The Gift

Posted on Monday, September 22, 2008

Lewis Hyde's book The Gift is one of the most beautiful and thought-provoking books I have read in a long time. In essence it talks about gifts and gift economies and how they function as compared to purchasing and market economies. A gift is something that encourages community between giver and receiver, whereas a purchase is faceless and requires no community. This partly explains how as our Western societies grow more and more focussed on buying and selling as the primary means of transaction, our communities grow more and more fragmented. Hyde then uses this distinction to define a view of the Arts as essentially part of the 'gift economy', and that the fact that artists find it hard to make money from their work, will often be a sign of the healthiness of the art - the more commercial an art becomes, the harder it is for it to retain its soul, its essence.

What I find particularly attractive about the book is that Hyde doesn't really take a strong political stance, he's not moralising (although he does in an afterword attack the 'corporate theft' of public domain by the continual extension of copyright laws), he's rather trying to define Art in the modern world. It's a subtle task, and one to which my summary here will do no justice. But there's such beauty and depth in his writing, it somehow completely transforms your understanding of the world.



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