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Marx the uncanny? Ghosts and their relation to the mode of production

Where Marx is closest to the spirit of deconstruction is,
arguably, in these formulaic gestures towards a society
that had so far transcended existing actuality that its
conditions of realization could no longer be conceptualized. Marx is spectral Marx in his refusal to envision
communism in his envisaging of it, in his anti-utopian
utopianism.

Now, I am not deploring this vision. A world that no
longer aspires to any such political sublime is an
impoverished world. What I am saying, however, is that
ontological voids can offer themselves as hostages to
fortune; that Marx’ s refusal to think through the politics
of communism created a number of such voids; and that
in so far as these came to be filled by ‘actual existing
socialism’ they have played a role in the demise of
Marxism itself. Or, to put it otherwise: one doesn’t

necessarily avoid the horrors of a messianic
totalitarianism by refusing to ontologize. One might even
be leaving more space for them. Certainly we should be
very wary of all those who know how to change the
world, and how it ought to look when they have done so.

But, since the world will change anyway, there are also
dangers in too narrowly confining oneself to the task of
‘critical criticism’: to a perpetual critique of the out-ofjointness of all times, of the eternal failure of the actual
to measure up to a rationality that will never arrive.

Derrida abhors the politics of the ‘full presence’ , whether
it takes the form of a celebration of the end of history or
an absolute knowledge of how it should end. I agree. But
it is not, I think, by leaving ontological vacuums that we
best guard against these types of plenitude.

Kate Soper

Marx the uncanny?

Ghosts and their relation to the mode of production
I want to pose some of the problems that are raised by
Derrida’s postponed and long-awaited encounter with
what in an interview of 1971 he calls ‘the Marxist text’ .1
I will do this by setting up a different, but for Derrida
equally postponed, encounter, that with Freud’s essay
‘The Uncanny’ (1919). This will lead me to consider the
place of Shakespeare’ s Hamlet in Derrida’ s argument as
a kind of un-text of the spectral and his privileging of it
as a way in to Marx’ s texts with their ghosts and spectres.

Freud’s paradox of the heimlichlunheimlich is
invoked and alluded to in Derrida’s writings over the
years, often in passing and with a claim for its crucial
importance, followed by a disclaimer of any intention to
undertake the necessary and, we are given to understand,
necessarily lengthy, deconstructive reading that its
importance would call for. 2 Mark Wigley observes of
Derrida’s relation to the uncanny:

Like the figure of the house to which it is bound, it
is a theme that can be traced throughout Derrida’s
work without it ever becoming a discrete subject,
as if it is itself repressed, returning only
occasionally to surface in very isolated and what
seem, at first, to be very minor points. But precisely
for this reason it can be argued that its effects
actually pervade all the texts that are unable or
unwilling to speak about it. 3
The uncanny in Derrida’s texts seems to play the role of
a nagging but deferred element, one that is welcomed as

congenial but never integrated into the texts that cite it,
something that remains beckoning but peripheral to the
trajectory of the argument. The page or two it gets in
Specters ofMarx is the fullest attention Derrida
given
. has
.

it so far. Significantly, I will argue, of the two points
from it that Derrida focuses on, he gets one wrong, which
he gives a partial reading of the other, in which a key
element of Freud’s concept is lost.

The occasion of Derrida’s citation of the uncanny is
the repetition in Freud’s essay of a German idiom that
appears in Marx’s interminable critique of Max Stirner
in The German Ideology, and which also resonates for
Derrida in his equally repetitive and seemingly
interminable paraphrase and commentary on Marx’ s
obsessive battling and entanglement with Stirner. The
German idiom in question is es spukt: it spooks. The
phrase is, Derrida notes, translated into English and
French in such a way as to lose its force. In Freud’s essay,
es spukt appears when Freud comments on the lack in
other languages of a word that has the same connotations
as the German unheimlich. Freud says, in the English of
Strachey’s Standard Edition, ‘Some languages in use
today can only render the German expression “an
unheimlich house” as “a haunted house”.’ The French
translation of the equivalent is une maison hantee. What
these translations lose is Freud’s German idiom, when
he says in Derrida’s translation: ‘Some languages in use
today can only render the German expression ein
heimliches Haus [an uncanny house] by a house in which

Radical Philosophy 75 (JanlFeb

1996)

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es spukt.’ Freud’s German is ‘ein Haus in dem es spukt’

(Specters, p. 195). This idiom, as Derridarightly stresses,
is a verbal form which does not say that there are
spectres, ghosts or apparitions, but that ‘it spooks’ – ‘it
ghosts’, ‘it spectres’ . It is both verbal and impersonal.

