The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property
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The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property

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4.05 of 5 stars 4.05  ·  rating details  ·  1,162 ratings  ·  242 reviews
Discusses the argument that a work of art is essentially a gift and not a commodity.
Paperback, 327 pages
Published February 12th 1983 by Vintage Books USA (first published 1979)
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Community Reviews

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Nick
I tried to like this book, since it had come so highly recommended, and it was in a 25th anniversary edition. If it has been in print all those years, there must be something to it, right? Nope. First of all, it's badly structured. The first half is an extended discussion of the concept of gifts (vs paying for things) in ancient vs modern societies. Once you get the basic point, that (especially older) societies exchanged goods and services as gifts, not for money, and that Hyde thinks that's a...more
Emily
I picked this up at a bookstore where I was killing some time before an appointment. I read the preface and the introduction and wept through them both. I left for my appointment, thinking I'd have to find a used copy of this book sometime and read it. A couple of hours later, I had to go back and buy it because I was still thinking about it. So it lit a fire under me, for sure. Whether or not it fulfilled the promise of that fire is still up for debate. The preface and the intro are really easy...more
Josh
I chose this edition because the new one looks like a Valentine's day card. I expected it to be perfumed inside.

The Gift is a large and pretty messy book, to its credit, but the main thrusts are: 1) To use detailed analyses of folk-tales, anthropology, and economic theory to come up with a model for human interaction that parallels commodity exchange but is based around gift-giving, and 2) To give detailed readings of Whitman and Pound, two poets whose careers and lives Hyde sees standing at an...more
Malbadeen
blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,
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blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, bl...more
Austin Kleon
Amazing, amazing book. My map:

THE GIFT BY LEWIS HYDE
Liliana
Now in its 25th anniversary edition, this book is as current and necessary as it was in 1979. A creative mix of ethnography, folklore, economics (the gift economy, the market economy, the vegetable money economy?!), and literary criticism (Whitman and Pound) all seen through the prism of art as a gift and the artist as a gifted person. Keen observations are sprinkled throughout on how an artist needs to protect from market forces that space where the artwork is conceived (essentially a gift), an...more
Jessica
While Hyde has given his readers the gift of a lens through which to view artistic endeavors, this could have been done in about 50 pages - not 385. This book reminded me of a typical college freshman essay: I want to write about everything! And therefore, nothing is really achieved. While the gift metaphor is interesting, it's too vague to help in any but the most theoretical way. This could have been a tight essay, a literary work (like a novel or short story) or a scholarly work on the anthro...more
blake
The title of this book is the most egregious misnomer I've ever encountered. Combined with the misleading jacket description I don't think I've ever had a more disappointing or frustrating experience from a book that I thought was going to be pretty straightforward.

