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

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: 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: 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: 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

What is Given in Baudelaire’s Counterfeit Money?

Post #19 of the Art as Gift project’s reading of Jacques Derrida’s Given Time

Derrida’s concepts of “text” and “trace” (GT, 99-102)
Towards the conclusion of chapter 3 of Given Time, Derrida, after many detours, approaches the text of Counterfeit Money, asking “how is the question of the gift and the dative posed in Counterfeit Money?” Introducing the idea of the death of the donor as that which negates the return of the gift.

The text is finite, a “bit of corpus” it appears as a thing, which is a given in terms of our receptivity towards it, it was also given from the moment Baudelaire wrote and dedicated (gave) it. Yet it is a giving without return, whatever return Baudelaire might have counted on, the structure of trace and legacy of this text transcends the “phantasm of return” [the hau of the gift?] in the death of the signatory that accredits the text.

The problematic of the gift is only on the basis of the problematic of the trace and the text. This means not on the basis of the metaphysics of the present, that which is here now in the present. We do not get to the things themselves by avoiding “texts” by avoiding commentary or quotation, all writing is “on credit” subject to the authority of a commentary. It is only a problematic of the trace and dissemination [the giving of the text] that can pose a question of the gift and forgiveness, along with the “excessive forgetting or the forgetful excess that is radically implicated in the gift.” (102)

The second paragraph of page 102 focuses on Counterfeit Money as a text which tells the story of a gift. The text is envisaged as a body, a corpus, that is destined, it is a given, without known signatory and known addressee, framed by its capacity to exceed and which exceeds its frame, it is the story within the story (abyme) which destines the text.

The Trace
“Experience as the experience of the present is never a simple experience of something present over and against me, right before my eyes as in an intuition; there is always another agency there. Repeatability contains what has passed away and is no longer present and what is about to come and is not yet present. The present therefore is always complicated by non-presence. Derrida calls this minimal repeatability found in every experience “the trace.” Indeed, the trace is a kind of proto-linguisticality (Derrida also calls it “arche-writing”), since language in its most minimal determination consists in repeatable forms.” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Jacques Derrida entry)

Derek Hampson

Next Post: What is Tobacco?

What is Tobacco?

Post #20 of the Art as Gift project’s reading of Jacques Derrida’s Given Time

A dissemination that destines the text to depart in ashes or go up in smoke (GT, 102)
The place from which Counterfeit Money, as a scene of gift and counterfeit money, departs, is a tobacco shop, a sign of the modernity that Baudelaire wants to apply “another’s procedure” to. Alongside this modernity is the older institution of tobacco itself, which “informs the essential decor of the scene.”

The two protagonists are linked by the possibility of smoking, of expending at a loss, for pure auto-effective pleasure, very close to the voice, this singular natural product that is tobacco. Rather than a limitless enquiry into tobacco, disseminated in smoke, Derrida contains his analysis within three rings: The Time of Woman and The “good hour” of the “Purloined Letter.” The final smoke ring is tobacco itself, asking:

What is tobacco?
Apparently it is the object of a pure and luxurious consumption. It appears that this consumption does not meet any natural need of the organism. It is a pure and luxurious consumption, gratuitous and therefore costly, an expenditure at a loss that produces a pleasure, a pleasure one gives oneself through the ingestive channel that is closest to auto-affection: the voice or orality. A pleasure of which nothing remains, a pleasure even the external signs of which are dissipated without leaving a trace: in smoke. If there is some gift—and especially if one gives oneself something, some affect or some pure pleasure—it may then have an essential relation, at least a symbolic or emblematic one, with the authorization one gives oneself to smoke. That at least is how it appears. But this appearance remains to be analyzed. (107)

Derek Hampson