The same idiom appears in a statement by Max
Stirner, who criticizes the other Young Hegelian
philosophers of the 1840s, especially Feuerbach, for
bowing down and worshipping the abstraction ‘Man’,
which they put in the place of God, as part of a regime of
humanist abstractions that merely extends the reign of
the Sacred and the Holy rather than replacing it with the
practice of real men from whom the abstractions proceed.

Addressing his contemporaries, Stirner exclaims:

‘Mensch, es spukt in dei ne m Kopf!’, of which the
standard translation is ‘Man, there are spectres in your
head’, or, as Derrida would have it, ‘Man, it ghosts/
spectres in your head’. Stirner’s strategy of ‘egoism’ is
to reclaim and absorb abstractions such as ‘Man’ back
into his own ego whence it was alienated as an
autonomous idea that had forgotten its origin and become
a tyrannical spectre. However, the ego thus produced,
Marx argues, is not a real concrete living being, as Stirner
thinks, but simply a confluence of abstractions, a
construction and gathering of mental spectres. So Marx
addresses Stirner in turn (whom he christens St Max
because he sees holy abstractions exercising power
everywhere): ‘Es spukt in deinem Kopf’, that is, ‘it
spooks in your head’ . Derrida is not impressed by Marx’ s
readdressing of Stirner’s reproach to Feuerbach and
others back to Stirner himself. Derrida wants to give a
value to Stirner’s formulation es spukt: ‘it ghosts’ or ‘it
spectres’ . I will return to this in a moment.

Marx relentlessly pursues Stirner through 336 pages
of The German Ideology, tracking down and spelling out
the contradictions of Stirner’s egological reduction and
incorporation of abstractions, contending that this but
proliferates and internalizes spectres so as to render
subjectivity itself spectral and unreal. Derrida argues that
Marx in doing this was pursuing, while refusing to
recognize, aspects of himself and his own project. Now
Derrida does acknowledge that Marx’ s critique of Stirner
refuses the false immediacy of a direct assimilation of
religious and ideological abstractions back into the single

ego, and that by contrast Marx insists on tracing them
back to the material conditions of practice and labour
that give rise to these mystifications. Nevertheless, he
wants to claim that Marx shares with Stirner an
unremitting hostility to the ghost, a desire to exorcise the
spectral finally and for good, and that such an attempt
produces the further proliferation of ghostly and spectral
effects in Marx just as Marx claims it does in Stirner.

32

From The German Ideology to the spectre of communism
haunting Europe in The Communist Manifesto, to the
nightmares, spectres and phantoms of The 18th Brumaire
of Louis Napoleon, to the fetishism of the commodityform and the money-form, the autonomy of exchange
value and the abstract human labour of Capital, Marx
never ceases to speak of vampires, ghosts, spectres of the
living dead, of autonomized and automatized idealities
and abstractions generated within the material and
economic processes he analyses. Because of this
haunting in Marx’ s texts, Derrida remarks, the alternative
title to his book might have been ‘Marx – das
Unheimliche’: ‘Marx – the Uncanny’.

‘It spooks’: a generalized structure
of haunting
Derrida’s repetitive and laborious pursuit of Marx in
Marx’s obsessional line-by-line pursuit of Stirner
interpellates Derrida into the primal scene of historical
materialism, the psycho-theoretical dramas, the
mirrorings, doublings and oppositions played out
between the Young Hegelian heirs of Hegel to the
German philosophical world of the 1840s. For, in
response to Marx’ s enraged but fascinated reading of
Stirner, Derrida performs what comes increasingly to
look like a reverse Stirnerian rereading of Marx. David
McLellan has argued that Stirner’ s attack on Feuerbach’ s
humanist critique of religion speeded up Marx. and
.

Engels’s own break from and critique of Feuerbachian
humanism. 4 Derrida seems drawn to, if not identified
with, Stirner, and the Stirnerian-Derridean criticism of
Marx in effect returns Marx to the position of Feuerbach.

It accuses him of a humanist ontology of the living being
and a metaphysics of presence, which are the presuppositions, Derrida claims, of Marx’ s critique of
religion, ideology and the spectral.

