JUMPING from the last post to here is a little… abrupt for me, so bear with me. I may not be able to manage a whole lot more than a series of quotes I marked with ma widdle pencil. But I’ll figure that’s better than nuttin. All from Given Time: 1. Counterfeit Money by Jacques Derrida with Peggy Kamuf translating.

“The King takes all my time; I give the rest to Saint-Cyr, to whom I would like to give all.”

So saith the epigraph, which forms the lynchpin around which the whole discussion turns. It comes from Madame de Maintenon (I think he likes that ‘Maintenon’ is close to ‘maintenant’ = now; D mentions it sometime later), the mistress and morganatic wife to the Sun King Louis XIV. I had no idea what ‘morganatic’ means, and the footnote was only a little helpful on this matter. As it turns out, morganatic marriages were ones in which the lower class/rank member got nada out of the whole deal except (at least originally) the ‘morning gift’ the husband gave the wife the morning after they were married (and yes, it would seem that, unsurprisingly, the wife was almost always the lower class/rank member of the marriage). More about the question of gifts and asymmetries later.

First, Derrida begins to prise open the relation between time and the gift. He spends quite a bit of time playing on the double (triple, actually, probably) meaning of present (as gift, and as here, and as now). So he asks questions about “my time,” what could this mean?

“The king takes all my time,” she says, a time that belongs to her therefore. But how can a time belong? What is it to have time? If a time belongs, it is because the word time designates metonymically less time itself than the things with which one fills it, with which one fills the form of time, time as form. It is a matter, then, of the things one does in the meantime [cependant] or the things one has at one’s disposal during [pendant] this time. Therefore, as time doe snot belong to anyone as such, one can no more take it, itself, that give it. Time already beings to appear as that which undoes this distinction between taking and giving, therefore also between receiving and giving, perhaps between receptivity and activity, or even between the being-affected and the affecting of any affection. Apparently and ccordig to common logic or economics, one can only exchange, one can only take or give, by way of metonymy, what is in time. (p. 3)

Saint-Cyr, by the way, is a charity for down-and-out but well-bred girls. Then D spends quite a bit of time pointing out the sense of the remainder in Madame de Maintenon’s words: the king takes all her time, yet that which is left over is given to Saint-Cyr. And then, the play on ‘present’:

Her desire would be there where she would like, in the conditional, to give what she cannot give, the all, that rest of the rest of which she cannot make a present. Nobody takes it all from her, neither the King nor Saint-Cyr. This rest of the rest of time of which she cannot make a present, that is what Madame de Maintenant… desires, that is in truth what she would desire, not for herself but so as to be able to given it [pour le pouvoir donner]—for the power of giving [pour le pouvoir de donner], perhaps so as to give herself this power of giving. She lack no lacking time, she lacks not giving enough. She lacks this leftover time that is left to her and that she cannot given—that she doesn’t know what to do with. But this rest of the rest of time, of a time that morevoer is nothing and that belongs properly to no one, this rest of the rest of time, that is the whole of her desire. Desire and the desire to give would be the same thing, a sort of tautology. But maybe as ell the tautological designation of the impossible. Maybe the impossible. The impossible may be—if giving and taking are also the same—the same, the same thing, which would certainly not be a thing.(p. 4)

We begin to see, here, what he goes on to elaborate on throughout the chapter: the gift as entirely bound to the impossible. The impossibility of giving is the focus, because, as we shall see, any gift recognised as gift by donor or donee entails return (in some form) and thus is an exchange, not a gift; and this means that the present can never be present if it is, indeed, to be (a) present. In this complex way, the essence of the gift lies in its impossibility. And so we will look at Being, time (and Being and Time) , and presents, presence, gifts, given things and economies.

Just because I promised up above: Rosalyn Diprose’s critique of this Derridean take on the logic of the gift is that while recognition of the gift may be impossible, it does nonetheless occur, and has deeply political effects. She points out that the recognition of gifts occurs asymmetrically: the gifts of those already recognised as generous (the privileged, in a variety of ways) tend to be ‘memorialised’ while the gifts of those who are not privileged, and thus not generous, tend to be forgotten. More on this in a separate post later, but for now: what does it mean for Madame de Maintenon to recognise her own gift-giving as a gift? For Derrida it would mean it is no longer a gift; yet in some ways, the gift-giving of women to the relationships they are in is so often un(der)recognised that her claim to be giving, rather than the fantasy of her merely kind of naturally exuding all the things she does (which is what the naturalisation of women as nurturers permits) could then come to be read as a political act. But is this act then trapped back within the logic of exchange? Ah, tangled webs!

PS I liked my ‘j’ today: that’s why it so big! 🙂