[iDC] work, play, praxis

davin heckman davinheckman at gmail.com
Fri Jul 3 17:12:09 UTC 2009

This is very useful to think about, Ken.

I wouldn't call myself a "Lacanian," but I think this is where Lacan can be
helpful in understanding very practical interactions.  Circulating through
the practical aspects of "the gift" is the desire that motivates the whole
process.  In particular, when the gift is juxtaposed to the financial
exchange, it expresses this restlessness with the very terms of the "trade"
while being yoked to materiality.  At once, in giving gifts one yearns to
escape from an economy of financial transactions, but at the end of the day,
cannot escape from it.  It is the thing we want, but we can never quite

I do bristle a bit at the use of "strategies" and "tactics" here, because it
implies in a certain sense that the gift, in the face of its materiality,
must be folded back into the material.  To view it in light of Clausewitz's
popular quotation, "War is merely the continuation of politics," there is a
tendency here to see "the gift" as simply a special corner of a
financialized everyday life (and, in many cases, it is!).  But the reason
that the gift can exist in a liminal state is precisely because those who
give gifts desire it to be otherwise.  (Here, even the most pathological,
sociopathic "giver" attests to the potency of this desire...  because it is
the very power of the gift to suggest an alternative that makes fake gifts
so potent).  So, while we might not escape the materiality of the object,
the desire to carve out a relationship between subjects that IS outside of
this materiality is what makes it promising.

This ties back to an ongoing exchange on this list involving Michel Bauwens
and the question of the "utopian" potential of p2p.  And, again, the very
question of utopia is perhaps the collective expression of this desire.
That many desperately want to live in a world where it is possible to
imagine that people might be motivated by something other than the zero sum
game of exchange attests not to the likelihood of utopia or even the
rational possibility of such a completeness...  but rather it attests to the
impossibility of such a completeness, that desire exceeds finite equations
of human worth, purpose, utility, etc.  What matters more than anything here
is the desire that motivates us to strive for a utopia that will likely
never be realized.  It is the collective exerience of "the gift."  And
though we should not kid ourselves into imagining that this collective gift
is going to be known in an "infinite" way, at the same time it can yield
practical good for many people.  And, at a subjective level, it is an act of
love, which, for those of us who find ourselves moved by giving and
recieving gifts, it is an act which is important for the very fact that it
desires an alternative.  And, because a gift can always be doubted, its
affirmation both by the giver and reciever is a remarkable occasion for
solidarity, its reaffirmation the occasion for fidelity.

(From a very personal perspective, it's what I want more than basic material
sustenance.  I want to work for a world where tomorrow's children will be
valued in themselves and treated accordingly.  I want to see human needs
met, not as an end in itself, but as a consequence of care for the person.)

But what all of this requires is desire.  And desire lives and breathes in
many corners of human consciousness, but the gift is one of these special
instances of desire precisely because it is in constant tension with
materiality in a direct way.  [I really need to thank Nick Knouf, here, for
an exchange we've had on "the University" in which he insisted I meditate on
the critical importance of desire in education.]

To bring it back to your question of how "global relations of praxis (game,
gift, work, and yes, still also slavery)" are interconnected...  I would say
that they all spin on "desire" as the differential between the material and
what it cannot strictly account for.  At least I hope that desire is the
common denominator.

Davin Heckman
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