Traduction : Natacha Israël et Hélène Merlin-Kajman
James Siegel, « False Beggars / Faux mendiants »
False beggars / Faux mendiants
« It's not the wind. Not at all »* : Marcel Mauss, The Gift and its commentators
« [Ce] n’est pas le vent qui souffle. Pas du tout »* : Marcel Mauss, l’Essai sur le don et ses commentateurs.
In December, 2010, the imam of the central mosque in Banda Aceh, the capital of the Indonesian province called Aceh, gave his weekly radio address on the topic of beggars. He warned that there were false beggars in Aceh today.
/ En décembre 2010, l’imam de la mosquée centrale à Banda Aceh, capitale de la province indonésienne de l’Aceh, consacrait son allocution radiophonique hebdomadaire à la question des mendiants. Il avertissait qu’il se trouvait aujourd’hui de faux mendiants à Aceh. /
By false beggars he meant those who asked for money but who did not need it. Such people should work. His admonition was not only for those who deceived by pretending they were in need, but for those who gave. Muslims should give, but they should be careful. To give to those who are not needy would be sinful.
Those who gave to the false beggars would seem to do so unawares. They would not only be deceived by the beggar, they would be self deceived. They would do to themselves something close to what the beggar was doing to them. Telling themselves something about the other and about themselves that was false. The beggar was not really poor. The donor was allowing himself to think so. He was not eager to check circumstances. Possibly because by giving he enhanced himself, making himself into something he was not - a person generous to the needy. The likelihood is that he did not ask himself why he was giving. It was enough that someone asked and that at first glance the person was in need. The truth was that the beggar was false. The donor too became false.
/ Le donateur aussi devenait faux. /
If it was possible to deceive and to self deceive in this way, it was because there was a willingness to give that was not necessarily stimulated by the desire to fulfill religious obligation. One wants to give. But why? In any case, giving freely presented a danger to the imam. One might find his brake on generosity exaggerated. Does it really matter if one is swindled out of small change? But for him it was not the material loss that counted. It was the betrayal of the gesture. He did not elaborate but I dare to speculate on the basis of the context in which the kind of giving he referred to took place.
In the first place, there are real “false beggars”.
/ [...] je m’autorise à élargir la perspective en m’appuyant sur le contexte dans lequel le type de don dénoncé par l’iman prend place.
En premier lieu, il y a de véritables « faux mendiants ». /
A friend of mine told me of a man who drove up to the beach on a motorbike with his wife and child to go fishing. This sort of fishing is a luxury, the equipment being costly. My friend, fishing alongside him, talked with the man and later that day saw him dressed as a beggar asking for handouts. We ran across this man dressed in ordinary clothes. It confirmed stories the newspapers at the time carried of beggars who slept in hotels, who ate well, and who were said to gain a more than reasonable daily amount. The imam surely had this type in mind.
There are also new types of beggars that might be called false by some.
/ Il y a aussi de nouveaux types de mendiants que certains pourraient considérer comme « faux ». /
Two examples are women. They dress well, they do not display need. What attracted my eye was that they dress attractively and in one case fashionably. The fashionable beggar is not likely to be a needy person.
/ Il semble invraisemblable qu’une mendiante à la mode soit une personne dans le besoin. /
There seemed to be a motive for giving to these beggars that had nothing to do with need and therefore not with religion and not with pity. Not everyone would call this sort of beggar “false”. There is no deception here – no display of the obvious reason to give – to help someone whose need is indisputable.
/ [Pourtant], nul mensonge dans ce cas. /
One gives, ones says, “out of regard for the other”. But regard has a double sense. It means “esteem” but that is derived from a prior sense still evident in the word to “look”. One can look, one can see and in the first place one sees the other – someone else even something else. Through that look something is awakened that makes us give. Up till that point, nothing in them deserved our attention, nothing attracted it, and they were left on the sidelines. If one gives one accepts them. And therefore one has to be careful.
Beggars are sometimes foreigners, for instance the gypsies who beg in Paris and, as foreigners, as of 2012 and earlier, are picked up every two months or so and sent back, usually, to Romania. They return a few months later. The problem they pose for those who want them out is that they might otherwise not only stay in Paris, but they would belong there. Recognized by those who pass by, they would – and, I am glad to say – do make up a part of Parisian society .
/ Si l’on donne à un mendiant, on l’accepte. Donc, il faut être prudent.
Les mendiants sont parfois des étrangers, par exemple les bohémiens qui mendient à Paris et qui, en tant qu’étrangers [...], se font arrêter à peu près tous les deux mois et renvoyer en Roumanie. Ils reviennent quelques mois plus tard. Pour ceux qui ne veulent pas d’eux, le problème, ce n’est pas seulement qu’ils pourraient rester à Paris, mais surtout, qu’ils pourraient y être chez eux. Reconnus par ceux qui passent à côté d’eux, ils constitueraient – et, je suis heureux de le dire, ils constituent en effet – une partie intégrante de la société parisienne. /
The imam does not want cheats to be part of Muslim society. He does not want the presumed transformation of givers into frauds themselves to occur. He does not want indefinite people – fashionable beggars, for instance, to belong. That is the danger the gift raises. It recognizes the other and to that extent it incorporates him or her.
/ Tel est le danger que le don suscite. Il reconnaît l’autre et, dans cette mesure, il l’incorpore. /
And in the case of fashionable beggars it does so without pretense to need. And therefore it makes one ask why one gives.
The imam seems exceptional. The gift is usually thought to be a good thing. Not all the time, of course. There is the Trojan horse. But in general it is good because it is an effect of generosity. Few people are against generosity partly because recognizing the other, it enforces the social and so doing makes the world better for all of us. But it might be self interested. One might give in order to be considered generous. One lets one’s guard down. One wants to be generous, one thinks one is generous, but really one is self interested.
It was exactly these contradictory features – generosity and self interest – that Marcel Mauss found at the heart of the gift . Mauss is the person who formulated the idea of the gift powerful enough to be influential 90 years later. Unlike the imam, he did not oppose authentic giving from false giving.
/ Mauss est l’auteur d’une théorie du don suffisamment puissante pour qu’on la discute encore 90 ans plus tard. Contrairement à l’imam, il n’a pas opposé « don authentique » et « don inauthentique ». /
For him, interest and generosity were both always included in the gift, one not contaminating the truth of the other. Mauss put this at the heart of his book. His explanation is well known; we will come to it later. The gift seems paradoxical and even impossible. But it goes on anyway. And it has it in its power to create social bonds that are contrary to the normative. The imam, as was his duty, saw this as a moral question.
/ Pour lui, l’intérêt et la générosité sont également présents dans le don sans que l’un altère la vérité de l’autre. [...] Le don semble paradoxal, peut-être même impossible. Mais on continue quand même à donner. Et le don a le pouvoir de créer des liens sociaux contraires aux normes. C’est bien la question morale que l’iman soulevait, conformément à son devoir. /
Mauss would not have found false beggars difficult to explain. He would not have been bothered by the creation of new and undesirable social types through it. For him, as we will see, this was evidence of the power of the social itself. Even the criminality of thieves and corruptors bound to each other by gifts would not have bothered him, criminals being socially defined. But he would have found the imam’s statement misconceived. There is no special source of the social in the gift. For him, rather, as we will see, it exemplifies in a pure form the power of sociality. The recognition of the other is merely exemplary of the power of the social as such.
I want to defend the imam to a certain extent. I will not set myself against generosity, but I will claim that the gift can create bonds independently of the generalized power of the social as Mauss, following Durkheim, conceived of it.
/ Je voudrais défendre un peu l’imam, au moins jusqu’à un certain point. Je ne me situerai pas sur le terrain de la générosité, mais essaierai de montrer que le don crée des liens qui, contrairement à ce que Mauss, suivant Durkheim, pensait, ne découlent pas de la seule force du social comme tel. /
If there are false beggars, I will claim, it is because the gift has its own law and thus its own idea of who merits a gift.
That is, the gift can create social bonds outside the norms that prevail in society, through laws of its own, ones operating autonomously of constituted legalities, whether formal or informal. Starting with the gift one could possibly construct another society, parallel to the first. This was the imam’s nightmare.
