Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Gift, part 1

The Gift was originally published in 1979 by Lewis Hyde under the title The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property. Now it's called The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World. His definition of "erotic" perhaps confused. Anywho, the book's highly recommended by folks like Zadie Smith and Margaret Atwood. And in Amazon, most of the comments read something like, "life-changing".

I recently read Atwood's Payback, a concise book that defines debt, including literary and cultural analysis that's so unbelievably spot-on you really can't help but read the book and say, "Yes, that's what debt is all about." In comparison, Hyde's book is a rambles along with a non-sense definition of "gift". But who doesn't look unorganized compared to Atwood?

One of the main reasons I found (part one of) The Gift so frustrating is because my definition and his of a gift are wildly different. My definition is simple - a gift is something that is given, and nothing is expected in return. True gifts are rare. His definition is that a gift is something that creates a bond between the giver and the receiver, and that a gift must be kept in motion. He also seems to believe in the "gift" of talent (like a muse); I don't really believe in that. To me, people have potential that they do or they don't take advantage of.

In fact, Hyde's definition of a "gift" sounds oddly familiar to a "debt." His folk-tale and "primitive" society examples of gift economies do little more than attempt to elevate the idea of the "noble savage" and belittle people in impoverished communities as better off for being removed from the capitalist system. Don't get me started on what he has to say about "publish or perish."

Right now I'm kind of skimming part 2 for worthwhile information. The book's not completely terrible, there are a few interesting bits. It caused me to put a little more thought into defining gift for myself, and I think it's quite clear that it was influential to Atwood in her writing of Payback. If you have read it, I'd be very interested to hear what you think!

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