ENG620 201901 Graduate

Fall 2019
ENG 620
Applies To: 
Medieval Literature: Gift Theory and Early Medieval Literature

Stephanie Clark

Stephanie Clark profile picture
  • Title: Associate Professor
  • Phone: 541-346-3960
  • Office: 374 PLC
  • Office Hours: S20: R 12:00-3:00 or by appointment
Department Section Description: 

This course will use scholarly analysis of gift exchange from several disciplines (anthropology, philosophy, economics, medieval studies) that consider how and why objects circulate as gifts, how gifts gain meaning, and how gift-giving works as a form of symbolic communication to say things that often can’t be said outright. While gift theory is a sprawling field, the course will be organized in two units. The first focuses on theories of exchange formed in anthropology and economics and builds on insights from Marcel Mauss’s seminal essay The Gift to examine how reciprocity functions in works like Beowulf and Njal’s saga. We will consider sub-topics such as the gift and social order, the gift and violence, and the inter-identity of people and things. The second unit shifts to questions of the gift from philosophy and theology. We will read part of Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction of Mauss in Given Time I: Counterfeit Money in order to consider more explicitly the function of the non-reciprocal free gift in both modern ideology and medieval social structures. This focus will allow us to study how both modern and medieval societies value the other-oriented nature of the gift above self-interested action while teasing out the different senses of the social embeddedness of the individual within particular texts. Gift theory challenges some of the basic assumptions naturalized in modern market capitalism, allowing more nuanced understandings of texts produced in other types of economies and societies. While gift theory grew out of anthropology and sociology, early medieval cultures have been called the most straight-forward example of reciprocal gift giving. As this course will show, there is nothing straightforward about the gift.