Σάββατο, 3 Οκτωβρίου 2009

Φαντάσματα του μέλλοντος (αγγλόφωνο κείμενο)

Το παρακάτω κείμενό μου δημοσιεύτηκε στο περιοδικό Theory and Event 12.3 (2009).

Ghosts of the Future:
Marxism, Deconstruction, and the Afterlife of Utopia
Antonis Balasopoulos

"The future can only be for ghosts".
- Jacques Derrida

The Apparitional Unconscious
Near the end of Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward (1888) — one of the nineteenth century's bestsellers and, arguably, its most politically influential Utopian novel — Julian West undergoes a harrowing experience. Having woken into the year 2000 and lived in it long enough to discover that the advent of state socialism is the true path to collective and individual happiness, he is returned, as he realizes in dread, back to 1887 and to the abject realities of US monopoly capitalism. While wandering the streets of fin-de-siècle Boston, he finds himself in the misery of an urban tenement, overwhelmed by the "woeful" inferno of human suffering that unfolds before his eyes. Beneath the skin of that no doubt baleful picture, however, there lurk still more disturbing revelations:
Presently, too, as I observed the wretched beings around me more closely, I perceived that they were all quite dead. Their bodies were so many living sepulchers. On each brutal brow was plainly written the hic jacet of a dead soul within. 
As I looked, horrorstruck, from one death's head to another, I was affected by a singular hallucination. Like a wavering translucent spirit face superimposed on each of these brutish masks, I saw the ideal, the possible face that would have been the actual if mind and soul had lived. It was not till I was aware of these ghostly faces, and of the reproach that could not be gainsaid which was in their eyes, that the full piteousness of the ruin that had been wrought was revealed to me. I was moved with contrition as with a strong agony, for I had been one of those who had endured that these things should be. … Therefore now I found upon my garments the blood of this great multitude of strangled souls of my brothers. The voice of their blood cried out against me from the ground.[2]
If I pause over this uncharacteristically intense moment in Bellamy's otherwise unremarkable prose, it is not because I intend to pursue the question of "what is living and what is dead" in his now largely forgettable novel. It is rather because what grasps the attention of the retrospective gaze Bellamy's text both narratively thematizes and solicits, what seems to break through to a future Bellamy's brand of authoritarian socialism otherwise forecloses, is a dramatic unsettling of the very opposition between "what is living" and "what is dead". [3] To begin with, the apparition of the tenement proletariat as so many dead minds and souls works to at once spiritualize and literalize Marx's famous concept of "dead labor", labor value extracted from living bodies and congealed in the parasitically animated body of capital. [4] In this specifically Marxian sense, the spectral is nothing but the product of "the abstraction of value which, in a bloodless movement, vampirizes all of the worker's labor and, transforming itself into surplus-value, becomes capital". [5] Yet Bellamy's mise-en-scene is a good deal more ambiguous and complicated than that. For it is not merely that one is not sure whether it is Marx or the New England reformist and sermonizer who controls the tenor of the visual metaphor; it is also that its counterpart — Bellamy's version of living, non-alienated labor — is disturbingly similar to what it would be expected to ontologically oppose. Impelled "by a singular hallucination", Julian perceives the face that "could have been" as another, redemptively inflected specter, "a wavering translucent spirit" that is "superimposed" on the death mask of "each brutal brow." If, as Antonio Negri puts it, Marx was likely to oppose "the non-spectrality of the productive subject" to "capital's spectrality", Bellamy's late Victorian bathos seems paradoxically more capable of resonating with a postmodern "spectral materialism", one which registers "a certain real whose status is, paradoxically, virtual". [6] Within such a framework, the Marxian "ontologization of exploitation" has come to appear superannuated, and the spectralization of labor is no longer to be grasped as the distorting opposite of its true or non-alienated nature.[7]

But the proliferation of narrative and representational complications is not exhausted here. For the encounter between Julian and the nineteenth century's living dead takes place within an internally fractured time: what we might otherwise call the narrative present is here distended between a past that is not truly past and a future that is, within the narrative, a product of the social imagination of the present; in Matthew Beaumont's incisive formulation, Utopia responds to the modern representational quandary of a present that, for all its lived intensity, "cannot be made present" to consciousness by grasping this present as "the past of a specific, fictional future". [8] Such tampering with the consistency of temporality — endemic in Utopian fiction in the epoch of the ideological hegemony of teleological progress — has determinate ontological consequences: from the Benjaminian perspective of Bellamy's backward-propelled witness to history, the entire nineteenth-century social world, with all its contradictions, miseries and dysfunctions, is now a ghost, a fossil of itself preserved as cautionary tale in the future's antiquarian museums and history books.[9] Conversely, from the perspective of Bellamy's own contemporaries, including, one would venture, that of the counterparts of the men and women whose misery Julian witnesses, it is the arrivant from an achieved Utopia who constitutes a phantom, a ghostly emissary from a time yet unborn and possibly unrealizable.

A similar, if temporally inverted scenography of ghostly encounter informs William Morris's News From Nowhere (1890), where the Nowherian's self-administered advice to "go and live in the present" is constantly offset by their exposure to the surviving ghost of the past embodied in the novel's time-traveling narrator, William Guest. Fallen past and redeemed future consequently haunt each other, the former by installing in the latter the tiniest, most imperceptible sliver of restlessness and melancholy, the latter by exposing the former to its fate of irrelevance and oblivion. As for Morris's version of the Utopian witness, Guest, he is, as Matthew Beaumont reminds us, also a ghost.[10] When, at the end of his clairvoyant "vision" of the communist humanism of the future, the nineteenth-century world he has seemed to escape reasserts itself, it is in the uncanny form of his own spectralization, his disappearance before the eyes of a persisting, but now seemingly unreachable and oblivious posterity:
I stood on the threshold with the expectant smile on my face of a man who is going to take part in a festivity which he is really prepared to enjoy. … Opposite me sat Clara and Ellen, with Dick's place open between them: they were smiling, but their beautiful faces were each turned towards the neighbors on either side, who were talking to them, and they did not seem to see me. … A pang shot through me, as of some disaster long expected and suddenly realized. Dick moved on a little without a word to me. …I turned to Ellen, and she did seem to recognize me for an instant; but her bright face turned sad directly, and she shook her head with a mournful look, and the next moment all consciousness of my presence had faded from her face.[11]
In Morris, the etymological and phonetic contiguity between "guest" and "ghost" becomes a means of dramatizing the structural affinity between the subject position of the Utopian narrator cum ethnographer of the future and that of the spectral witness. The guest is a ghost because his bearing witness to Utopian alterity is made possible by his exclusion from it, the fact that he can never be fully present in the society he describes. But Guest is also a ghost because, like Bellamy's Julian, he cannot return to his own present without haunting it in turn. In effect, both novels fashion the dialogue between the present and the future not on the ground of any shared social content but on that of their shared exposure to "spectral rupture." Both present and future are hosts to guests cum ghosts, hospitable to traces of what does not properly belong to them, indeed to what prevents them from belonging entirely and without interruption to themselves.[12]

On a number of levels, then, the fictive universe I have been drawing upon is ruled by a law of doubling and mimesis whereby it takes a ghost to know one; and the Utopian pulse of texts like Bellamy's or Morris's can accordingly be traced less in their sketching of a "solution" to the unbearable contradictions of the present than in their staging of an uncanny encounter between antipodal incarnations of the spectral — the wispy, impotent immateriality of the world of "liberated grandchildren" on the one hand, the living death of "enslaved ancestors" on the other.[13] Such ghostly encounters are instances of a phantasmachy between a world which has not yet obtained the flesh of actuality and one whose material tissue grows not simply on the blood of "living labor" but on the sap of futurity itself; but they are also pregnant with the possibility of a spectral affiliation, of a certain kind of comradeship between ghosts. When Morris's Guest first meets with Old Hammond, Nowherian England's most historically conscious, past-oriented denizen, he remarks that his face seems familiar, "as if I had seen it before — in a looking glass, it might be"; while Old Hammond, in turn, recalls that his grandfather was, like Guest (and Morris) himself, a man attuned to the future, "a genuine artist, genius, and a revolutionist" who was tragically trapped in the capitalist barbarity of the late nineteenth century.[14]