/ C’est-à-dire que le don crée des liens sociaux qui ne dépendent pas des normes prévalant dans une société donnée, et ce, à travers ses propres lois, de manière autonome eu égard aux légalités constituées, qu’elles soient formelles ou informelles. En partant du don, il ne serait pas impossible de construire une autre société, parallèle à la première : tel est le cauchemar de l’imam. /
A power that might go uncontrolled resulting in a society of thieves, self deceivers and new sorts of social beings.
Durkheimian analysis – and of course Mauss was both the student of Durkheim and his nephew – shows that the power of the gift is the social as Durkheim conceived it – the awareness of a group of itself and the power of the group through this to compel behavior. Durkheim, were he to speak of giving to the beggar, would see inclusion. He would see the action of society working through the gift to enlarge and solidify social bonds. That there is fiction – false beggars – would not bother the man who talked about the transformation of an agglomeration of people into a unity when they see themselves reflected in a totem – “we are lizards”. A fiction but true because through reflection it constructs social reality.
/ Si Durkheim avait écrit sur le sujet de la mendicité, il aurait vu dans le don un mode d’inclusion : à travers le don, la société élargit et consolide les liens sociaux. La fiction des faux mendiants [...] aurait été, pour lui, [...] une fiction vraie puisque le partage de sa représentation construirait la réalité sociale. /
Just so the contradiction of interested giving and generous giving is itself, as we will see, an indication of a power that uses them both, the elementary power of social bonding that makes contradiction only matters of superstructure, as it were. That is, if the gift is interested and generous, it is because both are in the service of an overarching social power.
This analysis has less power today in part because its tautology is not sufficiently inclusive. The giver gives, the beggar is included, he becomes a social type, given recognition as such. The acceptance of the gift shows that the social is at work. But what is “the social” and what are its mechanisms? There is no precise equivalent of the totemic animal as a reflection that, by the power of common and simultaneous recognition, creates the group.
/ L’acceptation du don montre alors que le social est à l’œuvre. Mais qu’est-ce que « le social » et quels sont ses mécanismes ? /
Mauss found another source of the social in the gift, at least as it existed in what he called “archaic” societies. In the famous kula ring, following Malinowski he found gift exchange to be an economic and also a religious event. His idea of the gift in archaic societies as a total social fact seems to make evident that the society as a whole, all of its components, work together to motivate the gift.
/ En concevant le don dans les sociétés archaïques comme un fait social total, Mauss semble vouloir rendre évident le fait que le tout de la société, ou plutôt, toutes ses parties, travaillent à motiver le don. /
One is obliged to give and to receive and to give back and one even wants to do so because one feels pressure in various ways. There are no grounds for refusing a gift and no grounds for not giving.
But in differentiated societies such as ours, giving is not necessarily an economic fact, it is not likely to be religious, and yet one feels an obligation to give nonetheless. One resorts to generosity to explain it but then the source of generosity itself has to be explained. It is in these societies that the gift seems to be autonomous, to work with a law or a force outside whatever is posited to make society possible.
/ Mais dans les sociétés différenciées comme les nôtres, donner n’est pas nécessairement un fait économique ; il est peu probable que ce soit un acte religieux ; et pourtant, on ressent l’obligation de donner. Le phénomène s’expliquerait par la générosité : mais alors, la source même de la générosité doit être expliquée. C’est dans ces sociétés où le don apparaît dans son autonomie qu’on voit bien qu’il opère selon une loi extérieure à ce qui, quelle que soit sa nature, se trouve institué pour faire fonctionner la société. /
Of course the gift is less pervasive today. It works in the margins, but ‘undesirable’ types live precisely there. The gift is passed in intimacy, thus making into friends those useful in corrupt practices – or on the street where it includes strangers from anywhere at all no matter what unacceptable traits some say they have – they, the undeserving poor and even the mad. Just here we see the problem of the double nature of the gift. A gift that is a bribe rests on interest. But partners in crime have to trust each other. The point of the gift is to ensure that trust. Trust has to exceed interest, it has to create a context where interest can be followed.
/ Un don qui est un pot-de-vin se fonde sur l’intérêt. Mais des partenaires dans le crime doivent se faire mutuellement confiance. Le but d’un tel don est de garantir cette confiance. La confiance doit excéder l’intérêt ; elle doit créer un contexte dans lequel l’intérêt peut être recherché. /
To do that, the gift has to be thought generous. That is, the receiver has to feel indebted. He has to want to pay back by, for instance, his loyalty. The gift works by generosity even when it is interested in our societies as well as those Mauss classed as ‘archaic’. A partnership in crime is interested and generous, but how is it that in such an arrangement generosity can be effective? Countless movies and novels show the betrayal of trust. This does not show that generosity is only sham. It shows that it is not sufficiently effective or not effective all the time. And thus why is it effective at all?
Any opening to the other reflects back to the giver a view of himself as generous, a profit he takes, that makes the gift less than generous. Thus the criticism of Jacques Derrida, and with that the idea of the gift itself crumbles. It seems impossible to open the way for inclusion for the other through generous giving, when the very recognition of the other results in the gift being less than a gift .
/ Toute ouverture à l’autre renvoie au donateur une image de lui-même en généreux, phénomène profitable qui rend le don rien moins que généreux. D’où la critique de Jacques Derrida : avec elle, l’idée du don s’effondre. Il semble impossible d’inclure l’autre grâce au don généreux, si la reconnaissance de cet autre résulte d’un don qui est moins qu’un don . /
And yet there are gifts and they are effective. If this is so, it is because the gift is not completely a matter of conscious volition and understanding. If it were, it would not create bonds where there are so many reasons for mistrust. There has to be something else at work. We see one solution in Mauss himself who, putting contradictory conscious ideas – voluntary and obligatory giving, interest and generosity, under the control of a third term, a force governing both, made them something like a form of false consciousness. This solution works too well. It is difficult to see what could not become part of the social or, for that matter, what is not already. Outcasts have their place as outcasts, for instance. The recognition offered by the gift is programmed in advance and is no longer recognition in the strong sense. On the other hand, the gift that begins in generosity and recognizes the other reflects back on the giver and therefore is interested. There is no pure generosity, in some way or another, the giver seems to have the other in mind, therefore to anticipate his response. The possibility of sheer giving without thinking of reception has to proceed from an asocial source or at least one unknown to the conscious actor. Such a giver would have no social definition. The closest socially recognized version of him would be someone oblivious of his surroundings in the manner of the mad person, incapable of finding a reflection of himself in an other.
/ Un don pur, effectué sans se préoccuper de l’accueil qui lui sera fait, doit procéder d’une source asociale ou du moins inconnue de l’acteur conscient. Un tel donateur serait dépourvu de toute définition sociale. Le type social le plus proche de son cas serait l’individu qui, à la manière du fou, serait oublieux de son environnement, incapable de reconnaître dans un autre un reflet de lui-même. /
I start my own explanation of the gift with that. For a gift to be a gift, it has to appear as undeserved by the receiver and given for no reason by the giver. If one gets something and thinks, “ah, he owed me that”, then one has received a payment. One is paid off, the debt is cancelled and it is possible to have nothing more to do with the giver. In place of inclusion there is the limitation of relationship such as takes place in the market. Such terms make it possible to send “guest workers”, as they are mistakenly called, back to where they came from when there is no longer any economic need for them.
For there to be a gift, one has to think, ‘how exceptional, I didn’t expect this’, ‘I never would have thought of this’ or something else of the like. The “I” here is the social “I”. But the impossibility of thinking one deserves it prior to receiving it, shows the possibility of another ‘I’ not a part of the social. When the gift arrives, it belongs to this previously unknown person, the other of the social I, now called into social life.
/ Quand le don se produit, il appartient à cette personne inconnue auparavant, l’autre du Moi social, à présent introduit dans la vie sociale. /
The receiver of a gift is never fully the social person, the one who one knows oneself to be, the one who lives up to his name. The receiver initially has to be other than the person who actually gets the gift. Then it is a gift, then one feels one owes something to the giver. “He recognized something in me I did not know myself. What he saw is true and I did not know it. Therefore the gift is precious. Precious not because it is costly by the evaluation of the market, but because now, and only now, after its reception, I take advantage of it; it adds something to my estimation of myself. “At that, I feel I should give in return”. Precisely because one did not merit it, one feels obliged to give something back .
