Books and donations…

Saw this on a trip to Tübingen

The sign translates as follows: “To give away! A small donation for the refugee home at Neckarhalde is requested”. It’s nothing I had not seen before in some similar form. However, I just like the playful correlation of two delicate regimes of value: “disposed of books” vs. “donations for a refugee home”.

Entirely incommensurate to each other, both share the common feature of being taken out of the market. Payment in this case is replaced with donation. It also remains unclear whether a potential buyer likes books or just picks one because he or she likes to donate. For the buyer, the two kinds of gain may be mutually entangled. Something similar is true for the seller who gets rid of books (useless for him but somehow still too much valued to throw them away) while he shares in the pleasure of donating. Yet there is no personal interaction between the two. Money still works as a medium of exchange between two parties possessing goods, but the value of that exchange is redirected to a third party (i.e. the refugee home). In effect there is virtually no connection between the buyer and the seller – except perhaps the “goodness” which both may share through an unspecified amount of money earmarked for donation. Prices are not set between the two and money is explicitly neither used to compensate the seller nor to value the books themselves. But there is also no need to balance out, say “books” vs. “refugees”: books are good and donating to a refugee home is good too. So that’s the only thing that counts.

Yes, I guess it might work to get rid of some of the books in this way. Compared to a situation where the sign would read “Free books!” the books are just way more attractively “priced”.