Reading Bellamy and Morris in terms of what I would like to call an apparitional unconscious—the narrative staging of scenes that query both temporality and ontology, against the very grain of the ideological themes of manifest progress or naive presence that the literary text might otherwise uphold—avails us with a different, contrapuntal sense of what Ernst Bloch called the Spirit [Geist] of Utopia: one open to the tonalities, the subterranean pulsations, of a Gespenst der Utopie. Interestingly, Bloch's early scholarly treatise on Utopia may be said to constitute the first full-fledged philosophical inscription of the constitutive impact of precisely this ambiguity (and of the related, but not simply coevalent, oscillation between past and future) on the theorization of Utopianism as a representational, narrative mode. On the one hand, for instance, Bloch complains that music "becomes far too much a mere revenant, related all too historically to the past, instead of being illuminated from the direction of the future: as Spirit in utopian degree";[15] on the other, he shows that it is precisely the calcification of the opposition between the reactionary immersion in historical specters and the revolutionary flight forward that becomes invidious in doctrinaire versions of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Pursued undialectically, the precocious assertion of the full presence and self-identity of a once merely anticipated proletarian society risks artificially autonomizing (and therefore also fetishistically spectralizing) the realm of production within the socialist state itself. The premature burial of past forms of Utopian longing by the iron determinisms of an "actually existing" socialism, and the consequent neglect of the transformative inheritance safeguarded by such forms thus does nothing but reinvent spectrality, placing it at the very core of the ostensibly transparent and "disenchanted" social reality of the party State:
Certainly socialism could not have been grounded if Marx had been submissively devout, if he had insisted on an Arcadian state of the world where rational distribution gives everyone what he needs, if in other words Marx had organized only consumption and not above all production: with his practical eye toward an inexorable industrialization, with his unromantic coldness and his materialism as a powerfully demystifying rigor. But precisely when this narrowness persists too long, man is simply saddled again, precisely in economic terms; oppression is only curtailed and not lifted. In just this way production is finally taken out of the hands of the subjects again, and a phantasmal process of the general, of economic developments in themselves, goes its own way: like an idol, occasionalistic, detached, and even in the future indestructible. … the actively intelligent gaze has destroyed everything, certainly often justly, all the private idylls and uncritical reveries of socialism's hermits … certainly the all too Arcadian, the abstract-utopian kind of socialism … has been disavowed on good grounds. …But more than just a partial enlightenment is necessary, more than the kind that neglects the old heretical dreams of a better life rather than investigating and inheriting them. [16]
Testifying to the oscillation between Spirit and specter, past and future, Bloch, like Bellamy and Morris before him, thus signals the impossibility of effecting an anatomical separation that would restore each to its ostensibly pure state. The temporality that he and his literary predecessors commonly invite us to reflect on, cannot be reduced to that of a mechanical dialectic that would subsume reason and progress within "homogeneous, empty time";[17] rather, they ask us to allow for a dialectic that never quite exorcises the prospects of coexistence between Spirit and specter, the experience of transformation in the present and the obscure, disorienting comings and goings of revenants.[18]

It is one of the cardinal virtues of this hermeneutic restitution of the apparitional unconscious at the heart of the fiction and philosophy of Utopia that the "theme" of spectrality quietly mutates into a theoretical meta-commentary on the well-worn debate over the demise of the genre itself. In the period after 1989, the insistent neoliberal and "pragmatist" focus on the theme of Utopianism's expiration—of the final and irreversible annihilation of its Spirit—inevitably confronts us with the fact that Utopia has always already been a means of reflecting rather puzzlingly on matters of life and death, at least to the extent that it has advocated the wisdom of not drawing too rigid a distinction between the two. For if, echoing Bellamy, Morris or Bloch, Utopian discourse has cast the choice between a deadened present and an unborn future as literally a matter of life and death, it has also suggested that survival in an unjust and brutalizing world is never safe from the fate of the "living sepulcher"; and, conversely, that sur-vival, the excess production of a remainder that evades the sepulchral reign of reified reality, is predicated upon a negation of the ontological predicates of being as such. [19]

But the acknowledgement of the hermeneutic productivity of the figure of spectrality is far from accounting fully for the stakes and difficulties involved in its articulation to the theoretical reappraisal of Utopia. For "spectrality" and "Utopia" are terms that, in being linked to the deconstructive interrogation of ontology and the imaginative vision of systemic social transformation respectively, confront us with the difficult problem of mapping the areas of encounter, mutual enervation and tension, existing or still to come, between Utopia, Marxism, and deconstruction—those three differently inflected ways of thinking and sustaining a political fidelity to transformative futurity. In what follows, I would like to pursue the task of mapping these areas by focusing on the largely implicit dialogue that develops between Fredric Jameson and Jacques Derrida, two thinkers that may in all justice be considered central in articulating the structural logics of this triptych at our own end of the century. What I would like to undertake here involves a disjunctive synthesis of the affective dispositions designated by spectral affiliation and phantasmachy respectively. I would like, in other words, to trace the ghostly conversation spectrality engenders between Utopian, Marxist, and deconstructionist texts, while also attending to the frequently overlooked need to articulate the disjunctive dimensions of that conversation in the interests of highlighting the stakes of a political decision over the name of the future.[20]

Modalities of the Phantasmatic

At least as early as his monumental Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, it is possible to discern in Jameson's writing an engagement with what I have attempted to draw attention to in the previous section; namely, the dual thematics of Utopia's problematic relation to the ontological opposition of being and nonbeing, and of the import of this relation for the sur-vival of a Utopian Geist-cum-Gespenst beyond the limits of the genre's historical life. The first of these two strands can be traced in Postmodernism's long conclusion, where Jameson engages critically with the problem of anti-utopian anxiety. Pointing out that the ascription to Utopianism of the "existential illusion" of a metaphysics of identity is based on a conflation of "the individual and existential metaphysics of presence, plenitude, or 'reconciliation'" and the "political will to transform the social system itself", Jameson argues that critical thought must conceive of Utopia in terms of an absolute disconnection between the two. Rather than presuming a metaphysics of presence, Jameson suggests, Utopian ontology is profoundly attuned to negativity: it captures a certain experience of death, released from the tragic meaningfulness of history and returned to its properly "materialist and biological" dimensions. The anxiety with which Utopian being confronts us is thus properly to be located in the image of our reinsertion in the statistical annals of natural history, in the "deconcealment of human history as a dizzying sequence of dying generations".[21] What constitutes the core of our aesthetic distaste for Utopia, Jameson concludes in a later study, is that the latter
obliges us to confront the most terrifying dimension of our humanity, at least for the individualism of modern, bourgeois people, and that is our species being, our insertion in the great chain of generations, which we know as death. Utopia is inseparable from death in that its serenity gazes calmly and implacably away from the accidents of individual existence and the inevitability of its giving way: in this sense it might even be said that Utopia solves the problem of death, by inventing a new way of looking at individual death, as a matter of limited concern, beyond all stoicism.[22]
"A new way of looking at individual death": though it has received little attention, this is one of the most consistent undercurrents of Jameson's preoccupation with the challenge of Utopia, and one that occasions a series of uneasy and slippery negotiations between Marxism and Heideggerianism, humanism and post-humanism, revolutionary nihilism and Kojèvian post-histoire. It is quite clearly the case, for one, that the connections both Postmodernism and The Seeds of Time draw between Utopia, species being and death hark back to Marx's youthful reflections in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. Jameson's Marx, however, is not simply the Marx who romantically envisioned communism as the means of mutually affirming "the naturalism of man" and the "humanism of nature" and hence, of sealing the unity of "individual and species life". Rather, the Manuscripts' Utopian vision of "the real appropriation of the human essence by and for man" is offset by the exposure to that "harsh victory of the species over the definite individual" that is death. In Jameson's implicit revision of the Manuscripts, the death of the "determinate individual" is no longer unproblematically identical to the mortality of what Marx called "determinate species being". [23] Rather, death marks the site of a division between individual and species being, exposing the degree to which the former is a category hopelessly contaminated by the ideological rationalizations of capitalism and casting the latter as the inhuman secret that dwells within the very heart of collective social emancipation. In Jameson's Heideggerian re-reading of the young Marx, the abolition of capitalist relations of production becomes the necessary prerequisite to a genuine "tarrying with the negative" [24]: it is only with the advent of a collective emancipation from social exploitation and from the clutches of ideology that the "deconcealment" of Dasein's abyssal ground loses its mystificatory character, and that the negativity of boredom, aimlessness and death is restored to its proper dimensions as the face of our natural, species being. Utopia thus becomes a means of exposing mankind not simply to its untapped, world-making potential as the young Marx would have it, but also to the naked, unadorned "unjustifiability of [its] existence". [25] Pushing Heidegger towards a Kojèvian reading of Hegel just as he pushes the young Marx towards Heideggerian ontology, Jameson thus envisions death as the name of the Utopian overcoming of the "human", the coming-to-be of a post-historical "species forgetfulness and oblivion" that, qua force of species anonymity, becomes the "fundamental fact of life of the democratic community". [26]

