In 1963, when I was 23, I married Ferruccio Rossi-Landi
and left my native Texas to go to live with him in Milano. A few months after
we were married I went with Ferruccio to Bologna to a meeting of philosophy
professors and psychiatrists (including Gianni Scalia, Pietro Bonfiglioli
and Agostino Pirella) who wanted to publish a journal dedicated to the application
of Marx's analysis of the commodity and money to language. I was young and
American (I remember how impressed I was at hearing Scalia say that as a
philosopher Marx was "as big as Aristotle") and the prospect of applying
Marx's economic analysis to language completely bowled me over. In fact I
was even more enthusiastic than Ferruccio was about the idea, and have remained
enthusiastic until today. Although in the end, the journal did not come about,
Ferruccio developed his theory of language as labor and trade during the
first years we were married, before going forward in other directions. I
did some translations for him at the time, so I got to know his thinking
well. He would write during the day and then bring home what he had written
for me to translate. He corrected it almost phrase by phrase as I was doing
it and we discussed it a lot.
As I was going through the development of Ferruccio's work
with him, I was raising our little children. Taking care of them showed me
that they were able to learn language long before they could understand money
or exchange. I could see that language and the economics of exchange were
similar but because I was convinced that language came before exchange both
for the individual and historically, I wondered what the similarity was due
to. I kept working on the idea myself for years, turning it around and around,
first with Ferruccio as my 'tutor', later on my own. Now some 40 years after
that first meeting in Bologna, I am still working on it. I realize that it
is an unusual privilege to have been able to keep thinking about an idea
for such a long time, especially for a woman and a non academic. What I have
come up with is different from Ferruccio's interpretation of language and
economics - and from Marx's. I believe it is a feminist or woman-based perspective
on language and the market.
In 1974-75 I spent two years with our children in the US
while Ferruccio was working to get his 'cattedra' in Italy. I used the free
time I had to write and think the ideas through. On the basis of that work
I published two essays "Communication and Exchange" (1980) and "Saussure
and Vygotsky via Marx" (1981). These essays and the work I did at the time
have been the basis of the theory I developed later. What I try to show in "Communication
and Exchange" is that communication is not based on exchange, but that exchange
is a kind of aberrant material communication in a situation of private property.
Money functions as a single material 'word' that facilitates this communication.
I realized that the communication that was not exchange was based on satisfying
the other's communicative need and that need-satisfaction has a logic of
its own that unites the communicators. This logic is simpler than the logic
of exchange but it is actually more creative and informative. I also understood
that Saussure's idea of value did not fit with Marx's and that money as the
General Equivalent was similar to the function of the word and the 'sample'
in Vygotsky's experiment on concept development. (Vygotsky 1962) The challenge
then for me was to compare money and language. I looked at money as a one-word
quantitative language (containing a sequentially ordered langue of prices)
and having abstract labor value as its 'signified'. I compared it to language
proper composed of langue - a collection of qualitatively different words
with qualitatively different 'values', and combinatory rules, and parole,
the ongoing process of communication - made of words from langue combined,
in act. By looking at communication as need-satisfaction and the market as
communication in a situation of private property, I could consider the market
as alienated communication. By looking at money as a material word I could
consider it as a one word 'alienated language'. As such money gives us the
possibility of a non - or only partially - linguistic term of comparison
for language. The dimensions of money and language are very different. The
market is macroscopic, and its one word language speaks for everything again
and again. Money is material. You can keep it in your pocket. You have to
give it up when you buy something. Words in language proper are airy, small
and fleeting in comparison. You cannot keep them in your pocket in the way
that you do money (though of course you can write them on a piece of paper
which can go in your pocket). You can easily reproduce words. They have a
very many qualitatively different values. They can combine qualitatively,
modifying each other, while money combines quantitatively in a different
way to make a sum.
It seemed to me that it would not be surprising if human
beings had used the same process to communicate materially that they used
to communicate linguistically, when the need arose because of private property,
a material situation similar to that of private minds. I had learned to analyze
poetry in college. Finding the similarities and differences between money
and language was like analyzing at a huge real poem, with meanings on different
levels. Yet why did the need for the market arise? Why did we have private
property? Were people just greedy? The Left in Italy at the time was very
radical and I considered myself part of it even though I had private property
myself. I was quite clear about the fact that there was a huge oppression
and exploitation of people going on at all levels. The picture of the market
and language that I was developing was so strange that I began to wonder
if the market, exchange and money were not causing the problems themselves
as a sort of alienating mechanism. I was reading Freud at the time and going
through psychoanalysis so the possibility of the market as a psycho-symbolic
alienating mechanism appeared credible to me.
Ferruccio and I were divorced in 1978 and I became a feminist
shortly thereafter. From my consciousness raising group I learned about the
value of women's unpaid housework. Later I learned that housework would add
some 40% or more to the GNP of most economies, if it were monetized. From
this I began to see how much unrecognized free labor is actually being given
to the market. I already had the hypothesis that communication was based
on need satisfaction so I saw that women's free labor could be understood
as material communication which was not alienated - at least not in the same
way that the market is alienated. I had read Malinowsky and Mauss in college.
