Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Gift.

Lewis Hyde's book, The Gift, has just been published in the UK for the first time, and the FT's Jackie Wullschlager has this review. The gist:
Hyde's argument is that money markets and gift markets operate in every society, and that the balance in our own is out of joint. A classic example is the weak oral tradition of fairy tales in the US - a nation where the twin strangleholds of marketplace and academy insist on (copyrighted) authorship and pure texts, rather than anonymous stories gifted across generations, as in the European tradition. In his first section, Hyde draws on a wealth of fairy tales and stories - Native American, Bengali, Biblical, the Grimms - to tease out the social and psychological role of gifts. Thus "The Shoemaker and the Elves" is a parable of an artist for whom talent plus "years of reciprocal labour" equal "the release of an accomplished gift". In the second part, these ideas are transplanted to describe the lives of two poets, Walt Whitman and Ezra Pound, in terms of their creative economies and exchanges with society.
This edition has a new essay with
Hyde's reaction . . . to the end of the cold war. The Soviet Union, he says, was the counterforce to capitalism's harsher realities, goading the west "into provisioning those parts of social life not well served by market forces", especially public patronage of art - CIA support for abstract expressionism, for instance - and science. From 1989 on, much of this funding collapsed. "We always thought, naively, that here we are working in abstract, absolutely useless research and once the cold war ended, we wouldn't have to fight for resources," says Leon Lederman, physics Nobel laureate. "Instead, we found we were the cold war. We'd been getting all this money for quark research because... [it] was a component of the cold war. As soon as it was over, they didn't need science."

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