The Marrano Specter: Derrida and Hispanism

The Marrano Specter: Derrida and Hispanism

The Marrano Specter: Derrida and Hispanism

The Marrano Specter: Derrida and Hispanism


The Marrano Specter pursues the reciprocal influence between Jacques Derrida and Hispanism. On the one hand, Derrida’s work has engendered a robust conversation among philosophers and critics in Spain and Latin America, where his work circulates in excellent translation, and where many of the terms and problems he addresses take on a distinctive meaning: nationalism and cosmopolitanism; spectrality and hauntology; the relation of subjectivity and truth; the university; disciplinarity; institutionality.

Perhaps more remarkably, the influence is in a profound sense reciprocal: across his writings, Derrida grapples with the theme of marranismo, the phenomenon of Sephardic crypto-Judaism. Derrida’s marranismo is a means of taking apart traditional accounts of identity; a way for Derrida to reflect on the status of the secret; a philosophical nexus where language, nationalism, and truth-telling meet and clash in productive ways; and a way of elaborating a critique of modern biopolitics. It is much more than a simple marker of his work’s Hispanic identity, but it is also, and irreducibly, that.

The essays collected in The Marrano Specter cut across the grain of traditional Hispanism, but also of the humanistic disciplines broadly conceived. Their vantage point—the theoretical, philosophically inflected critique of disciplinary practices—poses uncomfortable, often unfamiliar questions for both hispanophone studies and the broader theoretical humanities.


Peggy Kamuf

Some of the most vibrant Hispanists working in the United States today are the authors of the essays in this volume, The Marrano Specter: Derrida and Hispanism, which emerged from the 2014 conference on the topic. the essayists agreed to reflect on the figure of the marrano as a way into questions about their field from the angles of the sort of “theory” Hispanism has long reproved and resisted, for the marrano also plays a significant role in the late work of Jacques Derrida, recurring there with some frequency. By pairing the field’s name with Derrida’s, the title of the present volume opens the space of an encounter into which the essays collected here advance at their different rhythms.

The marrano, as traced by Derrida over the last dozen years of his life’s work, is taken on there at multiple levels, beginning perhaps with the level of personal identification out of which unfold various figures of universalization. the identification arises out of the childhood experience among the Jews of Algiers who called circumcision “baptism” and Bar Mitzvah “communion,” through a strange kind of assimilation to or compromise with the dominant Christian culture in which Judaism survives in remnants. in Circumfession (1991), Derrida confesses or feigns to confess: “I am a sort of marrano of French Catholic culture … one of those marranos who no longer say they are Jews even in the secret of their own hearts, not so as to be authenticated as marranos on both sides of the public frontier, but because they doubt everything, never go to confession or give up enlightenment” (170–71).

But from there the figure of the marrano is carried by a force of universalization to which Derrida gives explicit voice. in Aporias (1992) marrano comes to name the universal condition of an impossible relation to death as to a secret. “Let us figuratively call marrano anyone who remains faithful to a secret that he has not chosen, in the very place where he lives, in the home of the inhabitant or of the occupant, in the home of the first or of the second arrivant, in the very place where he sojourns without saying no but without identifying himself as belonging to” (81). Elsewhere, in “Abraham . . .

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