Spectres of Marx – A Christmas Carol?

Cadavers, lifeless bodies, the return of the dead. Over the holiday period the quiet streets of London have been bothering me a little. Alarmed as I am with Christmas carols and hangings on the news – a veritable hauntology has me walking about as if in a dream. Yet people keep on bringing me ghosts. Three times this week, and all through the first term course on Capital, and with two PhD students working the theme (if slowly) into new areas… frightening me to reach for my familiar references – Ghost of Chance by William Burroughs was my first suggestion: it’s a pirate story about Captain Mission (drug fiend, utopianist) and his pet lemur called ‘Ghost’, battling the Christ-Sickness and other plagues destined for the Museum of Lost Species. The Captain himself becomes a ghost on death – stranger than anything Johnny Depp saw Keith Richards do… Of course much more worthy reading on this theme would pursue spirits in Hegel, Marx, the spectral…

So scholars may be worried by spooky stories. But what, I wonder, is all this anxiety about really? Haunting and ghosts are interesting as metaphor or trope certainly. But incorporeality and disembodied form just doesn’t do much – it seems intangible, somewhat vacuous. These ghosts on their own are a bit whispy, shady and faint. I need to find bodies that matter – and I want to know just what point of connection all the current death-talk might have to the socio-political world. It seems a bit abstract at present. So I have two sets of questions:

A. Should not all this talk of ghosts first of all be connected to the forgotten inmates of Guantanamo? To the spectral dead of the twin towers? To the thousands killed by imperialism in Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Somalia? These ghastly scenes should surely scare us. Somebody needs to organise more than a séance to set the creaking of the system into context – this entire planet is haunted, the walking dead are legion. Vampires suck our flesh.

B. The theme of ghosts might also be questioned as a focus for social theory – I mean, why have these apparitions returned with a vengeance just now? Perhaps the abundance of ghost writings that have appeared since Derrida wrote Spectres of Marx indicates the powerful return of Christianity and/or Christmas pasts: Scrooge and/or the Holy Ghost struts the world stage in a way not seen since temperance. Is this secularism in retreat before the new manifestations of fundamentalism(s)? Or was secularism always underpinned with a faulty reading of Marx’s opiate routine? The first cry of the oppressed masses is a commune with the dead…

Is this the fetish character of capital turned into demons and ghouls? The residue of the dead body. In many stories ghosts can travel through walls and now they seem to have infiltrated everything everywhere. I have been disturbed the past few days by a story Mick Taussig tells in his great new book Walter Benjamin’s Grave, where our intrepid anthropologist-hero is asked by a Putumayo farmer if he knows how to smuggle cocaine past the police and army guards. He did not. “Well, you get a dead baby and open up the abdomen, remove the intestines, pack cocaine paste in, sew up the abdomen and, with the baby at the breast the good mother cuddles her precious cargo through the roadblocks and, who knows, perhaps to Miami and New York as well” (in Taussig 2006:86).

The residue is now also in the body. We certainly welcomed the New Year in high spirits. I find all this as shocking as the grainy images of Saddam on his string. No longer pantomime.


2 thoughts on “Spectres of Marx – A Christmas Carol?

  1. From an essay I was gonna use, on hauting death-images.



    A state that lives more and more in and through a regime of the image does not know what to do when, for a moment, it dies by the same lights. It does not matter that ‘economically’ or ‘geopolitically’ the death may be an illusion. Spectacularly it was real. And image-death—image-defeat—is not a condition this state can endure.

    It feels the cold hand of the image-event at its throat. It lives and relives the moment that its machines always had lying in wait for it—the violent rendezvous of speed with enormity, the non-human of technology meeting the non-human of accumulation.

    And where, in the end, is the image the war machine has been looking for – the one to put paid to the September haunting? Toppling statues, Presidents in flight jackets, Saddam saying ‘Aah’ [or, as Dr. Hutnyk says, hanging by his string – Tex.] , embedded toadies stroking the barrels of guns . . . wake us (wake the whole world of couch potatoes) when it’s over.



  2. Fri Jan 5, 2007 7:01 am (PST)

    Libya to Erect Statue of Saddam on the Gallows

    “Libya has announced that, in memory of former Iraqi dictator Saddam
    Hussein, it will erect a statue of him standing on the gallows. Iraqi
    officials have arrested two guards who taunted Saddam as he was being

    A video taken during Saddam’s execution has raised hackles across the
    Sunni Muslim world.
    With much of the Arab world up in arms over the hanging of former
    Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein on Saturday, it didn’t take long for
    Libya to jump into the fray. The government in Tripoli announced on
    Thursday that it was planning to erect a statue of Saddam, depicting
    him standing on the gallows. He will join a similar monument to the
    Libyan freedom fighter Omar Mukhtar, a national hero who was executed
    in 1931 after fighting against the Italian occupation.

    “The revolutionary committees have decided to erect a statue of Saddam
    Hussein standing beside Omar Mukhtar on the gallows,” the government
    said in a press release.”



Comments are closed.