/ Précisément parce qu’on ne mérite pas le don, on se sent obligé de donner quelque chose en retour. /
It is at once mine by the standard of the “me” that emerges into existence with the gift and not before it and not mine by the standard of the socially known me. This gift fills Mauss terms – it is given freely, but still out of obligation or perhaps better a compulsion to recognize something in a person that goes unrecognized; reception obliges one to give in return.
The “one” who accepts the gift is the false beggar, the one whose identity is concealed. The giver seems to recognize this other. It is as though a transferential relation is established.
/ Celui qui accepte le don est le faux mendiant, celui dont l’identité est dissimulée. Le donateur semble reconnaître cet autre. Tout se passe comme si une relation transférentielle était établie. /
One in which one thinks one knows someone whereas one recognizes a hidden identity. Recognition keeps that identity hidden by conflating it with the social person. The recipient senses that he is given to despite “himself”. He accepts and in doing so incorporates the hidden identity into his idea of himself. Thus the incorporation of a double of “oneself”.
/ Le donataire accepte le don et, ce faisant, incorpore cette identité cachée à sa propre idée de lui-même. On assiste donc à l’incorporation d’un double de « soi-même ». /
I attribute to this other an “identity” but that is an inaccurate word. This other is the material out of which identity is made.
/ J’attribue à cet autre une « identité ». Mais ce mot est inexact. Cet autre est la substance à partir de laquelle l’identité est produite. /
If one wants to include this other of oneself it is because one is necessarily split between who one knows one is and something other than oneself, something which has in it no specific quality at all. It is merely “other”. One says it is ‘wholly other’ because it is not only not recognized but not recognizable. The acceptance of the gift appears to incorporate this wholly other. It does so only by concealing its unrecognizability. It thus seems to relieve oneself of one’s division. But it only seems to do so. The gift works by self-deception. The total other, unknown to the social self whose body it shares, is recognized and concealed at the same moment. The giver sees in me something I did not know about myself. Something foreign to myself but nonetheless believed to belong to me, unrecognized by anyone previously, is ambiguously brought into the social. For good or for bad.
/ Le donateur voit en moi quelque chose dont j’ignorais la présence. Quelque chose d’étranger à moi-même et qu’on me reconnaît néanmoins, qui n’avait jamais été perçue par quiconque auparavant, se trouve introduite dans le social de manière ambiguë. Pour le meilleur ou pour le pire. /
The paradox that the gift has to be generous and yet the gift is not that it is resolved when it involves doubles- the social person who receives the gift and the other of the latter. When the recipient accepts the gift he acknowledges that, after all, it fits even if he never would have thought so before the gift was presented. It was meant for him - but another him altogether. The true gift comes by an intuition of the giver, not through knowledge then but through guess.
/ Le véritable don procède d’une intuition du donateur qui ne résulte donc pas d’une connaissance, mais d’une conjecture. /
It comes not from the social person but only through him. It is not the giver that is responsible so much as this unclear other, the one capable of intuition, of knowing without knowing how or even that he knows. Such a donor “is gifted” or “has a gift” we say in English. The giver in his social persona may congratulate himself on his generosity, but it is someone else who deserves the credit. Generosity both is what it is thought to be- excessive and finally inexplicable – and the opposite. The opposite occurring after the gift is received and credit is taken. “After all, it suits me, “me”, “James Siegel”.
We return to Mauss’ “archaic societies”. As noted, the contradiction of willingness to give and receive and interest in doing so is accounted for by the third term, social force. This, however, is not the term Mauss used. His meticulous examination of systems of exchange found the third force at work in actual cases. Mauss found it in the hau, the Maori word designating a force said to be lodged in the gift that moved it forward in the great systems of exchange of Melanesia.
/ Retournons aux « sociétés archaïques » de Mauss. Comme on l’a noté, la contradiction entre la volonté de donner et de recevoir d’un côté, et l’intérêt trouvé à le faire de l’autre, est surmontée par l’introduction d’un troisième terme, la force sociale. Cependant, ce n’est pas celui qu’utilise Mauss. Son examen méticuleux des systèmes d’échange découvre une troisième force à l’œuvre dans les cas observés. Il la trouve dans le hau, mot Maori désignant une force supposée intérieure à l’objet de don et capable de faire circuler celui-ci dans les grands systèmes d’échange de Mélanésie. /
The hau compelled the person who received the gift to accept it. And it also made that person pass it on to the next person. Eventually the gift returned in another form and from another party, only to be passed on again. One could not understand this without knowing about the belief in a force. Otherwise the voluntary desire to pass it on, the obligation to do so as well, would be mere contradiction. One had to see that the persons engaged in this exchange might have no other relation to each other except through the passing on of gifts, thus the mutual obedience to the same force. It looks like the system is a series of dyadic exchanges between partners, but, as in Durkheim, there is a third party that links the two. And this third party must be there for a bond to be created. The hau is that third party, a force which obliges one to give and which makes one happy to participate.
Mauss credits Robert Hertz, his friend and colleague killed in World War I, for the discovery of the nature of the gift. First because Hertz left on a card a note from Colenso which said “They had a kind of system of exchange, or rather of giving presents which later had to be exchanged or repaid” . Hertz inscribed “for Davy and Mauss” on this card.
But this was not yet the key to understanding the gift . That came only with the term “hau”. Hertz found the word in the work of the Maori specialist Elsdon Best. Mauss needed the indigenous word since nothing in French conveyed the sense of the obligation to give and to receive and the force responsible for the two acts.
/ Mauss avait besoin du mot indigène parce que rien en français ne signifiait à la fois l’obligation de donner, de recevoir, et la force à la source de ces deux actions. /
The term was essential in order that what was contradiction when expressed in French had a term that encompassed the contradiction and thereby allowed the smooth workings of this power. But of course “hau” had existed in ethnographic literature before this without its significance being noticed. Once one does so, all that is left out is the fact that the gift reappears not from the person to whom one gave initially but from someone else. But this too is explained if one thinks further about Tamati Rainapiri’s words, Tamati Rainapiri being the Maori whose explanation of the hau led Mauss to formulate the idea of the gift. Mauss puts in single quotation marks the explication that Tamati Rainapiri he thinks would give. “…You give me taonga [the objects exchanged] I give it to another the latter gives me taonga back, since he is forced to so by the hau of my gift” (9) .
Even to the Maori the important sense of this word apparently could go overlooked or misunderstood. “The hau is not the wind. Not at all”, said Tamati Ranaipuri to Elsdon Best as he explained that if it wasn’t the wind, what the hau was. Best asserted that “The ordinary meanings of the word hau are ‘wind, air, breath’”. One had to put aside the definitions in ordinary usage to get to the sense of it critical to exchange. Tamati Ranaipiri warned against using the hau to mean “wind” but he did not fear confusion with “air” or “breath”. It seems that he warned against both taking the word literally and taking it metaphorically to mean “chance”. In any case, Best’s statement was not available to Mauss, being published in 1922, the same year as The Gift.
Mauss says he comes to the term thanks to Hertz – “I discovered it amongst his papers”, and felt indebted to him. Sufficiently indebted that he notes it in the body of the text rather than in a footnote where acknowledgements of this type are usually made. Hertz’s note with the text from Elsdon Best was not intended as a gift, contrary to the note from Colenso. Rather it came by chance, left behind after Hertz’s untimely death. Furthermore the significance of the passage was unknown to Hertz. Mauss said it was a text “whose significance we had both missed, for I had been unaware of it myself”. Mauss apparently knew this text before he read Hertz’ posthumous papers. After Hertz’s unexpected death, no doubt Mauss reread it with extra care and in doing so found the guiding idea of his book.
Thus something not meant as a gift was confounded with something else that was. Mauss finds he has something of great value. He insists it was a gift. A chance occurrence is taken as purposeful. With that a revelation appears to have reached him through the intention of a person now deceased. The text as it stood might- and in fact was- overlooked. It took on a significance once it was seen to be sent by his friend after that friend’s death.
