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Jesus’ Ghost – Derrida, Christianity, and “Hauntology”, Part 2

The following is Part 2 of a 3-part series by Victor Taylor on how one might reflect theologically on Jesus and the Christian message from a Derridean perspective that departs significantly from the work of John D. Caputo. The first part was published in Religious Theory on April 27, 2016.  This section considers the meaning of the term “heritage.”

The un-closable “phantasmagoria” that supposedly first begins “before itself,” as we see from Derrida, belongs explicitly to a hauntological condition, the persistent deconstructive space of différance as the plenitude of capacities.  In this sense, every offered “phantasm,” spiritual or purportedly material, is doubled or tripled or, simply, infinitely multiplied in its inevitable return not to a secure “grounded” ground (crypt) but instead to a mystical, abyssal, not synthetic, remaindered condition—an aporia. In this “spectered” and incomplete-able dynamic, ground is “phantasm,” that which is lacking in an auto-genetic originary space, which means that it is not self-generating, self-sustaining, “autonomic,” or immune from deconstructing in the abyss of “before itself,” as described by Derrida.

This insight, which is consistent with Derrida’s long- standing deconstruction of western metaphysics, has significant implications for the establishment of a particular kind of “heritage,” more specifically a “heritage” that is posited as being “ghostly” when it is in fact “spectral.”

Spectral heritages, with all their acknowledged capacities and traces, therefore, are out of compliance with what one might conventionally expect from a traditional heritage— clear inheritances that are presumed to touch or rest upon a “possible,” primal, really real ground of an undisturbed, pure, “crypted” tradition. This is why in Paper Machine Derrida writes, “[w]hat does inheriting from a tradition mean in these conditions, when one thinks from within it and thinks in its name, for sure, but against it in its name, against the very thing it will have thought it had to save in order to survive by losing itself?”

Derrida continues, “Again the possibility of the impossible: inheritance would only be possible at the point where it becomes the im-possible. This is one of the possible definitions of deconstruction—as inheritance. I did propose this once: deconstruction might perhaps be “the experience of the impossible.”11 A spectral inheritance, as opposed to a ghostly inheritance, acknowledges the “possibility of im-possibility” as it relates to a demand, obligation, undertaking or what I will discuss later in terms of Derrida’s reading of Heidegger, Zusage. If inheritance is deconstruction and vice versa, then we are brought back to the most fundamental aspect of Derridean inquiry, the “structure of the aporia.”12

The Spectre of the Aporia

Spectrality, within the conceptual space of “aporia,” then, deconstructs the foundation seeking presumptions of (traditional) heritage and this on-going work of spectralization, which is similar to the “work of mourning” (the reader will recall it appears in the subtitle of Specters of Marx) where the trace of the other is acknowledged, is further analyzed by Derrida in the context of the digital, virtual humanities.

In the chapter entitled “Artifactualities” from Echographies of Television, Derrida writes that, “to inherit is not essentially to receive something, a given that one may then have. It is an active affirmation, it answers an injunction, but it also presupposes initiative, it presupposes a signature or counter-signature of a critical selection.”13 This comment prefigures and directly relates to Derrida’s later statement that “deconstruction is inheritance.”  As I will describe later, deconstruction can take on a palintropic character, a recursive and startling returning to a text, tradition, or heritage. Inheriting this aspect of deconstruction, let’s say, means accepting the proliferating context of an area of inquiry, reworking the work of the text in order to reveal its aporetic lines.

In a so-called typical “traditional, pure heritage,” however, traditions and things are passed forward, inherited by someone or bequeathed to someone in a strongly non-reflexive or non- recursive capacity—one, as a subject, in receiving a traditional, pure heritage, is traditionally under the strict obligation of the unmitigated inheritance; one, again, as a subject, “carries on” a heritage and when the time comes strictly bequeaths it forward in relation to a set of acquired, unmitigated responsibilities. In other words, confers a legacy. The point, however, is to see this work of inheritance in the opposite way, as not “strict” but as thoroughly mitigating, deconstructing; giving and receiving a “heritage” is, in fact, “un-restricted,” strongly reflexive, like, as Derrida notes in the subtitle of Specters of Marx, the work of mourning.

