Hamlet: … Sweare.
Ghost [beneath]: Sweare.
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’expresse 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 specters of Marx. (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 specters of Marx. Why this plural? Would there be more
than one of them? Plus d’un
[More than one/No more one]: 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 specter 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 “specters” by their name starting with the title of this opening lecture. “Specters 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 “specter”: “A specter is haunting Europe—the specter of communism.”
Exordium or incipit
: this first noun opens, then, the first scene of the first act: “Ein Gespenst geht um in Europa—das Gespenst des Kommunismus.” As in Hamlet
, the Prince of a rotten State, everything begins by the apparition of a specter. More precisely by the waiting
for this apparition. The anticipation is at once impatient, anxious, and fascinated: this, the thing (“this thing”) will end up coming. The revenant
is going to come.1
It won’t be long. But how long it is taking. Still more precisely, everything begins in the imminence of a re
-apparition, but a reapparition of the specter as apparition for the first time in the play. The spirit of the father is going to come back and will soon say to him “I am thy
Fathers Spirit” (I, iv), but here, at the beginning of the play, he comes back, so to speak, for the first time. It is a first, the first time on stage.
[First suggestion: haunting2
is historical, to be sure, but it is not dated
, it is never docilely given a date in the chain of presents, day after day, according to the instituted order of a calendar. Untimely, it does not come to, it does not happen to, it does not befall, one day, Europe, as if the latter, at a certain moment of its history, had begun to suffer from a certain evil, to let itself be inhabited
in its inside, that is, haunted by a foreign guest. Not that that guest is any less a stranger for having always occupied the domesticity of Europe. But there was no inside, there was nothing inside before it. The ghostly would displace itself like the movement of this history. Haunting would mark the very existence of Europe. It would open the space and the relation to self of what is called by this name, at least since the Middle Ages. The experience of the specter, that is how Marx, along with Engels, will have also thought, described, or diagnosed a certain dramaturgy of modern Europe, notably that of its great unifying projects. One would even have to say that he represented it or staged it. In the shadow of a filial memory, Shakespeare will have often inspired this Marxian theatricalization. Later, closer to us but according to the same genealogy, in the nocturnal noise of its concatenation, the rumbling sound of ghosts chained to ghosts, another descendant would be Valéry. Shakespeare qui genuit Marx qui genuit Valéry
(and a few others).
But what goes on between these generations? An omission, a strange lapsus. Da, then fort, exit Marx. In “La crise de l’esprit” (“The Crisis of Spirit,” 1919: “As for us, civilizations, we know now we are mortal …”), the name of Marx appears just once. It inscribes itself, here is the name of a skull to come into Hamlet’s hands:
Now, on an immense terrace of Elsinore, which stretches from Basel to Cologne, that touches on the sands of Nieuport, the lowlands of the Somme, the chalky earth of Champagne, the granite earth of Alsace—the European Hamlet looks at thousands of specters. But he is an intellectual Hamlet. He meditates on the life and death of truths. His ghosts are all the objects of our controversies; his remorse is all the titles of our glory… . If he seizes a skull, it is an illustrious skull—“Whose was it?”—This one was Lionardo
… . And this other skull is that of Leibniz
who dreamed of universal peace. And this one was Kant qui genuit Hegel, qui genuit Marx, qui genuit
… . Hamlet does not know what to do with all these skulls. But if he abandons them! … Will he cease to be himself?3
Later, in “La politique de l’esprit,” Valéry has just defined man and politics. Man: “an attempt to create what I will venture to call the spirit of spirit
As for politics, it always “implies some idea of man.” At this point, Valéry quotes himself. He reproduces the page of “the European Hamlet,” the one we have just cited. Curiously, with the errant but infallible assurance of a sleepwalker, he then omits from it only one
sentence, just one
, without even signalling the omission by an ellipsis: the one that names Marx, in the very skull of Kant (“And this one was Kant qui genuit Hegel, qui genuit Marx, qui genuit
Why this omission, the only one? The name of Marx has disappeared. Where did it go? Exeunt Ghost and Marx
, Shakespeare might have noted. The name of the one who disappeared must have gotten inscribed someplace else.
In what he says, as well as in what he forgets to say about the skulls and generations of spirits, Valéry reminds us of at least three things
. These three things concern precisely this thing
that is called spirit. As soon as one no longer distinguishes spirit from specter, the former assumes a body, it incarnates itself, as spirit, in the specter. Or rather, as Marx himself spells out, and
we will get to this, the specter is a paradoxical incorporation, the becoming-body, a certain phenomenal and carnal form of the spirit. It becomes, rather, some “thing” that remains difficult to name: neither soul nor body, and both one and the other. For it is flesh and phenomenality that give to the spirit its spectral apparition, but which disappear right away in the apparition, in the very coming of the revenant
or the return of the specter. There is something disappeared, departed in the apparition itself as reapparition of the departed. The spirit, the specter are not the same thing, and we will have to sharpen this difference; but as for what they have in common, one does not know what it is
, what it is presently. It is
something that one does not know, precisely, and one does not know if precisely it is
, if it exists, if it responds to a name and corresponds to an essence. One does not know: not out of ignorance, but because this non-object, this non-present present, this being-there of an absent or departed one no longer belongs to knowledge. At least no longer to that which one thinks one knows by the name of knowledge. One does not know if it is living or if it is dead. Here is—or rather there is, over there, an unnameable or almost unnameable thing: something, between something and someone, anyone or anything, some thing, “this thing,” but this thing and not any other, this thing that looks at us, that concerns us [qui nous regarde
], comes to defy semantics as much as ontology, psychoanalysis as much as philosophy (“Marcellus
: What, ha’s this thing appear’d againe tonight? Barnardo
: I haue seene nothing”). The Thing is still invisible, it is nothing
visible (“I haue seene nothing”) at the moment one speaks of it and in order to ask oneself if it has reappeared. It is still nothing that can be seen when one speaks of it. It is no longer anything that can be seen when Marcellus speaks of it, but it has been seen twice. And it is in order to adjust speech to sight that Horatio the skeptic has been convoked. He will serve as third party and witness (terstis
): “… if againe this Apparition come, He may approue our eyes and speake to it” (I, i).