Their work dealt with symbolic gift 'exchange', but because I was making
the hypothesis of language as communication without or prior to exchange,
I tried to see symbolic gift giving in that light, as an extension of material
and linguistic communication rather than as a foreshadowing of some aspects
of the market. I was also doing gift giving at many levels in my own life,
especially as a mother. It occurred to me that perhaps the communication
and language that were prior to exchange were derivatives of mothering. Indeed
mothering, like language, is something all human groups have in common. It
is a social practice that is necessary in all societies and epochs. Perhaps
I thought, this hypothesis had not been made because mothering had been considered
instinctual. I was certain that it is intentional however both because of
the way I was doing it myself and because the feminists I was talking to
were quite clear on that point. It was around 1978 then that I began to think
of communication, and language, as gift giving deriving from and in continuity
with mothering. If this were the case it would follow that symbolic gift
'exchange' could be considered a variation upon communication and even upon
language, and if language was an extension of mothering then so would symbolic
gift giving be (even in cases where it is practiced exclusively by men).
Perhaps then, communication prior to exchange could be considered as gift
giving and an extension of mothering. In that case market exchange, as alienated
communication, could be seen as an alienation of mothering.
In the early 1980's, I participated in a course on women
and language held at the Virginia Woolf Cultural Center in Rome. The course
was directed by a friend Alma Sabatini and by a professor at the University
of Rome, Marina Camboni. During the years prior to that time, I had had a
number of psychological problems and for years had taken psychotropic medicines,
the effects of which had convinced me I would never write again. Fortunately
I gave my articles in semiotics to Marina Camboni who thought they were important
enough for me to give a couple of sessions of the course. I am still grateful
to her for giving me that chance. (Indeed I am grateful to a number of women
academics who have made space for me over the years according to their own
deep feminist inclusiveness). I wrote a paper in Italian in which I addressed
some issues around feminism and language that I had not thought of before.
There I first had the idea that the boy child has to change standard from
mother to father, and that this has to do with exchange for money. I got
this idea from Marx's footnote "the human being does not come into the world
bringing a mirror with him...The man Peter grasps his relation to himself
as a human being through becoming aware of his relation to the man Paul as
a being of like kind with himself." (1962:24). Well, I thought, he may not
come into the world with a mirror, but he does come with a mother! The child
identifies with the mother first. It is only later that Peter has to see
himself as a male through his relation to Paul, in the same way that a commodity
has to find its value reflected in money. It was then that I first began
to think of the market as a derivative of an artificially non nurturing male
gender construction. I developed this idea extensively later (1997), and
coined the term 'masculation' for the process in which the boy child is alienated
from his identification with his nurturing mother, and has to create an identity
based on categorization itself, with the father or other significant male
as exemplar of the category. The boy then has to compete to become the exemplar,
and the female model is eclipsed. The daughter continues her identification
with the mother but also has to accept the mother's eclipse and therefore
her own. The mother then preferentially and contradictorily nurtures the
males more than the females, including herself, because the males have given
In 1983 I went back to the US with my theory of gift giving
and communication in mind and with the intention of trying to create social
change. It was already clear to me at the time that Capitalism is Patriarchal
and that we needed to work for change according to women's values - that
is, according to gift giving. In the US I encountered Lewis Hyde's book The
Gift, Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property (1979) which convinced
me I was on the right track. I tried to talk to some friends about the idea
of gift giving and the critique of the market, but they didn't understand
it. Perhaps I was not able to explain it very well and of course living in
the US, they had never studied Marx nor did they know anything about Ferruccio.
It seemed to me that other people there were never going to understand the
theory. I decided I had to try to change reality with practice. If theory
came from practice, I thought, by changing the practice, at least my own,
that is, by communicating materially at the level of money in a way that
was not exchange, I could make a material basis for the theory, a material
basis which would contradict exchange. I started a feminist activist foundation
- which is another story in itself - and after quite a number of years of
the practice, I went back to writing the theory. In 1997 my book, For-Giving,
a Feminist Criticism of Exchange was published. My idea of the market as
alienated material communication has been hard to transmit to people until
recently when, with globalization, it has become quite clear that the gifts
of all are being taken away and de natured by commodification. Now, almost
miraculously it seems, I have a network of international women activists
and academics who are interested in the idea, working together with me on
it. My approach is different from that of others who write about gift giving,
such as Lewis Hyde and the MAUSS Revue, or critics of the structures of Patriarchy
such as Jean-Josef Goux, or even feminist writers on women's values like
Carol Gilligan. The reason is that my hypothesis comes from looking at 1)
communication as gift giving, based on mothering; 2) language as communication
- gift giving - at the verbal level; 3) monetized exchange as material gift
giving/communication which has been altered and alienated by incarnating
a process similar to naming (see below); 4) (male) gender as the artificial
construction of biological males as not mothering, not nurturing; 5) the
market as the projection of the non nurturing role onto (so-called 'developed')
societies' modes of production and distribution of goods; 6) housework and
surplus labor as unpaid gifts that are given to the capitalist and the market
as a whole, to create profit. My approach is different also because 7) I
consider gift giving as a project for social change. I have the hope that
by undoing a false construction of gender and its projection and validation,
we can develop a society based on gift giving, on nurturing rather than domination,
on women rather than men, or I should say, on both sexes to whom their gift
giving capacities have been restored, re-visioned as homo donans, not just
Although I had the same point of departure as Ferruccio,
I ended up with a different perspective on almost everything he addressed.