It would have been more accurately subtitled not "Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World," but "An Ethnographic Study Through the Works of Whitman and Pound." If that subtitle still appeals to you, by all means read the book, b...more
Christina
This books gets me in the mood, creatively speaking, more reliably and more deeply than any other. Maybe I'm already primed by the time I pick it up, but still I highly recommend to artists and aspiring, cynical, doubtful creators that need a little help sometimes getting in the zone. This might help you reconnect to that thing inside of you that digs and gnaws all the time, but stays frustratingly elusive most of the time.
Adam Fisher
I wanted to like this book, but ended up hating it thoroughly by the time I was done with it. His exploration of gift economies is one-sided and glosses over most of their problematic aspects; a text I read by a feminist author last year pointed out that in old school gift economies women were often used as gifts, and traded in the same way, as a form of homosocial bonding. Hyde refuses to acknowledge these less pleasant aspects of gift economies, focusing instead on everything that he can use t...more
Charlotte
You who keep such close track of my "currently reading" list may have noticed (I know I have) that when I put something on it, I promptly stop reading it. It's where books in my life go to stagnate. This holiday season, with my glut of unclaimed time, I aim to change this trend. To that end, I have just finished The Gift, which I see I started reading two years ago. This is an AMAZING book. I sort of want to start reading it all over again from the beginning, since what I read two years ago is a...more
Sessily
Hyde originally wrote this book with poets in mind, but it is recommended for anyone working in any of the arts, or who wants to devote themselves to a career or calling that does not do well in a market economy. In the first half of the book he draws on cultural anthropology and folktales to lay out his theory of a gift economy, and the characteristics and requirements of a gift. In the second half, he uses that theory to examine the works and lives of Walt Whitman and Ezra Pound. Neither secti...more
Meghan Jean
Maybe 3.5 stars? I did like this book. It's even brilliant at times. Hyde is at his best in the realms of sociology and anthropology (although the book is decidedly focused on Western cultures). There is some great literary analysis of Whitman and he makes wonderful insights and connections between various folklore. But Hyde is out of his league when he writes about art practice, aesthetics, and economic theory. He makes some ludicrous oversimplifications and perpetuates many false romantic noti...more
Bennievermeer
"...a work of art is a gift, not a commodity. Or, to state the modern case with more precision, (...) works of art exist simultaneously in two 'economies', a market economy and a gift economy. Only one of these is essential, however: a work of art can survive without the market, but where there is no gift there is no art."

This is the premise of Lewis Hyde's 'The Gift' (1983). Part anthropology, sociology and economics and part literary criticism, the book is hard to categorize, let alone summari...more
Kony
Requires patience, but is ultimately rewarding.

In a curious, gently critical tone, Hyde disrupts modern assumptions about value/worth. Core idea: the most precious things in life are exchanged freely - art, friendship, charity - and in exchanging them, we create community. Despite modern market pressures, we can and should carve out spheres for circulating gifts.

First half imparts these ideas through forays into myth, anthropology, intellectual history, economics - which are at times stimulatin...more
Jeff
It's become common sense to talk about artistic creation as part of our market economy, complicating the pressures of artistic creation with expectations for artists to then function as business people to sell, promote, and distribute their creations as well as make them. Hyde, after an analysis of the notion of the gift in various cultures, and comparison of "gift culture" with "market culture," makes an excellent case that what artists do is better understood as a gift than as a product for sa...more
Mary
Please see my full review of this book and its importance to any artist--and I believe we all carry an artist within us. My full review, and your comments are welcome is here: http://www.factsandarts.com/book-revi...

My best hopes to all in whatever field, Mary

I want to add a comment based on another reader's four star review of this book and also a sense of feeling discouraged by the book. Here are my thoughts on that excellent review and the discouragement: I want to address why a reader might...more
Jennifer
Really interesting meditation on the conflicts between art and commerce...viewed through the perspective of all art as a "gift" that is not diminished through sharing. I'm just finishing and alreading feeling like I've got to read it again to get the full gist.
M.
It's philosophy and I don't do philosophy, but I like it so far!
Merce Cardus
A gift to spark creativity. http://bit.ly/XdwAht
Susan Barrett Price
An excellent book for artists, writers, scientists, musicians... and wiki contributors - anyone who has a "gift" and senses the obligation to "keep the gift in motion."
Hyde lays out his thoughts on "gift economies," based on folklore and cultural studies. He contrasts gift exchange with less emotionally involving market transactions. And he explores the issues that artists face when they are obliged to market their own work - the risk of corrupting their deep art with market-driven hack work. (I...more
Suzanne
This book was a "gift..." from a friend, from mother to daughter, from one artist to another.

So far, dense but en-lightening... perhaps a little on the masculine side in a not-quite-academic sense. The concept of the gift has intrigued me for a few years now, but never did I ever imagine that there would be so comprehensive an analysis of it as this. Certainly there must be others. (You probably should stop reading this "review" here.)

