The time is out of joint


Hamlet:. . . .Sweare.

Ghost [beneath]: Sweare

[They swear]

Hamlet: Rest, rest perturbed Spirit! So Gentlemen,

With all my loue I doe commend me to you;

And what so poore a man as Hamlet is

Doe t’express his loue and friending to you,

God willing, shall not lacke: Let us goe in together,

And still your fingers on your lippes, I pray.

The time is out of ioynt: Oh cursed spight,

That ever I was borne to set it right.

Nay, come, let’s goe together. [Exeunt]

—Act I, scene v

Maintaining now the spectres of Marx.footnote (But maintaining now [maintenant] without conjuncture. A disjointed or disadjusted now, ‘out of joint’, a disajointed now that always risks maintaining nothing together in the assured conjunction of some context whose border would still be determinable.)

The spectres of Marx. Why this plural? Would there be more than one of them? Plus d’un: this can mean a crowd, if not masses, the horde, or society, or else some population of ghosts with or without a people, some community with or without a leader—but also the less than one of pure and simple dispersion. Without any possible gathering together. Then, if the spectre is always animated by a spirit, one wonders who would dare to speak of a spirit of Marx, or more serious still, of a spirit of Marxism. Not only in order to predict a future for them today, but to appeal even to their multiplicity, or more serious still, to their heterogeneity.

More than a year ago, I had chosen to name the ‘spectres’ by their name starting with the title of this opening lecture. ‘Spectres of Marx’, the common noun and the proper name had thus been printed, they were already on the poster when, very recently, I reread the Manifesto of the Communist Party. I confess it to my shame: I had not done so for decades—and that must tell one something. I knew very well there was a ghost waiting there, and from the opening, from the raising of the curtain. Now, of course, I have just discovered, in truth I have just remembered what must have been haunting my memory: the first noun of the Manifesto, and this time in the singular, is ‘spectre’: ‘A spectre is haunting Europe—the spectre of communism.’ (. . .) It was thus a fault on my part to have put so far out of memory what was the most manifest thing about the Manifesto. What manifests itself in the first place is a spectre, this first paternal character, as powerful as it is unreal, a hallucination or simulacrum that is virtually more actual than what is so blithely called a living presence. Upon rereading the Manifesto and a few other great works of Marx, I said to myself that I knew of few texts in the philosophical tradition, perhaps none, whose lesson seemed more urgent today, provided that one take into account what Marx and Engels themselves say (for example, in Engels’s Preface to the 1888 re-edition) about their own possible ‘ageing’ and their intrinsically irreducible historicity. What other thinker has ever issued a similar warning in such an explicit fashion? Who has ever called for the transformation to come of his own theses? Not only in view of some progressive enrichment of knowledge, which would change nothing in the order of a system, but so as to take into account there, another account, the effects of rupture and restructuration? And so as to incorporate in advance, beyond any possible programming, the unpredictability of new knowledge, new techniques, and new political givens? No text in the tradition seems as lucid concerning the way in which the political is becoming worldwide, concerning the irreducibility of the technical and the media in the current of the most thinking thought—and this goes beyond the railroad and the newspapers of the time whose powers were analysed in such an incomparable way in the Manifesto. And few texts have shed so much light on law, international law, and nationalism.

It will always be a fault not to read and reread and discuss Marx—which is to say also a few others—and to go beyond scholarly ‘reading’ or ‘discussion’. It will be more and more a fault, a failing of theoretical, philosophical, political responsibility. When the dogma machine and the ‘Marxist’ ideological apparatuses (states, parties, cells, unions and other places of doctrinal production) are in the process of disappearing, we no longer have any excuse, only alibis, for turning away from this responsibility. There will be no future without this. Not without Marx, no future without Marx, without the memory and the inheritance of Marx: in any case of a certain Marx, of his genius, of at least one of his spirits. For this will be our hypothesis or rather our bias: there is more than one of them, there must be more than one of them.

Nevertheless, among all the temptations I will have to resist today, there would be the temptation of memory: to recount what was for me, and for those of my generation who shared it during a whole life-time, the experience of Marxism, the quasi-paternal figure of Marx, the way it fought in us with other filiations, the reading of texts and the interpretation of a world in which the Marxist inheritance was—and still remains, and so it will remain—absolutely and thoroughly determinate. One need not be a Marxist or a communist in order to accept this obvious fact. We all live in a world, some would say a culture, that still bears, at an incalculable depth, the mark of this inheritance, whether in a directly visible fashion or not.