Given Time chapter 1 – part 1

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.

As I said Derrida characterises both the gift and time as the impossible, how can we understand this? Let us follow Derrida’s argument, starting on page 6, after the epigraph, where he begins with an immediate reference to the impossible when he says: “Let us begin with the impossible.” What is referred to here is the work’s title, “Given Time,” in which the gift and time are brought together, and the difficulty to come of joining them, 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)

Read the second part of my detailed notes on chapter one of Given Time here

Derek Hampson

Art as Gift Introduction

          

Art as Gift was an Art and Theory Reading Group project that ran from January to May 2017. The aim of the Art as Gift project was to examine the idea that we experience works of art, in terms of presence – as something given, i.e. as gifts. Two principle theorisations of the gift informed discussions:

  1. The gift as part of a process of exchange, as set out by the anthropologist Marcel Mauss in: The Gift (1950).
  2. The impossibility of the gift, as set out by Derrida in his book: Given Time: 1. Counterfeit Money (1991).

Derrida’s text was the main focus of the group’s discussions, for a short overview of Derrida on the gift click here (external site).

Information from the start of the project
The reading group will, over four meetings, employ discussion, exposition and reading to clarify the relationship between the gift and art. Each meeting, led by Derek Hampson, will be informed by a short text, given out in advance. To support the meetings Derek Hampson will publish a series of detailed notes on each chapter of Given Time as a series of blog posts, on this website.
[These blogs are now online, click here to read from the beginning]

Art as Gift will culminate in a public presentation, informed by the thinking developed within the group. Reading group meetings will be held at Wollaton Street Studios, 179 Wollaton Street, Nottingham, NG1 5GE, starting @ 6pm.

Timetable
Reading Group 1 – January 26
Introductory presentation by Derek Hampson, then discussion
Text: ‘The Time of the King’ in Given Time (1).

Reading Group 2 – February 23
This meeting will focus on reading and discussing chapter 2 of Given Time: The Madness of Economic Reason: A Gift without Present (34-70). Suggested themes for discussion will be posted on this website.

Reading Group 3 – March 30
This meeting will focus on reading and discussing chapter 3 of Given Time: “Counterfeit Money’ 1: Poetics of Tobacco” (71-107). Suggested themes for discussion will be posted on this website.

Reading Group 4 – April 27
Final meeting, dedicated to reading chapter 4 of Given Time: “Counterfeit Money” II:Gift and Countergift, Excuse and Forgiveness (108-172). Suggested themes for discussion will be posted on this website.

Art as Gift Symposium – May 13
11:00am at the Lace Market Gallery, Stoney Street, Nottingham. The artist and critic Peter Suchin (Art Monthly) will address the question: “What is Given in Marcel Duchamp’s Given?”

Click on image below to download “Given Time” as a pdf

Given Time chapter 1 – part 3

Forgetting
Derrida restates the problem of the gift on:
“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.

Read the first part of my detailed notes on chapter one of Given Time here, the second part here.

Notes on chapter two of Given Time

Derek Hampson

Given Time chapter 1 – part 2

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)

Read part the third part of my detailed notes on chapter one of Given Time here, the first part here

Derek Hampson

Art as Gift Overview

Starting 26th January 2017, the Art & Theory Reading Group met once a month for four months, at Wollaton Street Studios, to discuss Jacques Derrida’s Given Time: 1. Counterfeit Money, examining the implications for artistic practice of its ostensible theme of the gift.

Given Time is structured around Derrida’s deconstructivist analysis of the anthropologist Marcel Mauss’s 1925 essay The Gift, a study of gift-giving rituals in tribal societies, and Charles Baudelaire’s short story Counterfeit Money (1869).

In advance of each meeting I wrote a commentary on one of the book’s four chapters, in the form of a series of blog posts. If you are reading this on this site’s Home page you can scroll down the page to read these, (in reverse chronological order), otherwise use the Art as Gift Post Index on the right to navigate to a particular post.

The project culminated in the Art as Gift Symposium, in which the artist and critic Peter Suchin (Art Monthly) discussed the question “What is Given in Marcel Duchamp’s Given?”

Derek Hampson
(Convenor, Art & Theory Reading Group)

Read my detailed commentary on chapter one of Given Time here

Transcription of my introduction to Peter Suchin’s presentation.

The End

This post is part of the Art as Gift Project

Baudelaire’s gift (170-172)
Derrida ends Given Time, signalling the unknowability of the secret of what either Baudelaire, the narrator or the friend meant to say or do, in Counterfeit Money, through his repeated use of “perhaps,” as the condition under which the events occur. This is the secret that enters literature, constituted by the literary institution and revealed by that institution only to the extent it loses all interiority, all thickness, all depth. It is an unbreakable secret, it is not subjective, it is superficial, without substance.

