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Forget Hamlet


This response to Lee Edelman’s “Against Survival” wonders why Hamlet is taught in high school English classes and thinks about possible non-normative responses to the play, both suicidal and homicidal, suggested by the reading Edelman provides. In occupying the spectral place of the father by lending his phenomenal immateriality to Horatio to become the “voice” of the dying voice, Hamlet inaugurates something like what Jacques Derrida calls the “fratriarchy,” the rule of brothers who, in endlessly dreaming the demise of patriarchy, conceal their own dream of patriarchal rule. Edelman prophecies the restless return of ghosts, the dream of demise that haunts the principle of democratic fraternization in Derrida’s formulation. But what if, instead of the implied transcendence of “haunting” which continues to elevate Hamlet’s status in the history of literature” (for, however nostalgic for matter the ghost might be, its power resides in the degree to which it eludes matter and traverses the borders between “life” and “death”), we were to focus instead on the inhuman mattering of nonsymbolic reproduction, the code-thing whose liveliness survives and for which female embodiment is—at least in this tradition—a horrifying reminder / remainder? Rather than participating in the sublimation of all literary education—as Edelman argues Hamlet does—the play, and Literature itself, might then be understood as efforts to eliminate matter from the books that carry previous coded inscriptions of a history and a living on that are not human at all.

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