An Immediatist Potlatch
Any number can play but the number must be pre-determined. Six to twenty-five seems about right.
The basic structure is a banquet or picnic. Each player must bring a dish or bottle, etc., of sufficient quantity that everyone gets at least a serving. Dishes can be prepared or finished on the spot, but nothing should be bought ready-made (except wine & beer, although these could ideally be home-made). The more elaborate the dishes the better. Attempt to be memorable. The menu need not be left to surprise (although this is an option)— some groups may want to coordinate the banquets so as to avoid duplications or clashes. Perhaps the banquet could have a theme & each player could be responsible for a given course (appetizer, soup, fish, vegetables, meat, salad, dessert, ices, cheeses, etc.). Suggested themes: Fourier’s Gastrosophy—Surrealism—Native American—Black & Red (all food black or red in honor of anarchy)—etc.
The banquet should be carried out with a certain degree of formality: toasts, for example. Maybe “dress for dinner” in some way? (Imagine for example that the banquet theme were “Surrealism ”; the concept “dress for dinner” takes on a certain meaning). Live music at the banquet would be fine, providing some of the players were content to perform for the others as their “gift,” & eat later. (Recorded music is not appropriate.)
The main purpose of the potlatch is of course gift-giving. Every player should arrive with one or more gifts & leave with one or more different gifts. This could be accomplished in a number of ways: (a) Each player brings one gift & passes it to the person seated next to them at table (or some similar arrangement); (b) Everyone brings a gift for every other guest. The choice may depend on the number of players, with (a) better for larger groups & (b) for smaller gatherings. If the choice is (b), you may want to decide beforehand whether the gifts should be the same or different. For example, if I am playing with five other people, do I b ring (say) five hand-painted neckties, or five totally different gifts? And will the gifts be given specifically to certain individuals (in which case they might be crafted to suit the recipient’s personality), or will they be distributed by lot?
The gifts must be made by the players, not ready-made. This is vital. Pre-manufactured elements can go into the making of the gifts, but each gift must be an individual work of art in its own right. If for instance I bring five hand painted neckties, I must paint each one myself, either with the same or with different designs, although I may be allowed to buy ready-made ties to work on.
Gifts need not be physical objects. One player’s gift might be live music during dinner, another’s might be a performance. However, it should be recalled that in the Amerindian potlatches the gifts were supposed to be superb & even ruinous for the givers. In my opinion physical objects are best, & they should be as good as possible—not necessarily costly to make, but really impressive. Traditional potlatches involved prestige-winning. Players should feel a competitive spirit of giving, a determination to make gifts of real splendor or value. Groups may wish to set rules beforehand about this—some may wish to insist on physical objects, in which case music or performance would simply become extra acts of generosity, but hors de potlatch, so to speak.
Our potlatch is non-traditional, however, in that theoretically all players win—everyone gives & receives equally. There’s no denying however that a dull or stingy player will lose prestige, while an imaginative &/or generous player will gain “face.” In a really successful potlatch each player will be equally generous, so that all players will be equally pleased. The uncertainty of outcome adds a zest of randomness to the event.
The host, who supplies the place, will of course be put to extra trouble & expense, so that an ideal potlatch would be part of a series in which each player takes a turn as host. In this case another competition for prestige would transpire in the course of the series:—who will provide the most memorable hospitality? Some groups may want to set rules limiting the host’s duties, while others may wish to leave hosts free to knock themselves out; however, in the latter case, there should really be a complete series of events, so that no one need feel cheated, or superior, in relation to the other players. But in some areas & for some groups the entire series may simply not be feasible. In New York for example not everyone has enough room to host even a small party. In this case the hosts will inevitably win some extra prestige. And why not?
Gifts should not be “useful.” They should appeal to the senses. Some groups may prefer works of art, others might like home-made preserves & relishes, or gold frankincense & myrrh, or even sexual acts. Some ground rules should be agreed on. No mediation should be involved in the gift—no videotapes, tape recordings, printed material, etc. All gifts should be present at the potlatch “ceremony”— i.e. no tickets to other events, no promises, no postponements. Remember that the purpose of the game, as well as its most basic rule, is to avoid all mediation & even representation—to be “present,” to give “presents.”