Reading Counterfeit Money: 5. The Text Machine

Post #18 of the Art as Gift project’s reading of Jacques Derrida’s Given Time

This text, then, is also the piece, perhaps a piece of counterfeit money, that is, a machine for provoking events (96)

An incorruptible taste for refinement, paradox, and aporia
Jacques Derrida’s Given Time is a work which explores its central theme of the gift in terms of the impossible thinking of the aporia and the paradox, through a relentlessly uncompromising process of deconstructivist refinement.

In his final interview, with Le Monde in 2004, Derrida characterised the approach of his generation of French philosophers, as being governed by “an intransigent, even incorruptible, ethos of writing and thinking…without concession even to philosophy, and not letting public opinion, the media, or the phantasm of an intimidating readership frighten or force us into simplifying or repressing. Hence the strict taste for refinement, paradox, and aporia.”

Machine and Event
This taste for paradox and aporia is founded on what Derrida claimed was the biggest challenge for him and his contemporaries, the bringing together of the oppositional concepts of the machine and the event.

The machine is that which is capable of endless, automatic repetition, characterised by Derrida as an “indifferent automaton.” The event on the other hand, is the unique, the one-off, happening now and never to be repeated. It is associated with the organic, in which experience is inscribed into the living body. It is aesthetic in opposition to the machine, which is anaesthetic. For Derrida the very future of philosophy depends on the ability to think both the event and the machine as two indissociable concepts, but in a way in which neither one nor the other dominates:

“to give up neither the event nor the machine, to subordinate neither one to the other, neither to reduce one to the other: this is perhaps a concern of thinking that has kept a certain number of ‘us’ working for the last few decades.”

Derrida’s analysis 
Logically the machine and the event appear as antinomic (opposites) and therefore incapable of being resolved. It is in Given Time that the “impossible thinking” of the machine and the event is enabled in Derrida’s description of the text of Counterfeit Money as a “machine for provoking events.” This is a definition, which brings these oppositional terms together while maintaining their paradoxical and aporistic qualities, one which Derrida justifies in his subsequent extended analysis.

The text is itself an event that opens itself to reading in the here and now, but it also has a past, it has taken place, it has a present, it is present, and we anticipate that it will continue to take place in the future, i.e. it is machine-like in its repeatability. This repeatability places the event within the “order of the aleatory” (random) as such it is “pregnant with other events,” all of which have the capacity for the “staging of a trap or a deception.” Derrida describes this trap as the “affair of reason,” where the idea of “reason” is captured in the French idiom: “de la raison qu’on donne,” lit. to “give reason,” but which means to concede to the other. As idiomatic its meaning is difficult to translate from the original, with more than one possible interpretation and is therefore unstable.

Neither the text or its title, as subject or as a guarantee of the text are stable. The text seems to play with its title: “it is as if the body of the titled text became the title of the title that then becomes the true body, the false-true body…of the text, its false-true corpus, its body as ghost of a fiduciary sign, a body to be taken on credit.” (97) This leads to a destabilisation of the authority invested in texts. Our engagement with them comes down to an act of faith, expressed as both economic and spiritual, a “phenomenon of credit.” The term credit meaning both belief and authority, the institution of a corpus, a body of texts and belief, leading to the phenomenon of canonization, which is both the spiritual and a textual authority given by a body.

“Authority is constituted by accreditation both in the sense of legitimation as effect of belief or credulity, and of bank credit, of capitalized interest. This recalls a very fine saying of Montaigne’s, who knew all this in advance: “Our soul moves only on credit or faith [credit], being bound and constrained to the whim of others’ fancies, a slave and a captive under the authority of their teaching.” (GT, 97)

Derek Hampson

Reading Counterfeit Money: 4. Crossing the Border

Post #17 of the Art as Gift project’s reading of Jacques Derrida’s Given Time

Part and Whole (GT, 94-95)
In Derrida’s analysis of Counterfeit Money, as a short story within the collection Le Spleen de Paris, the larger is constantly overrun by the smaller. The borders that frame the story, the title and the dedication, exceed the borders, which, by convention, they create. The dedication encompasses the whole of Le Spleen de Paris, in the image of a segmented serpent, which can be sliced at will. The title of Counterfeit Money is characterised as if it were the text, and the narrated story but a long note on the title. (86)

[Derrida describes this process of the part encompassing the whole as metonymic – the smaller is “metonymically” larger than the larger. A metonym is a figure of speech which Nietzsche defines as “the substitution of cause and effect” in which the part stands for the whole, for example “tongue” for “language.” The study of figures of speech was central to rhetoric, in works such as Aristotle’s Rhetoric, and Nietzsche’s 1872 Lectures on Rhetoric and Language.]