For example, I believe that linguistic work is not per se primarily work
for exchange. The market presupposes a comparison with money and the abstraction
of labor - the finding of a common quality - among the products that are
brought to the market to be sold. This common quality is a social one, exchange
value, caused by the fact that we do not share our products by giving them
directly to satisfy needs but exchange them, do ut des. If a product is not
exchangeable, it does not achieve semiotization as a value of that kind.
That is, it is not communicable as part of the alienated communication that
is the market. Linguistic work is not primarily work for the market, labor
that will become abstract by being compared with all other labor on the market
- though of course it can be, as happens with the work of advertisers or
academics. Rather linguistic work produces linguistic gifts which satisfy
the non (or less) alienated communicative needs of other human beings, which
arise with regard to every part of our world due to our ongoing experience.
These are needs for verbal gifts that establish mutually inclusive human
relations among interlocutors, creating our subjectivities as beings of a
like kind who are similarly varied givers and receivers, capable of creating
infinitely numerous kinds of qualitatively different communicative gifts
regarding all the endless variety of living on earth. As humans we are a
category that constitutes itself from within by giving and receiving gifts
at a variety of levels. Our collections of qualitatively different verbal
substitute gifts, can be re combined in innumerable ways, according to syntactic
patterns also having to do with giving and receiving. Words are 'constant'
verbal gifts used to create human relations regarding stable or repeatedly
relevant kinds of things which may themselves be considered possible relation-creating
gifts but which at the moment may or may not be giveable. The speaker satisfies
the need of the other to be put into relation to a non verbal gift item,
situation or event by giving her a word-gift s/he could h/erself give but
is not at the moment giving. In doing this the speaker transforms h/er own
relation to the non verbal gift item, situation, or event into a relation
which has an equal in the relation of the other. By combining constant verbal
gifts in contingent and variable gift relations through syntax, we are able
to create new sentences which convey and create newly understood and changing
relations among cultural items, situations and events, as gifts among human
beings, community-forming gifts, newly related to the listener's communicative
needs in every sentence, by the speaker.
I believe syntax, the combinability of words, can be seen
not as homologous to production of and with tools as Ferruccio thought or
dictated by a Universal Grammar as conceived by Chomsky but as repeating
gift patterns of the verbal plane. In fact it is because we cancel social
gift giving and the work of the mother that we keep looking at a biological
inheritance (gift) instead of a social one, or even a tool based articulation
instead of a gift based one. We need not look at language to make this point
but at material production itself. Tools can of course be used as gifts but
more importantly here, their internal relations can also be seen as gift
relations. Many of the patterns we see in tool making and use can be seen
as transposed gift patterns. Hitting first of all is transposed giving and
it creates a relation of dominance between hitter and the receiver of the
blows. (Knives made by hitting rock against flint used to kill animals, transport
the blow in a pass-through from making the knife to killing the animal).
However, many other aspects of 'fit' between pieces of tools can be seen
as permanent giving of one piece to another and the establishing of ongoing
'relations' between them. The fit between the head of the hammer and the
handle, or between the sole and the upper of the shoe can be seen as permanent
gift relations, while the relation between the shoe and the foot is a gift
contingent upon changing needs. We can thus translate tool work to gift work
- work which already has included in it the idea of establishing relations.
All tools serve some purpose, satisfy some need. On the other hand, gifts
are all 'tools' for establishing relations, though they may not always be
used that way. Even if we were to accept the homology of production we could
find the deeper source for the similarities between material and linguistic
production in the gift patterns underlying both of them.
Characterizing linguistic work as gift giving locates it
with the communication that is prior to exchange. In fact, any behavior in
which a need is freely satisfied may be understood as extended gift giving,
from perception of sense 'data' to breathing free air, to constructing a
building, giving a floor to walls and walls to a ceiling, a ceiling to a
space, and a protected environment to people.
