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?