In the context of Derridean spectrality, a traditional relationship of a subject to a “heritage” and to the work of inheritance (receiving and bequeathing) is shown to be more than merely custodial—someone, a subject (a legacy), who will bequeath and to whom something is bequeathed, contrary to the typical strictures or conventions of tradition, actually shapes the “inheritance”/“heritage,” modifies and deconstructs it, defaces it in the “act” of stewardship: “When one inherits,” Derrida writes, “one sorts, one shifts, one reclaims, one reactivates”14 [my emphasis]. This is what Derrida means when he states that “deconstruction is inheritance.”

“Heritage,” which comes from an inheritance, then, is from this perspective precisely the opposite of how it is conventionally understood as a simple, perhaps even dogmatic, “bequeathing,” “receiving” and, in general, a “carrying on” of a discursive assemblage by a subject of a tradition.   “Heritage,” in general, along with its receiving and bequeathing subjects, becomes, for Derrida, “spectral,” mitigated, deconstructed, and haunted by the ghosting of ontology/teleology or the heritage’s own inability to maintain and sustain its commands, its presumed incorrigibility, and its purported “strict purity.”

In addition, a heritage or, for that matter, any heritage, spectralized and (already) under deconstruction in advance, is not composed along a direct, immutable chain of custody; it does not remain confined to a “strict purity” of giving and accepting, as Derrida points out; it is, instead, “chaotic,” haunted by numerous spectral possibilities and capacities—codicils, mitigations, litigations, and qualifications that shape its coming and going in and out of possession. I would argue that this notion of “strict impurity,” to offset “strict purity,” is one of the major lessons of Specters of Marx. “Marx” and Marxism, for Derrida, are best configured or disfigured as, let’s say, “strictly” haunted, surrounded by a multitude of spectral possibilities . . . plural capacities for inheritances and disinheritances.

Like every “heritage,” whether it accepts it or not, Marxism, according to Derrida, provides many (dis)inheritances or disfigurations . . . it un-restrictedly bequeaths many “items” and obligations that are, contrary to the “business model” logic of “Marx & Sons,” to be modified, mitigated, litigated, and/or deconstructed. The point to remember from Derrida’s analysis is that a “heritage,” any “heritage” does not move with, as I have mentioned, immutable and direct access to “strict purity”; moving as a ghost without a visor, fully “crypted.”

In fact, from a deconstructive perspective, each “heritage” is highly plastic and “strictly spectral” in its capacities. The question, then, arising out of the spectral displacement of a formerly re- stricted “purity,” is, which “heritage” or “heritages” (dis)emerge into the world? Express their capacities against a full “closing of the crypt”? Furthermore, one can ask, What is it that we, as subjects of the Marxist heritage, inherit? Are we simply left with the inheritance of a hegemonic “Marx and Sons,” as Derrida’s interlocutors affirm? The “strict purity” of “use-value/exchange- value” reality and its attending ideology (super-structure)? Or, are “Marx” and Marxism less orthodox, even heterodox, un-restricted in (dis)inheriting or possessing and dispossessing of many possibilities and capacities?

Clearly, for Derrida, given his emphasis on “sorting,” “shifting,” “reclaiming,” and “reactivating” of inheritances, it is the latter.15 He states as a “hypothesis” that “there is always more than one spirit. Whenever one speaks of spirit one immediately evokes spirits, specters, (my emphasis) and whoever inherits chooses one spirit over another.”16 The specific lesson is that “Marx” and Marxism, “inherently/inherit-ly,” produce “spectral-effects”—neither, in their traditional configuration, disfigurations, or conjuration, are sufficiently inoculated from the replicating force of différance—the splitting or doubling of spirit, which Derrida understands as the work of hauntology.

More generally speaking, however, the lesson to be drawn from Derrida’s analysis is that all “heritages,” not just “Marx’s” or Marxism’s, come to rest on a similar “double bind,” an aporetic doubleness that is associated with spectrality, with each iteration of “heritage” explicitly not arising from a “strict purity” that is presumed to be resistant to the proliferating force of (dis)inheriting acts and (dis)inheriting capacities.

