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New Left Review I/209, January-February 1995

Fredric Jameson

Marx’s Purloined Letter

Derrida’s new book is more than an intervention; it wishes to be a provocation, first and foremost of what he calls a new Holy Alliance whose attempt definitively to bury Marx is here answered by a call for a New International. [*] Some further philosophical issues, important but more technical, will be addressed in an expanded version of this essay to be published later by Verso. Derrida reminds a younger generation of the complex and constitutive interrelationships between an emergent deconstruction and the Marx-defined debates of the 1950s and 60s in France (he has spoken elsewhere of his personal relationship to Althusser [1] See M. Sprinker and A. Kaplan, eds, The Althusserian Legacy, Verso, London 1993.): in this he is only one of a number of significant thinkers in so-called poststructuralism to register a concern with the way in which demarxification in France and elsewhere, having placed the reading of Marx and the themes of a properly Marxian problematic beyond the bounds of respectability and academic tolerance, now threatens to vitiate the activity of philosophizing itself, replacing it with a bland Anglo-American anti-speculative positivism, empiricism or pragmatism. The new book will also speak of the relationship of deconstruction to Marx (as well as of its reserves in the face of an implicit or explicit Marxist ‘philosophy’). Derrida here takes the responsibility of speaking of the world situation, whose novel and catastrophic features he enumerates with all the authority of the world’s most eminent living philosopher. He reads Marx’s texts, in particular offering a remarkable new exegesis of passages from The German Ideology. He develops a new concept, that of ‘spectrality’, and does so in a way which also suggests modifications or inflections in the way in which deconstruction handles concepts in general. And he affirms a persistence of that ‘weak messianic power’ which Benjamin called upon us to preserve and sustain during dark eras. It is a wide-ranging performance, and a thrilling one, particularly as it is punctuated by the great shouts and cries of alarm of the opening scenes of Hamlet on the battlements. I want to summarize the book more narrowly and then to comment in an unsystematic and preliminary way on points I find particularly interesting.

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Fredric Jameson, ‘Marx’s Purloined Letter’, NLR I/209: £3

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