Derrida’s criticism all turns on es spukt: the ‘it
spooks’. Derrida seems drawn to Stirner’s proliferation
of spectres in which the ego, as the site of their internalization, itself assumes spectral form. His attraction is not
to Stirner’ s solipsistic egoism as a philosophical position,
but as a delirious phenomenological description of living
in a spectralized world. It is as if Stirner’ s delirium bears
witness to a generalized structure of haunting, of the
ghost-in-general, as Derrida calls it, going on to propose
with facetious solemnity not an ontology but a
hauntology:

What is a ghost? what is the effectivity or the
presence of a spectre, that is, of what seems to
remain as ineffective, virtual, insubstantial to a
simulacrum? … Let us call it a hauntology. This
logic of haunting would not be merely larger and

more powerful than an ontology or a thinking of
Being …. It would harbour within itself, but like
circumscribed places or particular effects,
eschatology and teleology themselves. (Specters,
p.10)
He later says:

it is necessary to introduce haunting into the very
structure of a concept. Of every concept, beginning
with the concepts of being and time. That is what
we would call here a hauntology. Ontology
opposes it only in a movement of exorcism.

Ontology is a conjuration. (p. 161)
Ontology as the metaphysics of presence, of the
moment as presence to itself, attempts to conjure away,
to exorcize, the irreducible structure of haunting that both
founds and undoes it. We are on fairly familiar territory
here, in which the positions of Derrida’s texts of the
1960s are being repeated in a change of register. Where
grammatology – that now somewhat neglected
postulation of a ‘new science’ of the gramme or tracewas to oppose the metaphysical privileging of speech
over writing, and to bear witness to the movement of
differance as an arche-writing that is the condition of
possibility for speech, so now hauntology as a new
thinking of spectrality, the ghost in general that is the
condition for any ontology, translates differance from the
master trope of writing and inscription to the new Gothic
trope of haunting, a trope that opposes the hierarchy of
geist or spirit (spiritualization, sublimation, ideality,
mind) over the merely phenomenal or corporeal form of
the spectre of Spuk. It leads to a number of sweeping
assertions of the uncanny structure of haunting as a
transcendental a priori, made in passing in the interstices
of Derrida’ s textual cogito and ‘the very phenomenality
of the phenomenon’ (p. 189): ‘The essential mode of selfpresence of the cogito would be the haunting obsession
of this es spukt … ‘ (p. 133).

This generalized structure of haunting and logic of
the spectre is invoked to cover a bewildering range of
local or regional relations: the relation to the dead and to
the past; to the stranger or the foreigner as other; to the
future and the unborn, which Derrida conceives under
the rubric of the messianic without messianism; the
whole classical Marxist problematic of the ideological,
the fetishisms of the commodity-form and money -forms,
the mystifications and reifications of capitalist economic
relations; and, for good measure, the phantom structure
of the tele-technologies of the mass-communication
media and the Baudrillardian regime of the simulacrum
and the image – ‘When the very first perception of an
image is linked to a structure of reproduction, then we

are dealing with the realm of phantoms.’5 What gives
some consistency to this array of concerns is as ever the
deconstruction of the living present conceived of as selfcontained, and adequate to or coincident with itself. The
insistence on the spectrality of the present as always, in
the idiom of Hamlet, a time out of joint, as possessed by
the dead and open to the future, then becomes the basis
for a reproach to Marx as an enemy of the ghostly.

Furthermore, because of Derrida’s transcendental a
priori of haunting, under which he includes not just
Marx’s critique of political economy, but the relation to
the other as such (whether the other is the living, the dead
or the unborn), he is led to claim that all the effects of
fetishism and mystification that Marx locates as the result
of the social form of labour under capitalist production
are really the effect of production as such. This
extraordinary sleight of hand turns on an invocation of
the other, in that use-value is said to presuppose
exchange-value, and hence all the spectral effects of
exchange-value, because production of use-values is
production for-the-other. Even more sketchily, this
haunting of use-value by exchange-value comes to be
identified with the Freudian work of mourning,
presumably because both Freud’s morning and Derrida’s
haunted production turn on the loss of the object,
although this is never spelled out. The historically
specific effects of capitalist production are collapsed into
sociality as such. As a result, the Marxi~t project of
eliminating the ghost-effects of bourgeois political
economy and its categories through working to eliminate
capitalism as a mode of production – with all its brutal
and unprecedented effects of mass immiseration that
Derrida so eloquently deplores – comes under the
suspicion and the accusation of seeking the eliminate the
other, historicity, and the relation to the future themselves. Where Andre Glucksmann, the repentant
Stalinist, and other nouveaux philosophes saw the
Stalinist labour camps of the Gulag as inscribed in the
very logic of Marx’s Capital, Derrida, who has always
kept his distance from them and indeed prides himself on
never having been anti-Marxist, sees what he calls
Marxist totalitarianism as the result of Marxist ontology,
its metaphysical fear of the ghost and its attempt to
eradicate spectrality. One might call this extraordinary
claim a truly Stirnerian theory of Stalinism.

