The dissident and the spectre: reading Havel with Derrida
In this paper I argue that there is an affinity between the ‘dissident’ in Havel’s essay “The Power of the Powerless” and the ‘spectre’ in Derrida’s readings of Marx. Both are manifestations of a specific modern temporality that Derrida calls “disjointed”, because it is haunted by a revolutionary force and claim for justice. Both also evoke the weak messianic power inherent in Walter Benjamin’s historiography and the spectral responsibility recognised by this power, that is, our responsibility for past and future generations. In post-totalitarian Czechoslovakia, the “nonpolitical” dissident community prefigured the renewal of moral experiences of responsibility and solidarity. In contemporary discussions of democracy, the figure of the spectre is a reminder of the significance of the Marxist legacy beyond its ideological doctrine.