Gift exchange

There is no NEED for a gift. There is only a WISH of a gift giving.


Planning this project of making a minumental society model, I decided that the output will be offered as a gift to the sitters. Not for their cooperation but symbolically for their existence in this world and the role they play in society. It is a gift from the artist to the public. There is no NEED for a gift. There is only a WISH of a gift giving.

Guido Giacomo Preparata, from the University of Washington, in his paper “UN(FOR)GIVING: BATAILLE, DERRIDA AND THE POSTMODERN DENIAL OF THE GIFT” (The Catholic Social Science Review, 13 (2008): 169-200) analyses Derrida’s “impossibility” of the gift arguing that the gift does exist, a joy we all feel even Derrida himself.

“Georges Bataille, along with Thorstein Veblen, Marcel Mauss, Rudolf Steiner, and Karl Polanyi, may be considered an exponent of a school of thought alternative, if not antagonistic, to Liberal economics— a school which may be called “the political economy of the Gift.” The economists of the Gift” analyze economic performance mostly through a society’s use of its surplus. What differentiates Bataille from the others, however, is his obsessive insistence that wholesome, disinterested ways of giving are, in fact, an impossibility. To Bataille, all acts of munificence throughout history have been but manifestations of a barbarous appetite to outshine others, either in peace through sumptuary expenditure, or in war through holocaust and sacrifice. This characterization of human conduct has become a tenet of the late antihumanist discourse by way of Jacques Derrida, who recycled Bataille’s polemic in the eighties. It is thus curious to observe how, in the end, Bataille’s anti-Liberal radicalism has brought his postmodern followers to converge with the Liberal school, which itself belittles the power of selfless donation and the significance of gift-exchange.”

In the Greek Orthodox tradition we meet a quite different perspective of the notion of gift offering. The Greek intellectual tradition is philosophy when the basis of the Latin is law. The claim then of the Greek East emerged as the theosis of man while the claim of the Latin West emerged as the man’s historical recognition. The Greek philosophical tradition expressed the demand of metaphysics and the Latin legal tradition expressed the claim of formidable rhetoric, therefore the rationalistic  enforcement. In the Orthodox tradition we learn that God is generously offering to man without any notion of return or exchange. We do not need to justify or measure the gifts we offer or accept as they are on constant flow without the obligation element and we offer a gift believing that if we rightly in need,  we may receive from any source. Also in Koran, tradition has it that when a stranger knocks on your door you must offer him hospitality without asking his name or where he comes from so there will be no suspicion for reciprocity. In other words the meaning of the western gift in the East is different. It is the giving that matters and it is the giving that we appreciate the most.

Go back