Robert Rauschenberg, The Goat,


Reflections on Derrida, King Hamlet, Chris Hani and Marielle Franco

the obsession

In “Marx’s Injunctions”, the first chapter of Jacques Derrida’s emblematic book, Specters of Marx, published for the first time in Brazil in 1994 by Relume-Dumará (one year after the original publication in France), there is a passage at the end of the chapter that is very symptomatic of the subject we want to address and that concerns performative acts.

That's when the coroner declares death: “The constative form tends to reassure. The finding is effective. It really wants and should be. It is, in effect, a performative that seeks to certify, but firstly certifying itself by certifying itself, because nothing is less certain than that, whose death we would wish, is in fact dead” (Derrida, 1994, p. . 71).

It is about the threatening return of the past in the future that Derrida's two lectures, on April 22 and 23, 1993, at the University of California (Riverside), will address, in a symposium whose title is “Wither marxism?”. It is impossible to lose sight of this 1993 context: the global financial crisis and neoliberalism; the controversial socialist government of François Mitterrand. Behind a certainty – the death of Marxism and the irreversible past to which it would be condemned – there would be, according to Derrida, a swarm of doubts. How to conjure the threat of return? It is like the performative act of the coroner declaring death, above all, to reassure himself. It is like saying: “what was kept alive, does not live anymore and, therefore, does not continue to be effective in death; you can rest assured”.

It was a book biennial, around 1998. Perhaps that book was a leftover edition, but I was still surprised. After all, Derrida was not a classical Marxist. It is as if Deleuze had written a book about Marx (it seems that this was indeed his last project). We were in the FHC government. I bought the book, tried to read a few pages and put it down. But the dead always come back. Here was Hamlet haunted by his father's ghostly return; there was the Timon of Athens under the sign of perjury. By bringing two plays by Shakespeare, cited several times by Marx, Derrida ends up underlining two equivocal meanings of the word “conjuration”: conspiracy and exorcism.

As far as the conspiracy is concerned, it is sworn to stop time and turn it out of kilter, as described to us at the beginning of Hamlet. In exorcism, as is the case with the coroner, one contacts death in order to kill (exactly as it happened in the mid-90s: one contacted the death of Marxism in order to kill it); or one swears not to fulfill – a kind of betrayal that in Timon of Athens associate with nature.

The various images of Marx, as well as these two equivocal meanings of “conjuration”, make us aware, among other things, of the injunctions in Marx and how much there was disjunction between them, even being untranslatable into each other. Derrida remembers that the Marxist Marx shared with the representatives of power the border between reality and spectrum. On the other hand, the engendered Marxism crossed this frontier through the revolution – such a picture translates well the idea of ​​obsession:

Marx was obsessed with crossing the boundary between the real and the specter, a crossing he tried to reject at all costs. Following the same line of reasoning, the hegemony of old Europe (or the contemporary hegemony of neoliberalism) would always organize the repression of the ghost and, paradoxically, the confirmation of an obsession (hence why neoliberalism cannot get rid of all the ghosts of Marx). The different senses of conjuration attest to something in common, even if they are equivocal and even untranslatable senses in each other.


The logic of the gift

It is up to us to think about “time out of joint”, which will be associated with the appearance of the ghost in Hamlet: “the specter of my father – armed! Vile game smell. Vile actions will arise even if the ground covers them for human vision” (Shakespeare, 2015, p. 66). There is a relationship between the ghost and the future, as if the former announced it. The appearance of the ghost, in this case of King Hamlet, is a kind of articulation between the past (which is absent) and the future. In this way, the present is prescribed and arranged in the two directions of absence. This disjunction, which Heidegger will show in his translation of Anaximander, exposes the non-contemporaneity of the present time to itself. Disjunction that opens up the infinite dissymmetry of the relationship with the other.

This perspective of disjunction is important because it establishes the tragic, contrary to the pessimistic and nihilistic dimension in the face of the injustice of the present, according to which, it would be up to the law to repair the injustice and repay the debt, in accordance with the logic of revenge and law. What Derrida highlights is another logic, that of the gift without restitution, without calculation and without accounting: only disjunction could do justice or render justice to the other as other; leave to the other that agreement with himself that is his own and gives him presence; give what he himself has not; grant or add in supplement, out of trade, without exchange.