“It is spread on the surface of the page, as obvious as a purloined letter, a post card, a bank note, a check, a “letter of credit” – or “a silver two-franc piece.” (170)

A further conclusion is reached, “there is no nature, only effects of nature.” The meaning of nature is referred back to it from a simulacrum that it is thought to cause, in this case literature. The narrator, as nature, represents a nature that does not so much give as lend, and lends more than it gives. It extends credit, this for that (tit for tat), as the narrator lends wings to his friend’s mind. Derrida expands on this lending of wings by asking us to recall the story of Icarus, as told in Baudelaire’s poem The Complaints of an Icarus. Asking if that story would be the “whole story, all of history? In any case…a certain history of philosophy.” There follows an account of the poem.

Icarus, “an” Icarus refers the poem’s subject to the author, to Baudelaire, a writer who “is not able to sign…unable even to give his name, to give himself a name, to give a name to his end.” (171) How therefore, asks Derrida, can he know how to give? As one who writes, he has no place of burial and therefore no proper name, he is depersonalised and thereby sinks into the abyss. The poet does not sign; he complains that he cannot even pity himself. A gift is not signed; it does not calculate even with a time that would do it justice, Baudelaire makes no concessions: his “modernity” marked by a “striking insolence,” extends no credit to the sublime. Which Derrida characterises as “speculation” and “counterfeit money” that one would like to substitute “for the hopeless, cruel, prostituting, killing of “love of beauty.”

Derrida concludes Given Time with a reading of The Complaints of an Icarus, as a downfall [chute], a story of the end, a falling off, “its absolute humility, and just the lowest possible:”

[…]
My consumed eyes see only
Souvenirs of the sun.
[…]
Beneath some unknowing eye of fire
I feel my wing breaking;

And burned by the love of beauty,
I will not have the sublime honor
Of giving my name to the abyss
That will serve as my tomb.

The Judgment of Nature

This post is part of the Art as Gift Project

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)

Next Post: The End

Three Motifs of Reverie

This post is part of the Art as Gift Project

Taking time (157-163)
Derrida continues his analysis of Counterfeit Money, pointing out that the narrator, at first, tries to make excusable what his friend has just confessed to him, i.e. that he gave the beggar a counterfeit coin. This search for excuse occurs in the mind of the narrator, in a reverie which is broken by the friend speaking, which leads to the narrator’s judgment of his friend; “I will never forgive him.”

Because of lack of time Derrida then proposes to explore just three motifs from within the narrator’s reverie on the possibilities of excusing the endless unforeseen possibilities opened up by his friend’s actions:
1. Excuse
The desire to “create an event” overrides the “criminal enjoyment” that the friend might take in his false gift.
2. Limit and limitless
The gift of counterfeit money appears to make the impossibility of the gift possible. The effects of counterfeit money, wealth – prison, are incalculable, as must the gift be in order to be a gift; “one can give only in the measure of the incalculable.” The incalculable, in terms of money, is also the infinite, the limitless possibilities that monetary speculation promises. Here Derrida uses Aristotle’s concepts of chremastics and economy to explore the good limit of economy and the bad infinite of monetary exchange. Economy, the law of the household (oikos), circulates within its boundary, yet requires the khrema (of chremastics) for anything to occur such as an event. The gift must go against nature’s generosity, “one may give with generosity but not out of generosity.” (162) The narrator’s speculative reverie produces the interest of Counterfeit Money as a phantasm, the illusion that limitless speculation gives.
3. What is seen breaks the contract of friendship
In his desire to excuse his friend the narrator credits him with a variety of motives that might lead him to give a false gift. Derrida characterises this effort of the narrator towards the friend as contractual. The narrator advances credit to the friend drawn on a “reserve fund” of friendship, which the narrator then sees he does not deserve. Derrida asks what proves to the narrator that the friend does not deserve forgiveness. His answer, the narrator sees the friend’s true aim in his eyes, which shine with “unquestionable candor.” (163) The place of the narrator is the place of credulity and the place from which moral judgment is proffered, in a judgment without appeal.

