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Stirner (with Marx and Derrida): Neither Material nor Utopian?

  • Susan McManus
Part of the Studies in European Culture and History book series (SECH)

Abstract

Political theory is haunted. Max Stirner is prepared to dispel and exorcise the monsters, specters, demons, ghosts, and phantasms, rational or otherwise, that stalk its pages, inhabit its subjects, and foreclose human potentiality. To read Max Stirner’s The Ego and Its Own, Marx (and Engels) reading of Stirner in The German Ideology, and Derrida’s readings of both these texts in his Specters of Marx is to explore the problematic that the attempt to read the “real” literally gives rise to. It is also to read a tale of hauntings, obsessions, accusations; a battle to reclaim the real against the illusory. Stirner, haunted by illusory forms of authority, the “superior specters” haunting brains and bodies that are simultaneously embodied yet fantastic and spectral, writes an “ego-logical” critique where, in a radically defined “real,” the sole source of authority is an inarticulable profoundly creative “I”; and Marx, through two-thirds of The German Ideology rewrites this “undisguised ghost story,” attempts to exorcise Stirner’s specters in order to reclaim the really real.1 As for Derrida …? At stake in this part of the book are both the possibility and the politics of a post-representational epistemology. There are nevertheless potential dangers in such a project that working through Stirner helps to illuminate. In this chapter, I argue that Stirner aims to perform, through his egological critique, a post-representational renaming of the world. His endeavor is significant and important, and the politics of “insurrection” provocative and necessary. Nevertheless, Stirner’s post-representational renaming of the world is dissociated from a transformative praxis just at the moment when the politics of insurrection seems to demand such a thing (which is not to say, as I shall argue, that he cannot help me figure out “strategies of resistance”).2

Keywords

Political Theory Existential Body Speculative Philosophy German Ideology Real Premise 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology, in Collected Works Vols. I, III, V (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1975), p.130. Hereafter cited as MEGA, volume number and page reference.Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    Roy Bhasker draws distinctions between the empirical, the actual, and the real, “where the latter is conceived as a stratified structure of powers manifested in sequences of events (the actual) which may or may not be experienced by human subjects (the empirical).” Cited in Alex Callinicos, Theories and Narratives: Reflections on the Philosophy of History (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1995), p.40. His point, expressed by Callinicos, is that Marx’s materialism does not rely on the real as self-presence. As I argue later on, language and consciousness preclude this.Google Scholar
  3. 8.
    MEGA, I, p.491, emphasis mine. This is taken from Marx’s doctoral dissertation, completed in 1839. The excerpt continues, “That is the carnival of philosophy, whether it disguises itself as a dog like the Cynic, in priestly vestments like the Alexandrian, or in fragrant spring array like the Epicurean. It is essential that philosophy should wear character masks” (emphasis mine). Despite Althusser’s rather disparaging dismissal of the dissertation in his For Marx as “still the work of a student” in his own thesis that Marx was “never strictly speaking a Hegelian,” I still find this a fascinating and incredibly suggestive passage suggesting not simply the extent to which the real is in need of being made intelligible, but also on the ambiguous and equivocal relation between truth, knowledge, and action (bearing in mind the epistemological implications of the phrase—the real): see For Marx, translated by Ben Brewster (London: Verso, 1996), p.35. For an opposing view to Althusser’s, which reads the dissertation in ironical terms as an attempt to work out how to break from the philosophical past “when that past includes a series of attempts to break from the past,” see John Evan Seery ‘Deviations: On the Difference Between Marx and Marxist Theorists’, in, History of Political Thought 9/2 (Summer 1988), pp.301–325.Google Scholar
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© Susan McManus 2005

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  • Susan McManus

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