This restitution of death to a Utopian valence is, one ought to remark, a gesture that departs dramatically from Adorno's (and Bloch's) own suggestion that death is essentially irreconcilable with Utopian longing — indeed, that it is a profoundly anti-utopian theme.[27] In effect, Jameson turns Adorno's own critical remarks on the import of the "rational preference to self-preservation" for bourgeois subjectivity toward the direction of a reading of humanist ontology as symptom, a retroactive means of rationalizing socially mutilated being in the age of what Marx called "prehistory." [28] Inevitably, the promise or injunction of "total systemic change" becomes inextricable from the terrifying prospect of "desubjectification", "the loss of psychic privileges and spiritual private property" — in short, of what under the reign of bourgeois culture appears to constitute life tout court. [29] Utopia's fictional denizens are in this sense survivors of an experience that, from the shores of our own, historical and ideological existence, is effectively identical to that of dying. Their life is constitutively spectral to the extent that it is a life without the subject we know ourselves to be: after the end not only of suffering and injustice but also of all that appears "precious to us in individual as well as collective existence". [30] No wonder that for Bellamy's Julian, the nineteenth-century "ghostly faces" are still "flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood" [31] — paradoxical embodiments of an existence whose very miseries and lacerations render it doggedly synonymous with the material pulsation of life; no wonder, either, that Morris's Clara chastises old Hammond's commemoration of past suffering not on the grounds of its gratuitous unpleasantness but on those of its spectral incitement of desire, even envy, for life as Nowherians can no longer possibly experience it: "You have been talking of past miseries to the guest, and have been living in past unhappy times, and it is in the air all round us, and makes us feel as if we were longing for something that we cannot have". [32]

But with the emergence of Utopia as a state positioned "after" both life and death as classical ontology might conceive them, we are ushered to the second strand of Jameson's contribution to a theorization of Utopian spectrality, namely that which reflexively turns toward the question of Utopia's own afterlife, its own persistence beyond its nominal demise and beyond the end of what has either been propagated in, or dismissively associated with, its name. This latter thematic will also turn out to be at least as old as Postmodernism, whose chapter on the spatial allegories of postmodern conceptual art bears the emphatically hauntological title "Utopianism after the End of Utopia". Here, Jameson counters the widespread equation of postmodernism with a cannily post-Utopian aesthetic by arguing that the "spatial turn" in recent conceptual art tends to reinvent the Utopian idiom in the form of an allegorical commentary on the very process of imagining a radically different social order in the first place. Hence, to take a characteristic example, Robert Gober's "Untitled Installation" is read as oriented not toward the figuration of Utopian space itself, but toward the preliminary and far more intractable problem of the "production of the concept of such space". Like that mound of grass at the center of Gober's room that appears to figure nature's grave and its uncanny resurgence at the same time, such a concept is revealed to oscillate undecideably between the modality of nostalgia for something already dead-and-buried, and that of an anticipation of some new and as yet undecodeable conception of earthly being that seems to have mysteriously landed among us from some remote "Utopian future". [33]

Postmodernism, it needs to be said, reserved a rather critical stance towards "the absolute formalisms" evinced in late modern philosophical hostility against everything associated with "totality" or "totalization". It thence denounced the tendency to diagnose "the survival of content within a given intellectual operation … as the stain left behind it by the continuing existence of metaphysical axioms and illicit presuppositions." [34] Yet on the aesthetic plane, the appraisal of Gober and other postmodern artists already involves a more actively sympathetic stance towards such formalism, arguing precisely for a new mode of Utopic representation in which Utopianism, now transformed into a reflexively formal meditation on the very possibility of Utopia, survives the demise of its own traditional predication on programmatic content. By the time of his more recent Archaeologies of the Future, Jameson will have explicitly turned toward what Postmodernism still regarded with a measure of Marxisant suspicion: the thought of an "absolute formalism", according to which the content of emerging Utopian fiction possesses no substantive existence on its own but "emerges itself from the form and is a projection of it". If the "older texts seemed indeed to offer blueprints for change", the mutated strain of Utopianism whose emergence Jameson locates after the waning of Utopia's "classical varieties" in the Thatcherite era is something of a simulacrum [35]: if its former substantive features remain recognizable, it is merely as virtualities — refractions, as it were, of some now thoroughly spectralized body of prescriptions, regulations and norms.

Though such arguments seem to suggest that the postmodern crisis of representation constitutes the ultimate threshold and horizon of the Utopian impulse, it is not a teleological and historicist account of the "end of Utopia" that Jameson is after. Rather, the conclusion of A Singular Modernity points to the far more unsettling idea that what is at stake in the persistence of utopianism beyond the demise of its programmatic, streamlined form is the explosion of our received ways of thinking aesthetic and historical periodization itself:
it is best to accustom oneself to thinking of the 'modern' as a one-dimensional concept (or pseudo-concept) that has nothing of historicity or futurity about it. This means that 'postmodern' does not designate a future either (but when properly used, our own present) … What we really need is a wholesale displacement of the thematics of modernity by the desire called Utopia.[36]
Utopia, to put it otherwise, continues to claim a future and the future to the degree that futurity continues to resonate with Utopianism's generic and representational privileging of the unstable temporality, the contretemps, of spectrality itself. It is because it always already bears the imprint of spectrality that Utopian figuration can be "so often pronounced dead in the course of history, so often miraculously resurrected in moments of need and crisis, much like a literary Golem". [37] "Haunting", as Derrida has remarked, is "unleashed before death itself, out of the mere possibility of death"; to the extent that it consists in the production of traces, in the "play of retention and protention", life, including the textual life of a now apparently outmoded genre, exposes itself to the untimely nature of all temporalization and proleptically enacts its sur-vival beyond "real time" and "living actuality". [38]

Jameson's metaphorical alignment of Utopia to the Golem, let us add, suggests the existence of a strange effect of generic mirroring, one whereby an existentially entrenched form of dread is confronted with its mutated, inverted counterpart. If the redemptive, Messianic strain of the Utopian imagination is unthinkable outside the purview of spectral solidarity — the reclamation of the combative, militant powers of the dead in moments of "need and crisis" [39] — it also relies on a political re-education of dread, its deployment as a means of shoring up courage in the present by alerting us to the need to avert a catastrophe that has not yet occurred. This catastrophe is "the loss of the future and futuricity itself, within the existential dimension of time and indeed within ourselves".[40] The message Utopian ghosts from the future most urgently impart is that they cannot exist without our own courageous struggle against the deadening weight of a present that usurps time, subsuming it within its own imperious body. Without such struggle, it is the future as such that risks being ghosted, reduced to a pale, lifeless simulacrum of what already is. Julian, with whom we began thinking of the apparitional unconscious of Utopianism, experiences no more painful emotion than this inverted nightmare of a ghosted, aborted future: "That strange dream it was that had made all the difference. … With a profound sigh and a sense of irreparable loss, not the less poignant that it was a loss of what had never really been, I roused at last from my reverie." [41]

Doing without

Though he was an erudite reader, Derrida is unlikely to have taken much interest in Bellamy or Morris. Yet it is also surely apparent that our discussion of the hauntological complexities of their texts has been haunted by a certain Derridean spirit—more than anything, by the spirit of a certain Derridean reading of Marx. It is in the book on Marx, after all, where the whole thematic of spectrality, futurity and the contretemps I have mobilized reaches its most sustained and provocative expression. Not on account of what we would normally associate with Utopia, of course; the paradigmatic instance of spectrality here is the Communist Manifesto, a text that Derrida reads as oscillating wildly between the modalities of an invocation of communism's specter as something already present in the nightmares that disturb the sleep of Europe's counter-revolutionary alliance, presenced through the performative rupture of the Manifesto that names it, and still absent, promised as the name of an event "still to come beyond its name."

Such disadjusted time is spectral time, the time of revenants as signs of both hope and fear, of that "which could come or come back." If the Manifesto is irreducibly and self-consciously the vehicle of both promise and terror, Derrida notes, it is not least because it bears the news that "one can never distinguish between the future-to-come and the coming back of a specter."[42] No one, neither Marx himself nor the neoliberal orthodoxists who would hurriedly bury him in the graveyard of the history of ideas, can be sure if by returning, a specter like communism "testifies to a living past or to a living future"; nor whether it signals the degradation of the promise of spirit, "its fallen and guilty body", or the "impatient and nostalgic waiting for a redemption"; nor, finally, whether in the book entitled Specters of Marx, fidelity to the memory and spectral "persistence of a present past" is distinguishable from the unconditional affirmation of a "presence to come". [43] Mostly unappreciated by the book's Marxist critics, the rigorous refusal to proscribe the possibilities of regression or catastrophe from the formal promise of the future constitutes one of Specters's most salutary contributions toward the detoxification of a necessarily anti-Marxist and anti-Utopian degradation of the desire for a radically different society. It is so even, one might add, at the risk of drawing critical attention to Derrida's own tendency to prescribe, in a normative fashion, the dividing line between authentic and inauthentic futurity, desirable and undesirable ghosts.[44]

