About the Author
Lewis Hyde is an essayist, cultural critic and poet with a specific interest in imagination and its role in public life. Whereas, The Gift by Lewis Hyde, published in 1983, illuminated and defended the non-commercial aspects of art. It examined the importance of gifts and the impact that capitalism has had on gift-giving.
Review of The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World
Lewis Hyde begins The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World by offering a short analysis of cheap romance novels. He wonders what distinguishes artistic works that are bought and sold from other commodities that circulate in the market.
He suggests that works of art are gifts, and they exist in two economies: the gift economy and the market economy. Works of art spring from certain inspirations, muses and talents that are gifts themselves, and these gifts help us create works of art that are also gifts. Hyde examines the paradox of the idea of a work of art as a gift and the problem of commodification in the market by drawing upon sociology, cultural anthropology, fairy tales and fables.
In Part 1 of the book, Lewis Hyde discusses a theory of gift exchange while focusing on its ramifications for creativity and art. In the first few chapters, Hyde explores the basic features of the gift by referring to different gift-giving societies of the past.
Every gift, he writes, exemplifies motion. A gift that is given is always supposed to be given away instead of kept as a consumer good or individual property. Gift-giving is all about keeping the spirit of the gift as well as the gift in constant motion. Hyde suggests that the exchanging of gifts facilitates cohesion in society and inculcates feelings of gratitude and compassion in the community.
In the book, Hyde also touches on the social impact of the gift. Hyde argues that the main difference between a gift and any random commodity is that a gift manages to establish a distinct and emotive bond between the receiver and giver because of its circular motion. This bond disrupts the value of debt, obligation and power characteristic of the economy.
The bond and the circular motion constitute a community of gift exchange. Hyde also discusses occasions in which human beings are considered gifts. Hyde writes about how women are given as gifts by the father to the groom as a gesture in wedding practices. But there is an uneven power dynamic as the will of the woman is subject to her father. Hyde refers to this distinction to discuss how gift exchange is typically seen as a feminine form of commerce while exchanges of commodities are considered masculine.
The way the book weaves wisdom from different places and ages, from ancient times to modern-day stories, is a thing to behold. The tales of gift-giving in various societies in the past give it a historical perspective that makes it a riveting read. Literature is usually about loss, absence and yearning, so it is refreshing to read about giving abundantly. Hyde shares folktales about sharing along with beautiful poetry on the theme of giving and offering immaterial things.
The Gift is not only a perfect book for someone who is looking to find a balance between creative work and the pressure of making a living but anyone who loves literature and is interested in culture and art. It is a beautifully written book that makes you think about the intersection of life and literature, and it makes you ponder on the act of creation and how it is influenced by the market. The Gift is a very meaningful book that will stay with you your whole life.