These framing devices within a book, the title and the dedication, are by convention irremovable, and as such they are thought to provide a stable structure for what is within. [This reference to “structure” draws attention to structuralism]. Rather than a “structure” this relationship between whole and part is described by Derrida as a “movement.” A movement that also “overruns and de-borders the coded language of rhetoric,” in this case that of metonymy as a figure of speech.

Rhetorical figures rely on a stable relationship between the part and the whole. Yet in Derrida’s analysis there is never stability, only stabilization in process. Pointing to “older” more complicated and unstable structures. In what could be called a post-structuralist move, Derrida says they can be called structures as they are “not necessarily chaotic, their relative “anteriority” or their “greater complexity does not signify pure disorder.”

Derek Hampson

Reading Counterfeit Money: 3. The Dedication

Post #16 of the Art as Gift project’s reading of Jacques Derrida’s Given Time

A topological analysis (GT, pp. 87-88)
Baudelaire’s Counterfeit Money was published as part of Le Spleen de Paris in 1855. Derrida uses the book’s spatiality, its topos to analyse the book’s dedication, one of the borders that, along with the title, one must cross before arriving at the short story, Counterfeit Money.

The written dedication, in which Baudelaire offers Le Spleen de Paris to Arsène Houssaye, is inserted in the book between the name of the author and the book’s title; as such it is a feature that appears to situate the destination of the book. [i.e. this is the place where Baudelaire “gives” the book to Houssaye] But the name of the dedicatee is not proof of the book’s effective dedication: “the destination of this dative [what is given] is not reducible to the explicit dedication…there is nothing in a text that is not dedicated.”

Putting the question of the destination of the text to one side, Derrida returns to his topological analysis of the dedication, attempting to situate it within Le Spleen de Paris. It appears not to be part of the fiction, in the same way as Counterfeit Money, yet can we be so sure? Derrida asks: “how is one to take the dedication? Is it still fiction…by what title must one receive it?” What is its place within Le Spleen de Paris, as fiction or as real?

The question of the dedication is the same as the question of its title [whether it is to be taken as true or counterfeit money], and of the whole and the part. [This echoes Levi-Strauss’s claim that one cannot construct the whole from parts. (76) For Derrida, in contradiction, the part exceeds the whole:

It is as if the title were the very text whose narrative would finally be but the gloss or a long note on the counterfeit money of the title, at the bottom of the page.” (86)

This question of the whole and the part is seen within the figure of the snake that Derrida draws our attention to; Baudelaire’s image of Le Spleen de Paris as a segmented whole, a serpent which can be cut into parts, which is given by Baudelaire to Houssaye in the dedication. Derrida leaves further questioning of this gift of a serpent, whether whole or segmented, up in the air.

More on the border

Derek Hampson

Reading Counterfeit Money: 2. The Title

Jacques Derrida’s library © Andrew Bush, 2001

Post #15 of the Art as Gift project’s reading of Jacques Derrida’s Given Time

The title says: “since I say so many things at once, since I appear to title this even as I title that at the same time, since I feign reference and since, insofar as it is fictive, my reference is not an authentic, legitimate reference, well then I, as title…am counterfeit money.” (86-87)

Derrida’s analysis of the title of Baudelaire’s Counterfeit Money (pp. 84-87)
Derrida considers the short story’s title in terms of money, true and counterfeit. The title Counterfeit Money is that which guarantees that which it titles, the narrative, is entitled to be taken as what it gives itself to be, a story of counterfeit money.

Within this terminology there is always uncertainty, expressed as endless bifurcations. Derrida first makes the point that the title of Counterfeit Money does not belong to its narrative discourse. The fictive narrator of Counterfeit Money is not the author of its title, that author is Baudelaire. who is taken as real, yet the title is not foreign to the fiction. Chosen by the author, it is as fictive as the tale told in Counterfeit Money.

The title Counterfeit Money can be understood naively as a story about counterfeit money. Yet at the moment of this reading, the title is divided. It has two referents: counterfeit money itself and the text as a story about counterfeit money. Both of these referents title or titrate the title, they guarantee it. This first division of the title, “engenders many other dehiscences, virtually to infinity.” (85) The division of the title is a “dehiscence” a splitting apart. If we look at the two referents, namely, the story of counterfeit money and counterfeit money itself, we can see this division at work.

The narrative is immediately two things, it is a fiction and a fiction of fiction. It is a fiction written by Baudelaire, but it is a fiction that puts the narrative not in Baudelaire’s hand, as the writer, but in the mouth of a fictive narrator, who is not Baudelaire. This structure then folds back on itself, the fictive narrative is put forward as non-fictive by a fictive narrator, that is one who claims not to be fictive, in the fiction signed by Baudelaire.

