O the flu really knocked me around. Ugh. Aches and pain and shredding lung and headaches galore. I do not want to do that again! Fortunately, I had Harry Potter for company (at least for some of that time, til I finished it) and a sudden influx of new TV to check out, so as timing goes, it could have been worse. (Agreement with s0metim3s on the promises of new TV! Bated breath for more Katee (sigh) and Lena Hadley, alongside another incarnation of crazy-strong Summer Glau.) Also no dragging self out of bed to teach ungrateful students! Less fortunately, this was supposed to be chapter-5-solid-work time. So I guess the next week’s going to require that of me! Joy. Nothing quite so disheartening as deadlines set back.
I’ve also found out I’m teaching a writing course this semester, which makes me happy. It’s not really in my academic-y area, but I have indulged in the odd bit of book/novel/short-story-writing, so I’m kinda looking forward to thinking through that stuff again. Not to mention reading raw, crisp and flaccid student work.
Although I have been fuzzy-brained, I have also finished Given Time (thank you thank you, couldn’t have done it without you) and am looking forward to going over the pages again to try to get some of it up here. For today, I’m going to concentrate on continuing the first chapter. My stuff on the other three chapters are going to be less detailed, I think, and with more of my ‘own’ musings now that I’ve finished the book (I don’t feel like I’m going to unfairly pre-empt or pre-judge anymore). So with that, let’s get straight into it!
Let us suppose, then, an intention-to-give: Some ‘one’ wants or desire to give. Our common language or logic will cause us to hear the interlace of this already complex formula as incomplete. We would tend to complete it by saying “some ‘one’ (A) intends-to-give B to C, some ‘one’ intends to give or gives ‘something’ to ‘someone other.’… These three elements, identical to themselves or on the way to an identification with themselves, look like what is presupposed by every gift event. For the gift to be possible, for there to be a gift event, according to our common language and logic, it seems that this compound structure is indispensable. Notice that in order to say this, I must already suppose a certain precomprehension of what gift means. I suppose that I know and that you know what ‘to give,’ ‘gift,’ ‘donor,’ and ‘donee’ mean in our common language. As well as ‘to want,’ ‘to desire,’ ‘to intend.’ This is an unsigned but effective contract between us, indispensable to what is happening here, namely, that you accord, lend, or give some attention and some meaning to what I myself am doing by giving, for example, a lecture. (p.11)
Derrida is giving a lecture, by the way! What he seems to be suggesting here is that there is a kind of implicit contract in language or logic itself, one which binds us all to certain ways of understanding the gift. As an update to social contract theory, this does something interesting, I think, because it suggests that in order to be able to be recognised as giving, it must occur within a context which sees the gift (that is, gift occurs within the context of a contract only). Indeed, this is ‘faith or good faith.’ And of course, my attention wants to turn immediately to the question of which gifts are recognised/constituted as such, because it would seem to have a lot to do with, as Diprose points out, the pre-existing position of the donor (as constituted through this Derridean meaning-based social contract) Yet it is not so simple as this, either, because, Derrida being Derrida, these ‘agreements’ about meaning are never and can never be set in stone. That is, it’s not set in stone that only certain things can be understood as gifts, and certain people as donors (though there are of course tendencies and patterns in this regard).
This whole presupposition will remain indispensable at least for the credit that we accord each other, the faith or good faith that we lend each other, even if in a little while we were to argue and disagree about everything. It is by making this precomprehension (faith or credit) explicit that one can authorize oneself to state the following axiom: In order for there to be gift, gift event, some ‘one’ has to give something ‘thing’ to someone other, without which ‘giving’ would be meaningless. In other words, if giving indeed means what, in speaking of it among ourselves, we think it means, then it is necessary, in a certain situation, that someone ‘one’ give some ‘thing’ to some ‘one other,’ and so forth. This appears tautological, it goes without saying, and seems to imply the defined term in the definition, which is to say it defines nothing at all. Unless the discreet introduction of ‘one’ and of ‘thing’ and especially of ‘other’ (‘someone other’) does not portend some disturbance in the tautology of a gift that cannot be satisfied with giving or with giving (to) itself [se donner] without giving something (other) to someone (other).
For this is the impossible that seems to give itself to be thought here: these conditions of possibility of the gift (that some ‘one’ gives some ‘thing’ to some ‘one other’) designate simultaneously the conditions of the impossibility of the gift. And already we could translate this into other terms: these conditions of possibility define or produce the annulment, the annihilation, the destruction of the gift.