The Derridean deconstruction of “Marx” and “Marxism” most noticeably occurs when, as Derrida observes, the “strict purity” or supposed dialecticized base/super-structure of a system, any system is doubted—when, through hauntological inquiry, it becomes visibly un-restricted to an openness to other (spectral) possibilities and capacities. In other words, it’s prior “inapparent” condition is made more apparent by the plurality of its (the system’s) possibilities and capacities, past, present, and future.

What this means, finally, is that Specters of Marx is not an inquiry restricted to the examination of one inheritance from Marx or Marxism; the book, as an instance of hauntological inquiry, a “case study,” is very much un-restricted in its scope and can be read as having little to do with choosing or, for that matter, defending the “proper” ideological strictures of Marx or Marxism— of settling a dispute over which particular inheritance is the most pure.

Its focus, as Derrida continually points out in the work and elsewhere, is more keenly placed on seeing/spying “Marx” and “Marxism’s” “generalized practice of spectrality” across the expansive (dis) inheritance “spectrum,” an inheritance spectrum that ironically creates the obligation for a deconstruction of any and all “heritages” that purport, in their appeal to a “closed crypt,” to be “strictly pure” or orthodox.

It is very important at this juncture to keep in mind that “heritages,” political, religious, cultural, social, have, in their un-restricted nature, immense powers to create obligations and, in effect, to produced subjectivities or create the spaces within which subjectivities can openly (dis)emerge. For Derrida, this occurs when inheritances “retain an undecideable reserve”: “Only when the assignations are multiple and contradictory is there inheritance, only when they are secret enough to challenge interpretation, to call for limitless risk of interpretation. . . . When there is no double-bind there is no responsibility.”17 Inheritance requires that a subject (dis)emerge into a “capacity” reserve of plurality, not purity. That is to say, we inherit the responsibility, if one wishes to call it that, of acknowledging that the world that (dis)emerges for us does not capture in its entirety the reserve of plural worlds and aporetic capacities.

In the example of Marxism, which we have been discussing via Derrida, it is not enough or, perhaps, was not enough to be in distanced or in close solidarity with Marxist ideology from the viewpoint of “heritage-Marxists,” one has or had to accept the obligation/inheritance purely and completely—in other words, one had “to be” a Marxist—interpellated as a Marxist subject . . . no half-measure. It is clear that Specters of Marx was, in part, Derrida’s successful attempt to “short-circuit” or un-restrict the hegemonic, strictly pure discourse of his Marxist interlocutors. Spectral inheritance, as opposed to ghostly bequeathal, therefore, evokes and honors plurality and disrupts purity—there is a radical break in and departure from the traditional concept of a Marx & Sons as a “Heritage & Sons.”

On a larger scale, however, as I have mentioned, plurality also must be seen in the context of subject modelization. For instance, the power of a “heritage” or any “heritage” to interpellate or hail subjects extends well beyond the ideological mechanisms of just Marxism. Religious heritages, obviously, interpellate or hail subjects all the time—even though one can call someone an “adherent” to a belief or faith system, it is more properly stated that someone “is” a Jew, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jain, etc. Perhaps, in the effort to be precise, it would be better to say that someone occupies a very particular, although not necessarily exclusive, discursive space or heritage-space in which a person (dis)emerges as a subject of a “religious” inheritance.

From this Derridean insight, the overall lesson to be learned from Specters of Marx regarding spectrality’s “double bind” is that heritages simultaneously unfold in this general process of interpellation within and against strictures. Subjects will emerge in, against, and through what will be identified as non-exclusive, responsible “heritages,” “heritages” that pass down objects and obligations that do not conveniently overlook their troublingly “haunted” and un-restricted conditions. One can infer from Derrida’s analysis that these “haunted” heritages present moments that can potentially create subjects of “responsibility”—subjects who deliberate over the implications of accepting or, for that matter, not accepting a heritage and its inheritances:

We inherit language in order to be able to bear witness to the fact that we are inheritors. That is to say, we inherit the possibility of inheriting. The fact that we inherit is not an attribute or an accident; it is our essence, and this essence, we inherit. We inherit the possibility of bearing witness to the fact that we inherit, and this is language. We receive as our share the possibility of sharing, and this is none other than the possibility of inheriting. This structure seems circular, clearly it is, but it becomes all the more striking as a result. We are drawn into this circle in advance. We inherit nothing, except the ability to inherit and to speak, to enter into a relation with language, with law or with “something” that makes it possible for us to inherit, and by the same token, to bear witness to this fact of inheriting . . . We are witnesses, by bearing witness to—thus by inheriting—the possibility of bearing witness.18

What is it that we know we inherit? The answer, the “impossibility of the task of inheriting,” Derrida later writes.19   We cannot inherit cleanly or purely, without any relation or responsibility or deliberation. Implicit in every opportunity for inheritance also is the prospect of disavowal. This is a crucial point in that the relationality of inheriting places an unanswerable demand on the subject who is called upon to “inherit”; this is a “relationality” that transforms into a second demand to be responsible for the incomplete forming of relation itself. . . to language, to law, to the “something,” to the other that placed it under the obligation in the first place.

This is what I define as the generic burden of hauntology that Derrida leaves to us—the impossibility of completing the task of inheriting, of resting on the strict purity of inheritance, the orthodoxy of a language within and from which one is bequeathed something, if anything. Derrida presses this impossibility further when he says that “there is nothing; we inherit nothing. In fact, the dead are dead.”20

This, however, doesn’t mean that inheriting doesn’t “transfer” something—the dead return as specters: “Just because the dead no longer exist does not mean that we are done with specters. On the contrary. Mourning and haunting are unleashed at this moment. They are unleashed before death itself, out of the mere possibility of death, that is to say, of the trace, which comes into being as immediate sur-vival—and as ‘televised.’”21 The dead, understood as “not existing” but also as not being done with us, occurs as an emergency, an event that comes into being as alternative possible worlds, worlds that demand that the subject accept the impossible task of inheriting completely.

It is only the non-existing dead, as specters, who can produce the space for mourning and haunting, simultaneously. Yes, one can say, Marx is dead and Marxism, then, for Derrida (because we are not done with specters), becomes the space for the impossibility of inheriting “Marx,” with all the codicils and variations. The specters of Marx proliferate away from the condition of strict purity and mystical foundation. This is the important hauntological lesson that teaches us that, among other things, we inherit “the possibility of bearing witness.”

Just as Derrida deconstructed the widely accepted notion that a “heritage” or any “heritage” is “strictly pure,” he, additionally, by extension, deconstructed the accompanying notion that the subjectivities following such a “heritage” also are “strictly pure’ or, even, “necessary” as products of a tradition. From this section and the previous section, it should be clear going forward, as a working premise for the latter parts of this study, that the long held notion that the ontological spaces and related subjectivities that follow them are complete, restricted, and necessary is untenable, especially given the economy of hauntology.

That is, with the many traces that comprise what I’m calling hauntological emergence, which form “spectral heritages,” come “spectral subjectivity or subjectivities,” subject-formations made possible by the un-restricted additions, subtractions, and infinite changes in (plural and emergent) heritage-worlds. If there are “specters of Marx and Marxism,” as Derrida argues, then what would be the attending or (dis)emerging subjectivities to these spectrally troubled inheritances?

This is an expansive question (the production of spectral subjectivities vis-à-vis haunted origins) and one well beyond the scope of just Marxism, with many possible answers appearing in the form or context of “varieties” of a tradition. Each “spectralized” heritage, Marxist or other, would need to bear witness to the impossibility of a pure inheritance by claiming only a particular “inheritance” or bequeathal with the acknowledgement that there are others “shares” to be distributed, sifted, and sorted.

While our focus thus far has been on the “Marx” and “Marxism” heritage, it is fairly easy to see that Derrida’s discussion of the significance of “heritage” extends well beyond the Marxist tradition—hauntology proliferates across all traditions. The control of “heritage,” as we have seen, is a foundational problem for traditions in particular and in general. For instance, a “heritage” that has been spectralized is “out-of-control” and oddly positioned to ask questions about what it in fact bequeaths and what kinds of subjects it in fact creates in the work of passing on its so-called inheritance tasks and obligations.

