There is a kind of “transcendental illusion”, to use Derrida’s term, that can permeate the gift. I could well be accused of suffering from that. I am a firm believer in the energy that utopian impulses and generosity can bring. But I also recognize that the gift can carry negative trappings, such as debt. For Derrida, as soon as a gift is manifested, recognized and identified, it ceases to be one. The gift for Derrida interrupts the economy of exchange – it cannot carry reciprocity, exchange, or debt. There is a kind of aporia or impossibility inherent in the gift for him. I otherwise enjoy reading Derrida, but found myself in disagreement with his deconstruction of the gift. I’m not sure to what extent I attribute this to familial, philosophical or cultural difference.
Any your thoughts on this, in general, or as it relates to your participation in Gifting Abstraction?

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6 Responses to Thoughts?

  1. kschifano says:

    I have many reactions to your post, Mariangeles, and I’ll try and sort them out – but forgive me if I ramble! My first reaction was that I disagree with Derrida as well, but I also wasn’t sure that the idea of debt is a negative one. I remember reading about the potlatch, used by native americans to create community bonding and reinforcing the power of the tribal leader (who supplies the bounty). I don’t know about power, but bonding can certainly be a positive connection between individuals and groups, and the idea of debt supplies a kind of reinforcement of this connection. I suppose, though, that an unwanted gift will supply an unwanted debt, but it depends on the mental state of the receiver, who has free will to ignore this implied request to “return the favor”.

    The other random thought that occurred to me comes from Al-Anon (the partner 12-step program to AA), and it was a kind of daily suggestion that was encouraged: take an action that benefits someone (a gift) and don’t tell anyone about it. In this scenario, there would be no debt, but I don’t think it’s the kind of idea Derrida had in mind. It is disruptive, though, in the sense that it frees one’s ego up from attachment to pride and power, allowing the energy to just be received. The giver gives freely without reward, and no money or guilt changes hands…

  2. brent hallard says:

    The conversation re: the gift is a little out of my league, in that I didn’t read a lot of Derrida, but I do believe in the Utopian impulses and the energy of…
    I think that the ‘token of the the gift’ and ‘the gift’ can get mixed up. And that the gift is outside the actual transaction, even of the ‘giving freely’. In this way the gift is free from a downward spiral of the trappings of the token, and while hard to identify, it is even harder to deny the invigoration.

    • Abstraction at Work says:

      I didn’t mean to take the conversation out of anyone’s league, Brent. If anything, I was just throwing out some borrowed ideas and some of my own to rekindle it! I like your distinction between the “token of the gift” and “the gift.” Do you think the difference between the two hinges on the quality of the gift or on its intention? If it hinges on intention, how would the fact that the giftee has a choice affect how you conceive the token?

  3. Ann says:

    What’s interesting with this show is that we’re selecting the gifts ourselves–choosing what is given to us. So perhaps this is closer to Derrida’s ideal, where there really isn’t or can’t be a sense of debt because the transactions are disrupted. Perhaps because of this reason, receiving my gift from this show is one of the few times that I’ve NOT felt a sense of debt.

    • Abstraction at Work says:

      I’m glad you haven’t felt a sense of debt, Ann, and I agree with you on the point that establishing choice for the giftee certainly shifts the quality of the gifting transaction. What I wonder is whether the fact that you didn’t feel a sense of debt can be attributed to “choice” in the gifting transactions or to the way we understood that we were all giving our labor to other fellow abstract artists, through our work. There is a powerful sense of recognition in that: we’re all in this together. The slight “gifting debt” I might recognize in this particular context is positive, and very much in tune with Karen Schifano’s reply. I’m referring to an impulse to keep the thread of gifting going, not necessarily to pay back, but to multiply its bonding energy. It happened when I received Gilbert’s offering, which immediately sparked the thought of how rewarding it would be to have a regular gifting/relational practice that permeates or even shapes our creative practice, along with making objects, beyond the standard charities and gifts for family and friends.

      • pmanga says:

        This indebtedness thing is tricky, and I can see the negative valence it has. But as with Karen’s potlatch example and Mariangeles’ musing, I think there is a positive valence to play out too. I can speak for myself and say that when I have received a gift that is freely given with no strings attached, I do not feel indebted–I feel gratitude and the affirmative desire to reciprocate the generosity. And here’s some utopian thinking: when a gift is given freely without anticipating a return, that desire to reciprocate does not necessarily make a straight path right back to the giver, but can spread out in any direction; we’re talking a rhizome of random acts of kindness, and all that. (Note: I’ll also make this a post to make it easier to follow)

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