Here I will discuss through three separate posts are Derrida’s reflections on “giving” in the book Given Time 1. Counterfeit Money.

The time of the King is constituted and regulated by circles, by a circular movement or circulation that produces and reproduces economy.

Economy is here defined along two axes: 1) the values of law (nomos) and 2) the values of home (oikos). And as soon as their is nomy (nomos) there is economy (oikos). Nomos partitions and distributes, it marks up the oikos in accordance to what is due each.

Derrida invokes a statement from Madam de Maintenon as a way of dismanteling certain assumptions about economy. The Madam has all of her time taken by the King, yet she gives of her time (the rest) to Saint-Cyr. Time is partitioned here by nomos, by law. Thus she cannot take her time, it is taken from her. She wants the power to give her leftover time, that not taken by the King.

The antagonism here is interesting to Derrida for the following reason: the question (or one of the questions) bugging him is whether the gift interrupts economy. Tentatively he suggests that it may, if it defies its circular return (exchange). The gift must remain aneconomic.

Going against the broader Maussian tradition Derrida suggests that wherever time as circle is the predominant conception, the gift is impossible. It becomes possible only when the circle is broken. But how does one break through the Hegelian time of the circle? The issue has nothing to do with time as chronos (the chronological/sequential), insofar as he conceives of this “break” as something outside of time. It has more to do with a distinct logic of the pure gift that doesn’t obey the circular rules of economic return.

So let’s break this down:

A gives B to C, where the “gives” presupposes a common understanding of the intention and meaning of the action. This expresses the model of every gift-event.

However for there to be a gift, there must be no reciprocity , return or exchange, counter-gift or debt. The gift, from an anthropological standpoint is immediately rendered invisible, non-existent, and perhaps impossible. And because it becomes impossible, many commentators have dismissed Derrida’s contribution, not knowing what to make of it. The merit of doing so however is that it allows Derrida to open up the question of the gift to the metaphysical level, an area sociologists and anthropologists who’ve taken up this theme, had not done prior to his essay. By metaphysical I mean the question of “what is”, of “thought” itself as it pertains to the very idea of the gift and giving.

In the phenomenological experience of the gift “A” is always accorded a credit. The circle obeys a logic of debt, where the circulation of gifts is also the circulation of values and symbols (conscious and unconcious) alongside or in lieu of their material counterparts. Simple recognition gives back, making the circle close back in on itself, in the form of a symbolic exchange. For a gift to be a gift, the donor must neither recognize the giving as gift, nor pay herself symbolically the value perceived as given.

I won’t here go into all of the cases by which he dismantles the idea of the phenomenological gift, but will just state that his demonstration of applying logically consistent definitions of a gift that does not return to the giver effectively annuls its possibility in any practical sense in which gifts are mentioned in daily life. This leads him to state that the “gift itself” is not its phenomena. If the gift itself does not apply to practical everyday life, one will ask what is the point of his exposition and and the goal of his inquiry. He gives a hint in the final paragraphs of the “Time of the King”:

  1. To render accounts of the “simulacra” (the appearances of things that are not); and

  2. to render accounts for the desire to render accounts.

The second point states without stating it that Derrida is on the side of Mauss in favoring a return to a society that lives for the gift, with his intention or desire. It is their conceptions of what the gift is, and the grounds on which the gift stands, that will determine where they differ.