Post #27 of the Art as Gift project’s reading of Jacques Derrida’s Given Time
A scene conditioned by fate and social advantage (125-127)
The discourse of Counterfeit Money as a whole is marked by the aleatory, by chance, by fortune (tukhē). According to the narrator of the story the unforgivable action of his friend, in giving the counterfeit coin to the beggar, could only be excusable if his friend’s action was driven by a desire to create an unforeseeable event out of a single stroke of luck in the life of the beggar. (125)
In his analysis Derrida plays with the word “fortune,” the root of which is fors: “chance, luck, fate.” The seeming random gift of the counterfeit coin to the beggar is only possible because of the two friends’ fortunate encounter with the beggar. Derrida calls this poor man, who the friends come across by chance, the “fortune of the story.” Nothing would have happened, no gift, no unforgiveness without the “good fortune that puts the beggar in the path of the friends.” In addition the friends have the fortune to be in possession of a fortune, which means they have at their disposal the change from a purchase.
Derrida claims that the scene of Counterfeit Money is presided over by fate, there before the chance encounter and the gift of the counterfeit coin to the poor man. In addition to the fortunate conditions within which the story of Counterfeit Money operates there is a further condition that needs to be taken into account. That is the social condition of the two “idlers,” who have the fortune, whether by fate or by luck, to be blessed with a fortune that enables them to consider donating some of the surplus of their resources to the beggar.
Baudelaire does not comment on the origins of the social and economic condition of the two friends, making their condition appear as natural “as if nature had decided this belonging to social class.” This leads Derrida to say “fortune is nature,” it gives freely to those who have the “grace” to receive, it gives them a gift that gives them the wherewithal to give.
The narrator expresses a further gift of nature to him, the faculty of “looking for noon at two o’clock,” Derrida calls this looking for what does not naturally occur in its place a “counter-natural gift.” It is a gift that is labouriously exercised, yet this work of labour does not lead to insight. Instead the narrator’s idea, that the reason for his friend’s gift of a counterfeit coin to the poor man was driven by a desire to create an event in his life, comes to him unexpectedly, in an unforeseeable manner, “there suddenly came the idea…” This insight is given to him freely and fortuitously “as if by a chance encounter.”