Given Time chapter 1 – part 3

This post is part of the Art as Gift project.

Derrida restates the problem of the gift:
“For there to be gift, it is necessary that the gift not even appear, that it not be perceived or received as a gift.”
This leads Derrida to say that for there to be gift both the donor and donee must:
“Forget it right away [à l’instant]” (16)
“For there to be forgetting…there must be gift.” (17)
The relationship between the two is reciprocal:
“forgetting in the condition of the gift, and the gift is in the condition of forgetting” (18)

Derrida then detours towards Heidegger and his “question of being” a question which Heidegger says has been forgotten, which allows Derrida to link time to the gift and both to a:
“singular thinking of forgetting.” (19)

Derrida returns to forgetting on page 23, paragraph 2, this brings us to the next meeting’s theme: Marcel Mauss on the gift and two questions “that will orient our reading.” (25)

“How is one to legitimate the translations thanks to which Mauss circulates…what he understands by gift?” (ibid)
“What and whom is Mauss talking about in the end” (26)

Derrida now focusses on the impossibility of the gift:
“If the gift appears…as gift…it annuls itself.”
Acknowledging again:
“that the structure of this impossible gift is also that of Being.” (27)

He goes on to say that even if “the gift is another name of the impossible, we still think it, we name it, we desire it. We intend it. And this even if or because or to the extent that we never encounter it, we never know it, we never verify it, we never experience it in its present existence or in its phenomenon.”
Derrida says, There is a gap between “gift and economy” as there is between: “thought, language, desire and knowledge, philosophy, science.” (29)

In philosophy this discourse of opposites is usually expressed in the dialectic, a process of reasoning expressed in terms of the thesis and antithesis, leading to a synthesis of the two. Derrida says we cannot simply reproduce this “critical machinery.” Neither can we reject it. This returns us to the start of this presentation when he asks that we enter into an “effort of thinking” the gift from within the seeming impossibility of the problem in which: “It is a matter…of responding faithfully but also as rigorously as possible both to the injunction or the order of the gift as well as to injunction or the order of meaning.” It is almost as if we need to live the implications of the gift structure and its opposing demands of “thought, language, desire and knowledge, philosophy, science.”

Towards the end of chapter one Derrida begins to offer an account of how these opposites, might be brought together. First asking about the gift and its relationship to the circle, invoked in the figure of the cycle of lectures that Derrida is engaging in. The need to apply reason to the question of the gift, leading to a series of questions. First asking what drives him to: “speak and to render an account of the desire to render an account?”

The giving of the lecture is defined in terms asking what drives this need to give (a lecture) rendering “an account of the gift.” His speaking is a verbal response to the call of the gift: “that forbids one to forgive whoever does not know how to give.” Such as the protagonist of Baudelaire’s Counterfeit Money, the up to now unspoken other subject of his analysis.

Derek Hampson

Given Time chapter 1 – part 2

This post is part of the Art as Gift project.

The Possible
If the gift is the impossible, what can make the gift possible? To answer this question Derrida approaches the figure of the gift that appears when we describe an event of gift giving.

If we say: “Some “one” wants or desires to give” we hear this as incomplete, to complete it we need to say: “Some “one” intends to give or gives “something” to “someone other.”
“A gives B to C.”
“For the gift to be possible, for there to be gift event, according to our common language and logic, it seems that this compound structure is indispensable.”
“Some “one” has to give some “thing” to someone other, without which “giving” would be meaningless.” (11)

These definitions of the gift appear as tautological, the defined term (gift) is in the definition (give). Therefore the gift is not described in this definition. From this analysis Derrida concludes that these “conditions of possibility” (A gives B to C) give the impossibility of the gift, in terms of the “annulment, the annihilation, the destruction of the gift.” At this point he returns to an earlier definition:
“For there to be a gift, there must be no reciprocity, return, exchange, countergift, or debt.” (12)

A reference to “anthropologies”of the gift brings in Marcel Mauss on the gift, before offering another understanding, one in which its actual existence is still in question:
“There is gift, if there is any, only in what interrupts the system as well as the symbol, in a partition without return and without division”
Derrida expands on this to say that for there to be a gift an economic exchange must not occur, i.e. one based on the circularity of exchange, repayment. Furthermore the donor and donee should not recognise the gift as a gift for it to be a gift.
“It is thus necessary … that he not recognize the gift as gift… if the present is present to him as present, this simple recognition suffices to annul the gift.”
Derrida then asks “Why?” His answer: “Because it gives back, in the place… of the thing itself, a symbolic equivalent.”
“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.” (13)

“The simple identification of the gift seems to destroy it.” The gift can appear as a gift, but its very appearance…annuls it as a gift. (14, para 2) “Transforming the apparition into a phantom and the operation into a simulacrum.” (14)

Derek Hampson

Given Time chapter 1 – part 1

This post, part of the Art as Gift project, is the first in a sequence which creates a reading of Jacques Derrida’s book on the concept of the gift: Given Time: 1. Counterfeit Money (1992).