If every “heritage” therefore is in a “double-bind,” then it stands to reason that every heritage must open a space for the work of responsibility—the sorting, shifting, and filtering, to paraphrase Derrida, of that which it presents to be inherited. This point is emphasized time and again by Derrida in “Artifactualities.” He even goes so far in his discussion as to suggest that we have a responsibility, perhaps even a duty, to sort, shift, and filter the inheritance we receive from our heritages of which we have never been aware: “. . . even people who haven’t read Marx, or who have never so much as heard his name, even anti-communists or anti-Marxists are inheritors of Marx. And then, is it not possible to inherit from Marx without inheriting from Shakespeare, without inheriting from the Bible and from quite a few other things, too.”22 It is this observation by Derrida that opens the most pressing questions, what else and from whom does one inherit? What else is one responsible for and to? What else must we bear witness to . .with and without knowing it?

The preceding questions allow, now, for a turn in the inquiry—a turn away from the specificity of “Marx” and “Marxism,” but not away from the topic of “heritage,” “inheritance,” and “responsibility.” Derrida brings this portion of his discussion of metaphysics to a close on the topic of the “history of ghosts,” which marks three specific heritages or relations of consciousness to objects. The first is “the relation of consciousness to the object as truth or as relation to the truth as mere object.” This speaks to history of the ghost that requires that mind must transparently correlate to the world—object dominated metaphysics. The second is “the relation of consciousness insofar as it is the true, to the object.” The history of the ghost, here, refers to the heritage in which there is a subject dominated metaphysics. The third is the “true relation of consciousness with truth.” This, given the previous context, refers to Hegelian Idealism.

While these are clear “markers” of the history of the ghost or the history of philosophy, it is Derrida’s concluding discussion of this “history” that will allow our turn to “other” heritages, namely Christianity. In concluding an overview of the “history of ghosts,” Derrida surprisingly writes that “this tripleness reflects the Trinity: God the Father, Christ, and the Holy Spirit.”23 He adds that, “the spirit provides mediation, thus passage and unity. It gives rise, by the same token, to the metamorphosis of the spiritual into the spectral.”24 It is, of course, much more complicated than this both historically and theologically. The “procession” of the “Holy Ghost” is the major issue upon which the Great Schism of 1054 occurs.

The “single procession,” by which the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father alone would, as I read Derrida, fit with his comment regarding “passage and unity.” The “double procession,” however, would then work as an example the spiritual “metamorphosing” into the spectral. What does this mean? In the “double procession,” with the Holy Ghost coming from two sources, the Father and Christ, spectrality thus appears at the origin of Christian theology. Granted the Father and Christ are one, but the “doubling” of the procession produces a double-bind, a difference at the source, which then becomes, following Derrida, spectral and not spiritual.

As is made clear in Derrida’s example, the questions of the spirit and the history of the ghost are very much linked to a concern beyond the specific issue of Marxism. I would argue that, for Derrida, the importance of hauntology directly lies it is general connection to this “metamorphosis of the spiritual into the spectral.” This translates into a concern for how heritages literally transition from unity to plurality or transcendence to immanence. What better example can be found of this than the “Holy Spirit,” the “Holy Ghost,” spectralized through what Derrida refers to the opening epigraph as the “Christic moment”?

The Spectres of Jesus in Christianity

From this point forward, I will be more interested in focusing on a very different “heritage,” inheritance, and obligation . . . not that of “Marx” and “Marxism,” but, namely, that of “Jesus” and “Christianity”—the Derridean “Christic moment.” After all, isn’t it Derrida who says that we “inherit” from the Bible as well as Marx and Shakespeare? What I am arguing is that by extending Derrida’s analysis of the concepts of heritage and “spectrality” in this way, as we have discussed it, it is possible to see Derrida’s “belated,” “premature,” and, in this instance, spectral deconstruction of “Marx” and “Marxism” mapping directly onto the “spectral heritage” of “Jesus” and “Christianity,” if not all figures and heritages.