This narrative recounts the story of a further twofold fiction, of counterfeit money, which is not a thing like any other, it is divided, it is both a sign and an incorrectly titled sign, a sign without value. The title Counterfeit Money again folds back, it is the title of the fictive text, which no longer only says: here is a story of counterfeit money, but the story as literature is itself counterfeit money. Everything that will be said, in the story, of counterfeit money can be said of the story, of the fictive text bearing this title. This text is also the coin, a piece of counterfeit money provoking an event and lending itself to this whole scene of deception, gift, forgiveness, or non-forgiveness. It is as if the title were the very text whose narrative would finally be but the gloss or a long note on the counterfeit money of the title, at the bottom of the page.

Counterfeit money is never, as such, counterfeit money. As soon as it is what it is, recognised as such, it ceases to act as and to be worth counterfeit money. (87) Derrida calls this an irreducible modality, which obligates you to “wonder what money is: true money, false money, the falsely true and the truly false and non-money which is neither true or false.” (87)

More on the border

Derek Hampson

Reading Counterfeit Money: 1. Introduction

Post #14 of the Art as Gift project’s reading of Jacques Derrida’s Given Time

Jacques Derrida’s Given Time: 1. Counterfeit Money is structured over four chapters. Chapters one and two consider the gift. Chapters three and four are organised around interpreting Baudelaire’s short tale Counterfeit Money. Derrida describes the 84 pages leading up to this analysis, as “a long introduction, with many detours.” (85) Even then he still takes his time, he starts by skimming the borders, the “framing features” of the story. Considering first its title, and then the dedication of the book, Paris Spleen, of which Counterfeit Money is but an “excised morsel.” (87)

Counterfeit Money, overview
The story is a first person account, in which the narrator and his friend encounter a beggar, to whom the friend gives a two-franc coin, before confessing, to the narrator, that the coin was counterfeit. Surmising that his aim was to “pick up the certificate of a charitable man” on the cheap, the narrator refuses to forgive his friend. While it is never excusable to be mean, “the most irreparable of vices is to do evil out of stupidity.”

Derek Hampson

The Fold of Language

Derrida, pre-University essay on Shakespeare, written in 1950.
Writing in red his tutor’s comments and 10 out of 20 mark. © Stanfond University

Post #13 of the Art as Gift project’s reading of Jacques Derrida’s Given Time

The Relationship Between Language and the Gift (GT, 79-81)
Derrida says any definition of language is informed by a certain relationship to the gift being there in advance, it is a relationship that obliges us to think the gift. We also speak of language as a given, one received out of a “fundamental passivity.” Language “gives one to think” but it also:

Steals, spirits away from us, whispers to us, and withdraws the responsibility it seems to inaugurate, it carries off the property of our own thoughts even before we have appropriated them (80)

The scope of this double capacity of language extends beyond the spoken idiom, “to all textuality in general.”

All semantic ambivalence and the syntactico-semantic problem of giving-taking are not situated only within the words of language or the elements of a textual system. Language is also an example of it, as is any textual determination. In a riposte to structuralism Derrida goes on to say:

One must not … ask oneself, in something close to rapturous wonder, how is it possible that to give and/or to take are said this way or that way in a language, … one must remember first of all that language is … a phenomenon of gift-countergift, of giving-taking—and of exchange. All the difficulties of nomination or writing in the broad sense are also difficulties of self-naming, of self-writing. (81)

Everything said about giving-taking folds back on language and writing as giving-taking. Giving comes back, comes down to taking and taking to giving, folding over not only language or writing but the text generally “beyond its linguistic or logocentric closure, beyond its narrow or common meaning.” This “come back” redoubles endlessly not only the semantic ambivalence that Beneveniste speaks of, but also the “ambivalence of the gift as good and bad, as gift and poison (Gift-gift).” (ibid)

Derek Hampson

 The Title of the Gift

Post #12 of the Art as Gift project’s reading of Jacques Derrida’s Given Time

Following his critique of Lévi-Strauss’s analysis of Marcel Mauss’s The Gift, Jacques Derrida, in Given Time (pp. 78-81), goes on to detail a further structuralist response to Mauss’s account of gift and exchange rituals in archaic societies. That of Émile Benveniste, whose Gift and Exchange in Indo-European Vocabulary broadens Mauss’s claims of a functional relationship between the gift and exchange, to encompass Indo-European societies. Benveniste employs a structuralist approach, similar to Lévi-Strauss’s appeal to language’s “unconscious mental structure,” studying the vocabulary of ancient Indo-European societies in terms of their usages of the words that signify “to give” and “to take.”

Benveniste at first focuses on the root word which means “to give” (as in “donation”) across numerous archaic Indo-European languages. The certainty given by this constancy of meaning is interrupted by the discovery that the Hittite verb means not “to give” but “to take.” It is accepted that they are both the same verb, raising the possibility that the original meaning of might have been “to take” rather than “to give.” Which then leaves the question of how “to give” could have come from “to take.”