Nor does one see in flesh and blood this Thing that is not a thing, this thing that is invisible between its apparitions, when it reappears. This Thing meanwhile looks at us and sees us not see it even when it is there. A spectral asymmetry interrupts here all specularity. It de-synchronizes, it recalls us to anachrony. We will call this the visor effect
: we do not see who looks at us. Even though in his ghost the King looks like himself (“As thou art to thy selfe,” says Horatio), that does not prevent him from looking without being seen: his apparition makes him appear still invisible beneath his armor (“Such was the very Armour he had on …”). We will probably not speak of this visor effect
any more, at least not by that name, but it will be presupposed by everything we advance on the subject of the specter in general, in Marx and elsewhere. As will be spelled out later on the basis of The German Ideology
and the argument with Stirner, what distinguishes the specter or the revenant
from the spirit
, including the spirit in the sense of the ghost in general, is doubtless a supernatural and paradoxical phenomenality, the furtive and ungraspable visibility of the invisible, or an invisibility of a visible X, that non-senuous sensuous
of which Capital
speaks (we will come to this) with regard to a certain exchange-value; it is also, no doubt, the tangible intangibility of a proper body without flesh, but still the body of someone
as someone other
. And of someone other
that we will not hasten to determine as self, subject, person, consciousness, spirit, and so forth. This already suffices to distinguish the specter not only from the icon or the idol but also from the image of the image, from the Platonic phantasma
, as well as from the simple simulacrum
of something in general to which it is nevertheless so close and with which it shares, in other respects, more than one feature. But that is not all, and that is not the most irreducible. Another suggestion: This spectral someone other looks at us
we feel ourselves being looked at by it, outside of any synchrony, even before and beyond any look on our part, according to an absolute anteriority (which may be on the order
of generation, of more than one generation) and asymmetry, according to an absolutely unmasterable disproportion. Here anachony makes the law. To feel ourselves seen by a look which it will always be impossible to cross, that is the visor effect
on the basis of which we inherit from the law. Since we do not see the one who sees us, and who makes the law, who delivers the injunction (which is, moreover, a contradictory injunction), since we do not see the one who orders “swear”, we cannot identify it in all certainty, we must fall back on its voice. The one who says “I am thy Fathers Spirit” can only be taken at his word. An essentially blind submission to his secret, to the secret of his origin: this is a first obedience to the injunction. It will condition all the others. It may always be a case of still someone else. Another can always lie, he can disguise himself as a ghost, another ghost may also be passing himself off for this one. It’s always possible. Later we will talk about the society
or the commerce
of specters among themselves, for there is always more than one
of them. The armor, this “costume” which no stage production will ever be able to leave out, we see it cover from head to foot, in Hamlet’s eyes, the supposed body of the father. We do not know whether it is or is not part of the spectral apparition. This protection is rigorously problematic
is also a shield) for it prevents perception from deciding on the identity that it wraps so solidly in its carapace. The armor may be but the body of a real artifact, a kind of technical prosthesis, a body foreign to the spectral body that it dresses, dissimulates, and protects, masking even its identity. The armor lets one see nothing of the spectral body, but at the level of the head and beneath the visor
, it permits the so-called father to see and to speak. Some slits are cut into it and adjusted so as to permit him to see without being seen, but to speak in order to be heard. The helmet
, like the visor, did not merely offer protection: it topped off the coat of arms and indicated the chief’s authority, like the blazon of his nobility.
For the helmet effect, it suffices that a visor be possible
one play with it. Even when it is raised, in fact
, its possibility continues to signify that someone, beneath the armor, can safely see without being seen or without being identified. Even when it is raised, the visor remains, an available resource and structure, solid and stable as armor, the armor that covers the body from head to foot, the armor of which it is a part and to which it is attached. This is what distinguishes a visor from the mask with which, nevertheless, it shares this incomparable power, perhaps the supreme insignia of power: the power to see without being seen. The helmet effect is not suspended when the visor is raised. Its power, namely its possibility, is in that case recalled merely in a more intensely dramatic fashion. When Horatio reports to Hamlet that a figure like his father’s appeared “Arm’d at all points exactly, Cap a Pe
…”), the son is worried and questions. He first insists on the armor and the “Cap a Pe” (“Hamlet:
Arm’d, say you? Barnardo and Marcellus:
Arm’d, my Lord. Hamlet:
From top to toe? Both:
My Lord, from head to foote”). Then Hamlet gets to the head, to the face, and especially the look beneath the visor. As if he had been hoping that, beneath an armor that hides and protects from head to foot, the ghost would have shown neither his face, nor his look, nor therefore his identity (“Hamlet:
Then saw you not his face? Horatio:
Oh yes, my Lord, he wore his Beaver up” [I, ii]).
Three things, then, would decompose in analysis this single thing, spirit, or specter—or king, for the king occupies this place, here the place of the father, whether he keeps it, takes it, or usurps it, and beyond the return of the rhyme (for example “The Play’s the thing,/Wherein Ile catch the Conscience of the King”). King is a thing, Thing is the King, pre...