Post #36 of the Art as Gift project’s reading of Jacques Derrida’s Given Time
Confessing an infinite debt (164-170)
Derrida now focuses on the narrator’s refusal to give forgiveness to his friend, for doing “evil out of stupidity,” asking what does the narrator mean by such words? (165) The friend is not condemned for having an evil intention, but for the “limits of his intelligence.” (166) Generally we do not condemn someone for such reasons. The limit of one’s intellect is considered to be innate, given by nature. The focus becomes the intention behind the friend’s actions – “lodged in stupidity.” (167) The question then becomes about stupidity, which Derrida surmises, in the eyes of the narrator, is the will of the rational animal (logon ekhon) that does not want to be able to use its reason. He has the reason, the capacity to act responsibly, but chooses not to be responsible for his irresponsibility. He does not understand the implications of his actions.
This understanding can appear as the beginning of remorse, which presupposes a link between awareness and confession. Derrida denies this, saying “confession does not consist essentially in making the other aware of something.” (168) One does not confess in order to inform. The consequence of this is that “the eidetic purity of confession stands out better when the other is already in a position to know what I confess.”
The friend did not do what he ought to have done in order to know that he was mean, to make it known, and to confess it to himself. Stupidity is not a natural state, but rather a relation to an intellectual power inscribed in us by nature, “a kind of universal good sense.” The friend fails to honour the contract that binds him to this gift of nature, by doing this he shows he is not worthy of this gift. He has therefore failed to acquit himself of his debt to nature, a natural debt.
Within the structure of Counterfeit Money the narrator takes the place of nature, through which we witness “something that resembles the birth of literature.” The “I” of the narrator in supplanting Baudelaire as the true signatory of the story leads to the “naturalization” of literature, it leads to an interpretation of literature as nature.
Baudelaire in creating the narrative of Counterfeit Money, puts on stage a narrator who is both like nature and is judgmental, exhibiting the “fiction of a naturalization of literature,” inscribing naturalization “in an institution called literature.” In the process inviting us to “suspend…the old opposition between nature and institution.” (170)