Modernity and the Uncanny
I claimed earlier that of the two points from Freud’s essay
‘The Uncanny’ that Derrida focuses on, he misconstrues
one, while a crucial element drops out of the other. The
first is Derrida’s remark on the striking and for him
puzzling, if not discomforting, fact that Freud explicitly

33

cites Hamlet and the ghost in Hamlet as not uncanny.

Explanation: literature, theatrical fiction.

According to Freud, we adapt our judgements to
the conditions of fictive reality, such as they are
established by the poet, and treat ‘souls, spirits and
spectres’ like grounded, normal, legitimate
existences …. A remark that is all the more
surprising in that all the examples of Unheimlichkeit in this essay are borrowed from literature! (p.

196)
Derrida presents Freud’s judgement as if it were a
contradiction or non sequitur: all Freud’s examples of
the uncanny come from literature (which is not true) and
yet he claims that the ghost in Hamlet is not uncanny
because it is literature. But this is not quite what Freud
says. Freud is not just making a point about the fictive or
about literature in general. For if as readers we just
adapted to whatever we found in a literary text – ghosts,
spectres, and so on – then not only would the uncanny
not occur in Hamlet; it would be unable to occur in
literature or art at all. Freud is in fact making a point
about genres. Miracles in the New Testament, the
marvellous in fairy tales, the gods in Homer, souls in
Dante’s Inferno and ghosts in Hamlet, Julius Caesar or
Macbeth are not uncanny, Freud argues, because they

34

involve no conflict of judgement as to whether they are
possible, whether such things can be. Rather, they are in
conformity with the generic world of the text and its
generically specific connections of verisimilitude.

Consequently, Shakespeare’s ghosts are terrible or
gloomy, Freud says, but not uncanny. This is so because
the supernatural is in place in a Renaissance tragedy.

‘The situation is altered’, Freud continues, ‘as soon as
the writer pretends to move in the world of common
reality.’ Then ghosts and other fantastic events assume
the quality of uncanniness under the conditions operating
‘in real life’ – that is, under the conventions of realism
and naturalism. This involves what Freud calls ‘a conflict
of judgement as to whether things which … are regarded
as incredible may not, after all, be possible’. Freud
attaches the uncanny in literature as in ordinary
experience to events that are in conflict with
‘presuppositions on which the world … is based’.6 In
literature the uncanny involves a rupture of the generic
presumptions of the world of the text.

The second point concerns Derrida’s invocation of
the haunted house in which ‘it spooks’. He comments on
Freud’s self-criticism that this motif is the most striking
instance of the uncanny and that he ought perhaps to have
begun his investigation with it. However, what interests
Derrida is the impersonal action of the es spuktl’it
spooks’ which he generalizes into an a priori
structure of haunting. Derrida ignore~ the
question of the house, all the more striking in that
it is inscribed in the linguistic formation of the
word, the Heim in the Unheimlich. Furthermore,
Freud draws our attention to this derivation at
great length. Consequently, the relation of
haunting, the es spukt, to the house, is all over the
opening pages of Freud’s essay. In rendering the
es spukt ubiquitous, Derrida takes it outdoors and
forgets the house, the haunted house which is the
mise en scene of the spectre.

Now the same thing is at stake both in the
question of genre as Freud poses it and in the
question of the house. This is something that
Freud’s essay nowhere renders explicit or
submits to theoretical reflection as such, but
which is everywhere presupposed by his account.

It is, or should be, a caveat against any too easy
or too rapid assimilation of the Freudian uncanny
to an a priori structure of haunting under the flag
of Heidegger. The untheorized presumption
whose logic is at work in both the question of
genre and the question of the house is the
presumption and the question of modernity. For
Freud, the uncanny presupposes the setting in

place of modernity and cannot occur by definition
in the realm of the premodern or the traditional,
even though its material is often the very stuff of
premodernity and tradition that returns to haunt
modernity from within.

