Monday, May 19, 2008

The Decline of Gift Giving

A short extract from Minima Moralia by Theodor Adorno. (Very difficult to read and very depressing too but probably worth it. I was just skimming through it randomly. Makes a convincing case of what an impossible task it is to just remain human in this culture of buying and selling. I just wish it were easier to read, may be that is just a sign of resistance against commodification of language? Simple language == commodified language.)

"No exchanges allowed. – Human beings are forgetting how to give gifts. Violations of the exchange-principle have something mad and unbelievable about them; here and there even children size up the gift-giver mistrustfully, as if the gift were only a trick, to sell them a brush or soap. For that, one doles out charity [in English in original], administered well-being, which papers over the visible wounds of society in coordinated fashion. In its organized bustle, the human impulse no longer has any room, indeed even donations to the needy are necessarily connected with the humiliation of delivery, the correct measure, in short through the treatment of the recipient as an object. Even private gift-giving has degenerated into a social function, which one carries out with a reluctant will, with tight control over the pocketbook, a skeptical evaluation of the other and with the most minimal effort. Real gift-giving had its happiness in imagining the happiness of the receiver. It meant choosing, spending time, going out of one’s way, thinking of the other as a subject: the opposite of forgetfulness. Hardly anyone is still capable of this. In the best of cases, they give what they themselves would have wished for, only a few shades of nuance worse. The decline of gift-giving is mirrored in the embarrassing invention of gift articles, which are based on the fact that one no longer knows what one should give, because one no longer really wants to. These goods are as relationless as their purchasers. They were shelf warmers [Ladenhueter] from the first day. Likewise with the right to exchange the gift, which signifies to the receiver: here’s your stuff, do what you want with it, if you don’t like it, I don’t care, get something else if you want. In contrast to the embarrassment of the usual gifts, their pure fungibility still represents something which is more humane, because they at least permit the receiver to give themselves something, which is to be sure simultaneously in absolute contradiction to the gift."

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