/ Après la mort inattendue de Hertz, nul doute que Mauss ne relût avec une extrême attention les papiers laissés par son ami et collègue, et qu’ainsi, il ne trouvât l’idée directrice de son livre. Car une chose qui n’était pas destinée à être un objet de don avait acquis cette dimension imprévue. Mauss considère qu’il tient là quelque chose de grande valeur. Il insiste sur le fait que c’était un don. Un hasard est tenu pour pleinement intentionnel, et se transforme en une révélation faite à Mauss par la volonté d’une personne décédée. En l’état, le texte aurait pu être – et en fait avait été – négligé. Il ne prend sens qu’après coup: la mort de Hertz transforme le texte en cadeau. /
Hertz, like Mauss, was a student of Durkheim, then a colleague. It is not just anyone who Mauss says left the note behind. That it came after a death, ownerless as it were, but left adrift by someone so close, gave it a value to Mauss it would not have had to others. It was not meant for Mauss but he seemed destined to receive it. Chance of course guaranteed that the gift was without intention, thus was truly generous. That the object came after Hertz’s death guaranteed the purity of its generosity. Hertz neither had the intention of giving it nor, once, after his death, it was thought of as a gift nonetheless, could he benefit from it. In these circumstances, the note seemed to have great significance and, with his remarkable intelligence and sensibility, Mauss found it.
It took a posthumous occurrence for Mauss to find in a word in a language he did not understand the idea of the gift . As a gift, Mauss saw that the hau was not the wind, that what seemed to come by chance was meant for him. It was Tamati Rainipuri as much as Hertz who was the source of this gift.
/ Il fallut un événement posthume pour que Mauss trouvât l’idée du don dans un mot d’une langue qu’il ne comprenait pas. En tant que don, Mauss considère que le hau n’est pas le vent et que ce qui semble être venu jusqu’à lui par hasard lui est particulièrement destiné. /
Tamati Rainipuri appears in Mauss’ account as someone I would like to know. He was concise, even elegant in his formulations, he was able to convey something important and not at all evident. He seemed to know what it was Elsdon Best wanted to know and he was aware of the difficulty of having it comprehended. He had an intuition it seems about Elsdon Best and as a result he could convey the solution to the enigma of the gift to Mauss who, of course, he did not know and had never heard of and had no intention of informing. The solution to the enigma of the gift, once again, was received by Mauss in a word he could not find an equivalent for in his own language . It amounts to a communication across languages, time and cultures that begins with a contradiction- the gift is at once obligatory and voluntary- that nonetheless was accepted by finding a name for it that did not belong to the language of the writer. “They understand. This understanding is inexpressible in our languages. We make their understanding our own by inserting their word in French and, for us eventually, in English”. Thus we sum up Mauss’ progress, some of it posthumous, in coming to terms with a contradiction.
He comes to terms with it but he does not explain it. If Mauss stopped with accepting the sense of “hau” as sufficient explanation of the gift, surely it is because this word came to him as a gift. That is, it spoke to what we have inadequately called “the other of himself”, a part of himself hidden from himself.
/ Si Mauss a fini par accepter que le sens de « hau » puisse fournir une explication suffisante du don, c’est sûrement parce que ce mot lui était arrivé comme un don. C’est-à-dire que ce mot parla à ce que nous avons appelé, inadéquatement, « l’autre de soi-même », cette part de soi cachée à soi-même. /
The gist of Mauss’ talent, it seems to me, was to accept that what he got was meant for the “him” of a singular nonidentity, the “speaker” of a language foreign to the Marcel Mauss familiar to us. For that person a foreign word, communicable but still incomprehensible between this “me” and others, was appropriate. Satisfied, a contradiction was left without translation. It was sufficient that it had a word.
/ Résolue, une contradiction était laissée sans traduction. Il suffisait qu’elle ait un nom. /
When Mauss remarks that the note he found had a “significance we had both [he and Hertz] missed” it is as important to stress the word ‘missed’ as much as the term “significance”. The missing significance of the gift is a way of speaking of its plenitude. What the gift lacked is the meaning of a word. The missing significance energizes the book as it points to the attempt to fill in what lacked. The missing sense was a property of someone unreachable but it came nonetheless, eventually, into one’s own possession. When it arrived it kept its mystery. Mauss then might have said to “himself”: “I know something, but I am not sure what”. Following that, he could have added “I shall tell you about the hau. Hau is not the wind. Not at all”.
Negation rules: The gift is not a gift. The gift is chance, but chance is not chance. Chance is purpose and comes to someone who is prepared to receive it but does not know he is prepared. Usually the gift is taken as a positive act. But without the word ‘not’ we would have much trouble understanding it.
/ La négation règne : le don n’est pas un don. Le don est un hasard, mais le hasard n’est pas le hasard. Le hasard est intentionnel et arrive à quelqu’un qui est prêt à le recevoir sans savoir qu’il l’est. Habituellement, le don est considéré comme un acte positif. Mais sans le « ne... pas » du « ce n’est pas le vent », nous aurions les plus grandes difficultés à le comprendre. /
The analysis of the gift was carried further in a shrewd commentary on the notion of the third made by Marcel Hénaff. Hénaff avoided the problem of generosity altogether. There may be no generous gift, according to Derrida. But according to Hénaff if it exists the generous gift can be ignored . It governs a completely different type of exchange. The generous gift appears to be dyadic. But in exchange of the type Mauss examined this is not the case. A rule intervenes between givers and receivers. Hénaff notes that his analysis is similar to that of Lévi-Strauss in The Elementary Forms of Kinship. Lévi-Strauss spoke of “generalized exchange”, meaning exchange in which reciprocity proceeds between groups as they exchange women but where no group necessarily gives back to the lineage from which it received a woman. The exchange is “general” rather than particular and it illustrates, according to Lévi-Strauss, a principle of reciprocity. There is reciprocity but it is not immediately evident. Hénaff thinks that Lévi-Strauss is correct but his formulation needs modification. It is too particular, made as it is in terms of actual exchange and does not go on to formulate a rule that fits all cases.
To find one Hénaff considers Lord Russell’s view that one can break down a statement of the gift as it involves three terms into two phrases. “A gives B to C”, according to Russell can be stated in two sentences: “A gives B” is the first. The second is “C receives B”. Here the gift would be the addition of the two. A gives away a book (B)’ plus “C receives a book” add up to the gift. Against that Hénaff poses a remarkable comment of Charles Peirce. In a letter, Peirce asked, “Now what is giving? It does not consist [in] A’s putting B [the book] away from him and then C’s subsequently taking it up”. Something is lacking in this formulation according to Peirce. A gives B and C takes B becomes a gift when the two actions are linked in such a way that the act takes on a meaning. That meaning becomes the law. “To give consists of the fact that A makes C the possessor of B according to a law.” The law precedes the act of giving.
/ Selon Peirce, « A donne B et C prend B » constitue un don lorsque les deux actions sont liées d’une manière telle que l’acte prend sens. Ce sens devient la loi. « Donner consiste dans le fait que A fait de C le possesseur de B selon une loi. » La loi précède l’acte de donner. /
“Before there can be a question of a gift of any sort, by one means or another, there has to be a law” . Without the law the object might be in hand but it is not owned.
Peirce explained his reasoning in his letter to Lady Welby, a semanticist. He had a traid, an explanation in general rather one specifically made for the gift. Firstness, he said, consists of sensation which is not yet formulated. If it is named it still remains vague. Secondness is action from outside the First which disrupts the First. Peirce calls this an “event”. This, he says, happens in the physical as well as the human world. Then there is a Third, which he calls “mental”. This becomes the law by which whatever arrives to the First, the arrival being the event, becomes his possession.
The sheer effect of the Second on the First might well be catastrophic. If, however, there is a Third, the event is “mental” that is, formulated and not simply “brute fact”. One might be overwhelmed by a natural force but one knows what one was struck by. This recovery from shock leads to law, as in “the law of gravity”. Similarly, what is handed to one becomes comprehended. It is a gift. The important point is to establish the third, the mental event.
This law says that holding on to the object is legitimate. One really does possess it, not merely has it in one’s grasp. “It is mine”. Ownership here occurs by virtue of the formulation of the event. But just here there is unclarity.
