Alexander Karschnia on Tue, 26 Nov 2013 10:46:12 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> OUT OF JOINT: The 'new spirit of capitalism', creative class struggle and the ghosts from the future.

OUT OF JOINT: The 'new spirit of capitalism', creative class struggle and
the ghosts from the future

My question is: Is this ‘new spirit of capitalism’ the ghost of communism?
And is this ghost the ghost from the Communist Manifesto or the ghost of
this ghost? As Jacques Derrida reminds us, Marx himself had a very
ambivalent attitude towards ghosts in general. In The German Ideology he
was not haunted, but hunting the ghosts of others. In a very German
tradition he made a distinction between spirit: Geist (in German: spirit,
mind, psyche, wit and nous) and ghost: Gespenst (spectre). Maybe this
distinction is in itself an expression of a very German ideology: The
spirit gives life, as we know from the Bible, but the letter kills. And the
ghost reminds us, that this distinction is not working. In this case:
Jacques Derrida and his criticism of the phantasm of pure presence. „Has
this thing appear’d again tonight?“ asks Horatio, the friend of a prince
formerly known as Hamlet. Just a few moments later this thing does appear
„in the same figure like the king that’s dead“. The guards urge him: „Thou
art a scholar, speak to it, Horatio.“ There are already two observations to
make: first that the first appearance of the ghost is a re-appearance.
Ghosts always re-appear. Secondly: it’s scholars who are expected to speak
to it. In Germany this does not come as surprise: the most famous scholar
in German culture, a figure borrowed from England, Faust is from the
beginning of his drama desperartely trying to get in touch with spirits.
Or: ghosts. In German the difference between these two – Geist and Gespenst
– is a structuring element of the whole Geistesgeschichte, a very German
concept that is only roughly translateable into „intellectual history“ or
„history of ideas“. Even more peculiar for non-Germans is the concept of
Geisteswissenschaft, in the English speaking world better known as sciences
of the humanities or arts, here referred to as „spiritual science“. As soon
as the terminological divide between the concept of Geist (spirit) and
Gespenst (ghost) is becoming poriferous, we are leaving the well-lit halls
of academia and enter the twilight zone. This zone would be the space in
which different forms of art and sciences of art begin to interchange. To
my understanding this space is the stage – at least the stage of newer and
newest forms of theatre which don’t reduce themselves to task of staging
literature, even if it is the tragedy of the prince of Denmark or of Faust.
This interchange of different artistic practices – visual art, music,
performance – does not necessarily lead to a Gesamtkunstwerk: it can be as
beautiful as the chance meeting of a sewing-machine and an umbrella on a
dissecting-table; the most important aspect is that these forms contaminate
each other. Therefore theatre is always an impure form of art and thus also
a preferred model for a concept of thinking beyond binary oppositions: high
and low, old and new, but also here and there, before and later – just like
„this thing“: „’Tis here“, „’tis here!“, „’tis gone!“ Exit ghost and

Hamlet’s ghost is a ghost from the past, as Stephen Greenblatt has argued
who identified it as a Catholic lamenting about the new religion of
protestantism, especially puritanism that forbid the old practice of
absolution by money (especially by money being paid by surviving family
members). As we know from Max Weber, protestantism has brought about a new
ethos, a sense of „inner-worldly asceticism“ (innerweltlicher Asketismus)
which he called „the spirit of capitalism“. This spirit is best expressed
in the advice from a father to a son – not of Polonius to Laertes, but by
Benjamin Franklin who coined the phrase: „Time is money.“ – which implies
that time, just like money, could be saved. The double meaning of this
expression – to be saved – is highly illuminating for this spirit: if you
save time or money, you can be saved. This implied a complete break with
ancient and medieval ethics which condemned the behaviour advocated by
Franklin as sinful. Now is it possible that with the rise of a ‘new spirit’
of capitalism which is no longer based on an ascetic, but rather hedonistic
ideals, the old spirit has turned into a ghost? According to Eve Chiapello
& Luc Boltanski this ‘new spirit of capitalism’ is the answer of capital to
the challenge of 1968: In the manuals for the so called ‘new management’
all the points of critique on alienation at the work-place have been
incorporated which lead to the transformation of the work-regime into the
neoliberal idea of an adventureous „entrepeneurial self“ for which artists
have become role-models. Just like the protestant sects of the 16th
century, the creative workers may have unintentionally and from the margins
developed a new way of life, a set of morals: a new ‘spirit’ which does not
simply reflect the changes of the economic base, but anticipates them. In
other words words words: Hamlet’s ghost today may have become a protestant
lamenting the ‘new spirit’ that has destroyed the old order, the
disciplinary regime of a work-ethics of permanent employment which is
expressed in the ethos of a profession, in German: „Beruf“ – in English:
„the calling“. Is the call of this calling – in German the „Ruf“ in „Beruf“
– which we hear from the grave in a world that only knows temporary
employments, jobs jobs jobs or projects?