I believe that linguistic gift giving takes place on the
basis of abundance. In communication we build on the fact that we can have
the same (albeit verbal) things, not that we can't have them. Communicative
needs are needs for human relations regarding the internal or external world
that arise in an ongoing way from experience. Linguistic labor is other-oriented
relation-creating labor which, by satisfying the communicative needs of others,
transforms the world, bringing forward its gift aspects. It does this by
giving combinations of verbal gifts substituting for potential, permanent
or contingent gifts on the non verbal plane.
I believe exchange itself derives from some aspects of language:
naming and the definition, both of which are gift processes of a kind which
is somewhat different from speech. In naming and definition, someone, a definer,
gives the gift of a word to someone who does not have it. That is, s/he gives
what may be considered a meta linguistic gift, a gift of language that satisfies
someone's need for a means for creating relations regarding some kind of
thing. The definition and naming point out gifts on two levels. On one level
they focus on some part of the environment as having some value for others
as a possible gift, and on the other level they give a word that can take
its place as a communicative gift. The non verbal gift may in fact not be
given at the moment (or ever) while the verbal gift is given to the other
in its stead as a means of creating human relations in its regard. The relations
among human subjectivities that would otherwise have been created by material
gift giving and receiving are recreated at the level of language. These are
human gift relations coming from the satisfaction of the needs of one by
the other. Once someone has learned the name of something she can give it
to others herself in parole to satisfy their communicative needs arising
in regard to that kind of gift on the non verbal plane and they will understand
it because it is a word-gift they already have and could use themselves to
satisfy someone else's communicative needs. (The use of a word in a sentence
is thus no longer a meta linguistic gift as it was in naming but a linguistic
One of the reasons linguistic labor looks like labor for
the market is that they use the same 'pieces' arranged in different ways.
In labor for the market we produce in order to receive an equivalent in exchange.
In linguistic labor we give to others the verbal gift 'equivalent' of the
non verbal gift, for the purpose of creating common gift relations with them.
The relations we create in this way are very much the opposite of the mutually
exclusive relations of exchange. They are mutually inclusive and as qualitatively
varied and quantitatively simple as the values of exchange are qualitatively
monolithic and quantitatively complex. The variety of linguistic gifts and
the possibility of combining them through syntax, creating human relations
which are specified according to each communicative interaction, allow the
transmission of information along with the relations.
On the other hand, the transmission of goods and services
in exchange contradicts the variety of human relations and allows only the
single mutually exclusive relation of private property to be bridged and
re occur. In exchange as in naming, we put forward something as valuable
for the other, but we do this not to give a substitute gift to the other,
but rather to get the money substitute 'gift', the material name for ourselves
(or vice versa we give the material name, the money substitute 'gift,' in
order to get the material gift or service for ourselves.) The interaction
of exchange is divided differently from the naming interaction and the roles
of the 'actors' are somewhat different from the roles of definer and listener,
even their opposite in some moments. Nevertheless exchange is like naming
in that it gives a money-word that the other doesn't have, at a meta-communicative
level, and establishes a relation of mutual inclusion regarding something
of value to both parties, the one thing they have in common: their relation
of mutual exclusion as embodied in private property.
Exchange can be seen as material communication - gift giving
- in a situation of private property, that is, of not-giving. Because of
private property the kind of sharing that takes place in language cannot
take place materially in the market. What does happen is paradoxically a
sharing of not sharing, a giving of not-giving. Money is a meta-communicative
'gift' regarding this contradictory communication. It regards the only sharing
that does take place in the market, the sharing of a non giving framework,
and allows commodities to be named in that way as portions of everything
that is held and 'transmitted' in that contradictory common-uncommon relation.
In fact there is a value of things in that relation, as they are transmitted
without giving, because indeed we are dependent on the market as a whole
for our goods and livelihoods. The market does give to us without giving.
If language proper gives us substitute gifts, verbal value tokens, for all
the variety of elements in our world which we can share as gifts and values,
money gives us a substitute (not-) gift for all the not-gift products there
are available to us on the market which indeed we do not share as gifts.
The amount of money given for a commodity names the commodity quantitatively
as a not-gift with respect to all the other not-gifts on the market. Prices
function as a sequentially ordered quantitative langue within which the quantity
of exchange value of the particular not-gift is expressed. Money is a meta-communicative
gift because the common human relation to the mutual exclusion of the market
is singular and contradictory. The gift in this situation is only the not-gift,
exchange, and the value that comes from it. There is also no other 'word'
that can stand together with money to make a 'langue', and no syntax which
would combine other 'words', to make 'parole'. Thus the money-word stands
alone the only word in this meta-communicative process, used over and over,
given up each time it is 'spoken'. The reason for this singularity is that
the not-gift contradicts on a very deep level the pervasive gift giving that
allows us to attribute and recognize value in life and in language.
I believe that because of its similarity to naming, the
process of exchange for money has a strong magnetic effect on our thinking,
making us see everything in its image. It reverses the logic of communication,
making us give to not-give, give to keep or to take, even in non economic
areas, from our individual psychologies to politics, religion, philosophy,
semiotics etc. Where gift giving is other oriented, exchange is ego oriented.