And here, all the importance of deconstruction, as a thought of gift and justice. Deconstruction of the present or of any synthesis or system in favor of the heterogeneity of its condition. It is in this sense that justice is a favor granted under the sign of presence, before synthesis or a system in a totalizing horizon.


The question of inheritance

When Derrida brings Maurice Blanchot's text, Marx's Three Speeches, he ends up underlining something that Blanchot himself does not highlight: the political imperative. Blanchot's text is explicit: “the word 'communist' is frequently reinvented in the name of a thought of singularity and relationship, which is not limited to politics” (Blanchot, 2014, p. 2, note 4). They would be multiple forms of the written word, which would not know how to be retranslated into one another, producing an irreducible effect of distortion that would lead to an incessant reorganization on the part of its reader. In this respect, unlike science, which is always dependent on ideology, the requirement or injunction of writing takes charge of all the forms and forces of dissolution, of transformation, which is the senseless game of writing itself. But in Derrida there is the question of inheritance, of choice: which image of Marx should be chosen?


the performative act

There are several injunctions, demands, images of Marx. And not always, the one to be inherited, will have to be exactly like the original. The “example” of Marx makes us aware that the Marxism engendered has little to do with the Marxist Marx. Incidentally, there is a whole field of work, of the transformation of the ghost, which takes us to Valéry in The Crisis of the Spirit: “this skull here belonged to Kant, who spawned Hegel, who spawned Marx…” (Valéry, 1957, t.1, p.993, apud Derrida, 1994, p. 19). The “example” is part of the gift category: giving what you don't have. But alongside all these forces of transformation, which Blanchot points out thinking about the injunctions of writing, there will be, on the part of Derrida, in his analysis of Marx, the privilege granted to the political gesture: it is the response to demands. In other words, it is the issue of inheritance.

And in this respect, the performative act assumes great importance: the oath, the declaration. A kind of violence that interrupts time, leaving it out of kilter, and that will be, in Hamlet, associated with the appearance of the King's ghost. But for Derrida, this performativity, linked to the instant, an answer without waiting to the demand of justice, will be associated in Marx with the permanent revolution. It is a here and now under the sign of the future. All of Derrida's criticism of the University, at least in his lecture in 1993, concerns the process of depoliticization that one would try to apply to Marxist work: following the old concept of reading, treating the work calmly, objectively, without taking sides. and respecting the norms of hermeneutic, philological and philosophical exegesis – putting to the ground the political imperative, the imminence, the urgency of a response to the demands of an impatient and unconditional justice.

What is worth mentioning is that in this here and now, established by the performative act, there is an opening of not-knowing, generated precisely by heterogeneity: the ghost, as the past, repetition of the same; and the ghost as future, imminence, the other – repetition of the different. What seems to me to be the main line of Derrida's argument is the privilege granted to the future: this opening of the present, established by not-knowing (after all, we don't know if the death of philosophy, proclaimed since the XNUMXth century, is a desire for resurrection or desire of the other), just the affirmed future. Hence the importance of imminence and the category of the possible associated with it.


Holy alliance and new world order

When Derrida addresses the Communist Manifesto of 1848, and compares that time to 1993, when he delivers the lecture that gives rise to the book, he understands that, deep down, the specter is the future in both situations. Let us recall the first words of the Manifesto: “A specter walks across Europe – the specter of communism. All the powers of Old Europe have allied themselves in a holy hunt for this specter: the pope, the tsar, Metternich and Guizot, French radicals and policemen”. In 1848, therefore, all the effort undertaken by Old Europe, in a kind of conjuration between nobility and clergy, was aimed at ensuring that the aforementioned specter did not incarnate in the future, at the risk of the very existence of Europe.

In 1993, the return of the specter of the past must be prevented, must be conjured, as a coroner certifies death (this time, through an alliance under US tutelage, the new world order is the new conjuration). In both situations, the communist specter is the future: a threat to come (in 1848, for the first time; in 1993, as a return from the past). Faced with these threats, we invest in a reassuring order of the present (present-past; present-present; present-future) and in the opposition between current reality, understood as the present of the present (effective presence) and absence-non-presence-ineffectiveness- inactuality-virtuality-simulacrum.


