JACQUES DERRIDA QUESTIONS FOR ENGLISH 492 THEORY, CSU FULLERTON
JACQUES DERRIDA, FROM SPECTERS OF MARX
Assigned: Derrida, Jacques. From Specters of Marx (1734-44 in Leitch, Vincent B. and William E. Cain, eds. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. New York: Norton, 2010. ISBN 978-0-393-93292-8.)
From Specters of Marx
1. On 1734-36 top of our selections from Specters of Marx, Derrida begins by reproaching himself for not paying sufficient attention to Marx for decades. He agrees that "It will always be a fault not to read and reread and discuss Marx" (1735 lower middle). How does he justify that conclusion, and what value does he draw from his retroactive insight about the very first noun in The Communist Manifesto, the singular form "specter" (in German, ein Gespenst). With its aid, how does he begin to recalibrate his thinking on this influential revolutionary author?
2. On 1736-39 top paragraph of our selections from Specters of Marx, Derrida addresses both the temper of the times (he's giving this address in 1993, a few years after the collapse of the Soviet Union) and the complexities of rereading Marx at such an historical juncture. Firstly, how does Derrida characterize the affinities between the revolutionary era of Marx's time (the mid-nineteenth century), the period of his own youth as a French-Algerian intellectual (the 1950s) and the early 1990s? Secondly, how does he present the dilemma posed by rereading Marx in the latter period -- that is, what temptation would a student of Marx's texts be liable to give in to, and why would that be a bad thing?
3. On 1740-42 of our selections from Specters of Marx, Derrida says he wants to enumerate the factors that would "risk making the euphoria of liberal democrat capitalism resemble the blindest and most delirious of hallucinations" (1740 top). In other words, he will discuss some of the factors that could potentially take down the "New World Order" optimistically alluded to by President George H.W. Bush. Choose a couple of these factors and draw them out to the best of your own insight -- what threat do your chosen factors represent to the Western order as it's shaping up in the wake of the Soviet Union's dissolution.
4. With reference to the question immediately above regarding 1740-42 of our selections from Specters of Marx,, what can you add to Derrida's list of threats to the supposed post-Soviet "New World Order"? Are there, in other words, some new problems on the horizon, or do you think the ones Derrida mentioned would still be accurate (if of course you find them so for the time he's discussing)? Explain your rationale.
5. On 1743-44 of our selections from Specters of Marx, how does Derrida sum up the significance of engaging with Marx's works as of 1993? Why does he suggest that his way of doing so probably won't please people who still call themselves "Marxists" (1743 upper middle), but what great value and resourcefulness in Marx's work and in "a certain spirit of Marxism" (1743 bottom) does he nonetheless identify as being the payoff for such an endeavor?
6. General question: Derrida's usual way of proceeding with a text is to read it closely while paying attention to the binary oppositions that structure it and underwrite its claims (speech/writing, or presence/absence, just to name a few); he is also known for his propensity to choose seemingly marginal terms and sections of a given text and suggesting how those seldom considered parts are much more important and even destabilizing to the text's overall argument and coherence than anyone suspected. But that's a general description of deconstructive reading, so how would you describe what Derrida is up to here in our selections from Specters of Marx? Try to respond both in terms of the text's stylistic qualities and in terms of its methodology -- not that we need think of those as completely separate concerns.