Once again, let us set out in fact from what is the simplest level and let us still entrust ourselves to this semantic precomprehension of the word ‘gift’ in our language or in a few familiar languages. For there to be a gift, there must be no reciprocity, return, exchange, countergift, or debt. If the other gives me back or owes me or has to give me back what I give him or her, there will not have been a gift, whether this restitution is immediate or whether it is programmed by a complex calculation of long-term deferral or differance. (p.12)
Clearly here, Derrida is demonstrating how and why the only terms by which a gift is possible are also the terms which make it impossible. That is, a gift is only a gift if it does not require an exchange-otherwise, that’s all it is, an exchange-but the moment we know that there is a gift, there is return, of some kind. And as such,
We know that as good [as the gift can be], it can also be bad, poisonous (Gift, gift), and this from the moment the gift puts the other in debt, with the result that giving amounts to hurting, to doing harm. (p. 12)
I think almost everyone knows how these small obligations offer violence of various kinds. Often they’re understood as manipulations, as passive-aggressive, gifts given only seeking return. Yet this is not the entirety of the gift and of the effects of the gift, so I’d be intrigued by some kind of ethnography that attempts to demonstrate how and why some gifts become harmful, and others simply understood as good. Mmm. Okay, but not only this, but the restitution of the gift is also its annulment; it is what makes the gift as if it had never been.
Each time, according to the same circular ring that leads to ‘giving back’ [‘rendre’], there is payment and discharge of a debt. In this logic of the debt, the circulation of a good or of goods is not only the circulation of the ‘thing’ that we will have offered to each other, but even of the values or the symbols that are involved there [qui s’y engagent] and the intentions to give, whether they are conscious or unconscious… There is gift, if there is any, only in what interrupts the system [of exchange] as well as the symbol, in a partition without return and without division [repartition], without being-with-self of the gift-counter-gift. (p. 13)
Okay, so now Derrida makes his position on the gift as absolutely distinct from though nonetheless engaged in the logic of exchange completely explicit (and given that he’s often a wee bit ambiguous, I’ll cite it at length):
For there to be a gift, it is necessary [il faut] that the donee not give back, amortize, reimburse, acquit himself, enter into a contract, and that he never have contracted a debt. (This ‘it is necessary’ is already the mark of a duty, a debt owed, of the duty-not-to [le devoir de-ne-pas]: The donee owes it to himself even not to give back, he ought not owe [il a le devoir de ne pas devoir] and the donor ought not count on restitution.) It is thus necessary, at the limit, that he ought not recognise the gift as gift. If he recognises the it as gift, if the gift appears to him as such, if the present is present to him as present, this simple recognition suffices to annul the gift. Why? Because it gives back, in the place, let us say, of the thing itself, a symbolic equivalent. Here one cannot even say that the symbolic re-constitutes the exchange and annuls the gift in the debt. It does not re-constitute an exchange, which, because it no longer takes place as exchange of things or good, would be transfigured into a symbolic exchange. The symbolic opens and constitutes the order of exchange and of debt, the law or the order of circulation in which the gift gets annulled. It suffices therefore for the other to perceive the gift-not only to perceive it in the sense in which, as one says in French, ‘on percoit,’ one receives, for example, merchandise, payment, or compensation-but to perceive its nature of gift, the meaning or intention, the intentional meaning of the gift, in order for this simple recognition of the gift as gift, as such, to annul the gift as gift even before recognition becomes gratitude. The simple identification of the gift seems to destroy it. The simple identification of the passage of a gift as such, that is, of an identificable thing, among some other identificable ‘ones,’ would be nothing other than the process of the destruction of the gift. It is as if, between the event or the institution of the gift as such and its destruction, the difference were destined to be constantly annulled. At the limit, the gift as gift ought not appear as gift: either to the donee or the donor.It cannot be gift as gift except by not being present as gift. Neither to the ‘one’ nor to the ‘other’. If the other perceives or receives it, if he or she keeps it as gift, the gift is annulled. But the one who gives it must not see it or know it either; otherwise he begins, at the threshold, as soon as he intends to give, to pay himself with a symbolic recognition, to praise himself, to approve of himself, to gratify himself, to congratulate himself, to give back to himself symbolically the value of what he thinks he has given or what he is preparing to give. The temporalization of time (memory, present, anticipation; retention, protention, imminence of the future; ‘ecstatses,’ and so forth) always sets in motion the process of a destruction of the gift: through keeping, restitution, reproduction, the anticipatory expectation or apprehension that grasps or comprehends in advance.
