My necrophilic* affair with Marcel Mauss

Mauss, Kopenhagen (1938)

Yesterday was a very special day. I held off reading Marcel Mauss’ The Gift: Forms and functions of exchange in archaic societies (1954),  like saving the best lolly in the bag until last. (I was going to say like reading a lovely novella as slow as possible for fear it will end, but that analogy just didn’t quite fit). I have read numerous texts from various disciplines that are about Mauss’ work or otherwise inspired by it, however, it was not until yesterday that I visited the original text.

I have to admit that I felt more than a little sentimental holding the red and blue hardback edition on the fourth floor of the library. It felt something like a treasured historical artefact. All alone with Mauss on the fourth floor of the library. I’m in love. Marcel Mauss, I know you’re dead, but I really quite fancy you.

* I don’t know if that is actually a word.

3 Comments

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3 responses to “My necrophilic* affair with Marcel Mauss

  1. Bozo

    If the Gift gets you hot under the collar try les techniques du corp – he was definitely a clever fellow. I wonder what he would made of Sahlins? Incidently necrophilia is a crime “against public decency” usually committed by undertakers.

  2. Oh I am aware of necrophilia! Mauss died in 1950 🙂

    I will definitely have to read ‘les techniques du corp.’ I think Mauss would have very much liked the work of Marshall Sahlins except perhaps for Sahlins’ somewhat liberal summary of some of Mauss’ ideas. Sahlins, for example, takes the comparison between Mauss and Hobbes (the “archaic” contract vs the social contract as per the Leviathan in statist societies) a little too literally I think.

    On the other hand though I think Sahlins extended the spirit of Mauss’ theory of exchange (if I’m allowed to say that) in genuinely brilliant ways. His extended, broad typology of more ‘open’ or ‘closed’ forms of exchange (qualified or shaped by social distance in terms of relatedness as well as spatial distance among other things), and associated socio-cultural forms and moral expectations, is just awesome.

    Incidentally, I think David Graeber draws heavily on many of Sahlins’ ideas.

    I just wish Sahlins had re-issued ‘Stone age Economics’ under a different title.

  3. Pingback: You rub my back, I’ll rub yours « foodwebtalks

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