Wednesday, June 25, 2008
“Men and women who dedicate their lives to the realization of their gifts tend the office of that communion by which we are joined to one another, to our times, to our generation, and to the race.” - Lewis Hyde, The Gift
I just finished The Gift by Lewis Hyde, a fantastic treatise of gift economies and how they relate to artists working in a materialistic world. It is a tonic and a balm to read these ideas. Creating in a world where everything is gaged according to price can be disheartening. Box office receipts, record sales, Neilsens - these are measures of popularity, not necessarily of worth or quality.
That is a simple truth - and I have no beef with popularity, I love plenty of blockbusters and want what I make to reach the largest audience possible. In the making of things, however, it is best to let the muse or genius tell you what it is and how to make it. Self-censorship can be the worst kind of all; doubting whether something will work and be accepted in the world, whether it is “marketable.”
Hyde doesn’t offer specific answers, he presents the dilemma and the problem along with chapters focused on Walt Whitman and Ezra Pound and their varied struggles and successes. The afterword, written last year, addresses the particulars of our current era, which he calls “market triumphalism,” an age where everything is pushed to become professionalized and marketed.
Some things have worth that is incapable of being priced, like quality of life or nature (as a whole, not when it is broken up into “resources”) or spirituality. Art holds power, art binds us, it has purpose and meaning beyond itself when it is wrested from a true place. “Those parts of our being that extend beyond the individual ego cannot survive unless they can be constantly articulated.”
Some of my favorite stuff:
Gifts are “anarchist property,” they are meant to be continually given away, you are not supposed to hold on to them. Since talents are gifts, they are meant to be nurtured and then given away, shared. He is not saying artists should work for free, but also that a gift is not just something to exploit. It’s a fine line, to be sure.
“Pound is right: some knowledge cannot survive abstraction, and to preserve this knowledge we must have art. The liquid light, the nous, the fecundity of nature, the feeling of the soul in ascent — only the imagination can articulate our apprehension of these things, and the imagination speaks to us in images.”
Here is the NPR interview that alerted me to the book.
I just wanted to send you a kiss.
(I just finished a cool book, called "The Philosophy of Punk," and it had some cool stuff on anarchy that I was thinking you might like.)
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