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Give It To Me - De File
Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
cbertsch
cbertsch
Give It To Me
My friend Laura, back from New York, posted this entry earlier, entitled "Giving":
I have figured out that whenever you allow someone to do something for you, you are giving them a gift. All of the pleasure, most of the benefit, is received by the giver. We should all allow more people to do more things for us.
Kim and I were remarking the same thing, less elegantly and efficiently, during Skylar's birthday party. One year we had one of those "P.C." parties where you tell people not to bring anything. But then we realized that the kids really like to give gifts, to see them opened, acknowledged, and appreciated -- just as they would like themselves to be treated, I suppose. So now we let the people who want to give gifts give them and reciprocate in turn.

This gets me thinking, though, about the Kaja Silverman class I had on Jacques Lacan. The hardest idea, in a sea of diamond-hard ideas, for me to wrap my mind around was that charity is always a form of aggression. I take the insight for granted now, while resisting it down deep. But I couldn't even conceptualize it back in 1996.

And then I think of all the gifts and "gifts" that Skylar gives Kim, me, and her grandparents, whether playing for real or play-acting.

Going back to the much-maligned Sigmund Freud's discussion of developmental stages, where he discusses the relationship between defecation and gift-giving, it's not to hard to see children's presents to people with power and authority over them as an attempt to win back some control.

Thinking about an attempt by the disempowered to gain a sense of power reminds me of the process Freud describes in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, where the little boy imaginatively "disappears" his mother in the form of a wooden dowel and then retrieves her at will, the fort-da game for short. Freud thinks that the game helps the boy compensate for his mother's absence by giving him the illusion that he controls her departures.

Is the giving and receiving of gifts the higher-level, intersubjective version of the fort-da game?

And how might we further complicate this discussion of power differentials by factoring in that other allegory worn smooth, Hegel's Herr-Knecht dialectic, better known as Depeche Mode's "Master and Servant".

Perhaps the problem I was having figuring out Lacan's point about charity rests in the belief that aggression is more likely to be bad than good.

We all desire to be aggressed from time to time, at least in play. That's what makes for good sex, for one thing. Relationships where one partner is always doing the directing in the bedroom seem to founder more quickly.

I'm not sure I'd go so far as Laura in saying that all the pleasure of gift-giving falls on the side of the giver. I like to get gifts.

I suppose it's a question of how you define pleasure.

Does the sadist's pleasure differ from that of the masochist?

Man, I'm starting to sound like Adam Phillips. But that's alright, since I read him with great pleasure.

Final thought: Where does the pleasure fall in the exchange between writer and reader?

Tags:
Mode: avoiding sleep
Muse: Poor Places - Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

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Comments
elizabeg From: elizabeg Date: October 29th, 2003 11:06 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
It's entirely possible gift giving only seems to be about the pleasure/wellness/etc of the other, when in reality it's as much or more about the self. To give a gift is to honor a relationship, but it's also to set the terms of a relationship--it's to construct the giving self as one who knows what the other wants, what's best for that person, on what grounds the two should meet, etc. In a troubling form, it's to put the other in a position of indebtedness. Hence anxiety about giving a gift in return, paying back, etc.

Thing is, we sometimes like other people to be indebted to us. Maybe we like to be indebted as well. That would seem to be one possible implication or underside of saying we like to be aggressed (a rhetorical formation I find provocative, by the way). Does the reciprocal exchange of gifts have to entail a sort of violence? Put another way, does 'paying back' always at some level constitute revenge? If so, I'm not convinced that has to indicate a destructive relationship, but if it's productive and/and not destructive, then what's produced--pleasure, or something else?

That we keep coming back to both giving and receiving would seem to suggest not only that we want something from exchange with others, but that we're already getting something of what we want. Why else return, why keep giving/receiving but to keep redefining the field of exchange? So that the cycle might be ongoing.

I mean, what fun would it be if desires were fully satisfied. Isn't it possible we get something out of power in flux we could never get out of dominance or submission alone?
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