In all these cases, the gift can certainly keep its phenomenality or, if one prefers, its appearance as gift. But its very appearance, the simple phenomenon of the gift annuls it as gift, transforming the apparition into a phantom and the operation into a simulacrum. It suffices that the other perceive and keep, not even the object of the gift, the object given, the thing, but the meaning or the quality, the gift property of the gift, its intentional meaning, for the gift to be annulled. We expressly say: It suffices that the gift keep its phenomenality. But keeping begins by taking. As soon as the other accepts, as soon as he or she takes, there is no more gift… As soon as she keeps for the gift the signification of the gift, she loses it, there is no more gift… If it presents itself, it no longer presents itself. (pp.13-15)
So any making present of the present nullifies the present; the very conditions for the possibility of the gift are the conditions of its impossibility. Very tricky Derridean logic, but we can see how it works all the time, really. Gift-giving can be filled with precisely these kinds of concerns: considerations of the gift received being balanced against the gift about to be given back, of the ‘meaning’ connected to the gift (is this red rose too heavy for this relationship?) in the schema of recognition we develop around the gift. My parents, for example, arranged a maximum amount of money to be spent on gifts for the kids with my extended relatives, not wanting to fail to fulfil their gift-giving requirements (the exchange). Interestingly, this also enables the gift-as-gift: that is, where a gift judged to be inferior might then disappear into debt because it is an inadequate exchange, this kind of arrangement ensures that, given the gift-giving is already constituted an exchange, it is at least annulled, rather than permitting debt to extend. These forms, though, are of course the simulacrum that Derrida points to; I would want to point out, though, that while gift-giving is often this kind of simulacra, nonetheless the simulacra has a different and not merely derivative meaning to both pure traced gift (neither present nor absent) and the economy of exchange, and that is the significance of the mark of generosity.
The other part that intrigues me about this passage is the formulation of intention-to-give; way back when I talked about ‘intention’ in relation to bodily tolerances, s0metim3s pointed out that intention is a key aspect of the contract; in Derrida’s logic, the intention to give, or acknowledgement of receipt both function to turn the gift into a contract of a kind, an exchange. I can’t help but wonder how much such an intention, though, is dependent upon the contract (that is, that the presumption that the intention pre-exists and shapes such a contract/gift-giving, might actually be inaccurate, and that intention (and intention subjectivity) is the present-made-present in the contracting of the gift-giving. In relation to intention, Derrida says this:
… [F]irst objection… concerns the at least implicit recourse that we have just had to the value sof subject, self, consciousness, even intentional meaning and phenomenon, a little as if we were limiting ourselves to a phenomenology of the gift even as we declared the gfit to be irreducible to its phenomenon or to its meaning and said precisely that it was destroyed by its own meaning and its own phenomenality. The objection would concern the way in which we are describing the intentionality of intention, reception, perception, keeping, recognition-in sum, everything by means of which one or the other, donee and donor, take part in the symbolic and thus annul the gift in the debt. One could object that this description is still given in terms of the self, of the subject that says I, ego, of intentional or intuitive perception-consicousness, or even of the conscious or unconscious ego… One may be tempted to oppose this description with another than would susbstitute for the economy of perception-consciousness an economy of the unconscious: Across the forgetting, the non-keeping, and the non-consciousness called up by the gift, the debt and the symbolic would reconstitute themselves for the subject of the Unconscious or the unconscious subject. As donee or donor, the Other would keep, bind himself, obligate himself, indebt himself according to the law and the order of the symbolic, according to the figure of circulation, even as the conditions of the gift-forgetfulness, non-appearance, non-phenomenality, non-perception, non-keeping-would have been fulfilled. (p. 15)
I wonder how much Derrida is thinking of Levinas’ location of the ethical relationship in the pre-originary anarchic space which constitutes us but which we cannot really remember (represent/thematise) without destruction. This is a more subtle position than the other that he is clearly considering: psychoanalysis. He seems to be suggesting that the psychoanalytic objection would attempt to enable pure gifting by removing the consciously intentional subject. But he specifically disavows such a position, unsurprisingly, because the distinction between pure gift and exchange-based gift cannot be maintained without violence to both, and disavowal of difference. Indeed, the ‘keeping’ Derrida has specifically claimed renders the gift impossible is problematic:
We had in mind also the keeping in the Unconscious, memory, the putting into reserve or temporalization as effect of repression. For there to be gift, not only must the donor o donee not perceive or receive the gift as such, have no consciousness of it, no memory, no recogition; he or she must also forget it right away [a l’instant] and moreover this forgetting must e so radical that it exceeds even the psychoanalytic categoriality of forgetting. This forgetting of the gift must even no longer be forgetting in the sense of repression. It must not give rise to any of the repressions (originary or secondary) that reconstitute debt and exchange by putting in reserve, by keeping or saving up what is forgotten, repressed, or censured. Repression does not destroy or annul anything; it keeps by displacing. Its operation is systemic or topological; it always consists of keeping by exchanging places. And, by keeping the meaning of the gift, repression annuls it in symbolic recognition. (p. 16)
This I find intriguing, mostly because I make much of Diprose’s consideration of ‘memorialising’ and ‘forgetting’ in my thesis, and the kind of forgetting that she implies functions politically in relation to gift-giving seems to occur repressively. This isn’t surprising, because it is an attempt to annul the symbolic recognition of the gift, precisely intentional and politicised.
