This is a transcription of the third part of my commentary on chapter one of Jacques Derrida’s Given Time. Read part two here. Part four, here. Further blog posts on the following chapters of “Given Time” are listed in chronological order in the “Art as Gift Post Index” on the right.
Derek Hampson, convenor Art & Theory Reading Group
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” (11. Para 2) we hear this as incomplete, to complete it we need to say: “Some “one” intends to give or gives “something” to “someone other.” (ibid)
“A gives B to C.” (ibid)
“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.” (ibid)
“Some “one” has to give some “thing” to someone other, without which “giving” would be meaningless.” (ibid)
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.” (12, para 2) 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, para 3) (read the rest of this paragraph)
A reference to “anthropologies” (p.13, para 1) 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” (13, para 2)
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.” (13, para 2)
Derrida then asks “Why?” His answer: “Because it gives back, in the place… of the thing itself, a symbolic equivalent.” (ibid)
“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.” (ibid)
(Read from “It suffices” at the bottom of page 13 to the top of page 15)
“The simple identification of the gift seems to destroy it.” (14, para 1)
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.” (ibid)