Is it possible to see Derrida's preference for a "certain" Marx — one linked to the spirit of demystification and critique but also to "a certain emancipatory and messianic affirmation, a certain experience of the promise"[45] — as Utopian?[46] Can it be that Derrida, with his marked hesitation to link the rhetoric of emancipation to a sustained engagement with the intractable complexities of Marxian political economy, revisits the Marxian legacy from the standpoint of Utopia, and even, perhaps, from the viewpoint of an incognito Utopist? These are questions that ought not to be dismissed prematurely, but also ones that cannot be entertained, however briefly, without confronting us with the task of working through some of the delicate problems that were crystallized in the encounter of deconstruction and Marxist cultural criticism. Consider, for instance, the formulas through which some of Derrida's Marxist critics have responded to Specters: "Marx Dematerialized" in Pierre Macherey's case, "Marxism without Marxism" in that of Terry Eagleton. Whether they do so implicitly and cautiously or explicitly and acerbically, both of these phrases attribute to Derridean hauntology the function of evacuating from Marx that which is singular in the actuality of his thought — indeed, to evoke our own earlier formulation, of reducing "Marx" to a purely formal simulacrum of what was once that name's substantive content. Derrida, such formulas seem to imply, spirits the mature, politically consequential Marx away by effectively assimilating his name to that of a thought the philosophy of praxis superseded or moved beyond, the thought, in fact, of the "Saint Maxes" and "Saint Brunos" — those spirit-ridden radical contemporaries Marx had wanted to exorcize once and for all with The German Ideology.[47]

Derrida's response to such allegations consists in problematizing the attribution of a purely negative or privative meaning to the "little word 'without'" — a seme whose function he reads as differential, working to break down the ontologizing synonymy between two homonyms. [48] This would mean that, despite its castigating intentions, a formula like "Marxism without Marxism" could be deconstructed affirmatively, forced to name a left-wing commitment that extends beyond the demise or discrediting of a calcified dogma, a Marxism without "Marxism." But this is a response that risks bringing Specters all too close to a differently inflected project, that of Jamesonian Utopianism — which is to say, of virtually clandestine or zero degree Marxism, of Marxism for un-Marxist times. Eagleton, not quite as naïve a reader of the stakes involved as some might be predisposed to think, has shown quite a keen eye for this asymmetrical and largely unconceptualized kinship between the master of deconstruction and the less popularly heralded US cultural Marxist; which is why, in his recent review of Archaeologies, it is Jameson rather than Derrida who is charged with advocating a species of defanged Marxism, castigated with excising from Utopia the vital political function of Marx's future-engendering proletariat, and reminded that his aporetic conception of Utopian figuration conjures not merely Adorno or Bloch, but negative theology's most recent and illustrious inheritor, Derrida himself.[49]

The theme of negative theology allows us to return to Specters, and to the prominence in that book of what we could call a spirit of kenosis or ascesis, an insistence, in other words, on the stripping down of substantive predications from the form of the promise of a future-to-come. This is only one of a number of modalities of the "without" in Derrida's complex thought on this negative joint, but it is, I would venture to say, the most prominent one in Specters itself. Here, to take a characteristic instance, is the description of what Derrida calls "the New International": "It is a link of affinity, suffering, and hope … It is an untimely link, without status, without title, and without name, without contract, 'out of joint,' without coordination, without party, without country, without national community … without co-citizenship, without common belonging to a class." [50] We are no doubt once again exposed here to the absent presence of the ghostly, that which, like the God of negative theology, absolutely resists any predication, including, Derrida would insist, that of religion itself. But how far exactly is this godless version of a "messianicity without messianism" from Jameson's parallel and just as candidly irreligious discourse on Utopia, even if Derrida insists that "the New International … has nothing abstract or Utopian about it"? [51] How does one measure the distance between "the New International" and that equally ambitious collective that Jameson's Postmodernism — published, let us note, two years before the original French edition of Specters — called the "unacknowledged party of Utopia" and described thus: "an underground party whose members are difficult to determine, whose program remains unannounced and perhaps unformulated, whose existence is unknown to the citizenry at large and to the authorities, but whose members seem to recognize one another by means of secret Masonic signals"? [52]

We know of course that the "without" Derrida has used above is not simply privative; that if it "effects a certain abstraction, it also accounts for the … abstraction of the 'there is,' of the abstraction that "there is.'" [53] But such an affirmatively apophatic argument is hardly a safe means of keeping away the party of Utopians, who have always found it more apposite to present "the negative side of [their] good conditions", the things they are not or don't do, rather than those they are or do. [54] Did not the genre's founder, after all, describe a just, egalitarian, and happy place without place (Utopia), centered in a capital that was shadowy or ghostly (Amaurotum), crossed by a river without water (Anyder) and ruled by a prince without people (Ademos)? [55] Is all this not quite close to the Augustinian use of the "without" to designate a "singular without concept"? [56] And is it not predicated precisely on a refusal to consign what is "without" presence to the registers of mere loss and privation? It is perhaps precipitate to follow these questions through, and I would like to allow them to remain in suspension for some time. But it is not too early to note that the calculus of the "without" marks a zone of encounter between two forms of resistance to substantive predication: on the one hand, Jameson's aesthetic theorization of an "absolute formalism" that would render Utopia the formal embodiment of "the radical break as such" [57]; and, on the other, Derrida's own philosophical privileging of "the necessarily pure and purely necessary form of the future as such", the focus on the "formal structure of promise" as performative precondition for all and any futurity. [58]

Derrida, to be sure, has resisted the translation of his denuded messianicity in aesthetic terms. [59] Yet, his emphasis on the separation of "the objects and contents of a future politics" from the performative injunction of the promise is already liable to translate itself to a textual aesthetic, one Derrida's discussion of the poetry of negative theology describes in terms of "formalizing rarefaction", "impoverishment", and desert-like "aridity." [60] The desert, omnipresent in the metaphorics of the promise in both Specters and "Sauf le Nom", will then complement the indeterminate materiality of the specter with a more properly topological counterpart: that of a "degree zero" of place, of place shorn of substantive attributes, reduced to an arid abstraction that cannot be contained by "geography, geometry, or geophysic". [61] Yet, once again, the textual logic behind this place without place, this barren locus of unrelieved desire for something to come, is not without its counterpart in Jameson's own theoretical nomenclature; "world reduction" echoes Derridean "desertification" by designating what Jameson describes as a "surgical excision of empirical reality, something like a process of ontological attenuation in which the sheer teeming multiplicity of what exists, of what we call reality, is deliberately thinned and weeded out through an operation of radical abstraction". [62] Tellingly, the text which originally occasioned these reflections — Ursula Le Guin's The Dispossessed — will imagine the Utopian landscape precisely as a desert shorn of Gods, a landscape of unfulfilled longing that mirrors the emblematically empty hands of Le Guin's Utopian apostle, Shevek:
Inland and westward clear across the vast plains of the Southwest the land was uninhabited except for a few isolated mining towns. It was the region called the Dust. In the previous geological era the Dust had been an immense forest of holums, the ubiquitous, dominant plant genus of Anarres. The current climate was hotter and drier. Millennia of drought had killed the trees and dried the soil to a fine grey dust that now rose up on every wind, forming hills as pure of line and barren as any sand dune. [63]

What's in a Name?

But it is now time to register something it has been almost reckless to suspend for so long; namely Derrida's own distaste for the word (and indeed, the concept) of Utopia — one that matches, if it does not exceed, that reserved for stubbornly ontological, doctrinaire Marxism. Indeed, this is the place to broach the issue of a number of crucial divergences between the two theoretical trajectories we have been tracing: whereas the radical alterity of Jameson's Utopian future is predicated on an as yet unimaginable form of collectivity that cancels out the entire thematics of an all-too finite "ideology of difference", Derrida's à venir is suspicious toward the fusional and identificatory dynamics of community. [64] Indeed, it is attuned precisely to the injunction of what Specters calls "infinite respect for the singularity and infinite alterity of the other" [65] — a formulation that, like many others in the Derridean corpus, bears the imprint of Levinas's identification of "the relationship with the other" to "the relationship with the future" itself. [66] And while Jameson, like Badiou, tends to look at postmodern alterity as what simply is, an inert aspect of the "situation" to which is opposed the universality of what comes to be, Derrida makes political decision dependent on the "impossible" and hence genuine responsibility of ethically adjudicating the absolute claims of an "alterity that cannot be anticipated" and the counterclaims of "calculable, subjectal equality between anonymous singularities." [67]

It is important that this formulation describes what the subsequent investigations of works like The Politics of Friendship and Rogues will register as an aporia specific to democracy and to the survival of democratic spirit. Though Specters's nominal subject is the question of the Marxian inheritance, Derrida is quite careful to proclaim his allegiance to the "democratic promise" as one that is quite carefully (if rather inconspicuously) differentiated from the "communist promise" of Marx's Manifesto.[68] There are, and this seems to me both crucial and largely unnoticed by most discussions of Derridean politics, two, quite explicitly antagonistic, versions of spectral futurity in Specters; but only one of them is ultimately left to claim a future and a relationship to futurity as such: democracy, or rather a "democracy-to-come", a politics at once based on an empirical tradition and predicated on the regulatory ideal of "perfectibility", which is to say, the ability to remain "interminable in its incompletion beyond all determinate forms of incompletion".[69] It is democracy, and democracy alone, Derrida presupposes, that is hospitable to an endlessly vigilant self-critique that both ruptures its present and reinvigorates its relationship to futurity. It is therefore the one, this more than one and never quite self-same, which consistently orients the broader project of Derrida's "political turn," including the seminal pages of Specters itself.