So we are speaking here of an absolute forgetting-a forgetting that also absolves, that unbinds absolutely and infinitely more, therefore, than excuse, forgiveness, or acquittal…. The thought of this radical forgetting as thought of the gift should accord with a certain experience of trace. (p. 16-17)
Ah, yes, the absolute forgetting that still leaves a trace. Complete and utter sense, thank you so much for your clarity, Derrida! He… well, it’s not really clarifying, but elaborates:
And yet we say ‘forgetting’ and not nothing. Even thought it must leave nothing behind it, even thought it must efface everything, including the traces of repression, this forgetting, this forgetting of the gift cannot be a simple non-experience, a self-effacement that is carried off with what it effaces. For there to be a gift even (we say event and not act), something must come about or happen, in an instant, in an instant that no doubt does not belong to the economy of time, in a time without time, in such a way that the forgetting forgets, that it forgets itself, but also in such a way that this forgetting, without being something present, presentable, determinable, sensible or meaningful, is not nothing…. Far from giving us to think the possibility of the gift, on the contrary, it is on the basis of what takes shape in the name gift that one could hope thus to think forgetting. For there to be forgetting in this sense, there must be gift. The gift would also be the condition of forgetting. (p. 17)
So forgetting and the gift are necessary for each other, and impossible without each other. Noice. The trace of forgetting, then, lies in the gift, and the trace of the gift in the forgetting.
Now we hit Heidegger. It’s been so long since I read Being and Time, and I have to say that the first time around was pretty crappily taught! So if I miss the meaning of this section, I’m sorry about that!
The thought on whose path we are, the thought as path or as movement along a path is precisely what is related to that forgetting that Heidegger does not name as a psychological or psychoanalytic category but as the condition of Being and of the truth of Being. This truth of Being or of the meaning of Being was foreshadowed, for Heidegger, on the basis of a question of Being posed, beginning with the first part of Sein und Zeit, in the transcendental horizon of the question of time. The explication of time thus forms the horizon of the question of being as a question of presence. (p. 18)
Here Derrida connects time and being together through the word ‘present,’ as he foreshadowed. Heidegger’s understanding of forgetting as a condition of both Being and the truth (aletheia) of Being demonstrate that the question of the gift plays into these concerns about Western metaphysics.