The return of the different

When Derrida comments on the meaning of the question that names the symposium, “Wither marxism?”, in 1993, which can be understood as either “where is Marxism going?” As for “Is Marxism perishing?”, he will call that question a tedious anachronism. That's because already in the 1950s, against real communism in the Soviet Union, his generation was already insurgent. The fact is that in the 1950s there was an apocalyptic tone to the issue, the product of a deconstruction that would form part of the great canon of the modern apocalypse: the end of man; History end; end of philosophy.

To the tradition of these eschatological themes would be added the totalitarian terror in all Eastern European countries, the socioeconomic disasters of the Soviet bureaucracy, past Stalinism and neo-Stalinism then in progress (from the Moscow processes to the repression in Hungary). the end of philosophy, by Maurice Blanchot, published in 1959, gives the idea that subsists in the eschatological theme: “Here is the twilight that accompanies every thinker from then on (since the 1959th century), a strange funeral moment that the philosophical spirit celebrates in an exaltation, of more, often cheerful, conducting his slow funeral, during which he really hopes, one way or another, to obtain his resurrection”. (Blanchot, 292, pp. 3-1994, apud Derrida, 56, p. XNUMX).

According to Derrida, it is not known whether waiting prepares the coming of the future or whether it emphasizes the repetition of the same, not-knowing that has to do with an opening that preserves heterogeneity, the only opportunity for an affirmed future or, rather, reaffirmed – this opening would be the future itself. The same question, however, in 1993, under the influxes of the end of Fukuyama's history, gives the impression of a generation late for the last train of the end, however, without being out of breath, quite the contrary: inflates the chest in a clear conscience of capitalism, liberalism and the virtues of parliamentary democracy (past forms of an electoral device and a parliamentary apparatus).

Derrida would call this media anachronism and a clear conscience: the end of Marxism would place it under the sign of non-presence, of ineffectiveness, in opposition to current reality and a reassuring order of the present. From this perspective of clear conscience, there would be a final term, telos of all history, making the other, the inheritance and the future impossible. Capitalism would be homogeneity, absolute systematic coherence. Against the scientistic ideology that unifies or purifies Marx's text and produces a border separating the real and the ghost, The capital, according to Blanchot, would invest in another way of theoretical thinking, which would undermine the classical idea of ​​science.

This new mode is precisely the testamentary dimension: Marx's “example” is primarily for others and beyond himself (the one who gives the example is unequal to the example he gives). In other words, Marx's injunctions are untranslatable one into the other, which opens up a whole field beyond, if possible, the last extremity – the future itself. The difference established between the 1950s and the 1990s accounts, according to Derrida, for a process of closure. And for that, no effort will be spared to conjure up the return, the surprise, the untimeliness of the last event beyond the telos.


law and justice

“Learning to live”, as an irreversible and asymmetric aptitude, therefore, violent, has a variation based on punishment and punishment (“may this serve as a lesson”; “give someone a good lesson”), expressing the sadistic nature of the teaching in Latin-Christian society and thus perverting the Socratic ideal. There would be, however, another variant: the heterodidactic between life and death, which makes learning about life only happen between life and death. In other words, one would learn to live with the ghosts (a more just life, according to the politics of memory, inheritance and generations).

In this respect, Derrida will differentiate law from justice, as Force of law, the mystical foundation of authority (Derrida, 1992): law as reducible to law, and justice as something furtive and untimely, no longer belonging to time and its modalities, such as present-past, now, present-future, nor to the living present in general. A living being would be beyond its present life or its effective being-present or its empirical-ontological effectiveness. Its relationship is with the over-life that disjoins and misaligns the identity of the living present. Hence the responsibility for the dead and for the unborn – a responsibility that goes beyond every living present (in the case of Brazil, movements such as “Tortura Nunca Mais” and policies to reduce COXNUMX emissions2, would in this case be conjugated).