Though some critics have tended to read Specters as a text that opens itself to the co-presence of communism and democracy in the realm of transformative possibility — "the dream of a redeemed humanity that is inseparable from the ideal of communism" [70] — the case is actually quite different. Specters shifts discretely and, as it were, surreptitiously, from a largely conjunctive to an effectively disjunctive and exclusionary treatment of two structures of the promise; Derrida's own subsequent work, on the other hand, simply drops the word communism, while elevating "democracy" to a triumphant near-synonym for deconstruction's own claim to be "the philosophy of the future" [71]: "no deconstruction without democracy, no democracy without deconstruction".[72] In works like Rogues or The Other Heading, Derrida comes quite close to hypostatizing the ethical exceptionality of western parliamentary democracy, not to mention linking his philosophical interrogation of the promise of democracy to the ethical and cultural project of a "Europe to come." [73] On the other hand, Echographies of Television (1996), a work that largely comments on the technological, "artifactual" implications of Specters's' hauntology, will come as close as deconstructive thought possibly can to proclaiming the virtual (but is "virtual" here not also effectively "real"?) identity between the open, avowable rejection of a "certain" Marxism and the denunciation of revolutionary politics tout court: "it is possible to renounce a certain revolutionary or all revolutionary rhetoric, even to renounce a certain politics of revolution … perhaps even to renounce every politics of revolution, but it is not possible to renounce revolution without also renouncing the event and justice".[74] Despite critical recourse to the rather anodyne idea that Derrida's work involves no regulative decision over "whether the emancipatory promise is situated in the ideals of Marxism or the ideal of a democratic future" [75], the decision is in fact made both by Derrida himself and by a number of his critical interpreters — and made in the very act of naming (and thereby inevitably nominating) a specific, determinate politics of democracy (reformist, juridically and institutionally mediated, international in scope, humanitarian in orientation, predicated on rights and on the ethical conscience), as the only politics worth naming [76]:
Justice demands… that one pay tribute to certain of those who are working… in the direction of the perfectibility and emancipation of institutions that must never be renounced. However insufficient, confused or equivocal such signs may still be, we should salute what is heralded today in the reflection of the right of interference or intervention in the name of what is obscurely and sometimes hypocritically called the humanitarian, thereby limiting the sovereignty of the State in certain conditions…likewise international law should extend and diversify its field to include…the worldwide economic and social field, beyond the sovereignty of States…[77]
What I would like to venture is that Derrida's quite decisive taking of sides in the phantasmachy, the battle between the virtually consanguine but for that reason all the more ferociously antagonistic spectral orders of the "democratic" and the "communist" promise [78] is not unrelated to his studied avoidance and, occasionally, his abrupt dismissal of Utopia. It is certainly striking that his two engagements with the question, a short section of "Marx and Sons" that deals with Jameson's own reading of Specters, and an equally laconic one in an interview entitled "Not Utopia, the Im-possible", are uncharacteristically schematic. Neither seems interested in providing an even rudimentary account of the complexities and ambivalences — etymological, generic, philosophical, theoretical — of the term. What is even more puzzling, however, is the rhetoric deployed therein — a rhetoric that, to take one example, consigns Utopia to "dreams, or demobilization, or an impossible that is more an urge to give up than an urge to action." [79] Within the order of Derrida's discourse, such attributions serve the purpose of producing a sharp distinction (if not, indeed, a rather scandalously old-fashioned binary opposition) between Utopia and his own notion of the "im-possible."

The stake of Derrida's insistence on a different name than "Utopia" is, it seems to me, as political as that involved in his nominal differentiation of the "democratic" from the "communist" promise; indeed, the two sets of lexical choices are intimately related. If Derrida rejects Jameson's own approving identification of the Derridean "im-possible" with Utopia [80] it is at least partly because the "im-possible", unlike Utopia, is a neologism that lacks historical connections to what is taken as the obsoletely modern and ethically abhorrent complex of universality, totalization, disciplinary uniformity and political terror. Hence, it can unambiguously be aligned to a post-communist (which is to say, largely post-1989) reinvestment of the democratic promise with its own measure of messianicity. The "im-possible" is the name of a democratic ideal that quietly bypasses those themes of the state, the mode of production, property, division of labor or surplus value which both Marxism and Utopianism tarried with during the 19th and 20th centuries, in order to dwell far more insistently than either of these on the deconstructive potential for auto-critique and the unconditional response to the ethical challenge of the relation to the other — axes whose vital significance for his theorization of "democracy to come" is made clear in Derrida's subsequent work. [81]

One discovers, nevertheless, that this is not the avowable ground for Utopia's demotion in Derrida's short forays into the subject. It is not by identifying his own position as hardly distinguishable from that of a liberal democrat that Derrida denounces the name Utopia, but — dare one say it? — by embodying the specter of a specter-chasing Marx. Hence, in opposition to what is nominated as the "eminently real", "concrete" and absolutely urgent nature of the promise of democracy [82], Utopia will, as I already pointed out, be associated with mere quietism or escapism, with "dreams" and "demobilization", with a "fiction", with "impossible impossibility." [83] In short, it will be deemed more immaterial than specters: a sort of paper ghost, perhaps, one that can only fail to either scare or enjoin to action, a trivial form of insubstantiality that pales in comparison to the democratic injunctions of justice, hospitality, and infinite openness to the other. This is surely a striking rhetorical maneuver, not least for being deployed in the broader context of a discourse that does not tire of castigating Marx himself for the futility of his naïve belief in the possibility of drawing a line of distinction between actuality and spectrality:
Marx thought to be sure … that the dividing line between the ghost and actuality ought to be crossed, like utopia itself, by a realization, that is, by a revolution; but he too will have continued to believe, to try to believe in the existence of this dividing line as real limit and conceptual distinction … If there is something like spectrality, there are reasons to doubt … the border between the present, the actual or present reality of the present, and everything that can be opposed to it; absence, non-presence, non-effectivity, inactuality, virtuality, or even the simulacrum in general, and so forth. [84]
To the earlier speculation that Derrida re-reads Marx from the viewpoint of a clandestine Utopianist, it therefore becomes tempting to add that he also appears to critique Utopia from the viewpoint of a quasi-ontologizing Marxist. Indeed, the references to Utopian quietism, apoliticism and demobilization are strikingly evocative of the rhetoric of Marx's (and Engels's) own critique of Utopian socialism, and, arguably, of the cruder forms of what Roger Paden calls the "tactical" and the "strategic" critique. [85] Inevitably, a cumulatively compounded structure of repetition-and/as-disavowal is mobilized: While Marx or Engels were to attack the "pre-scientific" naiveté of their predecessors (Fourier, Owen, Saint Simon) while largely disavowing the debt which their own, "historically mature" theoretical framework had incurred from its now pejoratively "Utopian" predecessors [86], Derrida disavows the relationship to Marx by appealing to a virtuality he simultaneously rejects when it comes to denouncing Marx's own bête noir, Utopian "inconsequence".

