KNOW this is a cop-out, but I’m posting this whilst completely eyes-drifting-shut sleepy. If I’m nonsensical, be gentle with me (but still tell me: there’s nothing like being adrift in the wrong way (whatever that might be) and no one telling you!) In the major part of the text of the chapter “The Time of the King,” which is actually quite short (thank god!), Derrida engages again with the letter from Madame de Maintenon, and then later with Heidegger. My Heidegger’s a bit rusty and wasn’t so fabulous to begin with, so some of that stuff was a bit foggy. Nonetheless, I like Derrida’s half-apologetic beginning:
Let us begin by the impossible. To join together, in a title, time and the gift may seem to be a laborious artifice. (p.6)
Teehee. Oh Derrida, you and laborious artifice? Never!!
What can time have to do with the gift? We mean: what would there be to see in that? What would they have to do with each other, or more literally, to see together, qu’est-ce qu’ils auraient a voir ensemble, one would say in French. Of course, they have nothing to see together and first of all because both of them have a singular relation to the visible. Time, in any case, gives nothing to see. It is at the very least the element of invisibility itself. It withdraws whatever could give itself to be seen. It itself withdraws itself from visibility. One can only be blind to time, to the essential disappearance of time even as, nevertheless, in a certain manner nothing appears that does not require and take time. Nothing sees the light of day, no phenomenon, that is not on the measure of day, in other words, of the revolution that is the rhythm of a sun’s course. And that orients this course from its endpoint: from the rising in the east to the setting in the west. The works and days, as we said a moment ago. We will let ourselves be carried away by this world revolution. At stake is a certain circle whose figure precipitates both time and the gift toward the possibility of their impossibility. (p.6)
Hopefully there will be some more detail offered about this circularity, but I think it’s an interesting evocation. As we shall see, the gift (for Derrida) is impossible within the circularity of an exchange economy, a position that challenges many characterisations of the gift (for example, Mauss and Titmuss (remember this?) claim that while one doesn’t get immediate return from a gift necessarily, the expectation of it acts as a kind of social glue). Seeing time as circular, of course, evokes Nietzsche’s eternal return/recurrence (depending on which translation, I think), and functions as a challenge to the teleological progress narrative Lyotard claims characterises the modern conception of time (oriented by the endpoint.) It will be interesting to see how revolution informs his analysis of the gift’s disruptive possibility in relation to the exchange economy…
What is economy? Among its irreducible predicates or semantic values, economy no doubt includes the values of law (nomos) and of home (oikos, home, property, family, the hearth, the fire indoors) [I like the image of the domestication of flame]. Nomos does not only signify the law in general, but also the law of distribution (nemein), the law of sharing or partition [partage], the law as partition (moira), the given or assigned part, participation. Another sort of tautology already implies the economic within the nomic as such. As soon as there is law, there is partition: as soon as there is nomy, there is economy. Besides the values of law and home, of distribution and partition, economy implies the idea of exchange, of circulation, of return. The figure of the circle is obviously at the center, if that can be said of a circle. It stands at the center of any problematic of oikonomia, as it does of any economic field: circular exchange, circulation of goods, products, monetary signs or merchandise, amortization of expenditures, revenues, substitution of use values and exchange values. This motif of circulation can leads one to think that the law of economy is the—circular—return to the point of departure, to the origin, also to the home. So one would have to follow the odyssean structure of the economic narrative… The being-next-to-self of the Idea in Absolute Knowledge would be odyssean in this sense, that of an economy and a nostalgia, a ‘homesickness,’ a provisional exile longing for reappropriation. (pp.6-7)
The binding together of home and law is, as I understand it, a big theme for Derrida. It informs his analysis of hospitality, the home and the hostage. The border between the home and the rest of the world is key to the economic, a partitioning that enables property and its circulation (and appropriation). I’ve just been reading some of Otherwise than Being, and I wonder how much this sense of ‘home’ and ‘dwelling’ as involving appropriation is hooking into that. I’d expect that this would not be coincidental, given that Derrida goes on to engage Heidegger (who Levinas critiques) on questions of dwelling.
