Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Ghost Dance: Derrida, Stiegler, and Film as Phantomachia

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Ghost Dance: Derrida, Stiegler, and Film as Phantomachia

Article excerpt

Against Bernard Stiegler's ontological claim, following Roland Barthes, that in photography the photographic referent "was there," present at one time in the past, Jacques Derrida proposes in Ken McMullen's film Ghost Dance that the photographic referent is self-divided and "never had the form of presence," making film "a phantomachia."

A phantomachia, or battle of phantoms, is staged in the book Echographies of Television between the co-authors Bernard Stiegler and Jacques Derrida, who do not agree on how to expose the "reality" of the photographic, or cinematic, referent as a fiction, as something made. The point of contention between Stiegler and Derrida emerges most sharply in the chapter entitled "Spectographies," in which Stiegler launches a series of questions regarding Derrida's critique of Karl Marx in the movie Ghost Dance, filmed in 1983 by director Ken McMullen. Although the theme of mourning and melancholia borrowed from Freud also dominates Ghost Dance, the dialectical materialism of Marx takes centre stage in "Spectographies" when Stiegler notes the connection between Ghost Dance and Derrida's book Specters of Marx, written ten years later. Indeed, when McMullen asks Derrida to sign his copy of Specters of Marx, Derrida's inscription reads, "Ghost Dance again." This interest in Marx is also motivated by Stiegler's materialist theory of photography and film inspired by his reading of Roland Barthes's book Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. Stiegler launches the interview on the relation of visual technologies to the Marxist topic of materialism, saying to Derrida, "I am talking about matter here especially because everyone knows that Marx is the theorist of dialectical materialism and because you end up challenging Marx's philosophy as a definite figure of materialism [...] on the basis of this question of the specter." Stiegler, furthermore, says to Derrida, "And this leads you to disturb, on the basis of what you call a 'hauntology,' the distinction that Marx is able to make between exchange-value and use-value" (Derrida and Stiegler 125). Stiegler then asks the question that will concern us most in this essay: "Doesn't the Marxian thought of justice stumble here, in the face of a structural difficulty that would essentially have to do with technics?" (126). I will conclude this essay with a brief discussion of how technics disturbs the Marxist opposition of use-value and exchange-value, but the phantomatic figure over which Stiegler and Derrida do battle is Barthes and his fascinating theory of our material relation to the photographic referent.

In order to focus on the differences and the disagreements between Stiegler and Derrida, I will confine my argument to their readings of Barthes's Camera Lucida. Derrida's essay "The Deaths of Roland Barthes" influences Stiegler's interviews with Derrida in Echographies, in his essay "The Discrete Image" at the end of Echographies, and in his three-volume magnum opus Technics and Time, particularly volume two, subtitled Technics and Time, 2: Disorientation. A significant point of difference between Stiegler and Derrida emerges during the interviews in "Spectographies," when Stiegler asks Derrida to comment upon Barthes's claim that in photography, "'I can never deny that the thing was there'" and that "The photo is literally an emanation of the referent" (Derrida and Stiegler 113). (1) Stiegler, then, ironically, cites a line from Ghost Dance that contradicts Barthes's (and his own) ontological claim that the referent of the photograph "was there," or was present at one time in the past. Stiegler quotes Derrida: "To be haunted by a ghost is to remember what one has never lived in the present, to remember what, in essence, has never had the form of presence. Film is a 'phantomachia'. " Stiegler agrees with Barthes that he "can never deny that the thing was there." Derrida, however, questions both Barthes's and Stiegler's certainty regarding the photographic referent, saying that the thing was not there, present in the past, because it "has never had the form of presence. …

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