Now, Marxism and Utopia are not quite the same ghost, nor does Derrida address them as if they were. But there is, for all that, a sense in which deconstruction attempts to buttress its own position as the hegemonic philosophy of the future at the end of the twentieth century by mobilizing these two predecessors against each other, by conjuring them as means of exorcising one another. Here, for instance, is a heavily overdetermined double instance of a privileged apophatic seme — "nothing" — mobilized first against the positivism of hardline Marxist critics, then against the Marxist Utopianism of Jameson himself:
It is obviously riskier to go on to imply that a 'ghost' is nothing, that it is less than nothing, without any materiality, without any body, a pure, illusory appearance — and to suppose that the true, good Marxists have rid themselves of all ghosts … It goes without saying that if a ghost is a ghost and nothing more, nothing more than nothing, nothing come out of nothing, then my book does not deserve a second's attention.
Nothing would seem to be at a further remove from Utopia or Utopianism, even in its 'subterranean' form, than the messianicity and spectrality which are at the heart of Specters of Marx … Nothing is more 'realistic' or immediate than this messianic apprehension, straining forward toward the event of him who/that which is coming. [87]
These two "nothings", like those earlier "withouts" we dwelled on, do not quite mean the same thing. It is striking that as superb a master of rhetoric as Derrida would not be alert to the fact that their homophony is tricky, not least because the first series tends to deconstruct the semantics of nullity on which the second series relies for its prescriptive and diacritical work. Nothing could be further from Utopia than Derrida's own "impossible", the second passage says; the absolute negativity of this "nothing" is quite clearly mobilized to effect its opposite, an unquestionable positivity: the concrete existence of a set of properties that absolutely, beyond any and all doubt, differentiate the two. Yet, setting aside Specters's own laborious deconstruction of the nothingness of nothing, we cannot but recall that in a fundamental and quite differential way, Utopia is itself the promise of a "nothing", of nothing but the "no" (ou) as the form of the promise and therefore as something less than depoliticizing and more than nothing. Ernst Bloch, loyal to both communist and Utopian spirits, put it thus: "the comrade … represents nothing at all … In its dehumanization [the proletariat] teaches, with radical precision, that there has never yet been human life … for humanity is something that has yet to be discovered". [88] And even Marx's German Ideology, Derrida's exemplary instance of communism's taint of spectrophobic ontologism, tends to couch its own evocation of a substantive "real" in ascetically negative, desert-like terms:
Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. … the communist revolution is directed against the hitherto existing mode of activity, does away with labor, and abolishes the rule of all classes with the classes themselves, because it is carried through by the class which no longer counts as a class in society, which is not recognized as a class, and is in itself the expression of the dissolution of all classes, nationalities, etc., within present society. [89]
Communist revolution as the real movement of abolishing the "present state of things", led by a class that embodies nothing but the dissolution of class as such: this is not quite pedantic ontologism (even if that, too, has its place in The German Ideology, albeit as polemical tactic rather than rigorously philosophical method); it is, as it is in certain moments of Morris or Bellamy, an effort to both open and occupy the threshold between being and non-being, materiality and immateriality, presence and absence, as the space proper to an imaginable politics of totalizing transformation. [90] We might have reasons to conclude, then, that keeping spectral futurity exclusively aligned with the form of the "democratic promise" Derridean deconstruction privileges is a difficult thing. For those consanguine, if also antagonistic, ghosts one wishes to consign to the stolidity of unremitting positivism (and its metaphysics of presence) or the naïveté of an ultimately apolitical flight of fancy refuse to exorcize each other without also treacherously reanimating each other's investments in what Alain Badiou, echoing the minimalist vein we traced in Jameson's own work on Utopia, recently called "the communist hypothesis":
In its generic sense, given its canonic Manifesto, 'communist' means, first, that the logic of class — the fundamental subordination of labor to a dominant class, the arrangement that has persisted since Antiquity — is not inevitable: it can be overcome. The communist hypothesis is that a different collective organization is practicable, one that will eliminate the inequality of wealth and even the division of labor. … 'Communism' as such denotes only this very general set of intellectual representations. It is what Kant called an Idea, with a regulatory function, rather than a program. [91]
The point is thus that Derridean deconstruction cannot dismantle the ontological dimensions of Marxism without thereby creating the preconditions for a flirtation with a revitalized, critically reinvigorated Utopianism — a Utopianism, perhaps, that survives the demise of "a program", "the end of Utopia". [92] Conversely, it cannot differentiate its own democratic version of "im-possibility" from its Utopian counterpart without thereby exposing itself to the risk of appropriating the praxis-oriented but also positivistically contaminated vocabulary of Marxist critique. And finally, it cannot simply pit one against the other without stumbling upon and inadvertently activating their subterranean lines of communication, their unexpected alliances, their at times mutually galvanizing dissatisfaction and impatience with a deconstructive pragmatism that speaks on behalf of democratic "perfectibility" but avoids any reference to the axiomatic of communist equality. This is another way of saying that what remains politically imperative in the legacy of deconstruction for the contemporary left is the extent to which it makes possible, and perhaps even imperative, a different politics than the one it has demonstrably tended to promulgate in its more "orthodox" followers; a politics that can decide to deviate from Derrida's own political path without thereby disavowing or dismissing his inheritance, without pretending to be able to exorcize the legacy of one who has now joined the afterlife of specters himself. To politicize hauntology otherwise is in this sense inseparable from an act of keeping faith with deconstruction's own "actually" unrealized but not thereby void injunction to keep thought open to the absolute surprise of the event without foreclosing its name.


In The Seeds of Time, Jameson defines the "new onset of the Utopian process as a kind of desiring to desire, a learning to desire, the invention of the desire called Utopia in the first place".[93] Badiou, who, as we already saw, advocates a similarly reflexive and formal commitment to the very "conditions of existence" of such a thing as "the communist hypothesis", demonstrates that such commitment has to begin with a politics of the name, one that defies the — explicit or implicit — unspeakability of the name "communism" in our time. [94] Such a politics, Badiou explains elsewhere in his work, can only be double and paradoxical: Its injunction is at once "[n]ot to objectify the name" — and hence, to subtract it from "what exists" so that it can remain open to "what can exist"; and "not to abandon the name either, or to refer it to something other than itself … not to forget that names are distinct, that 'what each name deals with cannot be shared with what is dealt with by another name'". [95] This is a position that is not incompatible with Derrida's own approach to the question of inheritance, for the latter asserts that our relation to a legacy (and hence to every inherited name as well) is one of "an active affirmation", for it "presupposes the signature or countersignature of a critical selection." [96] In turn, the act of a selection — between the spirits, in our own discussion of names, of parliamentary, juridically mediated democratic perfectibility and the risky path of communist rupture — involves a time-making and time-breaking moment of decision. In The German Ideology, Marx himself reminds us of the beneficio deliberandi atque inventarii: the principle of a law of inheritance which grants the heir an interval of time within which to decide what is worth keeping in a legacy. [97] Hence, one cannot theorize the decision involved in "critical selection" without also conceding that the response to the call of an inheritance cannot negotiate between mourning and the passion for the new without being irreducibly double: in Derrida's ethical counterpart to Badiou's formal reflections on the name, an inheritance is something toward which one must be "necessarily faithful and unfaithful, unfaithful out of faithfulness." [98] This, to stay with Derrida one last time, does not "exclude the possibility, even the right, of perhaps one day abandoning the inheritance or heritage of the name" — even the name "democracy"? — "in the name of the name … in the name of the heritage." [99] Unfaithfulness as the fallen name of hyperbolic responsibility to what is not yet, to that whose name has not fully arrived: I suspect that the dead, living and unborn who would cast their lots with the to-come of the future's name would find a good deal of future in this proposition.

