Violence and the Gift

Thursday, 24 April 2014, 9:00am - Saturday, 26 April 2014, 6:00pm, IWM library

The topic of the gift has received considerable attention over the last three decades in phenomenology, theology, and the philosophy of religion.  The question “can a gift be given?” is not simply abstract or theoretical, but comprises eminent practical, political, and personal consequences. Marcel Mauss demanded that the issue of the gift is “one of the rocks on which our societies are built.” This claim became further differentiated in the controversy between Derrida and Marion “On the Gift” in the late 90’s. Their debates swirled around the problem of how the gift may or may not have a perplexing and seemingly dialectical relationship with the “economy” of exchange and reciprocity.

Despite the ways in which research on the gift has slowly fizzled out in the last decade, there are still unrecognized themes and unresolved problems that are implicated in this fecund topic.  One among them is the problem of violence. The presumed goodness or beauty of “the gift” in relation to love, responsibility, and purity of sacrifice, has overshadowed a not theorized “dark side,” the potentially inherent “violences” that may take place in the process of gift-giving, loving, and sacrifice. Patocka’s Heretical Essays touch upon this “dark side” that Derrida in his Gift of Death framed as the triangle of heresy, mystery, and responsibility. Yet the systematic problems entailed in the question of gift and violence, still need to be fully and explicitly explored.

In examining this yet unthematized intrusion of violence into the field of “the gift,” we want to address questions such as:  How does sacrifice signal to an economy, and thus threaten the gift?  In what sense could we say that love, or “falling” in love, perhaps entails a self-violence?  What about the excluded or unloved remainder to whom I do not give? Is there a “givenness of evil,” and if so, would this entail that we have to surrender the language of “the gift” in such cases?

The conference is preceded by an author-meets-critics panel discussion on 24 April of Anthony J. Steinbock’s book Phenomenology and Mysticism. The Verticality of Religious Experience, Bloomington 2007, & Winner of the Edward Goodwin Ballard Book Price in Phenomenology 2011.

The conference is jointly organized by Jason W. Alvis (Dep. of Systematic Theology and the Study of Religions, University of Vienna), Ludger Hagedorn (NYU, Berlin & IWM, Vienna), & Michael Staudigl (Dep. of Philosophy, University of Vienna). The conference is part of the research projects “Religion beyond Myth and Enlightenment” (P 23255) and “Polemical Christianity” (P22828), both funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF).

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