ENGL 218 A1: Textualities: Reading and Interpretation

C. Bracken

This course will piece together texts from literature, philosophy and anthropology to gain an overview of the discourse about the gift. Historically, the gift is said to mark the difference between capitalist and pre-capitalist economies and between codified and uncodified legal systems. Our aim here is to examine how economic (and legal) concepts drift into non-economic contexts, where they often do much damage. We will begin by defining certain key concepts, such as the principle of expenditure, and by reviewing classic texts, and we will focus these efforts by reading four exemplary narratives of the gift. Participants will be encouraged to undertake research projects on unofficial economies of discourse, particularly public debates about the size of government, the problem of debt, and the restriction, or expansion, of expenditures, etc. A particular concern will be the racialization of economic principles.


Georges Bataille, The Accursed Share, Vol. 1 (Zone)

Jacques Derrida, Given Time (Chicago)

Marcel Mauss, Essay on the Gift (Martino)

Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice (Oxford)

Scott Cutler Shershow, The Work and the Gift (Chicago)

Eden Robinson, Traplines (Vintage)

Edith Wharton, House of Mirth (Vintage)

Christmas in July (1940), dir. Preston Sturges

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), dir. Martin Scorsese. (Viewable online through the University Libraries' Criterion on Demand database)