The Figure of Jerusalem: Jacques Derrida's Specters of Marx

By Wise, Christopher | Christianity and Literature, Autumn 2004 | Go to article overview

The Figure of Jerusalem: Jacques Derrida's Specters of Marx


Wise, Christopher, Christianity and Literature


"The beautiful golden city is the heart and soul of the Jewish people. You cannot live without a heart and soul. If you want one simple word to symbolize all of Jewish history, that word would be Jerusalem." --Teddy Kolleck, Israeli Mayor of Jerusalem in 1977

"The intifadah is Palestinian self-determination, and is not a figure of speech." --Edward W. Said, The Politics of Dispossession

In this essay, I explore Jacques Derrida's evocation of the Jerusalem figure by contrasting Jewish and Christian approaches to allegorical interpretation, and by closely examining Fredric Jameson's suggestion that Specters of Marx advocates a figurative exegesis or an inherently didactic hermeneutics. The claims of Marxist critics like Antonio Negri and Pierre Macherey that Derrida relies upon a disguised ontological interpretive system are rejected insofar as they imply the impossibility of non-European belief systems. (1) I argue that such readings of Derrida tend to activate the "Shylock Complex," or the violent conversion of the Jew to logocentric modes of interpretation. Deconstruction does not therefore offer us yet another footnote to Plato, or a new way of practicing Western philosophy, but a potentially liberating alternative to dominant Western modes of theorizing the real. However, in describing the "war for the appropriation of Jerusalem," Derrida subordinates &construction to serve the interests of specific politics that are far from neutral. He does this by authorizing a hypostasis of the Jerusalem figure in the pages of Specters of Marx (but also at the "Whither Marxism?" conference in Riverside, California) at the expense of actual Palestinian peoples and the historical city of M-Quds, the Arabic name for Jerusalem. The Jerusalem figure is universalized rather than identified as a strictly Zionist obsession. The inherently didactic nature of this allegorical maneuver is further strengthened by Derrida's assumption of a homiletic and pedagogical posture at the "Whither Marxism?" conference, where he offers to lead disoriented Marxists into the future, provided that they accept his "unalterable" condition of re-politicization: namely, that the Marxist theory of ideology be rewritten as a variety of messianic eschatology, or Abrahamic religion. Derrida seeks to convert Marx into a "thinker of technics," or a deconstructionist avant le lettre. Specters of Marx is haunted by an evangelical spirit, by Derrida's desire to transform Marxism into an imperfect version of deconstruction. Even Francis Fukuyama, a Platonic-Hegelian Liberal, is recast as a "thinker of technics," albeit an immature and childish one. Derrida imagines that his Marxist student-readers are also in need of his benign pedagogical assistance. Specters of Marx is therefore offered to the incompetent reader as a lesson in Middle Eastern politics. To this end, the capital of Elsinore and the medieval kingdom of Denmark from Shakespeare's Hamlet are set before the reader to elicit a judgment about the modern "capital" of Jerusalem and the "rotten" State of Israel. I urge the reader to decline Derrida's charitable gift, as well as his sermonic lesson about the Jerusalem figure and the mortified remains of the messianic. This rejection will almost always be necessary for Christian and Muslim readers of Derrida because his allegedly "universal" concept of messianicity promotes a Jewish concept of the Messiah as a structure of expectation rather than absolute or even historical event.

In Specters of Marx, Jacques Derrida will agree with Max Stirner that "[the Christian God] Jesus is at once the greatest and fine most 'incomprehensible of ghosts,'" a kind of "horrible being [... who] introduced great distress into history" (144). It may well be, however, that there is no ghost in more recent global history that has brought greater distress to human life everywhere, but especially to Levantine peoples in the Middle East, than the ghostly figure that continues to haunt the dreams of Zionists throughout the world: the "symptomatic figure" of a Holy City built upon the ruins of Palestinian Al-Quds (or Arab Jerusalem) and countless Arab lives. …

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