” A lack of namelessness on my part would destroy the ultimate value of the nice act. Meaning, it would infect the “motivation” for my nice gesture – meaning, in other words, that part of my motivation for it would be, not generosity, but desiring gratitude, affection, and approval towards me to result. Despairingly, this selfish motive would empty the nice gesture of any ultimate vale, and cause me to once again fail in my efforts to be classifiable as a nice or “good” person “

From “The Devil is a Busy Man by ” David Foster Wallace, from ‘”Brief Interviews With Hideous Men” (Abacus, 1999)

The character in David Foster Wallace’s darkly humorous short story perfectly exemplifies the double bind involved in gift. This is the starting point, the lense for my explorations.

Adam Kelly’s essay “David Foster Wallace and The New Sincerity” as well as an analysis of the treatment of sincerity in the work of DFW, also offers a more general historical and critical exploration of ideas of sincerity and generosity, from modernity to postmodernity, which I have found extremely useful ( It can be read and downloaded here http://www.academia.edu/1041012/David_Foster_Walla…)

Here are some of my notes from the essay:

-Sincerity, as defined by Lionel Trilling, in his 1972 study “Sincerity and Authenticity” is the ‘congruence of avowal and actual feeling”.

-Intention is central to the idea of sincerity. Also key is the outward, public nature of sincerity, “inter-subjective truth and communication” ; there has to be a giver and a receiver. Thus, sincerity is a performative act.

-Sincerity and its attendant intentionality were denigrated by literary modernism, when the idea of authenticity (inward looking, truth to self, rather than to others) became privileged.

-Through the rise of postmodernism, and of the discourse of advertising, with its high degree of self-consciousness, culture becomes more knowing, irony has taken precedence, and previously more naive forms of communication are subject to suspicion and ridicule. We become afraid of being or seeming ‘sincere’.

-Postmodernist theory problematizes sincerity: “This characteristic split between inner self and outer performance is further complicated, and even displaced, by the interrogation and re-evaluation of basic concepts of selfhood, intention, and performativity” – so, sincerity assumes a wholeness of the self, against a postmodernist rejection of a unitary self.

-Derrida also wrote on the double bind of gift. Read Given Time, The Gift of Death and On Cosmpolitanism.

Difference between ‘intent’ and ‘motive’. How can we ever, know, if we, or others, have sincere intent? The impossibility of judging the sincere, from the manipulative act.

Trust, belief are required.

These text pieces are a riff, with a nod to Blast, on the above ideas: my attempt to understand, assimilate and explore the complexities of generosity which until recently I did not question.

Now, I’m looking outward, from pages of text, to real life, to engage and involve other folk in participating in my explorations.


I’m sick of irony.

“It’s the hardest addiction of all,’ said Patrick.
“Forget heroin. Just try giving up irony, that deep down need to mean two things at once, to be in two places at once, not to be there for the catastrophe of a fixed meaning”
From ‘At Last’ a novel by Edward St Aubyn

The older I get, and the more weights and joys I accumulate, the urgency for seriousness and sincerity quickens. We don’t have long here. We need to make it count. Commit to the ‘catastrophe of a fixed meaning’ . Mean what we say. In the words of the late great Bill Hicks, ‘play from your f***ing heart’

Sincerity, generosity, gift. I have had a preocupation with these ideas for some time, both personally and within my art practice. I aspire to them, I wish to practice them, but what do they really mean?
This blog will document my research and practice-based investigations.
I’m casting the net wide, and plan to look at a wide range of material, from philosophical, theoretical and political texts to art and non art practices and projects which investigate these ideas.
My starting point are the writings of the late US writer David Foster Wallace. Sincerity and gift are crucial, thematically, and structurally, to his work. Much of his fiction and non fictional is essentially concerned with the need for, and the difficulty of transcending our ‘default setitngs’ of narcissism and solipsism, to try to ‘jump over the wall of self and inhabit someone else’. These concerns have made me an active and avid reader of both his fiction and non fiction for almost 20 years.

Following re-readings of ‘The Devil is A Busy Man’ and ‘Suicide as a Sort of Present’ from short story collection ‘Brief Interviews With Hideous Men’, I stumbled upon an excellent critical essay, “David Foster Wallace and The New Sincerity’ by Adam Kelly (found in ‘Consider David Foster Wallace’) which has signposted me to other writings on sincerity and gift: Lionel Trilling, Derrida, Lewis Hyde, Simone Weil…

I plan to investigate these, starting with Lewis Hyde’s ‘The Gift’ which is described as ‘a brilliantly orchestrated defense of the value of creativity and of its importance in a culture increasingly governed by money and overrun with commodities’ http://www.lewishyde.com/publications/the-gift

Adam Kelly’s essay “David Foster Wallace and The New Sincerity” can be viewed and downloaded here, free