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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: May ::
Re: Chooseth
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0818  Wednesday, 5 May 1999.

[1]     From:   Frank Whigham <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 04 May 1999 09:15:50 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0812 Chooseth

[2]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 04 May 1999 11:34:10 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0812 Mixed Responses

[3]     From:   Clifford Stetner <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 4 May 1999 13:07:36 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0790 Re: Chooseth


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Frank Whigham <
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Date:           Tuesday, 04 May 1999 09:15:50 -0500
Subject: 10.0812 Chooseth
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0812 Chooseth

One other important question about such emotions as Dave Evett specifies
in relation to the taxi driver is whether they can or should be seen as
produced for the self by the self, seen as representation; as with
Berger's sense that representation of the self necessarily includes
representation to the self. In such a context "altruistic" gestures may
be seen to affirm our own worth to ourselves. (See, for instance,
Berger's marvellous exploration of John of Gaunt's deathbed scene. The
reference is in my other computer, alas. Write privately if you need
it.)

The next question is then, does this self-referentiality circulate
mainly (or maybe ever) within the self, rendering the externality of the
idea of Gift, the interaction with an Other, irrelevant. Are gifts ever
Pure Persuasion, indifferent to external "purchase"? Must gifts entail
the Other? Or perhaps the Other is the Burkean Scene upon which the
performance takes place? Etc.

Frank Whigham

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Tuesday, 04 May 1999 11:34:10 +0000
Subject: 10.0812 Mixed Responses
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0812 Mixed Responses

Thanks to Dave Evett for his summary of current views regarding the
possibility of true altruism.  I would argue that recent ideas on the
subject are more or less subject to the zeitgeist:  we have a hard time
believing in absolute givenness, because it's so incompatible with
efficient causation, or enlightened self-interest, ideas central to
modernity.  I think this ties in with how, in Merchant, absolute
gift-giving is incompatible with social institutions, marriage and law.
Economics couldn't function as a science if people were willing to
regularly ignore their self-interest altogether, to put the interest of
others before their own.  The marketplace would cease to exist, and so
would the implicitly economic model on which liberal democracy (or even
evolutionary science, for that matter) is based.

In a postmodern context, we may be more likely to return to such
pre-modern notions as an absolute gift, or gratuitous grace.  So far,
though, in clinging to notions of "negotiations", "economies" and power
structures, we seem to be resisting the radically of such a break.

Incidentally, while Harry Berger (brilliantly!) shows how various
supposedly altruistic acts might provide some reciprocal reward in
half-conscious terms, Stanley Cavell is considerably less insistent on
the subject.  We might ascribe some of Berger's insistence on debunking
supposed generosity to his own resistance to the influence of Cavell,
which he details in the "Acknowledgements" (really an introduction) to
Making Trifles of Terrors.

As a final incidental, I would note that while I'm grateful for Ben
Schneider's support, his citation of Cicero in his essay on King Lear (
http://www.humanities.ualberta.ca/emls/01-1/schnlear.html ) seems to
suggest that gift-giving forms an economy of reciprocal indebtedness and
gratitude:  "a benefit passing in its course from hand to hand returns
nevertheless to the giver; . . . "  In other words, it's possible to
place gift-giving within a pre-capitalist economy, or at least in terms
of enlightened self-interest.  Some of the recent readings of feudalism
seem to understand it as precisely such a system of exchange, although
the items of exchange can't be reduced to cash value.

So while questions of gratuity and reciprocity are certainly related to
the rise of capitalism (another point that Ben makes), they aren't
reducible to the difference between capitalist and pre-capitalist modes
of exchange.  It's always possible, and tempting from our own historical
context, to read pre-capitalist societies as exhaustively explained by
patterns of reciprocal exchange.

Cheers,
Se

 

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