One gives to receive an equivalent, to satisfy one's own need, not the need
of the other. Thus in our thinking we learn to over value equivalents, equations,
equality and categorization while not thinking of or valuing giving to needs.
Even when we may be actually doing gift giving ourselves we do not validate
it. In fact it does not even come into our consciousness. It remains unnamed,
uncategorized, perhaps because indeed, it does not require an equivalent.
In the market, what looks like an equal exchange actually
contains many hidden gifts of free and surplus labor and of free or low cost
raw materials. The 'equal' exchange for products and for labor serves as
a pass-through (like a nautical lock in a canal) for gifts to move from a
'lower' to a 'higher' level and back again, as they are transformed into
commodities and monetized in terms of all the other exchanges in that branch
of production, then bought and de monetized, becoming 'merely' use values.
As use values coming from the market process, products also
lose their connection with their original producers. There is a syllogism
of gift giving: if A gives to B and B gives to C then A gives to C. In this
process, value is transmitted by the giver to the receiver by implication
(that the receiver was important enough for the giver to give to h/er). When
A exchanges with B, each gives only in order to receive, to satisfy h/er
own need so the syllogism is contradicted and the implication is cancelled.
The gift to the other is cancelled by the necessary return of its equivalent
by the other. Thus the use value that comes out of the exchange does not
contain the implication of value of the other, gift value. It may acquire
a new gift value when it is used as a means of giving for further gifts,
feeding one's family for example, but its connection with its original producer
is lost. Gift giving and gift value are transitive; exchange is intransitive.
Exchange value is calculated according to the abstract labor
contained in different branches of production for the market and the portion
of any of those branches constituted by the individual commodity, taking
into account the costs of production (Marx 1962). There is an equation between
the commodity and money, expressing the equality of their value. This equation,
exchange and the market as a whole are embedded within a cornucopia of free
gifts that are not seen - because they are not categorized as commodities.
There are many previously free gifts and services that are now becoming commodified
and therefore visible. We see them as we are losing them, as they are being
categorized as exchange values and absorbed into the market. For example:
water was free; seeds were free; species were unpatented and free; transmission
of knowledge of husbandry, household and health care by parents and grandparents
(pre advertising) was and is sometimes still free; the clean air we breathe
in order to be able to produce and consume is/was free - until it has to
be filtered etc. All of these gifts also contributed to the market from the
outside because the capitalist did not have to pay for them. Now however,
they are being privatized, absorbed into the market and the public has to
pay their 'owners' for them.
Many of those aspects of life which make us human, and therefore
good producers of surplus value, are free. Our access to our sense data is
free (unless we are blind or deaf); our work of learning and exploring the
world around us is free; the basic functioning of our languages is free.
Housework and surplus labor are gifts to the market, as we have been saying.
To them we need to add the differences in level of life between countries
of the South and the North which allow the price of labor in the South -
the salary that provides the 'means of giving' for the reproduction of the
worker - to be so much lower than the price of labor in the North. The products
of labor of the South bring prices in the North that are determined by the
level of life in the North and therefore contain a large profit for the capitalists,
that is a large gift of surplus value which is given by the people living
in the economies of the South where living conditions and goods are so much
poorer and thus cheaper. The level of life does not improve because the many
gifts are taken elsewhere and even the capital accumulated locally does not
remain in local banks.
These gifts and others pour in to profit beyond the equation
of value because they are its uncategorized context, allowing equal exchange
to take place and unequal gifts to be given at the same time. Gifts of weather,
purity of water and air, availability of raw materials and energy sources,
circumstance of location, and synchronicity of timing also influence the
production and sale of commodities, as well as the effective demand, the
ability of buyers to pay. When we use money to name the exchange value of
something in the contradictory communication of the market we ignore the
context of gifts, just as when we name something with words and categorize
it, we leave in the background all the free gifts and services (both verbal
and non verbal) in which that category is embedded. This includes all the
gifts of nature and culture as well as our own free linguistic labor of categorization
and syntactic combination, our free labors of perception and learning which
ready us as competent communicative receivers and givers, and our free labor
of communication proper. The context of any act of naming - the posing of
an equivalence between a verbal gift and a non verbal gift - is the use of
that word and that kind of thing in the linguistic community and the human
community, not as a co presence of categories but as part of a great collective
interactive web of gift giving and receiving. In this web, categorization,
the identification of non verbal and verbal gifts can be usefully foregrounded
while the web itself is in the background. Equating items on the two levels
- verbal and non verbal - and thinking of things as kinds can give us a clearer
picture of the way we think, but it is also similar to the market operation
of finding the price of commodities, without thinking of all the gifts in
the background. On the other hand, words previously acquired through naming
become gifts in new ways in ongoing parole where things of a kind are seen
as similar in relation to the word which stands for them but they are also
seen in their gift relations with other things as implied by the syntactic
relations among verbal substitute gifts. Without the ability to use words
in combination to make new gift sentences and discourses naming and categorizing
would be uncommunicative, uninformative. The specific usefulness or gift
character of naming and the names it provides thus becomes dependent on syntactic
gift giving. That is, the meta linguistic gift of a name does not suffice
in itself but its gift capacity depends on its actual use in sentences. Nevertheless
in the study of language, the naming and defining, categorizing side of language
often takes over from the gift side, in concert with the male model taking
over from the female and the materialization of the word in money taking
over from gift giving. In fact we do not acknowledge the gift character of
language at all; it is hidden from sight together with other kinds of gift
I am suggesting that we consider words as substitute gifts
and syntax as gift giving among words, while at the same time as speakers
and listeners we give and receive sentences and discourses. In this way we
make visible an iconicity among the verbal, non verbal and interpersonal
levels that functions to hold the linguistic communication together. On the
other hand, taking a word out of the communicative flow to give a name or
a definition creates a situation that is unusual with regard to the rest
of language. Children usually do begin to learn language that way, with naming,
and as adults we can go back to it whenever we want to, but after language
has been learned naming does not stand alone. Because naming has been transferred
into exchange however, the logic of naming becomes overly influential in
our thinking. In fact, in exchange for money we have created a material interpersonal
area which is iconic to naming though not to gift giving and which is nevertheless
necessary for survival. Not only does this iconicity validate the market
but I believe it gives rise to areas of academia based on naming and re naming.
