I/You: Reciprocity, Gift-giving, and the Third Party


This essay first examines the issue of intersubjectivity in terms of the paradigmatic relationship between I and You. From a grammatical standpoint this relationship seems asymmetrical as well as necessarily performative: I implies the speech act of the speaker. You exists only as I's interlocutor. This helps us understand the very different status of what is called the 3rd person--and which would more accurately be called a nonperson, as Benveniste explains. This nonperson marks the position of a Third Party. I propose to show that the same Third Party--whether a living being or a thing--is also involved in the traditional ceremonial gift-exchange relationship discussed by Marcel Mauss. The relationship between the partners in gift-exchange is mediated by the being or the thing given, which is for the recipient a token and substitute of the giver. What this involves is the reciprocal public recognition of the partners. In modern societies this function is performed by the law and by the institutions of the arbiter-State as they emerged in the formation of the Greek city.

Keywords: I/you relationships, performatives, reciprocity, gift-giving, recognition, alliance, third party, otherness, law, mutuality

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