Next Post: The Judgment of Nature

A Terrible Scene of Friendship

This post is part of the Art as Gift Project

The enigma of the text (152-156)
Whether or not the friend gave the beggar a counterfeit coin is the interest, the enigma of Baudelaire’s Counterfeit Money, and as such is indecipherable and resistant to interpretation. This is the secret of the text, a secret which is “unbreakable.” There is no chance of ever knowing if a counterfeit coin was given – there is therefore no sense in wondering what actually happened, whether on the part of the friend or the narrator. As fictional characters they have no “consistency, no depth beyond their literary phenomenon.” The inviolability of the secret they both carry depends on this “essential superficiality of their phenomenality.” They are “two-to-speak” [this form of words makes them a single entity] holding the possibility of non-truth “in which every truth is held or is made.” This also says the “(non-) truth of literature,” which ensures the possibility of literature.

Derrida then compares literature to money, which as long as one can reckon with its phenomenality [its appearance as money], as long as one can count with and on cash money to produce effects (alms, purchase, speculation), as long as money passes for (real) money, it is not different from the money that, perhaps, it counterfeits. There is no way of detecting the difference, between the real and the counterfeit, as long as it is framed by its conventions or institutions. Beyond this frame other possibilities, other contexts of truth and reality are opened up.

This would confirm that everything was being played out for the narrator – the friend would not have done any of this if it had not been for his friend the narrator. Everything happens to the narrator, everything is dedicated to him:

  • The time of the story is given to the narrator
  • The narrator recounts a story whose meaning is dedicated to him

This situation leads to a murder, the narrative gives and kills time. The relationship between the friends is that of a merciless war – in which each acknowledges that the other is right, exchanging the phrase “you are right.” Derrida calls this exchange a “specular reversal” (155), which he writes as “you are right”/”you are right.” They tell each other that they are right to tell each other they are right, which Derrida says could mean three things:

  1. We are right, which confirms that we have reason, we belong to the species of the rational animal (logon ekhon)
  2. We know how to count, we are men of knowledge and calculation and also good narrators.
  3. Our calculation has prevailed, we have controlled by reasoning with the other.

Yet their being subject to reason, in giving each other reason, leads them to the breaking of the contract [of friendship?] between them. In giving reason to each other they have given nothing. The gift does not obey the principle of reason, it is without foundation, Derrida claims that the gift is a “stranger” to morality and to law.

If you give because you must give, then you no longer give. (156)

The gift and the event share the same conditions; “being outside-the-law, unforeseeability, “surprise,” the absence of anticipation or horizon, the excess in regard to all reason.” Leading Derrida to conclude that “nothing ever happens by reason.”

Next Post: Three Motifs of Reverie

The Credit of Literature

This post is part of the Art as Gift Project

The relationship between the narrator and the friend is uncertain, questionable, did the friend truly give counterfeit money or did he lie to his friend in a false confession? As Derrida says we will never know the answer to this question, which says something about the place of belief in writing, which frames Baudelaire’s writing. Derrida describes this frame as a four-sided border, a “dislocated frame of a triptych,” (150) which excludes a fourth term.

The narrative is framed in such a way that we, the readers, are like the narrator, in debt to the friend. But we are also his creditor, we extend the credit of belief to him that he gave the counterfeit coin as he said. There is no way we can intervene in the scene in order to ascertain the truth or otherwise of the narrator’s claim. The dual, dialogic nature of the friend’s “stroll tete-a-tete” excludes the reader’s access to the secret, as it excludes the author himself. (150-152)

Next Post: A Terrible Scene of Friendship

The Antagonism of Friendship

This post is part of the Art as Gift Project

The interaction between the two friends in Counterfeit Money is fraught with accusation, which leads to the friend justifying his action of seeming over-generosity by saying he had given a counterfeit coin. Derrida speculates on why the friend says this. He may be asking to get himself excused for his prodigality and for dominance of the narrator through his larger donation. His confession may signal a naively triumphal and boastful account of his speculative abilities. Yet these hypotheses do not exclude each other, they bear the appearance of counterfeit money, as such the false-donor the narrator is free of the violence of the gift, breaking the cycle of exchange implicit in the gift. (149-150)

Next Post: The Credit of Literature

The Pleasure of Surprise

This post is part of the Art as Gift Project

In the story of Counterfeit Money the friend is judged by the narrator, but both are indicted by the appearance and look of the beggar to acquit themselves by sacrificing, i.e. to make a destructive gift to appease the gods, the poor. They both must give, but one gives more than the other and in this giving what they give must show itself. This is not for the poor man or for the law but for the other, the partner, the friend. This is because as friends they are not only indebted with regard to the poor man but also to each other. (145)

The comparison of their offerings is central to the story, the other elements, the poor man, the law seem as part of the conditions needed for their exchange to take place, which is constituted as a bidding war, a potlatch. What is given in this potlatch is one friend’s advantage over the other due to the surprising generosity of the donation. The narrator at first takes pleasure in his friend’s generosity, he treats himself to pleasure.

