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This essay measures the extent to which gift-giving fails in an economy of reciprocity. Reading James Joyce’s story “A Mother” in terms of Derrida’s notion of the gift as “absolute loss,” I consider the implications of an economy of loss for Joyce’s notion of sacrifice. Thus, I argue that the absence of an economy of sacrifice integrating “absolute loss” engenders the zero-sum game at the heart of Dubliners. I depart from other readings of the short story in the context of an economy based on the ideal of balanced reciprocity, since these versions deny the pure gratuity of gift in its connotations of sacrifice and loss. While such theories form a good starting point for analyzing the “moral economy” of Dubliners, they tend to overlook the fact that the only means to counteract the paralysis resulting from reciprocity is through the suspension of the economy of exchange.
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The paper examines interconnections between gender and the civic landscape in the flood pageants in the English mystery plays (York, Towneley, N-Town and Chester). The marital conflict between Noah and his wife is discussed in the context of the urban physical and spiritual world that provides a double backdrop for the play. The geometry of human sin and divine insight is analysed and textile references are investigated to reveal the spatial and professional affiliation of the characters. The silent potential of the urban setting that enriches the theatrical power of the plays and transforms the events presented on stage into a medieval interactive game between the actors and the audience is discussed.
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