Given Time chapter 1 – part 3

This post is part of the Art as Gift project.

Forgetting
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