The narrator equates pleasure with surprise, the sudden coming of the new, which cannot be anticipated or repeated, it is an event. Pleasure is being surprised and more intensely causing a surprise in the other. The cause of pleasure in the other is surprise, the passion of wonder – the origin of philosophy. But the greatest pleasure is to be the cause of the cause of the surprise, by giving what gives me pleasure to the other – for example tobacco.

Next Post: The Antagonism of Friendship

The Law of Alms

The demand of the beggar is the demand of the gods (137-142)

“Generosity is an obligation because Nemesis avenges the poor and the gods for the superabundance of happiness and wealth of certain people.” (Mauss, 18)

(This post is part of the Art as Gift Project)

The beggar signifies the absolute demand of the other, which is the unquenchable thirst for the gift, for alms. The giving of alms to the beggar is within a sacrificial structure. Sacrifice is different to a pure gift – it is giving is in the form of destruction, hoping for a benefit. Mauss calls the sacrifice “the present made to the gods.” Alms are a calculated sacrifice.

The poor, marginal people excluded from the process and circulation of wealth, come to represent the gods or the dead. The look of the beggar or of the poor is one of incrimination, accusation, a demand from the other. You must pay, i.e. give to stop the spirit from coming back to haunt you. The giving of alms is in order to “get in good graces and make peace with it.”

The persecution of the beggar
Counterfeit Money is marked by misfortune from the moment of the first encounter. The condition of the poor man is on account of misfortune, he is destitute, speechless. The absolute demand of the other that the beggar gives, is communicated through his eyes. His look accuses and frightens the two friends, who are persecuted by the law, by justice, in the face of which they are in turn destitute. The poor man has nothing to give, he can only demand restitution in the disquieting mute eloquence of his look, which communicates humility and reproach. Baudelaire likens this look of the beggar to that of a beaten dog. Elsewhere he invokes the image of the dog and the poor to define his “urban muse,” “his poet’s inspiration as painter of modern capital and of the modern capital.” (143) Saying the poet shares the same fate of exclusion as the dog and the poor.

The trial of Counterfeit Money
The demand of the poor man embodies the figure of the law. The two friends are indebted and guilty as soon as the beggar silently looks at them. “They are on trial, they appear before the donee’s court as before the law.” (144) They treat with gratitude whoever accepts their payment in order to acquit themselves of their debt.

The story is a trial, a process [procession, walk]. The two friends walk for the length of the story, which also contains the time of a judicial procedure: incrimination [the meeting with the beggar], law [the giving of the gift] judgment [“I will never forgive him”]. In meeting the beggar they are before the law.

Next Post: The Pleasure of Surprise

Two types of luck

This post is part of the Art as Gift Project

Tukhhē and Automaton (133)
When speaking of fortune Derrida calls upon the Aristotelian concept of tukhē over the linked concept of automaton. The former is a chance, read into the event in terms of its outcome, of its end, which Derrida calls “finalized chance.” Whereas automaton has within it the idea that unforeseen things happen but without any intentionality.

The event of the gift as told in Counterfeit Money is prepared for in advance of its end, the friend prepares his change so that the counterfeit coin is at hand for when the right opportunity offers itself, as he knows it will.

Next Post: The Law of Alms

On Nature and Production

This post is part of the Art as Gift Project

Derrida (128) discusses the unity of fortune and nature, “fortune is nature” (126), expressed as the luck of the draw and what gives generously at birth, to the nascent being. Saying the alliance between these two dominates the narrator’s discourse in Counterfeit Money.

The primary concept of nature that Derrida calls upon is phusis [from which we get the word physic, as in physics and metaphysics etc]. Saying that nature can be either the great, generous and genial donor, which everything, law, art etc, comes back to. On the other hand nature can be the “order of natural necessities,” laws of nature in opposition to law, art etc. Here nature’s relationship to the gift is as what is given.

Similarly the concept of production can be opposed to the natural and to the gift. What is produced is not given and producing seems to exclude donation. Yet, Derrida asks, is not the “pheuin of phusis” i.e. what nature gives, the “donation of what gives birth, the originary productivity…that brings to light and flowering.” “Is it not what gives form and, by bringing things into the phenomenality of the light, unveils or develops the truth of that which it gives.”

Here we have a donating production in which fortune and necessity [the event and the machine?] are allied. It is worth noting that production translates the Greek poesis which means both to make but also has a relation to bringing forth of the beautiful, the poetic.

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