Reading Given Time
How should we read Jacques Derrida’s “Given Time,” a text that seems to defy standard approaches? Central to its understanding is to be aware of the need for a close reading of a text in which its subjects, the gift and time and their “impossibility,” are embedded in its structure. These subjects are given, made visible, by the introduction and development of themes through which they can be understood. These themes: the circle, the economic, the possible etc. are both written about and demonstrated within the text’s structure.

From the beginning of “Given Time” Derrida characterises the gift and time as impossible, both singly and together, asking: “What can time have to do with the gift? We mean: what would there be to see in that?” He follows on from this by saying there would be nothing to see, time is invisible; “it withdraws itself from visibility,” but goes on to say “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.” Time is invisible and yet everything is subject to time, experienced in the “measure of day” governed by the circular movement of the Sun and the Earth.

The reference to “revolution” allows Derrida to introduce the first theme, that of the circle: “Whose figure precipitates both time and the gift towards the possibility of their impossibility” Thus the circle encompasses both the gift and time and their possible relationship to the impossible. The influence of the circle is not only written about it can also be felt in the text’s structure. For example, in paragraph four Derrida repeats, almost word for word, the opening sentence of paragraph two: “To join together, in a title, at once time and the gift may seem to be a laborious artifice, as if, for the sake of economy, one sought to treat two subjects at once.” Circularity is within the structure of the text, which is expanded by the introduction of the concept of economy.

There then follows an extended definition of the word economy. Within this discussion the concepts of distribution and exchange are alluded to and linked to the circle, which Derrida says is at the centre of any problematic of oikonomia [economy] and by extension central to both the gift and time.

Derrida returns to the gift, casting doubt on its very existence, something he does throughout the chapter. He goes on to say if it does exist it would be related to economy. Yet the gift seems to have the capacity to disrupt the circle of economic exchange, by suspending economic calculation, one which “no longer gives rise to exchange.” Here a key point is made:“If there is gift, the given of the gift must not come back to the giving.” Therefore the gift: “must not circulate, it must not be exchanged, it must not 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.” (7)

So the gift is related to the economic and yet cannot take part in the circularity of economic exchange, how can this be expressed? Derrida says the gift is aneconomic (not economic) – this doesn’t mean it has no relation to the economic but instead has a “relation of foreignness to the circle.” (ibid) A relationship which seems to be the impossible, a reference which brings us back to the beginning, but with an expanded understanding. Derrida says that the impossible: “gives itself to be thought as the impossible. It is proposed that we begin by this. And we will do so. We will begin later. By the impossible.” Here Derrida references time by projecting the idea of the impossible into the future discussion, before then expanding on the circle and its relationship to the gift and time.

There then follows a two-page discourse on the circle and on its relationship to the gift and time. Circularity can be viewed as a weakness, in logic a definition that relies on its terms for solution is a vicious circle and can never be resolved. Yet in the writings of Martin Heidegger the hermeneutic circle is celebrated as something we should inhabit and not flee from. Furthermore circularity is central to language (Heidegger the geflecht) and to time.

Derrida again draws upon Heidegger to characterise the traditional philosophical conception of time as a sequence of “nows” that has a connection to the circular:
“Aristotle follows tradition in connecting khronos [time] with sphaira [sphere/circle], Hegel stresses the ‘circular course’ of time” (8)

This leads Derrida to say that wherever the concept of “time as circle is predominant, the gift is impossible.” “A gift is only possible only at the instant an effraction [breaking open] in the circle will have taken place.” (9)

Therefore the gift is outside of time, it’s breaking open of time’s circular structure “concerns time but does not belong to it.” This leads Derrida to say: “the “present” of the gift is no longer thinkable as a now, that is, as a present bound up in the temporal synthesis.”This allows Derrida to briefly expand on the concepts of the present, “in all the senses of this term:” the gift; what is before us; the time now. (9-10)

Derek Hampson

Intro to Given Time

The following post is a transcript of my introductory talk on Jacques Derrida’s “Given Time: 1. Counterfeit Money” (1992). Delivered at the first meeting of the Art & Theory Reading Group’s “Art as Gift” project on January 26th, 2017 – read subsequent posts here

Art as Gift can be thought as an opportunity to read and hear what Jacques Derrida has to say about the gift, central to which is the need for us to engage in what Derrida calls an “effort of thinking,” one in which Derrida’s Given Time will be the main focus, our task, to read and interpret what is said there.

Why the Gift?
In his foreword to Given Time Derrida outlines the role that the gift concept played in the evolution of his thinking. It is clear from this that it is central to many of his writings; whether under its own name or through what he calls other “indissociable motifs,” which include: “speculation, destination…originary affirmation.”(x)* The idea of gift therefore appears to be foundational for many other concepts.

Beyond philosophy the main thinking on the gift that Derrida comments upon is that which has taken place within the field of anthropology, of particular note is Marcel Mauss’s 1925 essay The Gift. This studies the gift-giving rituals of archaic societies in Micronesia, Polynesia and the Pacific Northwest; focusing on their role in the development of tribal social and economic structures. Derrida describes Mauss’s discourse as:

“oriented by an ethics and a politics that tend to valorize the generosity of the giving-being. They oppose a liberal socialism to the inhuman coldness of economism.” (44)

Mauss’s work was instructive for many who followed him including Claude Lévi-Strauss, whose writings contributed to the development of structuralism. A methodology which was summed up by the philosopher Simon Blackburn as:

“the belief that phenomena of human life are not intelligible except through their interrelations. These relations constitute a structure, and behind local variations in the surface phenomena there are constant laws of abstract culture.”

