skipped a few paragraphs here and there, but on the whole I did not find this book unduly abstruse or recondite--and I consider myself an average reader, with only a distant background in modern philosophy. I will leave to the reader to judge for himself whether the puns and neologisms that are introduced in the book (hauntology, spectropolitics) or taken up from previous works (differance) are just pedantic wordplays or if on the contrary they do add value and enrich meaning. But at least one should give them a chance to speak for themselves, and place them in their own discursive context.

People often identify deconstruction with an attack on past scholarly traditions or a dismantling of literary texts--in other words, a rejection of the works of "dead white males". This is certainly not the case with Jacques Derrida. He is a scholar moulded in the classical tradition and whose commerce with the canon of Western philosophy and classic literature is steeped with respect and familiarity.

His reference to Shakespeare throughout this essay about Marx's legacy easily proves this point. Bringing together these two authors is not totally out of place: Marx evokes the Bard more than once in his work, in particular in The German Ideology. More to the point, the playwright and the revolutionary share a common interest for ghosts, allowing Derrida to explore this theme by finding echoes between Hamlet and the Communist Manifesto. In both cases everything begins with a ghost, from expecting an apparition. "A specter is haunting Europe: the specter of Communism": thus begins Marx's Manifesto. According to Derrida, this metaphor is not fortuitous: "Marx, writes Derrida, lived more than others in the frequentation of specters... He loved the figure of the ghost, he detested it, he called it to witness his contestation, he was haunted by it, harassed, besieged, obsessed by it."

Shakespeare, for one, knew how to handle ghosts. He understood that it took a scholar to bring a spirit to the stage and to extract knowledge from a ghost. "Thou art a scholar; speak to it, Horatio," admonishes Marcellus in the first scene of Shakespeare's play. This is the sentence by which Derrida choses to close his essay, having recalled that "they are always there, specters, even if they do not exist, even if they are no longer, even if they are not yet. They give us to rethink the 'there' as soon as we open our mouths, even at a colloquium and especially when one speaks there in a foreign language."

Both the book's explicit and incipit deal with the issue of translation, a subject that Derrida revisits time and again in his work. As he notes, the epigraph from Hamlet that opens this essay, "the time is out of joint," has been rendered in various ways by French translators, referring to a time or a world that is all at once disjointed, disadjusted, disharmonic, discorded or dishonored and unjust. "This is the stroke of genius, the insignia trait of spirit, the signature of the thing 'Shakespeare': to authorize each one of the translations, to make them possible and intelligible without ever being reductible to them." According to Derrida, translation is not something that is added to a text afterwards and from the outside. A text bears within itself its own translation, it is open to layers upon layers of interpretation and its limits, where it starts and where it ends, cannot therefore be determined unequivocally.

Likewise, Derrida uses the polyphony of the word spirit, which can also mean "specter" (as do the words "Geist" in German or "esprit" in French) to construct a phenomenology of the ghost, what he calls an "hauntology" or a reflection on how the spirit makes its apparition as a phenomenon. Among other words that are drawn in for their multiplicity of meanings are the French noun "le revenant" (the one who comes back, the ghost), the German expression "es spukt" (it spooks, there are specters around) or the English verb "to conjure" (to beseech, to conspire, to raise a spirit). As Derrida demonstrates, this constellation of meaning around the word "spirit" finds echoes in the authors that Marx criticizes (Hegel, Max Stirner), the ones who criticizes Marx (Valery, Blanchot) or, surprisingly, those who don't (Freud, who also had his ghosts).

What about the accusation of radicalism and aloofness? Derrida certainly gives ammunition to those conservatives critics who consider deconstruction as being equivalent to Marxism. As he acknowledges, "deconstruction would have been impossible and unthinkable in a pre-Marxist space." For him, Marx is to be ranked among the great classics of modern thinking, perhaps alongside Nietzsche and Freud: "Upon rereading the Manifesto and a few other great works of Marx, I said to myself that I know of few texts in the philosophical tradition, perhaps none, whose lessons seemed more urgent today... It will always be a fault not to read and reread and discuss Marx. We no longer have any excuse, only alibis, for turning away from this responsibility."

