What is unforgiven in Counterfeit Money?

Betrayal and the Failure to Give (GT, 116-120)

Baudelaire’s 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.”

Derrida proposes that rather than his deceit of the beggar, it is the friend’s betrayal of the narrator that is refused forgiveness by the narrator. Following which Derrida then asks: “But in what, then, does the betrayal consist?” The answer to this question is obscure. To determine the reasoning that results in non-forgiveness for a non-gift is tricky, elliptical. (116)

Derrida’s own reasoning is based on what he terms the “libidinal drama and the apparently homosexual duel” that is played out in the story and in the narrative of Counterfeit Money. [N.B. the story and the narrative are different] He justifies this in terms of the eyes of the silent beggar, which ask for alms, in response to which the friend, in giving a counterfeit coin, feigns an answer. (117)

This narrative structure is repeated, with some differences, in another of Baudelaire’s stories The Eyes of the Poor. In which the two protagonists, a male narrator and his female companion – seated in a café, are confronted by silent poverty in the form of a father and his two children, all weak with hunger. Their six eyes interrogate the seated couple; in response to which the male feels empathy and shame, while his companion asks that they be sent away. This leads to the narrator’s sceptical conclusion on the incommunicability of thought “even between people who love each other!” (119)

Derrida now returns to Counterfeit Money, where he distinguishes between the story and the narrative. The narrative, expressed in the first person account of the narrator, is what happens to the narrator, in the form of a meditation on the event “a meditation that is not exempt from reasoning and speculation – ad infinitum.” The narrator speculates on a speculation, the money, the coin, the product of speculation given, which might lead to other speculative events, creating “an event in this poor fellow’s life.” Yet the event that has been created happens to the narrator and his relation of friendship, through which he is unable to forgive his friend. This is described, by Derrida, as a “movement of transference, the event is “created in the life of the narrator himself.”

This is expressed in the act of narration, the narrator’s comments about himself, rather than the story or the narrative it creates, it appears to say that the friend “by not really giving to this poor man, he has not given to me.” But what has the friend failed to give to the narrator? The answer to this question is delayed, momentarily. (120)

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This entry was posted in Art as Gift, Baudelaire, Chapter 4 Posts, Counterfeit Money, Delay, Derrida, Event, Gift, Given Time, Narrative. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to What is unforgiven in Counterfeit Money?

  1. Pingback: What is unforgiven in Counterfeit Money? | Derek Hampson

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