A calling that is urging for reversal, for a turning back just like in
Goethe’s educational novel, „Bildungsroman“, Wilhelm Meister who, like
Hamet, is at the same time the name of the central character and the title
of this work of literature – which in itself is a ghostly doubling – who
joined a theatre-troupe and played the role of: Hamlet (of course). The
moment of the appearance or initial re-appearance of the ghost is the
moment of reversal: Wilhelm Meister leaves the stage – forever and returns
to a civil life. Later he finds out that all of his steps were anticipated
and manipulated, by a society that resides in a tower with an „invisible
hand“. This ghostly hand that appears in this novel shows the complicity
between the form of the novel and the idea of economy as a totality that is
at the same time chaotic, full of chances, accidents and coincidences, but
also governed by a principle that works or quite literally manipulates
everything just like an „invisible hand“. This concept that Adam Smith
transported from the realm of theology through the realm of cosmology and
theories of morality into the sphere of economy is also a writer’s hand: a
ghost writer’s hand, an anonymous author. This anonymous author is calling
upon us just like the call from the burning bush that was heard by Moses.
This allegory is used by Luis Althusser to describe the functioning of
ideology. Ideology is what keeps the whole of society together and which
puts each individual on his or her place. Now Wilhelm Meister’s place is
obviously not the stage. But is is possible that the stage is no one’s
place? Is it possible that the stage is a common ground? Is it thus
possible to interpret the first scene of Hamlet with the first sentence of
the Communist Manifesto in such a way that today it is the common that is
haunted by the ghost of private property? Is the ghost that is haunting the
world today the ghost of capitalism – as it was written by an invisible
hand on a billboard on Time Square during a riot in Don DeLillo’s novel

Maybe the inflationary use of the ghost-metaphor in recent years is due to
the uncanny fact that Marx had anticipated the future of communism – the
future past – by calling it a ghost instead of a spirit. Maybe this is
grossly misleading: Hamlet’s ghost is the ghost of a ghost, his father’s
ghost who happened to have the same name as his son: Hamlet. But Marxism,
according to a very influential Marxist thinker (a teacher not only to
Jacques Derrida, Jacques Ranciere and many others), Althusser, described
Marxism as „a child without a father“. For him, the decisive moment in Marx
thinking took place while writing The German ideology as a general critique
of ideology which became one of these German compound-words:
„Ideologiekritik“. Marx wrote the text together with Engels in order to
clear things for themselves. Often these texts, which remain fragments, are
the most producitve. That is the case with a play of Bertolt Brecht which
he also wrote for himself, „zur selbstverständigung“: for his own
understanding, for self-comprehension, but also -communication,
-compromise, -settlement. I am referring to The Downfall of the egoist
Johann Fatzer, a learning play about a group of deserters at the end of
WW1. Four men, the crew of a tank, leave the battlefield, hide underground
and wait for the revolution to end the war. The revolution came, but not in
Germany, but in Russia (with – irony of history – the help of the German
army, which smuggeled Lenin back to Russia). In his despair Johann Fatzer
says to himself:

„wie früher Gespenster kamen aus Vergangenheit /so jetzt aus Zukunft ebenso“

„as ghosts used to come from the past / they now come from the future as

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