Gift exchange is odd, even paradoxical. Giving requires calculation; one must consider the recipient’s need and one’s capacities. And, after the gift is given, expectation sets in. Was it well received? Will it be reciprocated? As many have noted, the gift, though ostensibly selfless, is very much an interested activity. All the calculations leading up to and following a gift exchange reveal the rules that govern a society, even the tacit ones. The gift is an object and a process. The gift moves, and it also—as a keepsake or memorial—stays put. The gift is personal, social, and cosmic.
Ralph Waldo Emerson writes that “the only gift is a gift of self.” For him, the gift is about affinity and recognition: “The gift, to be true, must be the flowing of the giver unto me, correspondent to my flowing unto him.” Where for Emerson the gift is about love, for Marcel Mauss, the gift is about the circulation of social power. The gift invites prolific interpretation so much so that, for Georges Bataille, the gift itself is the sign of a general economy of expenditure in which excesses of wealth and energy are either sacrificed in the potlatch of war or formed into art. For Lewis Hyde, gift exchange is the model of all creative work; generosity of spirit is the artist’s permission to create, and that work is the artist’s gift. Jacques Derrida in his later years finds that the gift is about time: when one gives a gift, one gives the time in which the gift circulates—the delay in which to ponder the reception or to expect the return gift. Working in a contrary direction, Anne Carson and Maurice Godelier understand giving as a form of keeping. Carson suggests that the role of the poet is historically one of “memorable naming,” that the artist’s gift is memory. Godelier argues that, despite Mauss’s emphasis on circulation, many gifts are “inalienable.” They are not given into circulation but into sequestration, and social orders depend upon restricting the circulation of gifts we mark as sacred. More recently, feminist theorists such as Tracy McNulty and Rosalyn Diprose have explored ways in which the gift and generosity negotiate relations between the self and culturally different others.
With so many masks, the gift can be found in many exchanges. In what ways is the gift interested or disinterested in some form of compensation, as in the Marshall Plan, or the Koch brothers’ support of PBS and NPR programming? How is the gift functioning as an alternative to traditional capital campaigns on sites like GoFundMe.com? How is it a gift of self, as in the vulnerability and challenge in Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece? When is it about connection and communication, as in Marina Abramovic’s Silent Sitting? Are gifts like Christo and Jean Claude’s self-funded installations Gates and Running Fence somehow different in meaning from other public artworks? In what sense is the gift’s creation of a community also an exclusion, as we might see in various acts of patronage, such as Ezra Pound’s support of writers aligned with his own aesthetic agendas? To what extent does Mauss’s notion of giving as display of wealth live on in Gatsby’s parties or Musk’s SpaceX? Does the gift as expenditure appear in open-software movements, Sweden’s Pirate Party? What might be the role of the gift and related rituals of hospitality in the context of current debates about immigration and the refugee crisis?
This issue welcomes multimodal essays up to 4,000 words (excluding works cited) exploring such topics as gifts and:
- literature and/or poetry
- inspiration and talent
- re-gifting and revenge
- consumer culture
- medical technologies (e.g., organ donation, fertility therapies, genetics)
- social media
- labor (e.g., unpaid/under-compensated labor, internships, academic publishing, the art market)
- intellectual property and information sharing
Direct questions to the Special Issue co-editors: Jennie Stearns [email@example.com] and J.P. Craig [firstname.lastname@example.org]. For questions about video, audio, or image usage, please contact NANO: email@example.com.
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Keywords and abstract: Each author is asked to submit 5 keywords and a 250-word abstract to accompany their submission.
Schedule: Deadlines concerning the special issue to be published in NANO:
Submission deadline: October 1, 2016
Pre-production begins January 2017
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