/ Le fait de la propriété advient ici par la grâce performative de l’événement. Mais ici de l’obscurité surgit. /
Is this the formulation of a specific event, a particular instance of passing over something? Or is it a formulation that preceded handing over seen generically and that makes sense of it? I find both readings possible. Pierce, after all, was able to put an important idea into a letter. He could not be expected to explicate it thoroughly. In any case, once there is a law that says that an object is a gift, the origin of that law is important. What is mine might be so by an agreement between me and the giver but might not be legitimately owned from the point of view of the state. Someone gives me stolen goods. They are mine, a gift. But the law of the state says I have no right to them.
/ Ce qui est à moi pourrait l’être sous l’effet d’un accord entre le donateur et moi, mais pourrait ne pas être légitimement possédé du point de vue de l’État. Quelqu’un me donne des biens volés. Ils sont à moi, ils m’ont été donnés. Mais la loi de l’État dit que je n’ai aucun droit sur eux. /
The gift establishes ownership by a law that comes by the nature of the gift, from its dependence on who gives and who receives, by contrast with commercial transactions. Money has no smell, but in the gift one thinks one has a whiff of something or other.
Perhaps Peirce saw this when he said “There must be some kind of law before there can be any kind of giving” (italics supplied) That is, one cannot establish a central source of giving. He added “[All] be it (sic) but the law of the strongest.”
/ Peut-être Peirce le voyait-il quand il disait qu’« il devait y avoir une espèce de loi avant qu’il puisse y avoir un don, de quelque nature qu’il soit » (je souligne). Autrement dit, on ne peut pas établir une source centrale du don. Il ajoutait : « serait-ce même la loi du plus fort ». /
The strongest might be the giver who insists that the object now belongs to the person to whom he gave it. They have an understanding; who is strongest is right. Force is recognized as legitimate before the object is handed over. In this example the law of the strongest is given as only one possibility; thus the phrase “be it but…”. Peirce’s point is not that force creates the law but rather that a construction is put on giving, isolating one of its components in some cases and making it prevail. The sentence implies that there can be other constructions.
/ La phrase implique qu’il peut y avoir d’autres constructions. /
When something is handed over, to be a gift it has to be owned by the receiver and to be that it has to be understood to be that. How it is understood specifically is not said here. What matters is not what idea – such as the hau or force – makes for ownership but that there be an idea that does what the hau does: ensure that the gift belongs to the receiver and contains the condition for ownership.
/ Ce qui importe n’est pas de savoir quelle idée – le hau, la force... – constitue la propriété mais qu’il y ait une idée qui accomplisse ce que le hau accomplit : garantir que le don devienne la propriété de celui qui le reçoit et contienne la condition de la propriété. /
It is almost a tautology to say that when one owns something one thinks it is one’s own. But how one comes to that seems to me – and also to Peirce – as variable. Not everything I get has the capacity to make me think it was meant for me. As we have seen, it matters that the key to the contradiction inherent in exchange came from someone known to Mauss. If he found mention of the hau from someone else, it might not have had the same effect. On the other hand, it might. Had it not seemed to him to have come by chance, the same is true. The provenance of the force of the gift seems unpredictable. Thus too the law it brings with it.
Here is Hénaff’s understanding: “It remains to correctly understand what Peirce enounces as the law. This says first of all that the gift is intentional not the addition of two physical gestures. In brief, that there is an encompassing element which is the final connection between the terms of the triade”.
/ Voici comment Hénaff le commente : « Reste cependant à comprendre correctement ce que Peirce énonce quand il parle de Loi. Cela veut d’abord dire que la relation de don est intentionnelle, non l’addition de deux gestes physiques; bref, qu’il y a un élément englobant qui est le rapport final entre les termes de la triade » . /
The intentionality of the gift, the linking principle, is a step in Hénaff’s thinking toward the resolution of the contradiction stated by Mauss- the giving of the gift is voluntary and obligatory, and it requires a return. After one understands that there is a third element, for Hénaff this is in fact no longer a contradiction; rather there are two elements of the same law. The same is true for Mauss of course. But Hénaff is not satisified with the word ‘hau’ as the start of an explanation that does not move beyond the empirical. He wants to know what the principle is in terms not limited to the Maori language.
Nothing in the simple handing over of an object says that it is a gift. But if one is involved in a game, then ownership of the ball is a condition of the rules of play. One sends the ball over the net. The other must return it. And one has to send it back. One does so willingly, with a certain intention – playing the game. If one does not accede to the rules, then one is outside the game. The binding force here is “intentionality”, the willingness to play the game. One notes that this willingness does not establish the law – we would usually say “rules” –, but relies on its prior existence.
Reciprocity, Hénaff notes, follows from accepting the rule. This he says is the meaning of the hau.
/ Pour Hénaff, la réciprocité procède de l’acceptation de la règle. Telle est, dit-il, la signification du hau. /
Whoever engages in the circuit of exchange agrees to give back at the moment he receives. If not, the gift is not a gift. It is something else. The receiver owns the gift so long as he follows the rule. If not he merely holds on to it. “If I were to agree to keep this second taonga (the equivalent of the ball passed over the net) I might become ill or even die. Such is the hau, the hau of personal property, the hau of the taonga, the hau of the forest. Enough on that subject” (9). Thus Tamati Ranaipiri who used the verb “agree” according to the translation. One willingly obeys a set of rules, the rules that govern exchange, and if not one “agrees” (with whom Tamati Ranaipiri did not say) to opt out of the game. But the rules of ritual exchange have their own force, the force of the hau.
/ Mais les règles de l’échange rituel ont leur force propre, la force du hau. /
If one does not follow them, one dies. “Enough on that subject”. Tamati Ranaipiri did not need to say more once Elsdon Best understood this powerful sanction.
Force and legality work together in this explanation. The hau is force, it causes the objects of exchange to move by threatening those who might keep them. Take away this threat and there is no more game.
/ La force et la légalité œuvrent ensemble dans cette explication. Le hau est une force ; elle fait reposer la circulation des objets d’échange sur la menace exercée sur ceux qui pourraient les garder. Ôtez cette menace et il n’y a plus de jeu. /
There is no “should”, no “ought” or “must” other than that given by the hau. This is the case also in Hénaff’s example of the game. If the players refuse to follow the rules the game not only ends, it disappears . The rules might be quoted but they would amount to nonsense. Something like this is true in Peirce also: “When a stone falls to the ground, the law of gravitation does not act to make it fall. The law of gravitation is the judge upon the bench who may pronounce the law till doomsday, but unless the strong arm of the law, the brutal sheriff, gives effect to the law, it amounts to nothing”.
In Peirce’s formulation, the law is uncertain. It is a “mental” construction describing an event in the world. There can be a gap between the two. Exact or not, it might not be acceptable. In that case the sheriff has to act. The person who refuses the law is nonetheless forced to accept it. The hau brings the object that becomes the gift. The person to whom it arrives is obliged to accept it. He is found out by the gift, as it were. It does not matter what his understanding or preferences about objects might be. The hau is both the sheriff that obliges acceptance and return and the law itself.
That complicates the picture until one sees that the conflation of law and enforcement is an effect of societies where there are “total social facts”, a term Mauss invented.
/ Ceci complique le tableau jusqu’à ce qu’on comprenne que la confusion entre la loi et la force est un effet des sociétés dans lesquelles il y a des « faits sociaux totaux », une expression inventée par Mauss. /
Facts of exchange, for instance, that are not not only economic but religious and social; they have economic consequences, supernatural sanctions and they link groups. Marshall Sahlins emphasized this to show that what we today call “economic” is a recent category that, applied to places which did not have simple economic exchange, is misused . One has to see not merely the embeddedness of the gift in what we, later, call different registers. We must also understand that there is an ensemble of cultural beliefs in which it is set. A total social fact has the force of the social itself, in Durkheim even compelling suicide. As in Hénaff but for a different reason, one sees that the contradiction of the gift never existed.