There is a strong supporting context for moving the concept of spectral-deconstruction into a discussion of the “Christic moment” as it relates to the larger heritage problem of linking “Jesus” and “Christianity.” This commerce between a Jesus-figure and a Christian-heritage already has been proffered by none other than Derrida himself in his discussion of Stirner, in which he (Derrida), as the epigraph notes, views “Jesus” as the “greatest and most incomprehensible of ghosts,” a ghost par excellence. Perhaps more directly, John D. Caputo, as we have seen, in making the case for a “religion without religion,” affirms the generalized hauntology behind this spectral move when he writes, “The ghost, the revenant, is the ever recurrent specter, the messianic prospect of the tout autre who haunts our self-presence, our self-sufficiency, who disturbs the order of the same, who comes to us as the voice of the dead to whom we bear a responsibility, and as the voice of the ones still to come, as those others, other-than-the-living present who lay claim to us.”25

Traditionally, “Marx and Marxism” and “Jesus and Christianity,” as a conjoined figure/heritage dynamic, set out to “lay claim to us,” as Caputo writes, when they produce particular subject positions or subject-obligations through a heritage demand. That is, figures and heritages allow subjects, in general, to emerge within a space of inheritance. However, in this space of inheritance, what should be understood as a “pluriverse” of un-restricted legacies, spectral obligations that “lay claim to us,” instead appears as univocal space within a traditional configuration of subjectivity.

Derrida’s “Marx-ic” and “Christic” moments, consequently, permit the forestalling or, possibly, the avoiding of dogmatism, political and theological. The result is a marriage of deconstruction and inheritance which, perhaps, substantiates a more inclusive, wider “spectrum” of actual and virtual subjectivities that take on what Derrida views as the impossible task of inheriting—bearing witness to the relationships formed with language and “something.”

The crucial question, which we already have begun to answer, at this point is, How do we get from “specters of Marx and Marxism” to “specters of Jesus and Christianity”? I will argue that it is through Derridean deconstruction’s concept of the “wholly other,” which I will argue is at the core of his discussion of hauntology. Just as “Marx” and “Marxism,” through a “spectral analysis,” become wholly plural, so, too, do “Jesus” and “Christianity.” In fact, John D. Caputo, again, in The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, refers to the way in which deconstruction itself disallows for a “regathering” or “reassembling” of a complete system—the basic lesson of deconstruction. I would argue that this could be extended to include any previously totalized figure/heritage based system in which the figure purportedly gives rise to the heritage . . .whether Marx/Marxism or Jesus/Christianity or, even, Paul/Christianity.

One could ask, as Caputo does, “But what about Jesus?” And, the answer, more or less, is that Jesus, and I will argue like Marx (although Caputo does not take it this far), becomes in this instance a “disfiguring” figure—a subject who deeply interrupts the reconfiguration or-re- completion of a totality sans spectrality.

The whole point of the tout autre in deconstruction, the cutting edge behind this idea, if it is an idea, its burning passion, is a messianic one, to keep the system open, to prevent the play of differences from regathering and reassembling in a systematic whole with infinite warrant, and to take its stand with everyone and everything that is rejected and expelled by this omnivorous gathering, everything that is disempowered by all this power, with everyone who suffers at the hands of this gathering power, with all the detritus and excrement of the System.26

From Caputo’s application, derived directly from a close reading of Derrida and further mapped onto Christianity in his short book What Would Jesus Deconstruct?, Jesus, as a messianic figure, holds “open the door” of the would-be closed and total system, preventing it from a self-shutting and thus creating an “inside” separated from an “outside.” The messianic Jesus, then, is unique among the range of “Jesuses” in that he, as representing the wholly other in Christianity, “keeps the system open,” and, more significantly, open to “everyone and everything that is [would be] rejected and expelled” from a totalized, self-shutting “ghosted” Christianity.

This, I will point out, is to no one’s surprise the exact same lesson that Derrida draws from his astute examination of “Marx” and “Marxism”—that “Marx” is a “messianic subject” (wholly other) and a figure who produces a “messianic” subjectivity that prevents the ideological “heritage” or “political philosophy” from enclosing itself. The Derridean insight, quite apart from Caputo’s “Jesus who deconstructs,” here is complex and, at the same time, crucial insofar as we have a Jesus who, like Marx, holds open heritages—a figure, understood as an un- restricted spectral figure, that is not necessarily nor exclusively a member of the heritage that he historically and theological founds.