Generative grammar for example is based on re naming or re writing. Once
we have named and categorized something we believe we know it but our analysis
does not give us the motivation, that is, the movement of thought among the
names or the justification of their relation to each other. We humans are
putting that motivation into our sentences but we are not looking at it.
In fact it is gift motivation, gift energy, energy that moves toward the
Naming as validated by exchange also has a particularly
negative side in that we devalue those who don't use or have the 'right'
names or belong to the 'right' categories. Sexual, racial, national, and
religious naming or 'labeling' is a way of dominating others by categorization,
just as labor is dominated by naming it - or not naming it - with money in
a salary of a certain quantity. Free housework has been dominated also by
not naming it 'work' as well as by not having a sense of gift giving labor
which would validate it outside the market. Thus it seems that the way to
validate housework is to give women a salary for doing it while instead we
need to stand on the ground of its free gifts to critique and dismantle the
Goods and services are dominated by naming them with money
and putting them in the category of exchange values. Alfred Sohn-Rethel's
idea of the 'exchange abstraction' (1965) shows a 'freezing' of the product
in a timeless and spaceless moment as it waits in a store to be bought. In
this timeless moment both giving/receiving and exchange are suspended, a
circumstance which I believe contributes not only to abstraction but to the
'reification' of the world around us. The step-aside from speech into naming
and definition creates for language something similar to the exchange abstraction,
holding our attention on the exemplar and its name, in a moment outside the
flow of verbal giving. The coincidence of naming and exchange focuses our
attention on categorization as the process of knowledge and creates a parallel
between knowing and owning. In our use of monetized exchange, it is as if
we had in a functional image of part of the way we think, buried deep within
our material practice, broadcasting and validating itself surreptitiously
(like a piece of radioactive shrapnel) at many other levels, and feeding
back into our thinking.
We can look at the relations among words as transposed gift
relations and the relations among things, from which they are transposed,
as gift relations (which we have recognized among them or attributed to them).
Adjectives modify nouns by being given to them and as such they correspond
to situations on the non verbal plane where something has been given to something
else. 'Red balloon' is a phrase in which 'red' is given to 'balloon' because
on the reality plane the color [red] has been given to the [balloon] and
is its 'property'. (This is not mutually exclusive private property, but
a property that 'belongs to' the balloon and is shared with other red things.)
'Red balloon' is given as a combined gift to listeners to satisfy their communicative
needs arising from red balloons. The definite or indefinite article is given
to the noun phrase in order to specify the kind of substitute gift that phrase
is, and what kind of communicative need it satisfies, that is, whether the
gift regards a specific balloon or one among others. In the sentence 'This
is a red balloon' the demonstrative pronoun is used to indicate or foreground
a red balloon - or even just a picture or a sign for a red balloon - and
it is united with 'a red balloon' by 'is'.
Singling out something from a background by pointing can
be considered a physical icon for perceptual singling out. In pointing, one
item, the index finger, is foregrounded while the other items, the fingers
of the hand, are drawn back, backgrounded (see Vaughan 1997) In 'This is
a red balloon', 'this' can be considered a substitute gift for a red balloon's
being singled out from a background. This sentence would satisfy the listener's
communicative need arising from the context, for a description of the present
non verbal gift, and indeed the balloon could be a gift, if someone were
to give it. Although the sentence could be used to give the name - the word-gift
used for balloons and/or the color - in this case probably the speaker is
not naming or defining something but is just using words the listener already
has as a gift, to create a relation to the balloon for h/er which is also
an interpersonal relation with the speaker. That is the verb 'to be' is not
being used here to transmit a meta linguistic or meta communicative gift
as it is in naming and the definition (and exchange), rather it is being
used to construct a linguistic gift. Logical connectives are used to specify
the kinds of gifts that are being given. 'And' specifies that two gifts are
being given together. 'Or' specifies that not both gifts are given together.
