Higher Literary Seminar: Aleksandra Urakova


Date: Tuesday 9 April 2024

Time: 14.00 – 15.30

Location: E890

At the HLS on 9 April, Aleksandra Urakova will join us.

Abstract for the presentation:

Obligation to Keep: Caroline M. Kirkland’s Ontology of the Present

What would gift theory have been like if it were called “a theory of the present” instead? How would a different terminological choice – present instead of gift – have disrupted one ubiquitous strand of twentieth-century intellectual thought? In our paper in progress, “Present/Presence: Disrupting Gift Theory,” co-authored with a biophilosopher Margrit Shildrick, we tease out theoretical possibilities that the synonymous and generally dismissed term “present” tentatively suggests. A key idea inspired by Derrida emphasizes the relation of the gift to the present as a relation “to the presence of the present” (1992: 10). My section of the paper that I will present at the HSL seminar discusses a little-known nineteenth-century text “About Presents” (1845) by American sentimental author Caroline Mathilda Kirkland who made one of the first attempts to draft a theory of presents and gifting. I argue that Kirkland’s use of the word “present” in the title is neither casual nor conventional. Her essay, its blunt didacticism notwithstanding, teases us with the missed intellectual opportunity of conceptualizing the gift as a present , that is acknowledging its transience and yet giving heavier emphasis to its intimate, momentous or lasting, presence. A model present for Kirkland becomes a sentimental keepsake to the extent  it makes what she calls “the sentiment of the thing” – its hauntological aspect we might say – present through keeping.