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A question suggests itself -- and I'm certainly not the first to ask it: why in a book ostensibly about Karl Marx does Jacques Derrida divert himself, and us, at such considerable length, considering 'Hamlet'? If we choose not to accuse Derrida of bad faith or wilful obscurantism -- which, anyway, would only show our own bad faith, or an obscure lack of understanding concerning his project -- then we must take him absolutely at his word. We read Spectres of Marx and note that 'Hamlet' allows Derrida to think, and to think of Marx. 'Hamlet' supplies him with the metaphors that allow him to unpack Marx's own metaphors and allow us to see how these metaphors structure Marx, structure 'Hamlet' and could deconstruct (unstructure) our idea both of Marxism and the destructive reality of our capitalist present.


But is something more happening here? Should we ask: can the political only be thought about via/with fictional narrative and the metaphors it lends? Further, can we only think progressively about our collective present and other possible futures if the metaphors we use are deeply embedded in our collective life? Jacques Ranciere, in The Aesthetic Unconscious, problematises our understanding of Freud's use of the Oedipus myth. Did Freud use the Oedipus myth as a metaphor for the unconscious, or was the unconscious already shaped by Oedipus's story? Did Freud use the story or did the story use Freud? Bluntly, I don't think we can think without literature. I don't think we do think without literature. Further, I don't think we can possibly think ourselves out of our current impasse, and the impasse of our thinking, without it.


One of the very many obtuse things about David Shields' obtuse "manifesto" Reality Hunger -- an obtuse book which contains many wonderful quotes about literature and life and which could have been simply a very fine commonplace book -- is its obtuse and strident assertion that the line between the real and the fictive was in any way ever absolute and that the commingling of these two supposedly separate realms will save literature from redundancy.


Mark Fisher describes the foreclosing of (political) thought that could envision different (social) futures as Capitalist Realism. His short book is highly recommended: not least to someone like Shields who seems to think that reality is a given rather than a perpetually socially constructed fiction which we half-wittingly recreate each and every day of our lives.


If the recent banking crisis showed us anything it was that the make-believe is at the heart of what we tell ourselves is real -- and that fiction becomes fact when we have faith enough, or fear, in the (empty) lies that keep us in our places. Those who rule our world kill to maintain the presence of this absence every single day. Every day thousands starve or go cold, kids are bombarded in Iraq whilst neoliberal bloggers cheer, countless bore themselves stupid in offices -- all so that bankers in Saville Row suits are maintained and preserved, and maintain the fiction that thinking beyond a system predicated on their maintainance and preservation is an impossibility.


What is deconstruction? Or, perhaps, that better question from earlier: what was Derrida saying it was when he wrote a book about Marx that was actually much about 'Hamlet'? He was, surely, demonstrating -- more than that, he instantiated it in the very weft and warp of his argument -- that the political is structured by the fictive; is, indeed, always fictive, and needs to be read and understood like this to be undermined and disbelieved.


Things are ever not right here in the 'state of Denmark'. The palace stinks of corruption. The need for change haunts Elsinore; a ghost harrows the corridors and halls. And a spectre is haunting Europe, too: it is called fiction. It is reality's own bad faith. Pace Shields, there is no need to mash-up the fictive and the real to reinvigorate narrative, but there is certainly a need to read the real as always already fictional and thus detonate reality's murderous presumptions.

Readers Comments

  1. Very nice, Mark. And timely. It also helpful in pointing towards the problems with those obtuse (heh) arguments that art must be more explicit in its political "message" or story in order to inform our ability to make sense of the political reality.

  2. Great post, Mark.

    Of course, it is one of Derrida's great merits to have enabled us to take seriously the metaphorics of philosophical texts, to see how theoretical texts which ostensibly seek to operate in a textual medium purged of style, or metaphor, are in fact decisively worked from within by a metaphorics over which they have no ultimate control.

    Yet no-one had understood better the significance of the literary dimension in purportedly non-literary works of philosophy than Plato...&, not least, in the ur-text of (Western) political theory, The Republic.

    The decisive point is the moment at which the text fractures as it seeks to exclude metaphoricity, to distinguish itself as theory in 'opposition' to literature...just as Plato indicates that the state itself fractures as it struggles with the dilemma of the impossibility of either including, or excluding, the philosopher; whilst his own text manifests the impossibility of fulfilling the expressed aim of excluding art from both the philosophical text & the kallipolis.

  3. This was provocative all in the right ways. I haven't read Shield's book, but what kept me away from it was a strong suspicion that it was exactly as you suggest--more of an over-simplification of its own theme--reality vs. fiction. But whether or not Shields' book is, (since not reading it I can't fairly say) what needs to be looked out instead, has been really brilliant said here in your post, Mark.

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