'Not' gives us the gift of the absence of the gift. Tenses allow for gifts
in different time frames. 'If/then' makes one gift necessarily contingent
upon the other, and so on.
In naming, the name is given as a verbal substitute gift
for a non verbal gift/exemplar, and there are therefore two levels in play.
In defining, a definiendum, a single word-gift/exemplar, takes the place
of a definiens which is the contingent constructed word - gift describing
- given as a substitute gift for - a possible exemplar of a kind, and given
in terms the listener already 'has': ('A cat is a four legged feline that
says meow' or 'A cat is an animal like Aunt Mary's pet'). Thus in the definition
there are three levels in play: two verbal levels, a name and a description,
and a non verbal level in which an item is singled out as an exemplar having
a gift value or character. In the description there are only two levels again,
the verbal and the non verbal. The copula allows the description to take
the place of the deictic 'this' which serves as an empty wrapping which the
substitute gift 'a red balloon' can fill. Like wrapping paper, 'this' singles
out something from the background as a gift. In both cases, the definition
and the description, the copula allows the substitution of one part of the
sentence for another in its function as the verbal substitute gift for a
non verbal gift.
In a basic transitive noun-verb-complement sentence such
as 'The girl hit the ball' there is a giver, gift or service and a receiver.
In other words, the noun-verb - complement structure is the structure of
a gift interaction. In a passive sentence 'The ball was hit by the girl'
the structure is the same but our attention is focused on the receiver rather
than the giver. There may of course be many kinds of gifts or services that
do not appear to be positive for the receiver, such as 'The cat ate the mouse',
where the [mouse] would not consider [being eaten] as a gift, nevertheless
on the functional verbal level, gift giving can be seen as the matrix of
transitivity as the giver/subject gives the gift or service to the receiver/complement.
I believe a combination of transitive and intransitive structures
involving gift giving within the sentence, substitution between gifts at
different levels and substitution between elements of the sentence, can account
for much of the way language works. We can extend the sense of gift giving
to a much wider area than it is usually seen to cover and a very many things
can be seen as kinds of gifts or aspects of gift interactions communicated
at the verbal level, creating relational iconicity at the different levels.
We can take this perspective if we are not actively blocking gift giving
from our field of vision by focusing on the self reflecting equations of
exchange. It is because we take exchange and exchange-based naming and categorizing
relations as the norm, with their own reiterative iconicity or 'self similarity'
(see Vaughan 1997) that we do not perceive gifts when they are there, or
validate them in language and in life. We blind ourselves to gifts by validating
exchange which opposes and cancels gifts. From that altered perspective we
attribute giftless objectivity to the human and non human world around us.
With its contradictory relational logic, exchange promotes
opportunism and greed. Patriarchal Capitalism, our present mode of production
and exchange, creates scarcity, one might say almost intentionally, by wasting
wealth on armaments (see www.osearth.com), and other non nurturing expenditures.
The reason for this is that exchange and the market require scarcity in order
to function. Gift giving in community requires and creates abundance. If
everyone were living in abundance, exchange would fade away; there would
be no need to exchange in order to survive. One's own or other's needs could
be freely satisfied and the market would have no leverage. In a way, looking
at language as gift giving and at the market as alienated language, allows
us to imagine the kinds of relations that would exist in a gift economy in
abundance. Giving and receiving in order to communicate, not just when they
are necessary for survival, have implications of caring, information and
play above and beyond the giving and receiving that take place in scarcity.
If the capacity for creating human relations and forming
subjectivities is a fundamental characteristic of the linguistic and material
communication which are so important for our being human, then exchange relations
and the market are damaging to our humanity. In the market we do not give
and receive, but only trade the materialized name and the socialized object
- establishing relations of commonality only to the mutually exclusive exchange
process and giving value to ourselves, not to each other. Exchange is harmful
because it creates or re enforces the independent atomistic subject, who
establishes gift relations only in order to break them or take them back,
who manipulates in order to receive more, whose commonality with others lies
in the agreement to exchange and not give. The exchange interaction has a
logic, the logic of a supposedly rational subjectivity created by and for
the market, the subjectivity of homo economicus.