The “modelization” of un-restricted, spectral subjectivities that then follows from this deconstructive instance, I will argue, becomes hauntingly radical—Founding Figure ∉ Heritage, Marx ∉ Marxism, Jesus ∉ Christianity, Paul ∉ Christianity . . . thislogic would then include any founding figure, through a spectralization of subjectivity, who stands outside of or is not restricted to or is not an exclusive member of a heritage, a heritage that is ironically founded upon that very figure’s presumed “strictly pure” subjectivity.

A “Jesus who deconstructs” is an important consideration in this hauntological recalibrating of the “Christic moment” in Christianity; however, to truly get the Derridean point, one needs to posit not just a “Jesus who deconstructs,” but a “deconstructing Jesus”—a Jesus-subjectivity, like a Marx-subjectivity, that undergoes radical interpellation from a plurality of “heritages.”

One of the most significant recent examinations of the relationship between Jesus or a Jesus-subjectivity, as I have called it, and the traditional Christian “heritage” is Carl A. Raschke’s GloboChrist: The Great Commission Takes a Postmodern Turn.27 In the book, which is designed to appeal to a wide audience, including the “Churched,” which is unusual for a scholarly study, Raschke introduces the concept of “GloboChrist” to complicate the reader’s understanding of a Jesus-subjectivity as well as the reader’s attending understanding of the tradition that follows from it, namely the heritage of the “Great Commission.” For Raschke, Jesus and the Christian heritage must be viewed “spectrally,” although he doesn’t use that particular term, in order to see a Jesus or Jesus-subjectivity as emerging within a contextualizing, deconstructing space—perhaps even as a simultaneously contextualizing, deconstructing space.

More specifically, the postmodern concept of “GloboChrist” leads to a Jesus/Christianity dynamic in which the emphasis is placed not on the development of a strict “formulation” of Christianity, but on the unrestricted formation of “relation” or “relationality” within the theological context of Christianity. By this I take Raschke to mean that Jesus, in the context of “GloboChrist” and as a Jesus-subjectivity, and Christianity, in the context of spectralization, are not reducible to a monolithic, “strictly pure” heritage—Jesus, in effect, doesn’t just simply deconstruct something, a religious dogma, for instance; he both deconstructs, which is the usual reading, and he is deconstructing, which is the more radical reading in my view that leaves us not with a singlely formulated “Jesus” or, the opposite, merely more “Jesuses,” as many faces, but with the a new concept of a Jesus-subjectivity, a radically deconstructing subjectivity in relation to a plurality of inheritances. In other words, Jesus doesn’t found or anchor a heritage; he disrupts the very possibility of heritage as a single or restricted legacy.

In fact, following from this, the now spectralized inheritances of Christianity along with a deconstructing Jesus-subjectivity explicitly point to a truly radicalized Jesus-subject that is exactly the opposite in form from the subjectivity that is affirmed by the traditional Christian theological view—Jesus, from this perspective, in his divine presence, works to restrict the Christian heritage and subsequently makes strictly pure a Christian (Christomimetic) subjectivity. That is to say, the tension between heritage and inheritance resides in the opposition between a spectralized, unrestricted Jesus-subjectivity and a ghostly, restricted Jesus- identity. When one merges Raschke’s GloboChrist with the Derridean concept of spectrality, the “Great Commission” of Christianity takes on a radical new meaning—The Christian heritage, through a deconstructing Jesus-subjectivity, becomes radically “unrestricted.”

This new meaning, I will argue, is the heightened awareness of a new responsibility, as an “impossible task,” to the hauntological dimension of a reconfigured figure and heritage. The Christian inheritors, finding themselves in a “double-bind,” must come to view Jesus as a specter and, simultaneously, view the heritage that emerges from this spectral figure as being thoroughly “plural-relational-global” in its historical and theological aporetic reality: Jesus contextualized! He did not give scrupulous arguments for some theological position or interpretation he had chosen to defend against other “lawyers” or gentile opponents. Jesus contextualized because he came to reveal the Father. Jesus revealed the Father in his teachings, which were always contextualized in terms of his relational dealings with others, especially those who were neither morally nor doctrinally pure— prostitutes, tax collectors, and thieves, as well as the unlearned and unwashed.28

