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Mauss, reciprocation and the supplement

Planning to go back to this blog after increasingly large lapses. I´m also hoping to find a way to keep going my portuguese-language podcast Polvos Reais Dentro.

Guess going back to the blog starts out by letting readers catch up with what I´m up to. As I said in my previous post, I´ve finished the manuscript of Deictic Absolutes. My current project which is slowly taking shape and has the very provisional name of the cosmpolitics of capital, is about the metaphysics of the capital flow. It involves both the process of entrenching capital in different societies of people and things and the cybernetics conditions of possibility for such an item (or a concrescence, or a network, or a nexus) to come about. I´m not rushing into the details of how the writing is going to happen or what for it is going to take. Hopefully this blog will help me rehearsing some ideas.

As before I´m benefiting from the courses I´m lecturing at the University of Brasilia. Last year on the CCRU diaspora and the coming of age of accelerationism and this semester in a course on nihilism in Heidegger (and on Levinas´ misgivings) and another one that follows a line from Marx through to Mauss, to Bataille, and then both to Stengers and to Land. In the latter, we´re now reading Mauss´ "The Gift" and we´re now precisely discussing the complicated ties between the Trobriand notions of vaga - the first gift one receives - and of yotile - the first obligation to reciprocate.

All in all, it´s a terrifying, scary book. Its gist is that both the spontaneity and the impulse towards the other are ultimately boiling down to rules of generosity within the (general) economy. To be sure, the social network is initiated by a move towards the other triggered either by a need or by an obsession. The issue arises as to what compels one towards social connections - the insufficiency of the individual in the sense of its openness to supplement.

However, there are many layers to this. Having received a vaga, one is compelled to reciprocate - reciprocation is both disinterested and non-obligatory. The gift as a total social system, integrated economy, religion, law, moral, politics and whatever else, you name it. Mauss analyses the alms giving phenomenon as a mix of sacrifice and gift. In fact, humanitarian aid is a dispute - like in present day Venezuela where Trump and the local Trumpite governments aim to enable the alms to arrive and Maduro want to stop them. Arundhati Roy once coined a good phrase for this: alms race. Once the Venezuelan population accepts the alms, they are locked in a kula (in a social network of obligations towards the donors). Analogously, charity and phylantropy are often ways to include recipients in the cash economy.

The economic transactions that do say their name - the ones studied by economics - are the ones that follow from a decision to enter into an alliance or a network. They are more or less the more or less conscious ones. Economics is the tip of the iceberg, the conscious tip. To further parody Whitehead, to try and understand a society through contracts and conscious negotiations is like to try and understand urban life only looking at traffic signals. There is an underground to any social contract - and it is made of what compells one towards a locking kula.


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