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Spectres of Interpretation

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Abstract I take up the important notion of “spectres,” addressed by Jacques Derrida in Spectres of Marx and elsewhere, and argue that the very notion of spectres makes absolutely central the question of interpretation, or hermeneutics. Using what I find to be the spectre of Socrates throughout Derrida’s work, and Socrates’ own engagement with various spectres, I develop a reflection on the conception of philosophy that might adequately think the question of interpretation.

1. FN11) James Risser, The Two Faces of Socrates: Gadamer/Derrida, in Dialogue and Deconstruction: The Gadamer-Derrida Encounter, ed. Diane P. Michelfelder and Richard E. Palmer (Albany: SUNY Press, 1989), 176–85.
2. FN22) Jacques Derrida, Spectres de Marx: L’Etat de la dette, le travail du deuil, at la nouvelle Internationale (Paris: Editions Galilee, 1993), 13. My translations will usually follow that of Peggy Kamuf, Spectres of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International (New York: Routledge, 1994), xvii. I shall cite these texts hereafter as SdM and SoM, respectively.
3. FN33) Ὁ δὲ ἀνεξέταστοs βίοs οὐ βιωτὸs ἀνθρώπῳ. Literally, “The unexamined life is not a life for a human being” (Apology 38a, in Platonis Opera, ed. John Burnet [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1958]).
4. FN44) Plato, Letter II, 314c; Letter VII, 341c–d, in Complete Works, ed. John Cooper (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., 1997).
5. FN55) SoM, 32; SdM, 61–62.
6. FN66) Ibid.
7. FN77) Apology 40a.
8. FN88) SoM, xviii; SdM, 14–15. The italics are Derrida’s.
9. FN99) Derrida, Aporias, trans. Thomas Dutoit (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993).
10. FN1010) SoM, 176; SdM, 279.
11. FN1111) Plato, Phaedo 64a, 67e ff, in Platonis Opera.
12. FN1212) Apology 39c–d. I shall have more to say about the temporality of this moment later on.
13. FN1313) Though we must not forget a possible différance of this finitude, Heidegger’s discussions of “Being-a-Whole” (Division II, Part I, in Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. Joan Stambaugh [Albany: SUNY Press, 2010]).
14. FN1414) SoM, 34; SdM, 65.
15. FN1515) For the following remarks I am indebted to my colleague, Maurice Wade, who suggested them in response to an earlier draft of this paper.
16. FN1616) Derrida might well have footnoted Socrates at this point!
17. FN1717) SoM, 89; SdM, 146–47.
18. FN1818) SoM, 90; SdM, 147.
19. FN1919) For extended argument and documentation of this interpretation, see my Finitude and Transcendence in the Platonic Dialogues (Albany: SUNY Press, 1995), especially chap. 7, “But What About The Ideas?”
20. FN2020) In this I have learned from John Sallis, in his own response to my discussion of his The Verge of Philosophy. See his In the Open of the Question, Epoché 13, no. 2 (Spring 2009): 415–20. Much more will need to be said about this open and what I have been calling, perhaps too rigidly, the stance of responsive openness.
21. FN2121) SoM, 13; SdM, 36 (the italics are Derrida’s).
22. FN2222) E.g., SoM, 16, 33, 75, 88.
23. FN2323) SoM, 34, 88; SdM, 65, 145.
24. FN2424) SoM, 33; SdM, 63.
25. FN2525) SoM, 89; SdM, 146 (my parenthesis). I am reminded in this context of a story related by a colleague of mine in the sciences. A famous physicist (I do not remember his name), upon being asked to describe “the scientific method,” replied: “Thinking as hard as you can, with no holds barred.”
26. FN2626) SoM, 88; SdM, 144–45.
27. FN2727) Nietzsche, of course, regularly described himself as ahead of his time. Socrates here describes himself, and so philosophy, as altogether untimely (which is compatible with its being, in another sense, always most timely). Is Derrida here acknowledging that, in his relation to Marx, he is contretemps—or at least is accused of such—in the sense of being after his time?
28. FN2828) SoM, 92; SdM, 150–51.
29. FN2929) See especially SoM, 37–39; SdM, 69–71, from which much of the following discussion will be taken.
30. FN3030) SoM, 39; SdM, 71.

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Affiliations: 1: Trinity College


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