A “contextualizing Jesus” is what I would call a Jesus who is “deconstructing” and is “deconstructed,” along with deconstructed/deconstructing received Christian heritage.  As Raschke describes him, this so-called traditional Jesus would from my discussion differ from a “spectral Jesus”—one that we begin to see the plural possibilities of in Derrida’s hauntology “heritage.” More precisely, these possibilities for subjectivity reside in the formation of emergent figures, which are un-strict, unrestricting, and plural. What is important to note here is not only the “global” processes of “contextualization/deconstruction,” which is fundamental to the incarnation itself, but the sharp contrast between traditional doctrinal purity and hauntological, relational unrestrictedness in the Christian inheritance—bearing witness to the existence of many “shares” of a tradition/heritage.

It is, taking from Raschke’s perspective, that the two are mutually exclusive, with one sense of inheritance negating the other. That is to say, “doctrinal purity,” which is the “strict purity” of a traditional heritage, produces strict non-relationality and oppressive exclusivity—subjects and subjectivities are presumed to not fully exist when they are situated outside of a traditional heritage or “formulation.” By contrast and from my reading of Derridean hauntology and Raschkean globo “relationality,” spectrality radicalizes a Christian heritage, opening it to the discarded margins and negations of its former restrictiveness.

In this sense, not only do existents exist within the space of inheritance, in this case Christian, but so, too, do non-existents, as “relational” possibilities, which I would argue ties back to Raschke’s relationality of a uniquely global Christ as a “GloboChrist.” If we are to then see Jesus as contextualized, having a Jesus- subjectivity rather than a Jesus-identity. This would be a Jesus-subjectivity as a Jesus-event that is deconstructing and deconstructed. In this instance, I would say that we also need to see the theoretical potential of a forceful and radical plasticity within a Jesus-subjectivity, a radical plasticity that allows for the emergence of the plurality of inheritances as impossible responsibilities without a complete origin or a closed finality.

Victor Taylor is chair of the Department of English and Humanities and professor of literature, philosophy, and religious studies at York College of Pennsylvania. He is also director of the center for civic humanities at York. He is the executive editor of The Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory and director of academic publishing for Davies Group, Publishers. He is author of Para/Inquiry: Postmodern Religion and Culture (Routledge 2000), The Religious Prayed, The Profane Swear (Pen Mark Press 2002/ Second expanded edition, 2012), and Religion After Postmodernism (The University of Virginia Press 2008). With the late Charles E. Winquist, he co-edited Postmodernism: Critical Concepts (Routledge 1998) and The Routledge Encyclopedia of Postmodernism, (2000: Spanish 2002, Russian 2003). 


12 See Samir Haddad’s excellent discussion of Derrida’s concept of “aporia” in his book entitled Derrida and the Inheritance of Democracy (Bloomington and Indianapolis: University of Indiana Press, 2013).

13 Jacques Derrida, 2002, 25.

14 Jacques Derrida, 2002, 25.

15 In Derrida: Ethics Under Erasure, Nicole Anderson writes, “In Specters of Marx, Derrida is not claiming to be Marx’s heir and thus claiming the baton for himself. Rather, in the same way that we saw him playing with the/his ‘proper name’ . . . Derrida performatively plays with more than one specter; his book(s) assumes more than one ‘filiation and affiliation’, more than one heritance (196).

16 Jacques Derrida, 2002, 25-26.

17 Jacques Derrida, 2002, 26.

18 Jacques Derrida, 2002, 132.

19 Jacques Derrida, 2002, 132.

20 Jacques Derrida, 2002, 132.

21 Jacques Derrida, 2002, 132.

22 Jacques Derrida, 2002, 26.

23 Jacques Derrida, 1994, 154.

24 Jacques Derrida, 1994, 154.

25 John D. Caputo, 1997, 146.

26 John D. Caputo, 1997, 246.

27 Carl A. Raschke, GloboChrist: The Great Commission Takes a Postmodern Turn (Grand Rapids: Baker Academics, 2008).

28 Raschke, 2008, 118.

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