/ Un fait social total a la force du social lui-même qui, chez Durkheim, peut même pousser au suicide. Comme chez Hénaff, mais pour une raison différente, on peut voir que la contradiction propre au don n’a jamais existé. /
Sahlins emphasizes the total social fact in order to say that without the law of the state there was no Hobbesian state of nature. There was order whose diacritic is the object exchanged. There is a law of the gift in the sense that the person who receives a gift has to accept and has to make a return. Such a law differs from the law of the state. State law is formulated and then applied to those subject to the state. The sheriff has an authority that does not come from the exchange but from outside it. The gift itself embodies the force of sociality making the Hobbesian state of nature a vast exaggeration, one constantly reduced when the gift replaces “warre”. Sahlins uses Hobbes spelling of the word to say of “warre” that it is not constant battle but a state in which aggression can be expected. Gift exchange, Sahlins emphasizes, in Mauss is the establishment of nonpermanent peace through the gift. The parties to exchange begin as strangers to each other with nothing that guarantees a relationship between them, that hence easily leads to violence.
/ Comme le souligne Sahlins, l’échange par le don, chez Mauss, consiste à établir une paix non permanente à travers le don. Les parties engagées dans l’échange sont d’abord étrangères les unes aux autres, sans rien qui garantisse une relation entre elles, situation qui mène facilement à la violence. /
When they are linked one sees a force that compels sociality take a shape. The rule and its enforcement come into being at the same time.
Sahlins is careful to say that he is interpreting Mauss, at most drawing out the implications of Mauss’s thinking. In doing so he finds a source for the social as it reveals itself at an antisocial moment. The social itself is not changed in its conception. It remains Durkheimian as inflected by Durkheim’s best student. It stays a given, irreducible to anything beyond itself. It arises out of its necessity – without it, disorder.
Hénaff finds an earlier epoch in the formation of the social. He shows the gift as an element in an evolutionary scheme. Nonhuman animals reciprocate, but they do not give gifts. The Maussian gift for Hénaff is a mean of recognition between social groups. Animals (ie, nonhuman animals) also recognize each other, but through sounds, odors, gestures and attitudes. Animals have “procedures of reciprocity” but these do not involve objects taken as gages and conserved and offered in exchange immediately or later.
/ Le don maussien est, d’après Hénaff, un moyen de reconnaissance entre groupes sociaux. Les animaux (i. e. les animaux non humains) se reconnaissent également entre eux mais ils le font à travers les sons, les odeurs, les gestes et les attitudes. Les animaux ont des « procédures de réciprocité », mais ils n’y investissent jamais « des objets donnés en gage et conservés en échange d’autres offerts immédiatement ou plus tard » . /
“Apparently only humans give to others something belonging to themselves as gage and substitute of self”  (italics in original). The strongest example of the gift as it operates according to Hénaff is the exchange of women described by Lévi-Strauss in his discussion of incest. There, groups agree to give and to receive women. “There is a pact, an intentional recognition between ‘us’ and ‘you’”. This, he points out, is political in the Aristotelian sense. There is public recognition of the relation of the groups to each other. Such recognition is at a remove from the recognition between other animals. The latter arises “spontaneously”. The former follows rules. When one group makes an ally of the other, as in the exchange of women, it gives up spontaneous alliances in favor of those regulated by a law, the law forbidding incest. The social here is encompassed in rules that transcend any particular social, these possibly existing out of spontaneous sentiment, as people agree to follow rules in relation to each other. Thus a gift given without the hope or expectation of a return is excluded. It has nothing to do with such a possibility.
In Hénaff’s explanation it seems that all human social life is regulated by law. Even if there is not a state, still, social life from the beginning, with the law prohibiting incest, is a legal matter. Anthropologists have long understood law in a way similar to Hénaff.
/ L’explication d’Hénaff semble avancer que toute vie humaine sociale est réglée par la loi. Même s’il n’y a pas d’État, la vie sociale n’en est pas moins, depuis le commencement si l’on se réfère à la loi interdisant l’inceste, une affaire de légalité. /
Disputes are resolved with reference to an understanding of right that justifies the name “law”. There is however a difference in the case of Sahlins. Sahlins thinks of the gift as an encounter out of which regularity ensues but that remains dependent on a transaction. For that reason it can create temporary order where otherwise there is an assumption of mutual aggression.
Derrida’s criticism of the gift – that it is impossible – does not mean that there is nothing that Mauss and everyone else calls a “gift”. The possibility of the impossible gift comes when, as we have seen, the giver and the receiver remain unknown to the social self. Such giving is not incompatible with the formalized giving described by Mauss and elaborated by Hénaff. Alliances, of course, of the type discussed by Hénaff extend the boundaries of sociability. The kula in particular crosses differences of language and ethnicity. If there is a preexistent law, then, one has to ask where it comes from. The answer to that question is precluded by Hénaff’s method. Hénaff praises Mauss for having read all available sources, for having grouped them and thus presented the subject. He describes the exchanges following the available sources and he interprets them this way: “It is a matter of creating alliances, of acquiring prestige, of celebrating the merits of the participants, of intensifying the bonds between partners. But in the case of the Maori hau something stops him: the stakes remain obscure. He prudently insists on reporting the facts as Elsdon Best transcribed them in his study and to present what the Maori say of this strange force (the hau) which inhabits the thing given” (257). Hénaff endorses Lévi-Strauss’s criticism of Mauss found in Lévi-Strauss’ “Introduction to the Works of Marcel Mauss”. He was an “ethnologist who let himself be mystified by the native” . It is the hau that stops explanation by substituting not a “native understanding” but a native mystification, a word, for an explanation.
/ Hénaff assume la critique que Lévi-Strauss fait de Mauss dans son « Introduction aux Œuvres de Marcel Mauss ». Mauss était un « ethnologue qui se [laissa] mystifier par l’indigène ». C’est le hau qui interrompt l’explication en lui substituant, non une « compréhension indigène » mais une mystification indigène, un mot. /
Hearing “hau” one stops thinking. Had one gone further one would have arrived with Hénaff at the point where one sees regulation in place accompanied by the willingness to engage in its terms.
Perhaps. But it is also possible that Mauss stopped there not because he preferred “their” explanation to “ours”, but because the hau, presented and re-presented indirectly, opens onto an exposition in which abstraction is replaced by narratives that, remaining in touch with the word, “hau”, allow us to see the word and its reference as it retains its foreigness. Its invulnerablity to full explication, its “mystification” was necessary to its function.
/ Peut-être. Mais il est aussi possible que Mauss se soit arrêté à ce mot non parce qu’il préférait « leur » explication à la « nôtre », mais parce que le hau, présenté et re-présenté indirectement, ouvrait sur une perspective où l’abstraction était remplacée par des récits qui, restant en contact avec lui, nous permettent de continuer à voir le mot et sa référence enveloppés de leur « étrangèreté ». Sa résistance irréductible à toute explication complète, sa « mystification », étaient nécessaires à sa fonction. /
We hear Tamiri Rainapiri speak to Elsdon Best and we have seen how these words reached Mauss. The gift was discovered when the idea of it was embedded in its workings. Mauss kept the foreignness of the term that generated the idea. Foreignness here was not only not explained, it was not translated.
/ L’« étrangèreté », ici, n’était pas seulement inexpliquée ; elle n’était pas traduite. /
The word irritated Lévi-Strauss sufficiently, it seems, that he went on in the same piece to speak of the floating signifier, the signifier that, having no explicit referent, acquires the concentrated power of communication.
/ Le mot irrita suffisamment Lévi-Strauss, semble-t-il, pour qu’il en vînt au même endroit à parler du signifiant flottant – ce signifiant qui, n’ayant pas de référent explicite, concentre en lui-même le pouvoir de communiquer. /
It is the kernel of the gift, the power that makes the object move and, in moving, cross lines defined by specific languages that otherwise prohibit taking in what is not understandable. Lévi-Strauss’s explanation of the floating signifier, rooted in Saussurian linguistics, now appears a bit dated to many. But the idea of a signifier that keeps its power not despite but because it goes without possibility of explicit reference remains fertile.
/ L’explication que Lévi-Strauss donne du signifiant flottant en se référant librement à la linguistique saussurienne apparaît quelque peu datée à de nombreux chercheurs. Demeure pourtant fertile l’idée d’un signifiant qui conserve son pouvoir non pas malgré, mais en raison de son absence de portée référentielle. /
This is an idea that means nothing unless it is shown in its functioning. Reducing it to a class – “floating signifier” – only says that a word with infinite sense is in operation. The formulation makes these signifiers equivalent to one another. It avoids the point of nonequivalence that comes to light when the gift is actually exchanged and which can generate laws that, contrary to what we think of the nature of law, apply only to the parties of exchange.