The uncanny thus has for Freud a temporal as
well as a spatial structure. It is what was once
known of old and long familiar, and it comes in
two forms. They might be labelled the personal
and the social uncanny. The personal uncanny is
what Freud calls ‘something familiar and oldestablished in the mind and which has become
alienated from it only through the process of
repression’ (p. 241). He gives as analogies the
repetition of what was once loved or desired in
the form of phobic objects or the persecutory
figures of paranoia. The social uncanny is what
Freud describes as the return of animistic or
magical modes of thought that have been
historically surpassed but persist within us. They
produce the sense of the uncanny when something
actually happens which seems to confirm ‘the old
discarded beliefs’ (p. 247). Freud is aware,
however, of a definitional problem which he
cannot solve. For, while the uncanny may be what
is secretly familiar and has undergone
suppression, not everything that reminds us of
repressed complexes or surmounted beliefs is
experienced as uncanny. However, what Freud lacks in
his definitional specification of the uncanny is,
nevertheless, present in his descriptions of it, and that is
the question of the house and its relation to modernity.

Freud’s analysis of the linguistic shifts in the German
terms heimlichlunheimlich traces the reversal whereby
heimlich, originally meaning familiar, cosy and
domestic, comes to mean withdrawn from the public
gaze, private, secretive, sinister, and in doing so comes
to coincide with its opposite, unheimlich. This registers
the emergence of the closed, exclusive world of the
‘nuclear’ family of modem bourgeois society from the
older forms of the family. The uncanny or unheimlich in
this sense, as Freud observes, is a subspecies of the
heimlich and breaks out from within it. Freud cites
Schelling’s .definition: ‘Unheimlich is the name for
everything that ought to have remained … secret and
hidden but has come to light’ (p. 224). The subject of the
uncanny is in the house but no longer at home. The whole
space of the house, the structure of the domestic and the
familial, is experienced as an archaic enclave, an
encysted or – to use a Derridean metaphor – an
‘invaginated’ space that is a site of a haunting and return
that ruptures the presuppositions of modernity, variously

understood as secularization, the newly private
. . and the
rationally explicable. The German sociologist Ferdinand
Tonnies has defined the modem as one who feels free to
forget the dead. 7

Hamlet and history
The unheimlichluncanny house in which ‘it spooks’, I
am arguing, is not the insistence of an a priori structure
of haunting, but of a historically specific structure of
experience. This is the experience of a breach with
tradition and a failure of the relation to the dead and to
the ancestral, or their modernizing repudiation. It gives
rise to the fantasy – a fear, and behind that a wish – that
the dead will not have forgotten us. The literary
elaboration of this fantasy constitutes the tradition of the
Gothic, and the structure of the Freudian uncanny gives
us the generic structure of the Gothic, turning as it does
on the haunted Gothic house in which is materialized in
Chris Baldick’s succinct and suggestive formulation ‘a
fearful sense of inheritance in time with a claustrophobic
sense of enclosure in space’.8
Now, the return of the dead in premodern cultures
and texts has a place. It does not breach the continuity of
historical time, as the breach of that breach, as the rupture
and reversal of the time of the modern. In Hamlet,

35

Horatio responds to the ghost, ‘It harrows me with fear
and wonder’, but its appearance does not entail an
ontological scandal. This is why Freud is right to claim
that the ghosts in Shakespearean tragedy may be dreadful
but they are not uncanny, and why Hamlet and works of
Jacobean drama, despite their themes and motifs being
endlessly recycled in the early generations of eighteenthand nineteenth-century Gothic novels, are not themselves
Gothic or uncanny texts. Within premodern cultures and
texts, the ghost is a sign, not unambiguous, that can be
read, and various kinds of action taken accordingly.

Derrida’s treatment of Hamlet as an urtext of the
spectral, which he privileges in his attempted
deconstruction of Marx, assimilates Shakespeare and
Marx and Freud (with the promise of Heidegger to come)
to his hauntological a priori. As a result Derrida tends to
back-project various modern assumptions onto the play.