Now the gift, if there is any, would no doubt be related to economy. One cannot treat the gift, this goes without saying, without treating this relation to economy, even to the money economy. But is not the gift, if there is any, also that which interrupts economy? That which, in suspending economic calculation, no longer gives rise to exchange? That which opens the circle so as to defy reciprocity or symmetry, the common measure, and so as to turn aside the return in view of the no-return. If there is gift, the given of the gift (that which one gives, that which is given, the gift as given thing or as act of donation) must not come back to the giving (let us not already say to the subject, to the donor). It must not circulate, it must not be exchanged, it must not in any case be exhausted, as a gift, by the process of exchange, by the movement of circulation of the circle in the form of return to the point of departure. If the figure of the circle is essential to economics, the gift must remain aneconomic. Not that it remains foreign to the circle, but it must keep a relation of foreignness to the circle, a relation without relation to familiar foreignness. It is in this sense that the gift is the impossible. Not impossible but the impossible. The very figure of the impossible. It announces itself, gives itself to be thought as the impossible. (p.7)
Much of this is obvious but no less interesting for that. The main point of this passage, I think, is about the various locations of the gift-ness: that which one gives, that which is given, the gift as given thing or as act of donation, and the characterisation of the one who gives (who is not a giver but the giving) as not-yet-a-subject. This offers a sense of the ways in which the exchange economy functions to produce the subjects engaged in the exchange as (two distinct) subjects, whilst the gift troubles such distinction and thus (at least potentially) the terms by which the subject is. The relationship of ‘foreignness’ I also find intriguing: whilst the gift is not radically outside of, detached from the exchange economy, it is, nonetheless, endlessly other to it. (Given that foreigner in French is ‘etranger,’ we can see that the gift is that which remains strange to exchange economies; I’m tempted to hint towards Levinas here again, because he offers alterity as that always and endlessly other which troubles and yet grounds sensibility, subjectivity, language…)
Why desire the gift and why desire to interrupt the circulation of the circle? Why wish to get out of it [en sortir]? Why wish to get through it [s’en sortir]?
Does it arise from lack? (ooh, psychoanalysis… quick, let’s skip the other way! ;-)) Does it arise from revolutionary urges? Would revolution really seek the troubling of the revolution? I like these kinds of ambiguity.
He then turns to Heidegger, and the question of the circularity of time in Being and Time. Unfortunately, Derrida (and the translators, bah!) seem to fall for the whole ‘well, everyone’s got a Classical education which includes Latin and Greek,’ thing, so I’m not entirely sure about what he’s getting at when he refers to Heidegger talking about Aristotle (in spite of having learnt a bit of Latin from an intensely spinsterish woman at school—remind me to recount an amusing story about ladylikeness apparently residing in lavendar oil dotted onto handkerchiefs and our ultra-adolescent… response ☺). Anyway, the point seems to be that Hegel follows Aristotle through a fairly problematic (for Heidegger) way of thinking time (because it’s the ‘ordinary’ understanding of time, and Heidegger won’t have a bar of ordinary!). It’s problematic because it understands ‘now’ as a point, a bounded moment (boundary-ed), an ‘absolute this’. Heidegger, on the other hand, wants to affirm the circular as a way of understanding time.
One should not necessarily flee or condemn circularity as one would a bad repetition, a vicious circle, a regressive or sterile process. One must, in a certain way of course, inhabit the circle, turn around in it, live there a feast of thinking, and the gift, the gift of thinking, would be no stranger there. (p.9)
Given what’s gone before, I can’t help feeling like this recalls Deleuze and Guattari’s need to keep a wee bit of the organism aside for the morning (so as to not merely be a BwO). If that’s a bit oblique, let’s try this: if what I’ve said about subjectivity kinda works, then we can see that subjectivity can indeed be problematic: it requires an exchange economy, and enacts the fantasy of individualism in ways which squash and fail to recognise the gift (which as we’ve seen is both a requirement of the gift being a gift, and, in Diprose’s riposte, a politically problematic position for those already disadvantaged by the asymmetries covered over by the supposed symmetry of participants in an exchange). Yet one cannot merely become ‘the giving,’ in some absolute sense, cannot give up subjectivity, pick the gift over exchange, for the two (gift and exchange, giving and subjectivity) are interdependent. I think. The gift is not simply a stranger though it retains a ‘foreignness’. Alright, that’s about as much sense as I can attempt to extract. Onwards.
