As we endure the 200th anniversary of Marx’s birth, is there any hope left that the spectre he conjured in The Communist Manifesto might finally be exorcised?
The exorcism of the spectre of communism is, first of all, dependent on a spectre being negatively conceived. To exorcise this spectre would be to evict a great negativity — something past; something no longer alive which bothers the present in its restlessness.
The preferred formulation, for this blog, following Fisher, is surely Herbert Marcuse’s spectre, twisting time as the “spectre of a world that could be free.”
Marcuse’s spectre is, in this way, an eerie entity: an atemporal failure of absence and presence. It haunts but is nonetheless speculative — a ripple in spacetime that teases that which is not (yet) ours.
In this way, Marx’s and Marcuse’s spectres are not ghosts. To take a very recent example, we can consider them to be spectral holograms, like those found in Blade Runner 2049.
In the film, Ryan Gosling’s character, K, is “haunted” by the spectre of a normative existence, “personified” (predictably) by his holographic AI girlfriend Joi.
Whilst Joi is commodified in advertisements exacerbating the USP of her sexual desirability, she is likewise the spectre of K’s desired domesticated future — an existence that is (he hopes) to come rather than one that is lost.
Joi is not a spectre of what was once had. She is a hologram of that which has so far resisted full materialisation. For K, this is a mirroring of his unconsolidated self. We, however, needn’t solidify our limitations in this same way.
The challenge of Marx’s thinking today, 200 years on, is surely to shift the hauntological image of the ghostly spectre towards a reinvestment in immaterial forces, directing flows towards the revolution we no longer desire with the same intensity as we once did.