His reading cannot think the play’s relation to its
premodern, northern European dramatic world and its
out-of-place proto-modern protagonist. For example, he
interprets Marcellus’ s frightened plea – ‘Thou art a
scholar. Speak to it, Horatio’ – as an appeal to Horatio,
as Derrida puts it, as an intellectual and a man of culture.

This leads him to remark that, as an intellectual, Horatio
is least equipped to address the spectral, given the
intellectual’s invariable commitment to the metaphysics
of presence and its ontological assumptions, which are
hostile to a proper recognition of spectrality. Derrida
goes on to speculate in an undecidable mixture of irony
and conceit, that
Marcellus was perhaps anticipating the coming,
one day, one night, several centuries later, or
another ‘scholar’ … capable, beyond the
opposition of presence or non-presence … of
thinking the possibility of the specter, the specter
as possibility. (p. 12)
Messiah by day, spectre by night, Derrida modestly steps
forward as the embodiment of Marcellus’ s utopian hope.

However, as a student lately come from Luther’s
Wittenberg, the international centre of Reformation
theology, Horatio might to the mind of a simple soldier
like Marcellus be thought, as a university-educated clerk
rather than a modern man of culture, to know the right
forms of exorcism for interrogating ghosts. The ghost
significantly is a pre-Reformation Catholic ghost who
comes, he tells us, from Purgatory. This is Shakespeare’s
solution to the problem of validating the ghost by giving
him a theological status that wins him dramatic
credibility. If he was from heaven he would be a
messenger from God and not the bearer of the traditional
non-Christian code of Revenge; if he was from hell he

36

would be an emissary of the devil and his call for revenge
would be clearly sinful. Location in Purgatory saves him
from damnation and discredit and gives him the dramatic
space to embody the call for ancestral obligation and for
Hamlet to act his filial duty.

Derrida’s remarks that we don’t know whose sins the
ghost is suffering for, and that he comes from the ground,
soil, humus mould etc., suggest that he doesn’t grasp the
medieval Catholic doctrine of Purgatory or its dramatic
significance in this historically transitional and hybrid
play. Consequently Hamlet’s exclamation, ‘The time is
out of joint / 0 cursed spite, that ever I was born to set it
right’, to which Derrida devotes pages of deconstructive
exegesis, is not a statement of the necessarily spectral
unhinging of the present moment’s presence to itself, for
it is not the ghost’s appearance that has put the time out
of joint, but rather what he bears witness to: the KingFather’s secret murder and the disjointing of legitimacy
and dynastic succession by the usurpation of Queen and
Crown. Hamlet is born to set it right because he is the
murdered King’s son. His failure to do so and his
paralysis and apparent forgetfulness of the ghost’s
urgency – the ghost returns to rebuke him for his failure
to act – might be read as the premonitory signs of that
failure of the relation to the dead, and the intermittent
and guilty attempt to retrieve it, that characterize the
transition to modernity, and the ambiguous position
within it of the student-prince from Wittenberg as a
proto-modern figure of the Renaissance court-humanist
intellectual with his sceptical soliloquies out of
Montaigne. The historically transitional character of the
prince in a solidly premodern world is perhaps marked
by the anomaly of his reference to death – and this by a
son who has been visited by his murdered father’s ghost
calling for revenge – as ‘the undiscovered country from
whose bourne no traveller returns’. There is no Gothic
uncanniness here.

The world of Hamlet and its ghost seems untouched
by the structure of the uncanny. It shows only
premonitory signs of that breach between modernity and
tradition of which the uncanny is itself the rupture – the
rupture of a breach. My conclusion is thus not merely
that the ghost in Hamlet is different from the tropes of
spectrality in Marx, but that this difference dramatizes
issues of the epochal and the historical that are foreclosed
and misrecognized by Derrida’s transcendental
hauntology. After all, the unaddressed question of
modernity determines Derrida’s very choice of Hamlet,
taken as it is from the essay by Valery where Hamlet is
positioned as the very figure of a melancholic European
geist. Valery’s essay is a virulent polemic against
modernity, as the miscegenation and dispersion of the

mind/geist of Europe by its cultural others and inferiors.

Derrida’s fascination is with Hamlet-as-geist haunted by
the corporeal form of the ghost, as a trope for the
irreducible spectral implication of spirit and spook.

However, this Vah~ryian reading of Hamlet forecloses
his distinctive relation to the premodern, conscripting his
melancholic Renaissance proto-modernity into a latterday battle with the developed forms of modernity in the
moment of European high modernism.