[1] Dedicated in loving memory to Prabhakara Jha, teacher and friend. My thanks to Richard Beardsworth and Christopher Connery for their feedback on earlier versions of this essay, and to Fredric Jameson, for his support and encouragement.
[2]. Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward (New York: Signet Books), 1960, 213–214. Note the uncanny similarity of this scenography with that evoked by Rainer Maria Rilke's The Notebooks of Malte Lauris Brigge, as discussed in Eric Santner's On Creaturely Life: Rilke, Benjamin, Sebald (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), xvi-xvii.
[3] I am indebted here to Pierre Macherey's reminder of the significance of Benedetto Croce's formula in the context of Derridean "hauntology." See "Marx Dematerialized, or the Spirit of Derrida", in Ghostly Demarcations: A Symposium on Jacques Derrida's Specters of Marx, ed. Michael Sprinker (London and New York: Verso 1999), 19.
[4] See Karl Marx, Capital Vol. 1, trans. Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling (New York: International Publishers, 1967), 233, 423.
[5] Antonio Negri, "The Specter's Smile", in Ghostly Demarcations, 7.
[6] Santner, On Creaturely Life, 52.
[7] Negri, "The Specter's Smile", 7–8, 10. Let us recall here that in Negri, the opposition between "living" and "dead" labor is superimposed, one the one hand, on the Marxian distinction between "constant" and "variable" capital and, on the other, on the temporal juxtaposition of "the finished time of creation" and the evental temporality of kairos, "the restless creator of the to-come." Further, the emancipatory promise of "immaterial labor", labor that is "immediately intellectual and affective", depends on an affirmative revaluation of immateriality as such, which, rather than being a mere symptom of ideological distortion (as it frequently was in Marx) becomes the hallmark of "living labor" cum constituent, ontological power of innovation. See Time For Revolution, trans. Matteo Mandarini (New York: Continuum, 2004), 176, 242.
[8] Matthew Beaumont, "News from Nowhere and the Here and Now: Reification and the Representation of the Present in Utopian Fiction" Victorian Studies 47.1 (Autumn 2004), 34, 39.
[9] The identity between the possibility of a retrospective, totalizing gaze on the social life of the present and the advent of that life's historical death was admirably captured by William Morris's friend and collaborator, Ernest Belfort Bax: "when all this social life has become objective, with all its categories stiff and lifeless, it will be seen in its true proportions and significance." Quoted in Beaumont, "News from Nowhere and the Here and Now", 39.
[10] See Beaumont, "News from Nowhere and the Here and Now", 48–49.
[11] William Morris, News from Nowhere (New York: Broadview Press, 2003), 247–248.
[12] See Beaumont, "News from Nowhere and the Here and Now", 51.
[13] See Walter Benjamin, "Theses on the Philosophy of History," in Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken Books, 1969), 260. Morris stages the half-conscious, half-oblivious nature of the encounter between these two in admirable, if also gendered, fashion: "Once a year, on May-day, we hold a solemn feast in those easterly communes of London to commemorate The Clearing of Misery, as it is called. … On that occasion the custom is for the prettiest girls to sing some of the old revolutionary songs, and those which were the groans for the discontent, on the very spots where these terrible crimes of class-murder were committed day by day for so many years. To a man like me [Old Hammond], who have studied the past so diligently, it is a curious and touching sight to see some beautiful girl … to hear the terrible words of threatening and lamentation coming from her sweet and beautiful lips, and she unconscious of their real meaning … and to think that all the time she does not understand what it is all about — a tragedy grown inconceivable to her and her listeners" (News from Nowhere, 113–114).
[14] Morris, News from Nowhere, 101, 142.
[15] Ernst Bloch, The Spirit of Utopia, trans. Anthony A. Nassar (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000), 41; last emphasis in the original.
[16] Bloch, Spirit of Utopia, 243–245; emphases added. It is not without significance, in this regard, that "Karl Marx, Death, and the Apocalypse", the last section of The Spirit of Utopia, contains a reference to Baron Carl du Prel, known for his interest in occultism and in the psychic communication with the spirits of the dead (Spirit of Utopia, 251–252).
[17] Benjamin, "Theses on the Philosophy of History", 261.
[18] Note that Marx pokes fun at Max Stirner by calling his account a mixture of "pure", "impure, "purely impure" and "impurely impure" Geistergeschichte — not simply "history of spirits" but also "ghost-story." The German Ideology (Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 1998), 143–144. For a deconstruction of the opposition between Geist and Gespenst in Marx's work, see Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International, trans. Peggy Kamuf (London and New York: Routledge, 1994), 6, 107, 110, 112, 125–127. On Derrida's tendency to also attempt to preserve a distinction between the two, see Specters of Marx, 127, 135-136, 141; Warren Montag, "Spirits Armed and Unarmed", in Ghostly Demarcations, 77–78; and Fredric Jameson, "Marx's Purloined Letter", in Ghostly Demarcations, 50–52.
[19] "I had been one of those who had endured that these things should be", Bellamy's Julian remarks, yoking the "hic jacet" of "dead souls" to the modality of being; death, Theodor Adorno would remark, is "nothing other than the power of that which merely is." See Adorno and Bloch, "Something's Missing", in Ernst Bloch, The Utopian Function of Art and Literature, trans. Jack Zipes and Frank Mecklenburg (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1988), 10; emphases added.
[20] The reader will have noticed the asymmetry between a dual logic of exposition (spectrality and Utopia, Jameson and Derrida) and a tripartite one (Marxism, Utopia, deconstruction). This is of course a give-away sign of my own continuing attachment to the dialectic, its function as a passage, to echo Žižek, from "the Two to the Three"; the logic of insisting on the third term is not that of attempting some banal synthesis and reconciliation, but of displacing the binary modalities of the argument by pointing to an "indivisible remainder" that such modalities (endemic in crudely "comparative" models) foreclose. See Slavoj Žižek, In Defense of Lost Causes (London and New York: Verso, 2008), 383–384.
[21] Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham: Duke University Press, 1991), 335, 339–340.
[22] Jameson, The Seeds of Time (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 123; emphasis added.
[23] Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, trans. Martin Milligan (Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 1988), 105, 102, 106.
[24] In G.W.F. Hegel's famous exposition of "the work of death" for Spirit: "[T]he life of Spirit is not the life that shrinks from death and keeps itself untouched by devastation, but rather the life that endures it and maintains itself in it. […] It is this power, not as something positive, which closes its eyes to the negative, as when we say of something that it is nothing or is false, and then, having done with it, turn away and pass on to something else; on the contrary, Spirit is this power only by looking the negative in the face, and tarrying with it." Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A.V. Miller (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), 19.
[25] Jameson, Seeds of Time, 85.
[26] Jameson, Seeds of Time, 128. On the post-historical disappearance of "man" and his return to species being, see Alexandre Kojève, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the Phenomenology of the Spirit, ed. Allan Bloom, trans. James H. Nichols (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1980), 158–162.
[27] See Adorno and Bloch, "Something's Missing", 8–10.
[28] See Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, The Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. John Cumming (New York: Continuum, 1991), 28–32.
[29] Jameson, "The Politics of Utopia", New Left Review 25 (2004), 51, 40.
[30] Jameson, The Seeds of Time, 123. Alain Badiou remarks that it is precisely the overcoming of what appears as a terrifying loss of self — "the fear of no longer being the little something that one is, of no longer having the little one has" — that engenders, rather than abolishes, subjectification. The Century, trans. Alberto Toscano (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007), 124.
[31] Bellamy, Looking Backward, 213.
[32] Morris, News from Nowhere, 178; emphasis added. The ultimate embodiment of this apparently unmotivated nostalgia for the conflicting and thereby also existentially intense existence of the pre-Utopian past is, of course, the "old grumbler." See News from Nowhere, 186–200.
[33] Jameson, Postmodernism, 165, 171.
[34] Jameson, Postmodernism, 334.
[35] Fredric Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions (London and New York: Verso, 2005), 212, 216.
[36] Fredric Jameson, A Singular Modernity: Essay on the Ontology of the Present (London and New York: Verso, 2002), 214–215.
[37] Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future, 211.
[38] See Jacques Derrida and Bernard Stiegler, Echographies of Television, trans. Jennifer Bajorek (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2002), 132, 129.
[39] "Only the conscious horror of destruction creates the correct relationship with the dead", in Adorno and Horkheimer's words (The Dialectic of Enlightenment, 215).
[40] Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future, 233.
[41] Bellamy, Looking Backward, 206; emphases added.
[42] Derrida, Specters of Marx, 38–39.
[43] Derrida, Specters of Marx, 99, 136, 101.
[44] On Derrida's rigorous defense of an absolutely open and indeterminable promise of the event "to come" that includes, perforce, its very cancellation, preemption, or mutation into a threat that must be politically opposed, see Derrida, Specters of Marx, 37, 39–40; The Politics of Friendship, trans. George Collins (London and New York: Verso, 2005 [1997]), 173; The Other Heading: Reflections on Today's Europe, trans. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael B. Naas, (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992), 6, 18; Rogues: Two Essays on Reason, trans. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael B. Naas (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005), 82; Jacques Derrida and Bernard Stiegler, Echographies of Television, 11, 22–23, 26–27; and Werner Hamacher, "Lingua Amissa: The Messianism of Commodity-Language and Derrida's Specters of Marx", in Ghostly Demarcations, 197–198, 203, 209. For a rigorous and attentive critique of the contradiction implied by Derrida's attempt to distinguish between a legitimate and emancipatory spirit and a corruptible, totalitarian incubus of Marxism, see Montag, "Spirits Armed and Unarmed." For a more distinctly leftist response to the inherent possibility of betrayal and catastrophe (albeit one that eschews the discourse of futurity for that of radical immanence and the "passion for the real"), see Alain Badiou, Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil, trans. Peter Hallward (London and New York: Verso, 2001), esp. 72–89; and The Century.
[45] Derrida, Specters of Marx, 89.
[46] Provided, of course, that what one keeps from "Utopia" is precisely its formal expression of a promise rather than a more or less prescriptive project.