…wherever there is time, wherever time predominates or conditions experiences in general, wherever time as circle (a ‘vulgar’ concept, Heidegger [the snob] would therefore say) is predominant, the gift is impossible. A gift could be possible, there could be a gift only at the instant an effraction in the circle will have taken place, at the instant all circulation will have been interrupted and on the condition of this instant. What is more, this instant of effraction (of the temporal circle) must no longer be part of time. That is why we said ‘on the condition of this instant.’ This condition concerns time but does not belong to it, does not pertain to it without being, for all that, more logical than chronological. There would be a gift only at the instant when the paradoxical instant (in the sense in which Kierkegaard says of the paradoxical instant of decision that it is madness) tears time apart. In this sense one would never have the time of a gift. In any case, time, the ‘present’ of the gift, is no longer thinkable as a now, that is, as a present bound up in the temporal synthesis. (p.9)
It’s actually really interesting to be re-reading this alongside Otherwise than Being, because the ‘an-archic’ or ‘pre-originary’ would seem to be precisely this moment of the gift: the moment ‘before’ time, which conditions it, makes it possible, but also is its suspension, its interruption.
The relation of the gift to the ‘present’ in all the senses of this term, also to the presence of the present, will form one of the essential knots in the interlace of this discourse, in its Geflecht, in the knot of that Geflecht of which Heidegger says precisely that the circle is perhaps only a figure or a particular case, an inscribed possibility. That a gift is called a present, that to give’ may also be said ‘to make a present,’ ‘to give a present’ (in French as well as in English, for example), this will not be for us just a verbal clue, a linguistic chance or alea. (pp.9-10)
Ah, better and better: presence and the present, and the gift. The coming-together of a critique of presence (Derrida’s big thing) with the gift’s critique of exchange will be intriguing, methinks. It’s also intriguing (sorry, in a Levinas space at the mo’) because alterity can never be made present (can never be made esse-ence (brought into being)) without doing a violence to it; just as the gift can never be a present, the gift can never be part of time… (im)possible.
Unless the gift were the impossible but not the unnameable or the unthinkable, and unless in this gap between the impossible and the thinkable a dimension opens up where there is gift—and even where there is period, for example time, where it gives being and time (es gibt das Sein or es gibt die Zeit, to say it in a way that anticipates excessively what would be precisely a certain essential excess of the gift, indeed an excess of the gift over the essence itself.) (p.10)
I’m always drawn to the way that certain phrases transliterated (that is, translated word-for-word) introduce a whole other meaning. Es gibt is one of these: what does it mean that ‘there is’ is understood as ‘it gives’? What gives? Who? From where? The implication that the world, rather than just ‘being there’ as is implied in ‘there is,’ were rather the result of generosity seems to reconfigure the relationship between us and it. We are continually the recipients of the gift of the world, a position that might shift the sense of entitlement—or is it ‘dominion’—that seems to characterise how we behave with respect to the world.
Let us suppose that someone wants or desires to give to someone. In our logic and our language we say it thus: someone wants or desires, someone intends-to-give something to someone. Already the complexity of the formula appears formidable. It supposed a subject and a verb, a constituted subject, which can also be collective—for example, a group, a community, a nation, a clan, a tribe—in any case, a subject identical to itself and conscious of its identity; indeed seeking through the gesture of the gift to constitute its own unity and, precisely, to get its own identity recognised so that identity comes back to it, so that it can reappropriate its identity: as its property. (pp.10-11)
Ah, so the exchange is a complicated matter. The intention and desire to give means that in giving the subject becomes (and intends to become) a self-present, self-identical, fully constituted subject. This constitution of its own unity one can see continually. Kim Beazley’s claim that Australia is a ‘generous’ country (which you can see discussed here) and then the demonstration of that generosity through the restriction of the number of immigrants welcome to Australia both entail the production of a subject—Australia-as-a-nation—and the concern to maintain that subject—by refusing to give ‘too much’; that is, refusing to give so much that it might trouble the unity/continuity of the subject he’s just defined. To be explicit: what Beazley is saying is that to give ‘too much’—to allow too many immigrants—would fundamentally change the identity of Australia. He suggests that this would thus undermine Australia’s ability to give: we’d ‘run out’ of… what? space? jobs? money? And so One Nation’s logic is not so very far away from his. Of course, this is part of what Levinas’ theory aims to challenge, because one must give (cannot help but give?) of one’s own substance to the other. As Lingis says in the intro to OTB, “the authentic figure of ethical responsibility is the maternal,” (an image that is perhaps problematic, but nonetheless evocative), and “the hostage.” The giving of one’s own substance, then, already undermines the idea that one could give only as much as you hold in excess. It requires that you give yourself such that you are never self-identical, that the gift is always troubling and not unity-affirming.