Metaphysics would have interpreted Being (Sein) as being-present/present-being only on the basis of, precisely, a pre-interpretation of time, which pre-interpretation grants an absolute privilege to the now-present, to the temporal ecstasis named present. (p. 19)
… [I]t will not be a matter of subordinating the question of Being to the question of the Ereignis, a difficult word to translate (event or propriation that is inseparable from a movement of dis-propriation, Enteignen). This word, Ereignis, which commonly signifies event, signals toward a thinking of appropriation and de-propriation that cannot be unrelated to that of the gift. (p. 19)
From here Derrida spends some time on the German formulation ‘es Gibt,’ a vaguely equivalent to the French ‘il y a’ and the English ‘there is.’ ‘Es Gibt‘ translates as ‘it gives.’ What exactly ‘it’ is that does the giving is unclear, and remains so, even if we specify that it gives time. ‘It’ gives, but ‘it’ isn’t really anything, though it gives. Indeed, time doesn’t give temporality, for temporality (as we’ve seen with the intro) isn’t a thing. From his citing of Heidegger:
First, we shall think Being in order to think It itself into its own element. In this way, the manner must become clear how there is, It gives Being nad how there is, It gives time. In this giving, it becomes apparent how that giving is to be determined which, as a relation, first holds the two toward each other and bring them into being [und sie er-gibt; by producing them or obtaining them as a result of a donation, in some sort: the ese gives being and gives time by giving them one to the other insofar as it hold (halt) them together in relation one to the other. (p. 21)
So it is only in giving that there is an it that gives, let alone the given thing. But Derrida then asks what it might mean to think an element into its own element. That is, how does the idea of possession, or rather, propriation, wind up informing such an approach? How does one set up a distinction about what is ‘proper’ to the element under analysis? Or Derrida’s questions:
What would it mean to think the gift, Being, and time properly in that which is most proper to them or in that which is properly their own, that is, hat they can give and give over to the movements of propriation, expropriation, de-propriation or appropriation? Can one ask these questions without anticipating a thought, even a desire of the proper? A desire to accede to the property of the proper? Is this a circle? Is there any other definition of desire? (p. 22)
How does one decide what is given, and whether it is proper to give it, whether it is one’s property in the first place? Is the thing simply and easily understood as one’s own? Can it be given, made a possession that can be given away? Can it become part of another’s property? How? I can’t help, at this point, thinking about embodiment and, say, organ donation. The precise reason that we have organ donation is in order to avoid configuring the body as property, as an alienable possession. Yet in order to be able to give something, one must be able to constitute it both as one’s own, and as giveable, that is, as ex-propriable. And it must be able to be appropriated by another (even if with the accommodations of immunosuppressants. See Nancy’s L’intrus for some consideration of otherness and organ donation/acceptance. I wonder how one forgets that one’s kidney, heart or lung once was and must remain another’s, once was another and is now both another and ‘mine’? Mmm.
I don’t really understand Derrida’s discussion of ‘play’ here, so I’m going to skip that, and instead:
This detour was meant first of all to remind us that the forgetting we’re talking about, if it is constitutive of the gift, is no longer a category of the psyche. It cannot be unrelated to the forgetting of Being, in the sense in which Blanchot also says, more or less, that forgetting is another name of Being. As the condition for a gift to be given, this forgetting must be radical not only on the part of the donee but first of all, if one can say here first of all, on the part of the donor. It is also on the part of the donor ‘subject’ that the gift not only must not be repayed but must not be kept in memory, retained as symbol of sacrifice, as symbolic in general. For the symbol immediately engages one in restitution. To tell the truth, the gift must not even appear or signify, consciously or unconsciously, as gift for the donors, whether individuals or collective subjects. From the moment the gift would appear as gift, as such, as what it is, in its phenomenon, its sense and its essence, it would be engaged in a symbolic, sacrificial, or economic structure that would annul the gift in the ritual circle of the debt. The simple intention to give, insofar as it carries the intention meaning of the gift, suffices to make a return payment to oneself. the simple consciousness of the gift right away sends itself back to the gratifying image of goodness or generosity, of the giving-being who, knowing itself to be such, recognises itself in a circular, specular fashion, in a sort of auto-recognition, self-approval, and narcissistic gratitude. (p. 23)
The gratification of being good; that is the return enabled by the donor’s self-recognition. This does, however, pre-supposed self-presence, self-identity, identity, and so, as Derrida puts it:
And this is produced as soon as there is a subject, as soon as donor and donee are constitution as identical, identifiable subjects, capable of identifying themselves by keeping and naming themselves. It is even a matter, in this circle, of the movement of subjectivation, of the constitutive retention of the subject that identifies with itself. The becoming-subject then reckons with itself, it enters into the realm of the calculable as subject. That is why, if there is a gift, it cannot take plce between two subjects exchanging objects, things, or symbols. The question of the gift should therefore seek its place before any relation to the subject, before any conscious or unconscious relation to self of the subject-and that is indeed what happens with Heidegger when he goes back before the determinations of Being as substantial being, subject, or object. (pp. 23-24)
So the subject can’t give, and can’t receive gifts. Once there is subject and object, radically separable, one can only calculate, exchange, never give or receive. Nonetheless,
… the subject and the object are arrested effects of the gift, arrests of the gift. At the zero or infinite speed of the circle. (p. 24)
So here, I suppose, is the way that Derrida demonstrates the interrelation of the world of exchange (with its attendant subjects, objects, intentions, debt and calculation) with the world of the gift (without self-present subjects, without distinguishable objects, with traced forgetting and the very possibilities for all). More on this later; he heads into Mauss-ville, next, so that, my friends, will be our topic next time. Ah, dreams of the potlatch!