Structuralism was very influential and found its way into other fields of intellectual endeavour, including sociology, psychoanalysis and linguistics. It came under attack by a new wave of French thinkers from the 1960s onwards, including Jacques Derrida, which in part accounts for Given Time’s focus on Mauss’s The Gift.

Derrida doesn’t set out to disprove Mauss’s account of the gift, he says instead that the intention of his discourse is to clarify whether “an explicit formalisation of this question [i.e. of the gift] (is) possible?” (ix) Establishing the parameters within which the gift might be approached. Implicit in this is the limitation of Mauss’s anthropological account, which Derrida sees as being driven by the morality of: “a liberal anti-capitalism.” Leading him to look at other more fundamental, philosophical thinking on the gift, including that of Martin Heidegger. Derrida finds that Heidegger’s writings on the gift are intrinsic to his (Heidegger’s) fundamental theme of the Seinsfrage, the question of Being. Which leads Derrida to define Seinsfrage as “Being as question of presence.” (18)

In Heidegger’s analysis, things have both being and Being. They have a factual actuality, like things, but they also have Being, which is not in itself something physical. The presence of things as factual beings is so pervasive that we have a tendency to understand everything, including the gift, from within the paradigm of the concrete actuality of things.

Rather than seeing the gift as a type of physical entity, we must follow both Heidegger and Derrida down the path of Being if we are to better understand it. Derrida says:

“Being (Sein) – which is not, which does not exist as being present/present being – is signaled on the basis of the gift.” (19)

The gift is that through which the non-physical presence of Being is expressed. This relationship between Being and the gift is reflected in the structure of language. Whenever we say something “is” we are saying Being through the gift. In German this saying of Being is achieved explicitly through the gift. The German locution for “there is” is “es gibt,” for example es gibt Sein, (literally: “it gives Being”). Yet when translated into English (and French) the reference to the gift disappears. We translate es gibt Sein as “there is Being,” rather than “it gives Being,” the explicit reference to the gift disappears.

This is not something lacking in English and French, rather the English and French translations parallel the formal structure of language. For, as Derrida says, the “it gives” does “not form an utterance in the propositional structure of Greco-Latin grammar.” (20) Derrida goes on to quote Heidegger at length, (20-21) who says the “it gives” may not be in the idiom of the language but it is there in the matter of that which is expressed. When we say “there is” we are giving the presence of Being, but without its explicit expression.

Where does time fit into all this?
When we say “there is” we are giving the gift, the presence of Beings as a present, intrinsic to which is time – what is present is in the present. Where there is gift there is time, where there is Being there is time. Derrida deconstructs this bringing into being as a form of production achieved through a donation (i.e. a gift) of each (time and Being) to the other, which, like his title (Given Time) holds them in a relation, one to the other. (21)

“Giving … is to be determined … as a relation (which) holds the two toward each other and brings them into being.” (T&B, 5)**

What is produced in this event of donation, of giving, is presence, presencing as letting-presence.

“To let-presence means: to unconceal, to bring to openness. In unconcealing prevails a giving, the giving that gives presencing, that is Being, in letting-presence.” (ibid)

That which is no-thing, i.e. Being, is unconcealed, through the gift.

Hopefully this brief outline of how the concept of gift can be thought, equips us with a basic understanding. Helping us come to grip with the aporia that Given Time attempts to deal with: the gift to be a gift must not be seen as a gift. This leads Derrida to characterise the gift as the “impossible.” Something, which, like Being, is hidden and can only be brought into view with difficulty and then only fleetingly.

The interplay between what is hidden and attempts to make it concrete in practices such as philosophy are at the heart of Given Time, from the epigraph, which is like the whole of the text in miniature, onwards.

My blogposts on Given Time here

Derek Hampson

* Page number of quotation in Given Time

** Martin Heidegger, “Time and Being” (1952).

Tinzen Blue

My painting Tinzen Blue (oil on canvas, 30 x 183 cm) for the The Horizontal Within, The Horizontal Without, exhibition at Lubomirov/Angus Hughes, until February 5th. Below, installation view of painting within Archival Configuration, installation curated by Peter Suchin with work by Peter Suchin, Louise Bristow and myself.


Vasily Kandinsky on Blue

Kandinsky reinforces the relationship of the colour blue to distance in these quotations from The Spiritual in Art (1911).

  • Blue … moves in upon itself, like a snail retreating into its shell, and draws away from the spectator.
  • The inclination of blue to depth is so strong that its inner appeal is stronger when its shade is deeper.
  • Blue is the typical heavenly colour.
  • I perceive blue as a movement of detachment from man, from the human, a movement that draws us toward the centre of this colour but also towards the infinite, awakening in us a desire for the pure and, finally, for the supernatural.