35. “The Gift: imagination and the erotic life of property” by Lewis Hyde

This being the season of gift-giving and much holiday merriment, the library has selected The Gift: imagination and the erotic life of property by Lewis Hyde as its library pick for this week.  While many of us may be too consumed struggling to find the perfect presents for our loved ones, those who have already accomplished this feat (or would like a quick reprieve) may be interested to reflect on the concept of the gift in greater detail.

Lewis Hyde’s groundbreaking work is an inquiry into the difference between a gift and (a term that better reflects our obsessive, market-oriented society) a commodity. Specifically, Hyde is concerned with the commerce of works of art and the place of craftsmanship and creativity within various cultures around the world as he “ranges from the circulation of gifts in tribal societies, to the reading of fairytales, [and] to the eruptive “gift” of the modern artist” (from Paul Zweig’s blurb on the book jacket).

He questions what the role of the artist is in our consumer society and contends that works of art are not simply commodities since, after all, “part of the work cannot be made, it must be received; and we cannot have this gift except, perhaps, by supplication, by courting, by creating within ourselves that “begging bowl” [or sensitivity] to which the gift is drawn” (143). To Hyde, works of art are gifts, not only for those who may receive them but also gifts to the maker in part “from a source they do not control” (144) during the process of making.
So give the gift of art this year, and, if you’re in the Portland area, consider stopping by our Retail Gallery on campus, where one can browse the holiday cards, books, ceramics, textiles, prints, glass, metal pieces, jewelry, scarves, work in wood and other handmade works by local artists not found anywhere else!

Hours: 10 – 5pm daily.

Happy Holidays!

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2 thoughts on “35. “The Gift: imagination and the erotic life of property” by Lewis Hyde

  1. Part of what makes gifts ‘good’ is the giving and the continuation of giving. The best gifts are those that have been taken out of the monetary economy and have acquired prestige through repeated giving. The role of Coppers and other prestige good in the Potlatch are an extreme example of this exchange.

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