The kinds of egos envisioned by economists from Adam Smith
to the present, maximizing self interest, coincide with the egos of the patriarchal
agenda and are functional to, even creatures of, the market mechanisms. In
order to promote accumulation of wealth in the hands of the few, thereby
creating the scarcity for the many which is necessary for the exchange mechanism
to function smoothly, the market needs and rewards greedy subjectivities
which will carry out the accumulative roles. Patriarchy supplies the non
nurturing values and the motivation to dominate through accumulation of wealth
and power which prepare the individual to take his or her place in the market
mechanism. Individual personalities formed in this way spur the accumulation
of capital and the expansion of markets. Of course not everyone who is greedy
is lucky or clever or cruel enough to get to the top, and many do not make
the grade. Perhaps there are also some who are not particularly greedy but
who arrive at wealth through simple industry or the hand of fate. However
for the functioning of the mechanism it is enough that many strive to accumulate,
and that enormous accumulation is rewarded and validated as an important
value by the society. Symbolic trappings, usually phallic symbols, reward
the successful few with fast cars, skyscrapers and stratospheric bank accounts,
as achievers both within the patriarchal agenda and within the capitalist
agenda. Phallic symbols are also used to defend the various accumulations
of money and power as guns and missiles point at each other, giving death
and causing more accumulation through their manufacture. These symbolic and
real aggressions are symptoms of social systems deeply infected with the
sickness of anti nurturing gynophobia.
Now corporations, non human collective entities, continue
to carry out the motivation of greed in the service of the capitalist mechanism,
independently of the individual actors who are involved in them. Sometimes
individuals at the top are revealed as excessively greedy, having lied and
deceived investors and workers. Sometimes they are not discovered but get
away with murder. However it does not matter. The corporations themselves
remain, held up by their collective importance within a network of corporations,
their combined and separate raisons d'etre being to make the largest possible
amount of money.
This is particularly dangerous because individual human
beings, even when they are deeply infected with the patriarchal agenda and
the values of capitalism, have other aspects of their lives in which they
are also gift givers. To begin with, they receive sense data from the world
around them, and they speak and listen, write and read. Secondly they have
families to whom they give in ways which do not contradict the patriarchal
agenda. They have friends; live in solidarity with others in some ways, even
in the business world (Similarly, soldiers share a sense of solidarity and
community with each other while they are engaged in enormously destructive
behavior towards the enemy). Corporations do not have these mitigating aspects.
The hungry self-interested ego of the patriarchal capitalist agenda becomes
even hungrier when it is transferred into a collective non human legal entity
like a corporation.
A corporation's hunger cannot be satisfied because its mandate
is double: on the one hand it must make as much money as possible, and on
the other it must create the scarcity for the general population which gives
it the 'ecological niche' in which to survive and thrive. Both aspects are
necessary for the functioning of the patriarchal capitalist system. The arms
business is particularly appropriate for this purpose because it produces
expensive products which have no nurturing aspects and which cause devastation
and scarcity by their use. Thus as far as the nurturing, need satisfying,
economy is concerned, arms production is a waste of wealth, and the use of
those products actively causes scarcity. Many even suspect that wars are
fomented in order to create markets for more armaments.
The genius of arms corporations lies in making enormous
amounts of money from something that contributes nothing to the general good
and feeds off of institutionalized male violence. Moreover because corporations
are institutions and labor is divided within them, individuals do not have
to take responsibility for the agenda of the whole. They remain gift giving
in some aspects of their lives, which humanizes them individually and may
even make them happy and well adjusted, while in the bigger picture the corporations
are perpetrating death and devastation. A similar thing happens with much
of the patriotic population in war-making nations. People can remain gift
giving on an individual level while, by identifying with the their nation's
struggle for dominance, they can vicariously satisfy their own patriarchal
The motivation for the accumulation of wealth may be seen
in the patriarchal agenda's focus on competition and the use of wealth for
power and phallic symbolic self aggrandizement. Many motivations or at least
justifications for war also come from market exchange. Justice is seen as
the payment for crime and creates a situation in which revenge is validated.
A right military exchange seems to give the right name, categorize the action
firmly as wrong, and restore 'balance' based on the equation of value. It
seems to cancel the crime, as exchange cancels the unilateral gift in the
market, though here the gift has been transformed into harm and one retaliation
usually gives rise to another. So we have Bin Laden attacking the US to create
justice and Bush attacking in revenge to create justice, both acting according
to the patriarchal exchange mode. These reciprocal attacks will not create
peace. Looking for the causes and solving them by satisfying needs will.
Positive unilateral gift giving can take the place of exchange
at many different levels, from the mercy movement of families of crime victims
who forgive their perpetrators to the solidarity movement, from the restoration
of indigenous people's lands, to the restoration of seeds to farmers and
of genetically sound unmodified organisms to all of us. Acting beyond the
profit motive for the good of all or for the good of the individual constructs
our human subjectivities as gift givers and receivers, aligning us with the
gift aspects of language and life which we are now beginning to validate.
We need to project the mother onto the universe; a mother liberated from
her subservience to a sick patriarchal agenda, a mother who can be the model
of the human for men as well as women. Another world is possible. Giving
value to gift giving is the way to get there and a gift economy is the basis
of a better world.
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