Upon closer scrutiny, however, Derrida takes some distances with the Marxist dogma, pointing out that Marx himself resented being called a Marxist. He doesn't fully subscribe to "the concept of social class by means of which Marx so often determined the forces that are fighting for control of the hegemony." As he points out, Communist regimes drew the political consequences of Marx "at the cost of millions and millions of supplementary ghosts who will keep on protesting in us." He could have gone further along that line. But even though he shies away from addressing the issue squarely, Derrida reminds us that the specter of communism indeed turned half of Europe into a world of wraith, of chimeras and hallucinations. The communist specter made all reality ghostly. Marx's obsession with ghosts turned out to be prophetic, and Derrida's book allows us to reread him from that angle.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The political ghost March 31 2001
By "orion_ravenwood" - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
In typical Derridian fashion, Derrida circles the subject of Marx, peeking at it directly sometimes, but always speaking of it. "Of" instead of "to" as Politics of Friendship points out. Derrida is haunted, as we all should be. The question is whether or not this is an ethical treatment of the problems brought to bear (a list of 10 - the ten commandments?) in the section entitled "Wears and Tears (Tableau of an agless world)." This is a book about ghosts, about specters (and of course the specter of Marx). His insights are once again profound (yet maybe a bit expected) when he calls the specter that which is neither present nor absent. The specter's call, is of course, ethical, yet Derrida focuses less on this than would be expected. Instead, Derrida is focuses on naming a few of the ghosts that flitter by. This is less a book about politics than about the metaphor of the ghost, which I find unfortunate. However, I did find this a valuable read. Derrida has the ability to break questions wide open with his sharp deconstructive intellect, and this book holds no exceptions. The specter is a figure of the "to come", as well as that which is already here. This book is like the begginging of a spider's web which can be stretched in many directions politically, thus it is certainly applicable and even practical (so maybe he's more Marxist than i give him credit for). If one identifies the system as the ghost, then a large connection has been made which can span many political divides. I recommend this book to any Derrida fan (like myself) and anyone interested in the critique of current politics. The concepts worked out here are a great primer and beginning to the work which must come after, the work "to come". This book is the present of the "to come". Debt, Mouring, and Politics. Read it.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A few extra comments... July 9 2007
By A. S. Proctor - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The pro-Derrida and anti-Derrida standpoints are well represented in these reviews; however, there is a more important point that has not been made. I read this work much like Nietzsche's Zarathustra, meaning that its significance remains to be seen--for now to come. Now, take that as "post-structuralist obscurantism" all you want. I will shoot back just as Derrida did a hundred times: You have not read enough and you clearly do not understand his project.

With that being said, this is not even really a work on Marxism, historical materialism, or even "social" movements, per se. I read this work as affirming the undying desire for emancipation and uncovering the limits of the Marxist/leftist movements and how they are treated within academia. Marx is used as one example among many possible, just as he uses Fukuyama. I would also disagree with the previous reviewer and say that the more I read it, the more elucidating, exciting, and emancipatory this text became. This text is about infinite responsibility, inheritance, and creating "a new opening of event-ness."

I'll close with a quote from Jean Birmbaum who writes, "It is here that we find again the theme of transmission, of legacy, the 'politics of memory, of inheritance, and of generations' that is sought in Derrida's Specters of Marx, on the horizon of an obligation to justice and an endless responsibility before 'the ghosts of those who are not yet born or who are already dead.'"
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Essential Read for Would Be Intellectual Prophets May 12 2010
By Rusty Gentry - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
To begin, there is just far too much in this text to do it justice in such a setting. Thus, I will pick and chose based on the complaints I have seen others tossing at this extraordinary work. When are people going to learn that Derrida is not Habermas, or Austin, or even Rorty. In some of 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. He calls our attention to the fact that there is no longer any such Marx to be learned from. There is only the name "Marx," which haunts us for the violence to which what he had to teach us has been subjected. 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. Imagine, Karl Marx, the author of Capital, became little more than a common cultural place holder for all that is evil for those on the right. (It is truly a riot to quiz the disciple of the good and the right, having just called you a Marxist, about Marx or his ideas. Ironically, in our cultural idiom "Marx" and "Liberal" were synonyms for one another. It's not time, but our brains that are out of joint, but I am getting ahead of myself.)
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 Cenhttp://www.amazon.com/review/create-review/ref=cm_cr_dp_wr_but_right?ie=UTF8&nodeID=283155&asin=0415389577&store=books tury 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 Spirit of Capitalism and Christianity--would be the title's "New International." Fukahaha had no doubt that History has finally culminated in the victory and immanent 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...guess. Yes, 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 one 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.
12 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Amazing Work Aug. 11 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Derrida is definately "not a good Marxist." He is not trapped in the decaying dialectic model, but works his way around, examines the processes, and allows the readers to arrive at their own conclusions. This book is not about Marx, but rather about the specters, their attendant ideological implications, and historicity. If you are looking for a political Derrida, you will not find him here.
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