The Corpse of Marcel Mauss

June 28, 2016

this post records the proceedings of a game of “exquisite hermeneutical corpse” played by the Office for Rrealiste Research in preparation for the first session of SURREAL ECONOMIES devoted to MARCEL MAUSS: ESSAY ON THE GIFT.  Any participant could submit text-limbs of 100 words in any order.  These could be notes, excerpts, reflections, criticisms, or anything else prompted by reading the text.  Images were also inserted into the body. 


//<<round-robin of 100 words? My first 100 are below.  the 100 words can be selected from any part of your notes. It just has to be 100 words exactly.  I’m choosing to begin at the beginning but not necessary.  Exquisite corpse of notes or something like this>>//



Division from Aristotle to Arendt of economy and politics

(in Xenophon economics pertains to the relations and distributions of men and women as much as to good farming and household management, etc.)

praxis as opposed to episteme  — that is, reasoning within a practical situation.


Aristotle/ Arendt/ Agamben:  divisions of economy and politics.  What is the ancient sphere of oikonomia decided by Aristotle?


In its broadest sense, any ordered system can be referred to as an economy in Aristotle, maybe any immanently ordered system


Why in the west has power assumed the oikonomia, the management of humans?


Some quotes from

May 15

contracting parties are legal entities

collectives, not individuals

they exchange more than just what is useful

potlatch is even more than this that is described a ‘system of total services’


(what is the significance of the fact that the tribes in which potlatch appears are uncommonly wealthy? (p 7)

rivalry hostility prevails)



purely sumptuary destruction of wealth

the chief ‘performs’ the ‘total service’ though this ‘service’ is agonistic in its expression


tonga – linked to the person, to the earth, from the mother’s side, possessed. the vehicle for the tribe’s magical force. in some tribes, talismans. they are implored (to

May 16

Something outside of the whole western history which so often is taken as our total horizon — especially in the tradition of European philosophy.  “Onto-theology” and so on.  We saw this with Santner… effects of the likes of Heidegger and Agamben…

Instead, thinking larger.  The system of western political economy is itself a restricted economy.  A general economy that is maybe before (and after) the neolithic humans that we’ve been.

The opening to the ‘after” via the industrial revolution re-opens the “prior” of the sort that Mauss investigates.

At first glance either end can only appear as collapse…


Primacy of objects or

May 16

It perhaps leaves us to define the crisis somewhat differently–the crisis may be in the evacuation of meaning from economic life as such. Complex interdependence is possible on a non-utilitarian basis.


I’d like to suggest two ways of reading Mauss’s work in light of the present realities of triumphal capitalist rule. (1) The Gift as a Utopia [History in Nature] (2) The Gift as the persistence of the old in the New [Nature in History]. We might return to the group morality of solidarity; we find behind this fundamental form—sacrifice, hostility for the gift unreceived, destruction, the gods’

May 17

…Intensity of Exchange of Gifts (Melanesia)

New Caledonia

Trobriand Islands

Other Melanesian societies

III  The American Northwest

Honour and credit

The three obligations: to give, to receive, to reciprocate

The force of things

The ‘money of fame’

First conclusion

3 – Survivals of these Principles in Ancient: Systems of Law and Ancient Economies

I  Personal Law and Real Law (Very Ancient Roman Law)

Scholium – Explanatory Note

Other Indo-European Law Systems

II  Classical Hindu Law: Theory of the Gift

III  Germanic Law (The Pledge and the Gift)

Celtic Law

Chinese Law

4 – Conclusion

Moral Conclusions

II  Conclusions for Economic Sociology and Political Economy

III  Conclusion Regarding General Sociology and Morality


chilkat blanket:



Critique of Mauss’ conclusions

He would desire a kind of mixture, a rejuvenated corporatism along with stronger state institutions but within capitalism

Does not see a fundamental contradiction in the commodity form, or maybe sees things being withdrawn from the dominance of the commodity form?

Still believes in the neccessity of work — communism would be harmful to whatever thing man is

This mixing or blending could, according to Mauss, lead to a kind of sacralization or ritualization of forms that we already have.  “THe clans, the generations, the sexes generally — because of the many different relatioships to which the contracts give rise — are in a perpetual state of economic ferment and this state of excitement is very far from being materialistic/  It is far less prosaic than our buying and selling, our renting of services, or the games we play on the Stock Exchange”

This is the problem though.  In these archaic situations sociality itself is experienced in exchange as immediately permeated with jouissance.

This is manifestly not the case in the wage-labor/ capital exchange.  It’s pretty obvious that it never could be.  Capital must constantly seek to lower the price it pays for labor in order to extract more surplus value — or it is eliminated (Marx).  Thus, the position of social “responsibility” or increased social cohesion, while it can co-exist, will only co-exist in tension with the general laws of motion of capital.  This tense co-existence will always be subject to roll-back in the face of crisis, which capital generates in any case.

Mauss may have observed some rapprochement in his moment, but obviously from our vantage point


  • Class struggle
  • The production and violent management of surplus populations


Remains the rule(s)]\

(Where is exploitation?  Is it that its burden is lessened by more stable symbolic identifications witih positions within the social economy?)

“Homo oeconomicus is not behind us, but lies ahead, as does the man of morality and duty, the man of science and reason”


Where is Mauss reasoning from when he writes things like this?  The possible position of the state as the mediator (and attenuator) of the capital/ wage labor antagonism: “not only morality and philosophy, but even public opinion and political economy itslef are beginning to elevate themselves to this social level  We sense that we cannot make men work well unless they are sure of being fairily paid throughout ttheir life for work they have fairly carried out, both for others and for themselves. The producer who carries on exhcnage feels once more — he has lways felt it, but this time he does so acutely‚ that he is exchanging more than a product of hours of working time, but that he is giving osmething of himself — his time, his life.  Thus he wishes to be rewarded, even if only moderately, for the gift.  To refuse him this reward is to make him become idle or less producive”


Or maybe the position of religion?  Durkheimian school which thought that the recognition of “Society”, i.. Sociology was a kind of sublimated form of religion, the rational recognition of the primacy of social form and relation (Left Hegelianism?)
The total social fact, encore