The Law of Obsession

Obsession and its logic, obsilogy itself, is what, according to Derrida, will mark the history of the West: the ghost hunt, origin of the question “where is Marxism going?”. It is not by chance that the story of Hamlet begins waiting for the reappearance of the ghost, who had already appeared twice to Bernardo and Marcellus. The beginning is waiting for the event, it is the imminence of a reappearance. As well as the Communist Manifesto begins with: “A specter walks across Europe – the specter of communism”. This legend of the specter is opposed by the The Manifest, whose analysis of the Industrial Revolution exposes its demands: the conquest of the reduction of the daily working day – from 12 to 10 hours; and universal suffrage (for men only). But part of the deep structure of Europe would be the spectrum, whose main characteristic would be precisely expressed by the verb “to walk” or to prowl: to dwell without residing, without confining oneself in space; attend; obsess; besiege; harass. Unlike an ontology (thoughts of being), to be or not to be, governed by opposition and anchored in substance, existence, essence and permanence (the presence itself).

The logic of obsession is supported by demands (injunctions), which opens up a whole field of possibilities. In fact, the specter is the foreign element that inhabits Europe without residing and produces its inner side (without the specter there is no inside). It is impossible to have it in hand. Derrida draws attention to some aspects of King Hamlet's spectrum: he sees us (the open visor effect) without our being able to see him (the helmet effect is not suspended when the visor is raised); we are left to his commanding voice, from whence we inherit the law; own body without flesh, but always of someone like someone else, origin of exchange value (money, for example, is always the specter of something, a transfiguring idealization, a kind of spectropoetics producing the metamorphosis of commodities – hence why the spectrum cannot be confused with the icon, nor with the image nor with the simulacrum, the spectrum is always another); the specter is a carnal and phenomenal form of the spirit, the becoming-body itself (when it appears, the spirit disappears); the spectrum is linked to the event and, therefore, to repetition – a kind of staging for the end of history, each time completely different.

These are some elements that give spectrology a paradoxical character, more in line with the logic of obsession. It's like the translations for "The time is out of joint”: the work inhabits the numerous versions without confining itself there; like a ghost, it obsidia (besieges) the numerous translations that are dispersed in an overwhelming diversity; to the specter's disparate requests, the words of the translation become disorganized – “the time” sometimes it is the temporality of time, sometimes it is history (the days of today), sometimes it is the present (the world today). The relationship with the specter obeys, therefore, this law of obsession, which has more to do with perhaps than with being, more connected to injunctions than to presence.


The Prince's Tragedy

The tragedy in Hamlet lies in the issue of the tragic and how far this aspect is removed from an aesthetic or psychological explanation. In other words, the prince curses the fate that drives him to carry out revenge and punishment. His tragedy resides in the pre-originary and spectral precedence of another's crime, leaving him with the mission of being born to straighten things out. All its delay, all its hesitation in taking revenge, all its deliberation, all its unnaturalness and non-automatic calculation, all its neurosis, in short, stems from a logic different from revenge. It is a kind of sigh, according to Derrida, for a justice that one day would no longer belong to history and would be subtracted from the fatality of revenge. It is against the intolerable perversion in the order of his fate that the prince turns.

Referring to Heidegger, regarding Anaximander, the circular fatality, within the perspective of right and duty, does not allow one to understand the neurosis, which one so much wanted to explain. Instead of repairing the injustice of the present (aesthetic-psychoanalytic trait), Anaximander, via Heidegger, would rearticulate the disjunction of the present time, understood as a transitory state: the passage of the present time comes from the future, to go in the direction of the past. Anaximander says disjunction, time out of kilter, the injustice of the present, as a condition for justice, for the gift without restitution, without calculation and without accounting. Not through reparation, but through the rearticulation of the disjunction (rearticulation without synthesis).


the neoliberal disguise

And again we are talking here about inheritance and, even more, about the choice that is present in the act of inheriting. But Hamlet's revolt was eventually quelled; his sigh for another justice cut short. In the end, repression prevails, as in Oedipus. Without forgetting, however, Valéry and his important observation that implies a whole spectrological work: “this skull here belonged to Kant, who generated Hegel, who generated Marx…” (Valéry, 1957, t.1, p.993, apud Derrida, 1994, p. 19). Later, curiously, in his book The Politics of the Spirit, Valéry repeats the phrase and omits the name of Marx. “Wither marxism?” This obsession has been present since Hamlet and not even neoliberal hegemony is capable of disguising it. In his victory speech there always appears the spectral shadow of Marxism and the unknown form it may take in the future.