This, on the face of it, appears as an insoluble problem, an aporia, one that Benveniste proposes to resolve through an appeal to language, in terms of syntax (sentence construction) rather than semantics (sentence/word meaning). His answer to this problem is that means neither give nor take “but either one or the other depending on the construction.” Derrida gives the following analogy: ‘in English, “to take something from someone” means to take something that belongs to someone, whereas “to take something to someone” means to deliver, to give something to someone.’ (79) Thus means “to take hold,” one can take hold in order to give or to keep. This means that language has the capacity to choose which meaning of the word to accept at the expense of the other.

Derrida’s analysis
Derrida thinks that not all the problems are resolved by this “syntactic decidability,” as it can only function against a background of “semantic ambivalence.” One in which the meanings of “to give” and “to take” are never stable, they “proclaim themselves…as notions linked by their polarity and which were susceptible of the same expression.” (79) At its root both “to give” and “to take” are linked opposites, which can be employed to express the same meaning. Thus they have both equivalence and ambivalence.

This leads Derrida to say: “if giving is not simply the contrary or something other than taking, if the gift is not totally foreign to taking, if it is not even contrary to it, then we have to take on the gift.” (81)

“In other words, what we do not yet know is whether we should take its title for legal tender…all this comes down to, comes back to the title, to the question of the title as question of credit and to the title as question of counterfeit money.” (82)

Derek Hampson

Derrida’s critique of Lévi-Strauss

Post #11 of the Art as Gift project’s reading of Jacques Derrida’s Given Time

Lévi-Strauss’s Linguisticism
Jacques Derrida in Given Time (pp.76-79) claims that Lévi-Strauss’s critique of hau, in which he locates gift-giving rituals such as the potlatch within a structuralist logic of exchange and relation, effectively annuls the gift; gifts cannot be exchanged “tit for tat.” Derrida goes on to say that the question of the given-thing is not a false problem, as Lévi-Strauss would have it. One which will “dissolve in the transparent light of an Aufklärung (clearing up) of relational logic.” (76)

Derrida characterises Lévi-Strauss’s analysis as belonging “to the rationality of the principle of reason.” One which appeals to linguistic concepts such as “zero phoneme” and “floating signifiers,” in order to resolve the contradictions inherent in notions such as hau; i.e. the antithetical operations of giving and taking within one expression. In Lévi-Strauss’s reasoning hau is an empty symbol, which is there as “the conscious expression of a semantic function,” to which we bring supplementary symbolic content to complete it. Lévi-Strauss’s argument follows the reasoning of symbolic logic, a logic which “summarises the general laws of language.”

For Derrida this analysis has the effect of substituting exchange for gift in the constitution of the symbolic, in events such as the potlatch. Leading Derrida to the conclusion “there is no gift as concerns reason.” The gift allows reason and not the other way around.

Derrida then comments that Lévi-Strauss’s claim “that all social phenomena can be assimilated to language,” was important for the “hegemonic institution of French structuralism as a linguisticism in the 60s.”

Derek Hampson

Hau: a structuralist critique

Post #10 of the Art as Gift project’s reading of Jacques Derrida’s Given Time

Claude Lévi-Strauss, in his Introduction to the Work of Marcel Mauss (1950), critiques Mauss’s notion of hau. This is the mysterious force in the gift, given in the property-exchange rituals of archaic societies, which demands its return at a later date. Hau is necessary for the gift, as it produces the synthesis between these two antithetical operations of giving and returning.

Instead of focusing on the thing that is given in the gift and its call for return, Lévi-Strauss, in line with the principles of linguistic structuralism, directs us outwards, towards the language in which these practices of gift-giving are expressed. In those societies studied, the antithesis between giving/returning does not exist, as these “antithetical operations are expressed by the same word.”

He goes on to quote from Marcel Mauss who notes, in The Gift, that “Papuan and Melanesian have one single term to designate buying and selling, lending and borrowing. “Operations that are opposites are expressed by the same word.” (GT, 75) Therefore, Lévi-Strauss claims, there is no need for hau, the “aura” of the gift, which he calls a “magical” notion.

Derek Hampson

Hau: the Aura of the Gift

Post #9 of the Art as Gift project’s reading of Jacques Derrida’s Given Time

In his 1925 essay The Gift, Marcel Mauss addresses the nature of the gifts exchanged in rituals such as the potlatch. Asking “what force is there in the given thing that causes its recipient to pay it back?” (GT, 41) Mauss names this “force” hau, a Maori word which might be translated as “aura.”

Hau signals the hidden power of the gift to demand restitution, it is that which carries out the synthesis, essential to the gift, between two antithetical operations, giving/taking or giving/returning.

Derek Hampson