Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Giving the Gift in Theory and Literary History

ENGL 790.401
W 3-6:00 PM

The aim of this graduate seminar will be to investigate a number of philosophical and literary texts focusing around the notion of the gift. Our point of departure will be the concept gift seen in its anthropological sense as a binding reciprocal practice underpinning all sociability (Mauss) but also as a dangerous limit to be transgressed (Freud, Melanie Klein, Bataille). Beyond the potlatch, does the problematic of the gift open onto that of sacrifice as emblematized by Abraham (Kierkegaard) or can it allow us to sketch a principle of generosity (Descartes)? In the post-Heideggerian tradition that takes its bearings from the availability of a world that is somehow given (Es gibt Sein) , contemporary meditation of the conditions of possibility of giving (Marion) leads us to qualify the thesis that a gift is impossible as such (Derrida) or only leads to spurious economies (Baudelaire). If time is both the dimension of my future death and an excess of unforeseen data , art and literature can emerge as practices that exceed most economies (Duchamp).

The main theoretical texts we will read are Marcel Mauss's The Gift, The Georges Bataille Reader, Derrida's Given Time: Counterfeit Money,Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling, Jean-Luc Marion's Being Given:Toward a Phenomenology of Giveness, Freud's Dora, and Lewis Hyde's The Gift.
Literary texts will include: poems by Baudelaire, Mallarme, Rilke, and Ezra Pound; novels by Geordes Bataille (My Mother), Vladimir Nabokov (The Gift), and H.D. (The Gift); plays by Moliere (The Miser) and Joyce (Exiles); plus a trip to PMA to see Duchamp's Etant Donnes... 

Fulfills requirement.