Chris Hani and Marielle

Specters of Marx is dedicated to the memory of Chris Hani, hero of the resistance against the apartheid in South Africa. Murdered on April 10, 1993, the same year the book was published in France, Hani, while throwing bombs at various police stations in the hard times of apartheid, was also known as a charismatic intellectual who promoted passionate discussions about the future of Africa in bookstores, who spoke Latin and loved Hamlet.

Chief of Staff of Umkhontowe Sizwe (MK), the armed wing of Mandela's African National Congress (ANC), Hani organized the armed struggle for liberation from Zambia. From guerrilla fighter to general secretary of the Communist Party of South Africa (SACP) in 1991, he ended up becoming the prince of peace in early 1993, adopting a conciliatory attitude. It was precisely during this period that his assassination would occur, with the clear intention of sabotaging the ongoing democratization process. By order of deputy Clive Derby-Lewis, from the conservative party, a far-right Polish immigrant, Janus Walusz, would fire several shots at Hani, triggering violence in South Africa. The fact is that the effect of the attack, surprisingly, and against all the expectations of the white minority that fought against democracy, gave impulse to the moderates of both sides, allowing a peaceful transition of the country with the victory of Nelson Mandela a year after the outrage.

At this moment, 2022, that is, almost 29 years after the murder of Chris Hani, Brazil is appalled by a crime that took place on March 14, 2018 and has so far not been clarified. A black councilor, such as Chris Hani, would be savagely executed, with all the indications of political motivation. Moments before the attack, Marielle was participating in a meeting called “Young Black Women Moving the Structures”.

Differently from what happened in South Africa, with the rapid elucidation of the case and the arrest of those responsible, Brazil suffers the international embarrassment in the face of a crime that does not stop reverberating precisely because of its lack of clarification. Despite all the movements in solidarity with Marielle, there was no violence in the streets, as there was in South Africa, although in Brazil a strong political polarization offered all the conditions for such conflicts.

Who killed Marielle? At the end of the fateful year of 2018, the electoral victory of the conservative forces explained the non-explosion of violence and the little interest of the judiciary in clarifying the crime. We are still under this state of forces and communists are visualized in the midst of an obsession that reaches the borders of delirium: “communists are infiltrated in the institutions”.

I see a documentary about Marielle on social media (The two tragedies of Marielle Franco). There is no mention of his literary tastes. Nothing appears that she liked Hamlet, but her mother shows several pictures of her, as a child, always in front of books – it was Marielle's demand. In that same documentary, Marielle looks directly at the camera and says: “I am because we are; I am a defender of human rights because we are life”. This phrase, which sounds like an enigma, promotes a displacement of oneself towards the other.

I return to Derrida: “ 'An example' always carries beyond itself; it thus opens up a testamentary dimension. The 'example' is primarily for others and beyond oneself. Sometimes, perhaps always, the person who gives the 'example' is different from the 'example' he gives (he is an imperfect example of the 'example' he gives). Let him give, then giving what he doesn't have and even what he isn't” (Derrida, 1994, p. 54). The life of a living being goes beyond its identity to itself, hence its relationship with the multiple. The skull… which spawned Chris Hani, which spawned Marielle, …

*Rogério Skylab is an essayist, singer and composer.



BLANCHOT, Maurice. Marx's Three Speeches. Marxist Circles – Session 1; Left Block – Porto. Available in: https://circulosmarxistas.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/01-as-trecc82s-palavras-de-marx_mb.pdf

DERRIDA, Jacques. Specters of Marx: the state of debt, the work of mourning and the new International; translation by Anamaria Skinner. Rio de Janeiro: Relume-Dumara, 1994

DERRIDA, Jacques. Force of Law, 'The mystical foundation of authority'. In: Deconstruction and the Possibility of Justice, TR. M. Quaintance, Ed. D. Cornell, M. Rosenfeld, DG Carlson; Routledge, New York, London, 1992.

SHAKESPEARE, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark; translation, introduction and notes by Lawrence Flores Pereira; São Paulo: Penguin Classics Companhia das Letras, 2015.

Valery, Paul. La Crise de l'esprit; Bibliothèque de La Pléiade, Gallimard, 1957.

Documentary The Two Tragedies of Marielle Franco, available in https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hEyl3KR-m3s


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