Derrida’s Hauntology: Spectres of Marx.

Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) is best known for developing a form of semiotic (symbolic) analysis called Deconstruction. He is associated with the movement of Post-Structuralism.

Jacques Derrida against the system
Jacques Derrida

Derrida is not a postmodernist. He writes by reading, or reads by writing. He’s looking for ghosts, partial presences, things that are there but not fully. Spectres, traces, supplementary, what hides from the most through philosophers, who forgot to notice these crucial terms.

All ontology is shadowed by a hauntology. “Of every concept, beginning with the concepts of being and time, There is what we would be calling here a hauntology. Ontology opposes it only in a movement of exorcism.”

Absence is secondary to presence. The ghost occurs halfway between the two. You can kill a term, but you can’t exorcise its ghosts.

Derrida questioned whether there was a thing between the original and its simulacrum. Something not quite dead or alive. 

“I am afraid we are not rid of God because we still have faith in grammar.”


Weber – the sound of God was replaced by the hum of grinding, indifferent machines.

Because somethings dead, they don’t know they’re dead. Lost origin, or aborted future. 

Nostalgia, a pill to the good old days, even if it was a state we never in or had had. The nostalgic dreams of utopia. The haunts of utopia (“no place”) although its lack of existence doesn’t remove any of its efficiency. 

Revolutionaries and reactionaries hold utopia in their hearts, it haunts them, a spectre of something they never had, our childhoods haunt us, as old forms of unity and innocence. 

Although the values of nostalgia were already phantasmic and invented, that’s why they’re called values and not worths. 

The miscarried futures of the past, i.e injustices never brought to justice. Not everyone has nostalgia for the same periods. 

Marxist spectres continue to haunt while the contradictions that he pointed out still remain, inequality, oppression, debt, alienation. 

Postmodernism is also hauntological. The medium of our spectres is no longer the witch medium, but our necromantic machines. 

If this important frontier is being displaced, it is because the medium in which it is instituted, namely, the medium of the media themselves (news, the press, telecommunications, the very possibility of the res publica and the phenomenality of the political) this element itself is neither living nor dead, present nor absent: it spectralizes.”

– Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx, p. 63

Media technology, mobile recording and digital technology, and the constant inundation of the less than present spectres is a big shift. The truth was always mediated, but now it’s endlessly mediated. So the illusion of presence is a rare thing. 

The decentering has been completed, not by postmodernists but by us.

The problem for Derrida was that philosophy was too focussed on presence, that things were real observable things, even when they weren’t. So ghosts and spirits conjured by philosophers, the coherence of their images, perfection and purity, was a bleached and already idealised image. That’s why nostalgia is a ghost of simulacra. 

Derrida’s problem of the grand narrative said Guy Debord was right all along about “The Spectacle”. Everything is a conjuration, an absence in some form when a presence to a machine. Ghosts who don’t know their ghosts. 

It reflects deconstruction. Longing, loss, and fantasy because the time is out of joint. 

Advertisers worked on this, everyone became advertisers for themself. 

People try to say western civilisation is a product of Jerusalem and Athens, but it’s really San Fransisco (Google) and Vegas (Facebook).

All the ghosts were already impure, now their image is also impure, it is an impurity of an impurity. We have seen through the fantasies.

What are these churches now, if they are not the tops and monuments of god? There never was a greater event, and on account of it all, who are born after us belong to a higher history than any history hitherto.”

Nitezsche, The Gay Science.

“The fate of our times is characterised above all, by the disenchantment of the world. — For vilified man death has no meaning. It has none because the individual life of civilised man, placed into an infinite ‘progress’, according to its own imminent meaning should never come to an end, for there is always a further step ahead of one who stand in the march of progress.”

Max Weber – Essays.

No matter how hard you try there is always someone standing further down the line trying to f**k you up. 

You can’t kill what’s already dead, this is what’s haunting capitalism. 

At the time when a new world disorder is attempting to install its neo-capitalism and Neo-liberalism, no disavowal has (yet) managed to rid itself of all of Marx’s ghosts.”

What is the solution? We are already ghosts.

“As the archaeology of out thought shows, man is an invention of recent date. And one perhaps nearing its end, like a face drawn in the sand at the edge of the sea.” –

Foucault, The Order of Things.

History is always ending. But ends are not complete, each end is haunted. 


Author: noz


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