Marcel Mauss

From the Chait Vault: The Case Against Gift Giving
January 22, 2010

As promised, here comes another chapter in the Chait chronicles. Back in 1997, Jon really got into the Christmas spirit. Not only did he relish his childhood memories of exposing the myth of Santa Claus, but he also disavowed the age-old practice of gift giving: My earliest Christmas memory is of dogmatic conflict. I spent hours trying to disabuse my elementary-school classmates of their belief in Santa Claus. My passionate (and, I should point out, correct) arguments met with horrified indignation.

The Gift
October 16, 2006

Marcel Mauss: A Biography By Marcel Fournier Translated by Jane Marie Todd (Princeton University Press, 442 pp., $35) The outward lives of great intellectuals do not always make lively reading, even for other intellectuals. For every tragic, monstrous, or heroic thinker whose biography resembles pulp fiction, there is another who passed his days quietly at his desk, reading and writing, returning home every evening to a cocoon of bourgeois respectability. For every Shelley, a Kant; for every Foucault, a Weber. A great mind does not need to experience the abyss to find originality.

Keep it.
January 06, 1997

My earliest Christmas memory is of dogmatic conflict. I spent hours trying to disabuse my elementary-school classmates of their belief in Santa Claus. My passionate (and, I should point out, correct) arguments met with horrified indignation. Historical vindication--most of my peers came around to my point of view by the time we reached high school--did little to win back their warm regard. In fact, I have just one other opinion that consistently provokes the same level of vituperation as Santa heresy. It happens to impugn another holiday nostrum: gift giving.

Against Identity
November 27, 1994

Every culture has its preferred description of the human distinction. These descriptions are analytical and homiletical. We call ourselves not only what we are, but also what we seek to be. This is stirring, but it is also corrupting. It allows us to see the one in the other, to mistake what we aspire to be for what we are. A good rule of thumb is: we are never already what we should be. In our culture, the preferred descriptions have included: the soul, the nous (and other appellations for the mind), the self, the ego, the person. In our time, the preferred description is: identity. In Americ