A Real Spectre I: Why Read Who I Read? Jamming, 08/09/2015

Since the last time I posted on the blog last week, I took a vacation. The GF and I went to a music festival for Labour Day weekend to camp out and relax. The music was pretty fantastic, the people were friendly hippies, and it was unbearably hot outside. I do believe in climate change, though not for anecdotal reasons.

Derrida is known for being very difficult, but reading
his work is only tough until you realize that there's a
particular technique to his style. At least in the late-
period stuff that I prefer. The 70s were mental.
Since I last posted on the blog, I've also stopped reading that biography of David Foster Wallace that I spoke about a couple of weeks ago. I'll get into precisely why later, because I want to lend some context first. That context comes from the book that I replaced Max's biography with, Specters of Marx by Jacques Derrida.

Why on Earth would I replace a straightforward biography of an author with the weird prose of the notoriously difficult Derrida? It's a legitimate question. When I tell people, even other people who've gone through graduate school in humanities, that I like reading Derrida, they look at me like I'm a crazy person.

In the immediate sense, Spectres of Marx* is important for the thinking that will inform my Utopias manuscript. Utopias isn't a Marxist project. I'm purposely stepping away from Marx because I believe that tradition is limited for many reasons.

* Notice that I switch between the American spelling of Specters, which this English translation uses, and the Canadian spelling which I personally prefer, being Canadian myself. This has no real significance, as it's just a joke about Derrida's style of finding significance in otherwise trivial linguistic differences. Calling attention to my joke as a joke, however, might be extremely significant. ;)

One reason is political. Consider the crimes of Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, the Castro Brothers, and many other left-wing revolutionaries over the last century, all done in the name of Marxist revolution.

And consider the popular impact of Friedrich Hayek. If Utopias has any villain, it's Hayek, with his grim hostility to any attempt to organize people under common political interests, which he understands as having only one endpoint: the wholesale repression of all under the communist operation of the state. Even a labour union, says Hayek, is inherently oppressive and communist because it subordinates the desires of the individual to the common interests of the group.

It's so easy to forget that Marxism
dominated major periods of Western
politics. When the Soviet Union
collapsed in 1991, it was as if the
entire philosophy didn't matter anymore.
Another, related, reason has to do with audience. Only a dedicated Marxist is going to read a book that declares itself Marxist on its sleeve. All others would dismiss it.

This isn't an argument about sales alone. Though I'll admit sales has something to do with it. It's also about impact. I want the Utopias book, when it's eventually written and released, to be read widely enough to change people's minds about its political topics. I write from a left-wing perspective, but I'd like Utopias to be read by right-wing people because it'll challenge their beliefs. So I'd market it to them for the same reason I read Hayek.

It's important to know your enemy, but many right-wingers pushed Hayek on me hoping to convert me. Frankly, they're already immune to Marx because of the arguments of Hayek. It's no use telling a dedicated libertarian that Hayek's reading of Marx was too-simple, and missed much of his subtlety.

Hayek's argument against Marx was so successful precisely because he simplified his enemy so much. Road to Serfdom literally was Readers' Digest philosophy. That's where it was first published in the United States, and that's why it was so successful in its first release.

The third reason why I won't frame Utopias as an explicitly Marxist text is because Marxism itself is literally dead as a political program. Understanding this is why I'm reading the other book that I started just before my vacation: Francis Fukuyama's End of History.

Surely, you might think, I can't really believe Fukuyama's thesis. Even he doesn't really believe it anymore. And I've praised politicians over the last year, particularly Yanis Varoufakis, who openly admit to their inspiration from Marx.

Yanis Varoufakis looks leftward, but finds nothing there.
Well, in case you didn't notice, Varoufakis was soundly defeated and humiliated. It didn't matter that the Greek people rejected further austerity programs from the European Central Bank this year. It didn't matter that Varoufakis had designed a comprehensive plan to exit the Euro and resurrect a relatively stable Drachma currency for Greece.

He was broken, fired, humiliated, spat on, bitch-slapped, and told he was a stupid, stupid child for thinking that he could go against the international conglomerate of bankers that holds Greece's national debt and essentially controls the country. And yes, I am being over-dramatic, but it's rhetoric to make a point.

It didn't matter what democratic gesture you could make. The Greek crisis, and the destruction of Varoufakis, shows that democracy means nothing if powerful financial interests disagree with your democratic decisions. You vote for what your bond holders tell you to vote for, or you will all suffer. This is the primary political conflict of the West in the 21st century.

So Derrida doesn't give us a Marxist politics in Specters of Marx. He's probing how to fight injustices in a social world where Marx, and the revolutionary spirit he and his work inspired for more than a century, is thoroughly, fully, completely, and utterly dead forever. It's literally about the ghosts of Marx. To be continued . . . 


  1. why is the name of a string instrument emblazoned on JD's chin? Don't tell me it's Canadian spelling... ;)

    1. It's a subtitle from an interview still. I included the picture to confuse people, who believe that it may have significance for the longer series of posts.

      It has no significance at all.