Mauss stopped with the hau no doubt because further explanation conceals what is at work. To say that alliances are formed by the gift is true. To say that these follow rules is also correct. But before this comes about something is received that has no reason inherent in it to make it received. This is not mystification; it is explanation in which the gift is preserved as an object that does not depend on translation and the fact that as a pure gift it acknowledges no social being, neither giver nor receiver. Hénaff, repeating Mauss, says it is a gage of the self. Yes, but which self?
/ Après Mauss, Hénaff dit que le don est un gage du moi. Oui, mais de quel moi ? /
The insistence on the unified self is no doubt a Western elaboration. Why put it at the heart of a study of non Western cultures or, for that matter, think that the unification of the self holds invariably in the West?
It remains to locate the law that makes the recipient of something handed over to him its owner. In my explanation it is the means by which the other of the self, the Mauss who felt the passage about the hau must be important but had not yet found a reason for his judgment, is united with the Mauss we know by his name. The gift, it is usually said, is an opening to otherness. It takes the other in. The “other” here is first of all the other that belongs to “oneself”. In this line of reasoning this process begins with the division of the self and recuperation of that division. A reunion of the parts that cannot be permanent.
/ Le don, est-il dit habituellement, est une ouverture à l’autre. Il prend l’autre en soi. L’« autre » est d’abord, ici, l’autre qui appartient à « soi-même ». Sur cette ligne de raisonnement, le processus commence par la division du moi et par la récupération de cette division. La réunification des parties ne peut pas être permanente. /
The otherness of the self, in the example I gave of Mauss, depends on it being a total otherness, unknown to its counterpart, the social self. It seems to come into play when the object reaches the recipient in the terms set out – the object is not merited, it belongs to someone other than the social self. Its value remains unknown until it is realized that someone else found it suitable for “me”. Its rule might be “someone else knows something I do not know, namely ‘me’, better than I know myself. But, after all, who am ‘I’?” Ethnography is sometimes said to be the study of the other. One should add the study of the particular, sometimes even singular, other. It is here that explanations arise that come into conflict with the entirely reasonable accounts framed in philosophical terms.
/ Sa règle pourrait être : « Quelqu’un d’autre connaît quelque chose que j’ignore, à savoir “moi”, mieux que je ne me connais moi-même. Mais après tout, qui suis- “je” ? » L’ethnographie est parfois considérée comme l’étude de l’autre. On devrait ajouter qu’elle est l’étude de l’autre particulier, parfois même singulier. C’est ici que surgissent des explications qui entrent en conflit avec des descriptions tout à fait rationnelles coulées dans le moule du langage philosophique. /
The order of the gift pointed out by Sahlins is an unstable condition. Forms of gift giving such as the kula which certainly have a form, depend not on that form but on the possibility of generating exchange anew each time. They have a periodic character. The institution is nothing without the act. Furthermore, the act is not repeatable at its core. It depends on recognition of something not recognizable. The description of such systems include the nervousness and occasional violence that accompany them that is the result of the impossibility of completely prescribing the act.
/ La description de tels systèmes inclut la nervosité, et la violence occasionnelle qui accompagne ces systèmes résulte de l’impossibilité de prescrire complètement l’acte. /
This sort of recognition is strongest when it is shocked out of the participants. “It was really me the gift found out. Me, who did not deserve it”. And who then turns it into prestige whose basis is providential discovery rather than victory according to rules.
In Pierce, the shock of force acting on sensation leads to formulation. Here it leads rather to recognition.
/ Chez Peirce, le choc de la force agissant sur la sensation amène à une formulation. Ici, il conduit plutôt à une reconnaissance. /
Pierce’s formulation says that either one understands (even if the understanding is erroneous) or there is chaos. In my understanding, recognition works not to resolve chaos but almost to bring it to the fore. That is because what is recognized is by definition totally other, incapable of submitting to recognition. What is recognized as ‘mine’ is merely an attribute of something that only seems to be revealed. If it is not recognized no ‘law’ of ownership occurs. The object is not a gift.
Appropriation of the gift works out of an obscure intuition of the appropriate, not through a rule known to all in advance or even later. The parties are not necessarily in accord about what is suitable in advance of the prestation. After that they find themselves bound in one way or another. The force of the gift depends on this illogic or self deception that comes with what Peirce called an “event”; a disruption of sensation. The debt or obligation one feels is fed by two logics. One is grateful to someone who recognized “me” where “I” did not. And one feels the need to rid oneself of something that one has no right to. The recipient rids me of my guilt. I am grateful in both logics. At the core of each of these is a sense of the appropriate, thus of ownership, thus of obligation, whose sense comes after the fact of giving. Thus a bizarre “law”, founded on contradiction and the exposure of doubleness.
/ D’où une « loi » bizarre, fondée sur la contradiction et sur la mise en lumière d’un dédoublement. /
The gift, draws on an acceptance of an other hidden from the parties themselves.
/ Le don s’appuie sur l’acceptation d’un autre dissimulé aux parties [impliquées dans l’échange] elles-mêmes. /
Out of this another sort of sociality can be constructed. It is that other social that, bringing into play the alienness of each to himself, excites the sheriff, the imam and other police of the psyche and morality. But the call for recognition brings up something potentially different each time the gesture of giving is made. Hence the wariness of the sheriff and the fear of the imam who was intelligent enough to see it all. Where the gift occurs by error and chance, where the law is the accord mistakenly assumed between the social self and the other of that self how could these authorities act differently? In the story I have told only they tell the truth. The generally recognized truth of course.
William James saw one undesirable consequence of the gift making law when he visited San Francisco a few days after the famous earthquake and fire of 1906. Large amounts of aid had already gone to the needy.
The sidewalks were crowded with well-dressed men and women, carrying baskets, bundles, valises or dragging trunks to spots of greater temporary safety, soon to be dragged further, as the fire kept on spreading” (89).
“The only very discreditable thing to human nature that occurred was later, when hundreds of lazy ‘bummers’ found they could keep camping in the parks, and make alimantery storage-batteries of their stomachs, even in some cases getting enough of the free rations in their huts or tents to last them well into the summer. This charm of pauperized vagabondage seems all along to have been Satan’s most serious bait to human nature. There was theft from the outset but confined, I believe, to petty pilfering.
Cash in hand was the only money, and millionaires and their families were no better off in this respect than anyone. Whoever got a vehicle could have the use of it; but the richest often went without, and spent the first two nights on the bare ground, sleeping on rugs, with nothing but what their own arms had rescued” .
The result of the catastrophe is that the rich use their own labor, pulling their belongs from place to place as fire chases them further off. Their wealth is of no use. On the other hand the bummers, lazy as before, are now well off by comparison to the time before the earthquake. The goods of the rich are a burden. But the lazy bummers are overloaded with food they do not deserve and will have a use for only later. Satan himself seems to have made ‘pauperized vagabondage’ charming. The imam would certainly have understood. In any case, the overstuffed vagabonds are a discredit to human nature. The world is inverted, not merely because catastrophe has lowered the rich, but because giving has made the poor better off than they, the rich, are. Paupers rest in the parks while the rich find wealth literally a burden. It is satanic, the effect not merely of nature but of surplus giving – as opposed to giving of surplus. Once again, false beggars.
Giving here is out of bounds. Mauss warned us: “Communism and too much generosity is as harmful to [the individual] and society as the selfishness of our contemporaries or the individualism of our laws” (67). The imam told us the same. Too much generosity harms the giver. But too much generosity is true generosity, against interests. But whose? Not those who lawfully enjoy what they received in the San Francisco parks of 1906.
* Marcel Mauss, Sociologie et anthropologie, Paris, PUF, Quadrige, 1950, p. 158.
 Paris, as opposed to its suburbs. In the suburbs of Paris and Marseilles, local residents have been chasing out gypsies claiming they are thieves and they are dirty. This as of 2012.
 Marcel Mauss, The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies (London: Cohen and West, 1969) (Ian Cunnison, translator)
 Jacques Derrida, Given Time (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992, trad. Peggy Kamuf).