[47] In a spirit not incompatible with that of the discussion of Stirner in Derrida's Specters, Simon Tormey suggests that in fact Marx was genuinely threatened by Stirner's denunciation of all ideological "spooks', including those of Marx's early work. "Stirner's approach", Tormey notes, "anticipates the rejection of ideology and the politics of the Master-signifier that is associated with the politics of 1968 and the rejection of the spectacle of ideological politics". See "From Utopian Worlds to Utopian Spaces: Reflections on the Contemporary Radical Imaginary and the Social Forum Process", Ephemera 5.2 (2005), 403. Of course, the "return of the repressed" Stirner's position embodies here is linked to a notion of anticipation that does not necessarily tally with what Tormey upholds; namely, the dismantling of a Marxism vitiated by "teleological" politics, an emphasis on "social rationality", and the hypostatization of "deferral" in Marxist social theory and political practice.
[48] See Derrida, "Marx and Sons", in Ghostly Demarcations, 251. For a fuller philosophical treatment of the import of the "without' for Derrida's thought see his "Sauf le Nom", in On the Name, ed. Thomas Dutoit, trans. John P. Leavy Jr. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995), 35–85.
[49] See Terry Eagleton, "Making a Break", London Review of Books, 28.5 (9 March 2006).
[50] Derrida, Specters of Marx, 85.
[51] Derrida, "Marx and Sons", 239.
[52] Jameson, Postmodernism, 180. It is worth noting the affinities between Jameson's privileging of the image of revolutionary conspiracy and Derrida's own nominally 'depoliticizing' insistence on the secret in the ethico-political reflections of Specters of Marx (85, 166–167); "Sauf le Nom" (83–84); and Rogues (65, 83).
[53] Derrida, "Marx and Sons", 251.
[54] See Morris, News from Nowhere, 126.
[55] Writing of this chain of (im)proper names, Stephen Hutchinson remarks that by dramatizing the lack of ontological grounding in the Utopian textual universe, naming signals a logic of spectral filiation: "the phantasm of Utopia embraces lesser phantasms". See "Mapping Utopias", Modern Philology 85 (1987), 171.
[56] Derrida, "Sauf le Nom", 40.
[57] Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future, 231–232.
[58] Derrida, Specters of Marx, 73, 59. It may be said that in effect, Derrida's fascination with the figure of pure promise ("messianicity without messianism") revises Nietzsche's second essay in the Genealogy of Morals, disjoining promise from its Nietzschean complement of sovereignty (cf. On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo, ed. and trans. Walter Kaufmann, New York: Vintage, 1967, 57–96).
[59] See Derrida, "Marx and Sons", 247–248.
[60] Derrida, "Sauf le Nom", 49. Not that such an aesthetic is limited to negative theology; one thinks of the more contemporary instances of the "desertification' of language in Beckett's prose experiments or of Kasimir Malevich's deployment of the metaphor of the desert to describe the minimalist logic of his Surpematist compositions. See Kasimir Malevich, The Non-Objective World: The Manifesto of Suprematism, trans. Howard Dearstyne (Mineola, NY: Dover, 2003), 68.
[61] Derrida, "Sauf le Nom", 57.
[62] Jameson, "World Reduction in Ursula Le Guin" (1975), in Archaeologies of the Future, 271.
[63] Ursula Le Guin, The Dispossessed (London: Gollancz/Orion Books, 1999), 41.
[64] As Richard Beardsworth intimates, Derrida's fundamental objection stems from the discernment, within the work of Hegel, of the identity between "absolute identity" and "death." Since Utopia appears to involve the abolition of the social relation cum relation to an irreducible other, "our fantasies of utopia and paradise" emerge as "sites of absolute death." Derrida and the Political (London and New York: Routledge, 1996), 60, 67. For an important attempt to move Marxism beyond the "nihilistic thrust" of a Communist utopia that, in overemphasizing the emancipated autonomy of its members, remains "insufficiently common", see Marios Constantinou's revisiting of the Epicurean legacy in "Spectral Philia and the Imaginary Institution of Needs", The South Atlantic Quarterly 97.1 (Winter 1998), esp. 152-157.
[65] Derrida, Specters of Marx, 65.
[66] Owen Ware, "Dialectic of the Past/Disjuncture of the Future: Derrida and Benjamin on the Concept of Messianism", Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory 5.2 (April 2004), 99. For Derrida's ethico-philosophical objections to the political imaginary of "community" and "fraternity", see "Sauf le Nom", 46; The Politics of Friendship, 298, 304–305.
[67] Derrida, Specters of Marx, 65.
[68] Derrida, Specters of Marx, 65.
[69] Derrida, Rogues, 38.
[70] Drucilla Cornell, "The Thinker of the Future", German Law Journal, 6.1 (2005), 128.
[71] See John D. Caputo, "After Jacques Derrida Comes the Future", Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory 4.2 (April 2003), par. 11.
[72] Derrida, The Politics of Friendship, 105.
[73] See Derrida, Rogues, 25, 31–33, 86–87; Derrida, The Other Heading, 5–10, 17, 45. At the time of the writing of these lines, participatory, mass democracy seems to have made greater headway in certain, largely statist varieties of Latin American social reform than it has been making for several decades in Europe.
[74] Derrida, Echographies of Television, 13; the third emphasis is Derrida's own. What remains of "revolution" after the denunciation of "every politics of revolution", it seems to me, is simply "democracy" as ethico-juridical ideal.
[75] Carolyn D' Cruz, "Adjusting the Tone of Marxism: A Hauntological Promise for Ghosts of Communism in a Democracy-to-Come", Contretemps 6 (January 2006), 65.
[76] D' Cruz's essay attests to the highly ideological nature of this rhetorical strategy in (shamefacedly) liberal democratic responses to Specters. This strategy consists in investing the already hegemonic forms of "political" activity under conditions of global capitalist entrenchment with the dignity of philosophical aura while also disavowing the idea that this involves a prescriptive deployment of philosophy — indeed, while proclaiming the nominally unconstrained, open-ended state of a competition between "communist" and "democratic" specters over the "spirit of democracy today" (66). Hence, D' Cruz writes: "Derrida's reading of Marx … demonstrates that philosophy and politics are neither separable nor inseparable from one another. This allows us to re-read Marx's "Thesis XI' in a way that remains faithful to the imperative not merely to interpret the world, but change it — yet not in a way that makes thought and action reducible to one another. Put very simply, there is nothing stopping a person who philosophizes about the promise for a democratic future from attending public protests, signing petitions, donating to aid agencies, voting as a citizen, participating in lobby groups, forming organizations that attempt to transform the powers that be and so on." D'Cruz, "Adjusting the Tone of Marxism" 71; emphases added. Arguing that the problem of the relationship of philosophical thought to political action can be rethought in terms of the fact that the latter does not prevent the former is clearly not a reinterpretation of Marx; it is rather an evasion of the Marxian challenge, as is amply testified by the fact that the instances of political action which are cited here are all barely disguised staples of the "post-political" realm of liberal capitalist parliamentarianism.
[77] Derrida, Specters of Marx, 88; emphases added. For Derrida's controversial (if guarded) advocacy of a global politics of humanitarian intervention, including the foundation of international courts for human rights violations, see also Rogues, 88; and "Not Utopia, the Impossible", in Paper Machine, trans. Rachel Bowlby (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005), 125–126.
[78] In the words with which Derrida himself responds to Carl Schmitt's Theory of the Partisan: "There can be absolute hostility only for a brother. And the history of friendship is but the experience of what in this respect resembles an unavowable synonymy, a murderous tautology" (The Politics of Friendship, 148; last two emphases added). Derrida continues his reflections on "the enemy" as a "figure of the brother" (and hence on the links between hostility and consanguinity) in pp. 149–163.
[79] Derrida, "Not Utopia", 131.
[80] Jameson, "Marx's Purloined Letter", 59.
[81] See, for instance, Derrida, Rogues, 73, 81.
[82] Derrida, "Marx and Sons", 248.
[83] Derrida, Rogues, 13, 29, 77.
[84] Derrida, Specters of Marx, 38–39.
[85] Roger Paden, "Marx's Critique of the Utopian Socialists", Utopian Studies 13.2 (Spring 2002), 70–75.
[86] See Vincent Geoghegan, Utopianism and Marxism, Oxford, Peter Lang, 2008, ch. 2.
[87] Derrida, "Marx and Sons", 252, 248.
[88] Ernst Bloch, Traces, trans. Anthony A. Nassar (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006), 17–18.
[89] Marx, The German Ideology, 57, 60; the second and third emphases are in italics in the original. For the other side of the irreducibility of the not-quite-material in Marx — that of the generative spectrality of power — see Wendy Brown, "Power Without Logic Without Marx", in Politics out of History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), 62–90.
[90] See Geoghegan, Utopianism and Marxism, 52.
[91] Alain Badiou, "The Communist Hypothesis", New Left Review 49 (January-February 2008), 34–35. I have amended the original, British-English spelling of the text.
[92] Such an acknowledgement of the Utopian impulse in Derrida's work is not limited to Jameson's "Marx's Purloined Letter." See also Drucilla Cornell, "The Thinker of the Future", 129; and John Caputo, "Without Sovereignty, Without Being: Unconditionality, the Coming God and Derrida's Democracy to Come", Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory 4.3 (August 2003), 24.
[93] Jameson, The Seeds of Time, 90.
[94] Badiou, "The Communist Hypothesis", 34, 37, 42. Badiou sharply differentiates the task of forging a new "communist hypothesis" from that of continuing on the path of the "second sequence", unfolding in the period between 1914 and 1976: "Marxism, the worker's movement, mass democracy, Leninism, the party of the proletariat, the socialist state — all the inventions of the 20th century — are not really useful to us any more. At the theoretical level they certainly deserve further study and consideration; but at the level of practical politics they have become unworkable. The second sequence is over and it is pointless to try to restore it" (37).
[95] Alain Badiou, Metapolitics, trans. Jason Barker, (London and New York: Verso, 2005), 29, 31. The phrase in quotations is from Sylvain Lazarus' The Anthropology of the Name, which occasions Badiou's reflections here. On the occasion of the link between the safeguarding of the "possible" within the name, Badiou makes the following remarks, themselves of import for his own, challenging relation to the problematic of radical change (and hence, also of Utopianism tout court): "For Lazarus, the possible is by no means a category of the future … It is not an external given, a heterogeneous entity which would only be presented through the polysemic unity of time. The possible is "that which permits thought to think the relation between what can come about and what is' … this relation can take two forms … either the relation is prescriptive, a rupture between what can come about and what is [Derrida's own "impossible", the à venir, comes to mind]; or it is descriptive, allowing us to infer what will come about on the basis of what is' [Derrida's own contrastive reference to mere futur is an obvious correlative]. Only the descriptive relation requires time, because it makes the possible into an attribute of what will come about". See Badiou, Metapolitics, 37.
[96] Derrida, Echographies of Television, 25; emphases added. The legacy of Judaic tradition, and of Lévinas's own reflections on its inheritance and transmission, seem to be important subtexts of Derrida's own reflections. On this issue, see Marc-Alain Ouaknin, The Burnt Book: Reading the Talmud, trans. Llewellyn Brown (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995), 15–16.
[97] Marx, The German Ideology, 139.
[98] Derrida, "Marx and Sons", 219.
[99] Derrida, Rogues, 89.

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