Derrida’s Spectres of Marx is a frustrating book. For someone capable of such careful readings, Derrida’s references to Marx are remarkably sloppy, and, as with a lot of his later work, the obsessively spiraling style appears hollow rather than beguiling (it’s not as bad as The Politics of Friendship, but what is). But the central theme of the text is undeniably interesting. Derrida identifies in Marx an uneasiness with his (Marx’s) own analysis, with Marx constantly discovering the spectral nature of capitalism, which he continuously seeks to deny or deflect with a focus on life as a material positivity.
It would be pointless to deny that Marx is sometimes vitalist, although this is not a simple organicist praise of life as vital spirit. Rather, Marx connects life with productive potential, first of all in the figure of “living labor,” but in more depth in Marx’s description of the fundamentally excessive nature of the proletariat, the surplus population necessarily produced by capitalism. In Capital, the descriptions of overpopulation evoke compression and pressure, a pressure that the capitalist authorities quoted inevitably figure in terms of a danger that is equally biological, moral, and political.
However, although Marx does, as Derrida writes, sometimes oppose and seek to exorcise the spectral, he doesn’t do so in the name of this vitalism. Read more↴
Walter Benn Michaels has recently been partying like it’s 1988 and engaging in a critique of identity politics. Lenin has already done a good job dismantling Michaels’s simplistic view of race, but what’s so frustrating about Michaels is that the economically-focused politics he prescribes is as deeply embedded in neoliberalism as the politics of diversity he rejects. Michaels criticizes a certain employment of “diversity” to promote an image of equality that does not challenge the fundamentals of economic inequality. This is true, although hardly new, and Michaels’s presentation is particularly simplistic. What he fails to realize, moreover, is that the sort of economic equality he champions is just as neoliberal.
Michaels puts forward a common but quite false presentation of neoliberalism as being unconcerned by economic inequality. Read more↴
Some of the things that made ABC’s new show V terrible can doubtless be attributed to the constraints of making a pilot: the rushed pace, the thin characterization, the complete lack of any visual design sense, perhaps even the terrible dialogue. But the main problem is the show’s politics, which are so stupid as to become offensive. The problem derives in part from the original miniseries, a well-meaning anti-fascist allegory (which opens with a scene of heroic Sandinistas), in which the fascists are reptilian aliens from outer space; the difficulty, of course, being that the idea of an insidious alien threat is itself an uncomfortably fascist one. Still, the original miniseries skirts over this problem, and focuses on collaborators with and resistors to this rising fascism.
The remake, on the other hand, takes this potentially fascist starting point and really fucking runs with it. The new aliens aren’t just lizards, they’re secret lizards who have infiltrated the government and the media, and now they are offering universal healthcare as an attempt to poison humanity’s precious bodily fluids. They are, in other words, an anti-semitic stereotype. Now, I’m not saying that ABC and the makers of V are actually anti-semites. Rather, by making vague and deeply stupid gestures towards contemporary politics (ooh, universal healthcare, how topical), the show accidentally exposes underlying anti-semitism in contemporary political discourse: it’s the teabaggers and birthers as sci-fi (and it’s surely no accident that the one significant black character in the pilot has a secret radical past, and the same beard as ex-Maoist Van Jones).