The question of modernity is as insistent in the text of
Marx as in the texts of Freud and in Hamlet, though
differently. Marx’s use of Gothic tropes, however, does
not usually reference the uncanny’s punctural rupture of
.modernity’s breach with tradition. Derrida’s misreading
of the ManzJesto’s famous citation of the Spectre of
Communism implausibly aligns Marx as fearful exorcist
with the reactionary powers of old Europe. However,
Marx is staging not an uncanny encounter of geist with
ghost, but a clash of two forms of narrative, of the
traditional nursery tale of the spectre with the party
manifesto that calls for the realization of a future
possibility. The Classical anachronism of the French
revolutionaries in The 18th Brumaire, the mystificatory,
vampiric and spectralized effects of Capital, are seen as
the production of the internally riven and selfcontradictory character of the economic and political
forms of capitalist modernity. What this then poses is the
question of the uncanny Nachtraglichkeit, the deferred
action or afterwardsness, of the premodern within

modernity (conceptualized within Marxism as the
overdetermination of different temporalities, or uneven
and combined development) and its relation to
modernity’s self-haunting or auto-spectrality. Derrida’s
spectral a priori or ghost-in-general, in its conflation of
these effects, precludes such a questioning.

Notes
1. Jacques Derrida, Positions (1972), trans. Alan Bass,
University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1981.

2. In a footnote in Dissemination, where the theme of
undecidability is related to the uncanny, Derrida remarks
that ‘we find ourselves constantly being drawn back to
that text’ (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1981, p.

220). In a still partial invocation in the closing moment of
Specters, he remarks that, ‘One should read also for itself
… all the rest of the text (we will try to do so elsewhere),
while crossing this reading with that of numerous other
texts in Heidegger’ (p. 174).

3. Mark Wigley, Derrida’s Haunt: the Architecture of
Deconstruction, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1993.

4. David McLellan, The Young Hegelians and Karl Marx,
Macmillan, London, 1969.

5.

Interview with Jacques Derrida, ‘The Ghost Dance’,
Public, no. 2, 1989.

6.

Sigmund Freud, ‘The Uncanny’ (1919), Standard Edition
of the Complete Psychological Works, trans. J. Strachey,
Vol. 17, The Hogarth Press, London, 1955, pp. 245-52.

7. Ferdinand Tonnies, Custom: An Essay on Social Codes,
trans. A. F. Borenstein, Gateway Books, Chicago, 1961.

8. The Oxford Book of Gothic Tales, edited by Chris Baldick,
Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1992, p. xii.

John Fletcher

Messianic ruminations
Derrida, Stirner and Marx
Much of the response to Jacques Derrida’s Specters of
Marx has concentrated on the significance it might have
for his thought. No doubt this is an interesting and
important subject, but it is not my principal concern here.

I am interested in Specters of Marx as a Marxist, and
therefore not for what it reveals of Derrida and of the
alleged ‘ethical turn’ of deconstruction, but for what it
says about Marx and Marxism, and about ‘What is to be
Done?’, here and now in the ‘New World Order’.1
There have been other Marxist responses to Specters,
notably those by Aijaz Ahmad and Fredric Jameson. 2
Both are highly characteristic of the writers’ respective
intellectual styles. Thus Jameson’s main thrust seems to
be recuperative, as he seeks to weave Derrida’s themes
into the dialectical totality forming, he believes, the
horizon of all human thought and activity. Ahmad’s
comments on Specters are, by contrast, sharper, more

polemical, more concerned to identify the lines of
opposition still dividing Derrida from Marxism. These
differences in approach are, of course, symptomatic of
their more general stances towards poststructuralism.

My own sympathies are more with Ahmad’s
approach than with Jameson’s. Thus Ahmad highlights
the apparent contradiction between Derrida’s current
rallying to Marx and his past stance towards the Marxist
tradition, which is summed up by Derrida’s remark that
he ‘opposed, to be sure, de facto, “Marxism” or
“communism” (the Soviet Union, the International of
Communist Parties, and everything that resulted from
them … )’ (p. 14). Ahmad comments: ‘That word,
everything, is so definitive, … that one does not know
why the collapse of those socialisms [that is, the no
longer existing socialisms of Eastern Europe and the
Soviet Union] should have sent him into mourning.’3

Ra die a I Phi I 0 sop h y 75 (J an / F e b 1996)

37

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