 One understands that something might arrive that is unwanted but that is thought to be appropriate by the giver. To disown this gift one first has to think it might be appropriate. Even if one does not believe it for a moment, the need to disown it comes from the possibility of it applying to oneself, of fitting something in oneself nonetheless. Thus vengeance.
 This is surely W. Colenso, author of Traditions of the Maori (1880).
 “The taonga and all strictly personal possessions have a hau, a spiritual power. You give me taonga, I give it to another the latter gives me taonga back, since he is forced to so by the hau of my gift’ and I am obliged to give this one to you since I must return to you what is in fact the product of the hau of your taonga." Mauss, op. cit., p.9.
 Elsdon Best, Spiritual, and Mental Concepts, of the Maori, Wellington, New Zealand, Dominion Museum, 1922. Reissued by Forgotten Books, n.p., 2012), p.32.
 But did Mauss understand Maori ? E.E. Evans-Pritchard, who must have known Mauss personally, says this: “He (Mauss) was able to show from Malinowski’s own account of the Trobriand Islands where he [Malinowski] had misunderstood, or had inadequately understood, their institutions. He [Mauss] could do this because of his vast knowledge … of Oceanic languages and of the native societies of Melanesia, Polynesia, America and elsewhere….” (“Introduction to The Gift”, N.Y., W.W. Norton & Company, 1967) Ian Cunnison, trans., viii-ix. In the case of the text of Tamiti Rainipiri, Mauss quotes the English translation found in the article of Elsdon Best though he then notes that the Maori text can be found a page further in the article. (Essai sur le Don, ftnte 1, page 158 in Marcel Mauss, Sociologie et anthropologie, Paris, Quadrige/P.U.F., 1950). We know from the page number he cites, p. 439, that it is the English translation of the Maori and not a direct translation from the Maori, found on pp 440-441. In another piece he directs the reader to the Maori text in a footnote.
In any case, he givesthe definition of hau in another place as he found it in [Herbert] Williams, Maori Dictionnary (sic)[A Dictionary of the Maori Language], p 23, col. 2. (“l’obligation à rendre les présents”) 1923, republished in Marcel Mauss, Oeuvres, 3, Paris, Minuit, 1969, p44-45. In the same piece in footnote 2 he directs the reader to the Maori text. Elsdon Best, “Maori Forest Lore: Being some Account of Native Forest Lore and Woodcraft, as also of many Myths, Rites, Customs, and Superstitions connected with the Flora and Fauna of the Tuhoe or Ure-wera District.—Part III.Transactions of the New Zealand Institute, XLII, (1909). We still cannot be sure whether or not Mauss knew Maori. In any case, ‘hau’ remains a word in a foreign language quoted in translation, the example of usage of the word not going further than the definition in a dictionary.
/ Mais est-ce que Mauss comprenait le Maori ? E. E. Evans-Pritchard, qui a assurément connu Mauss personnellement, dit ceci : « Il [Mauss] était capable de montrer, à partir du propre compte-rendu de Malinowski des îles Trobriand, où il [Malinowski] avait fait erreur ou avait compris de manière inadéquate les institutions de ces îles. Il [Mauss] pouvait le faire grâce à sa vaste connaissance des langues océaniques et des sociétés indigènes de Mélanésie, de Polynésie, d’Amérique et d’ailleurs… » (« Introduction to The Gift », New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1967, viii-ix). Dans le cas du texte de Tamiti Rainipiri, Mauss cite la traduction anglaise trouvée dans l’article d’Elsdon Best bien qu’il note alors que le texte Maori loge à la page suivante dans l’article (Essai sur le Don, n. 1, p. 158, in Marcel Mauss, Sociologie et anthropologie, Paris: Quadrige/P.U.F., 1950). Nous savons grâce au numéro de la page citée – la p. 439 – que c’est la traduction anglaise et non une traduction directe du texte Maori, laquelle se trouve aux pp. 440-441. À un autre endroit, il renvoie le lecteur au texte Maori à la faveur d’une note de bas de page. Quoi qu’il en soit, il donne ailleurs la définition du hau telle qu’il la trouve dans [Herbert] Williams, Maori Dictionary (sic) [A Dictionary of the Maori Language], p. 23, col. 2. (« l’obligation à rendre les présents »), 1923, réimp. dans Marcel Mauss, Œuvres, vol. 3, Paris, Éditions de Minuit, 1969, pp. 44-45. Au même endroit, à la note n°2, il renvoie le lecteur au texte Maori (Elsdon Best, Maori Forest Lore. Being some Account of Native Forest Lore and Woodcraft, as also of many Myths, Rites, Customs, and Superstitions connected with the Flora and Fauna of the Thoe or Ure-wera District. – Part III, Transactions of the New-Zealand Institute, XLII, 1909). Nous ne pouvons toujours pas être sûrs que Mauss ait connu ou non le Maori. Quoi qu’il en soit, « hau » demeure un mot d’une langue étrangère cité dans une traduction, l’exemple de l’utilisation du mot se bornant à la définition d’un dictionnaire. /
 And according to Elsdon Best, not in English either. The hau “is an extremely difficult quality to define; it is doubtful if the English tongue contains a word to meet the case.” Elsdon Best, op. cit., p. 33.
 Quoted by Hénaff, op cit., page 79. (William James, Collected Papers, vol 8, Letter to Lady Welby, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1958. On line edition, paragraph 331). In this letter Peirce explained to Lady Welby his idea of the triad. Firstness consists of sensation which is not yet formulated. If it is named it still remains vague. Secondness is action from outside the First which disrupts the First. This Peirce calls an ‘event’. This, he says, happens in the physical world as well as the human world. In the human world there is a Third, which he calls ‘mental’. This is the law by which whatever arrives to the First becomes the possession of the First becomes his possession.
Marcel Hénaff, « Mauss et l’invention de la réciprocité », dans Marcel Mauss vivant, Revue du MAUSS n° 36, 2d semestre 2010, p. 79.
 One notes here the difference between this formulation and Lévi-Strauss speaking of the incest taboo. The exchange of women is a form of the gift, the law concomitant with it that founds the right of possession of the women being the incest taboo. One has to give up one’s own women not merely to get one in exchange, but to follow the follow the prohibition of having (in every sense of the verb) one’s own woman as a sexual partner. But the law of the prohibition of incest can and is broken without the game of marriage vanishing. The rule remains, the game continues, as opposed to Hénaff’s example.
 Marshall Sahlins, « The Spirit of the Gift » in Sahlins, Stone Age Economics, Chicago, Aldin, 1972, p. 149-83.
 Marcel Hénaff, Le prix de la vérité. Le don, l’argent, la philosophie, Paris, Seuil, 2002, p. 72.
« Apparemment, seuls les humains adoptent la procédure consistant à s’engager en donnant à autrui quelque chose de propre à soi-même comme gage et substitut de soi. » (Ibid., p. 73)
Hénafff, op. cit., p. 257; Lévi-Strauss quote in Marcel Mauss, Sociologie et anthropology, op. cit., p. XXXVIII-XXXIX. Lévi-Strauss phrases this as a question. “Did the ethnologist let himself be mystified by the native?” and answers it ambiguously. “Not by the natives in general, they do not exist, but by a determinate group of natives where specialists were already occupied by the problems and where they have tried to respond.”
/ Lévi-Strauss dans l’« Introduction à Marcel Mauss », Sociologie et Anthroplogie, op. cit., p. XXXVIII-XXXIX, cité par Hénaff, dans Le Don des philosophes, Paris, Seuil, 2012, p. 257. Lévi-Strauss le formule comme une question : « Ne sommes-nous pas ici devant l’un de ces cas […] où l’ethnologue se laisse mystifier par l’indigène ? » Et il répond de manière ambiguë : « Non certes par l’indigène en général, qui n’existe pas, mais par un groupe indigène déterminé, où des spécialistes se sont déjà penchés sur des problèmes, ont déjà posé des questions et ont essayé d’y répondre ». /
 “On Some Mental Effects of the Earthquake” in James, Memories and Studies, New York, Longmans, 1911, reproduced digitally by Arc Manor, Rockville Maryland, 2008, p. 90.