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Gift-ACLA 2017 : The Gift in Literature: ACLA Seminar


When Jul 6, 2017 - Jul 9, 2017
Where Utrecht
Submission Deadline Sep 23, 2017
Categories    gift   literature   theory   sacrifice

Call For Papers

The Gift in Literature

This session invites papers that address the problematic of the gift in literature. The gift has been an attractive economic model to describe the circulation of literary artifacts: as gift, the work of art enters into a direct relationship with its audience, compelling reciprocities along vectors that do not necessarily intersect with the monetary transaction that might have put the artwork within reach: see, for instance, Lewis Hyde’s The Gift: How the Creative Spirit Transforms the World. More complex interventions have since appeared. Simon Jarvis has been exceptionally successful in integrating insights from philosophy, anthropology, economics, and aesthetics in his exploration of the concept of the gift through a series of essays, including “Soteriology and Reciprocity” and “Problems in the Phenomenology of the Gift.” Extended studies that draw upon—amongst others—Jarvis’s work have combined careful historical research with robust theoretical engagements: Blake’s Gifts: Poetry and the Politics of Exchange by Sarah Haggarty (2010) is an excellent example.

Anthropologists and economists have been skeptical of the social value of the gift, and of its status as an unequivocal social good. In the wake of the groundbreaking work done by Marcel Mauss, the idea of a genuinely free gift—one that expects nothing in return—is largely understood to be merely fictional, or—as the anthropologist Jonathan Parry argues—is an outcome of modern nostalgia for non-monetized and disinterested transactional relationships. Putatively ‘free’ gifts can in fact become a source of social coercion and inflicted obligations: this is probably why the Germanic word ‘gift’ also means ‘poison,’ a fact highlighted by Benveniste and taken up by all the major philosophers of the gift in the twentieth century, including Levi-Strauss, Derrida, Bourdieu, Bataille, and Marion. The dangerous gift is not merely a linguistic or a theoretical paradox. For example, it is an accepted fact among economists that the more widespread the practice of charitable gifting is in a society, the more unequal and unjust it is likely to be (thus it can objectively be proved that the United States is significantly more unjust than many European countries; see Handbook of the Economics of Giving, Altruism, and Reciprocity 23-25, for instance). However, it is the idea—however idealistic and downright impossible—of a genuinely altruistic gift that constitutes the horizon of all contingent performances of the gift.

The act of giving and the economic, historical, ontological, and affective consequences of this act are of special interest for this session. Topics can include (but are not limited to) the following; all literary genres are welcome.

Theories of the gift
Xenia and the gift
Reciprocity and desire
Sacrifice, altruism, loss
Destruction as gift
Failed gifts
The given

Please submit 300-word abstracts via the ACLA website. For queries, contact Nandini (

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