I'm sort of stalled on it right now... would love to find a...more
Anthony
A very interesting read. By turns turgid, dull, meandering . . . and somehow in a vague way, annoying-ly too liberal, but in a hard to define way (it was written from an academic stance in the late 70's) but also I don't think I have read another book this past year that I dog-eared, and highlighted as much.

An unusual synthesis of Jungian psychology, Marxist history, and literary criticism. Hyde weaves a compelling description of how creativity and art must be separate from money. He goes into i...more
Seth
Persevere through this book and I believe you will be rewarded with some interesting observations about human nature and how we perceive one another - in particular, you will find new perspectives on who is considered an "insider" or "outsider" to your group and how you treat them in kind.

You will also be introduced universally shared human traits - in this case, gift-giving. You will learn why there is much more to the practice of gift-giving than you ever thought possible and that the manipul...more
Rishi Saikia
Review

“The best book I know of for talented but unacknowledged creators. . . . A masterpiece.” —Margaret Atwood

“No one who is invested in any kind of art . . . can read The Gift and remain unchanged.” —David Foster Wallace

“Few books are such life-changers as The Gift: epiphany, in sculpted prose.” —Jonathan Lethem

“A manifesto of sorts for anyone who makes art [and] cares for it.” —Zadie Smith

“This long-awaited new edition of Lewis Hyde's groundbreaking and influential study of creativity i

...more
Mike
Due to my reading this book shortly after finishing Finnegans Wake, I want to indulge in a little bit of brevity in book-reviewing in ways I have rarely indulged it before.

The Gift has some slightly-above-average summations of cultural anthropology and anthropological study, some excellent theories on gift exchange economies, and some excellent critiques on market value and capitalism despite the fact that all of the above are backed by less-than-ideal evidence (e.g. folk tales). Its psychoanaly...more
Catherine
Nov 29, 2008 Catherine rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: Siria, Trin, Jenns
Shelves: 2008, fp, spirit, mainstream-us
Lewis Hyde began the intellectual journey contained in this book by trying to work out what his place was in the world - was his art meaningful? Did his work as a poet contribute something to the human experience? How did he reconcile his work with the demands of a world that was increasingly organized around the principles of the market economy, and the commodities exchanged within it? From there he takes off on a sprawling journey through multiple disciplines, pieces of history, and types of p...more
Ross
I just read the 25th anniversary edition of this book, complete with the Margaret Atwood blurb on the cover calling it a masterpiece. So it’s possible that my expectations were a little too high.

The book is in two parts. The first part seemed very familiar, having read Richard Titmus (The Gift Relationship) many years ago and having thought a lot about markets versus other forms of social organization. What Hyde adds is the perspective of folktales and other material that economists and politic...more
Suzy
This book is for everyone! If you haven’t read it, read it. Now!
Hyde’s motivation for writing the book was the assumption that there are certain creative enterprises that are overlooked by the market and that if society values such creative products, there should be a way to solve this dilemma.
Hyde begins the book by explaining the difference between a gift and a commodity. The gift is described as that which is constantly moving and circulating, this movement is reciprocal, in giving we receiv...more
Kevin
Mar 07, 2008 Kevin rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: struggling creative types (successful or un-)
Shelves: non-fiction
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what i got out of it... 1 79 Jun 10, 2008 11:40AM  
  • Ed Emberley's Drawing Book: Make a World
  • The Educated Imagination
  • Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys to Creativity
  • The Ecstasy of Influence: Nonfictions, Etc.
  • Trust the Process
  • What Painting Is
  • On Beauty and Being Just
  • The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself
  • Reality Hunger: A Manifesto
  • Real Sofistikashun: Essays on Poetry and Craft
  • The Paris Review Interviews, II
  • The Liberal Imagination: Essays on Literature and Society
  • The Rise of the Novel
  • The Future of Nostalgia
  • Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees: A Life of Contemporary Artist Robert Irwin
  • Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer
  • The Invisible Dragon: Four Essays on Beauty
  • An Intimate History of Humanity
Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art Common as Air: Revolution, Art, and Ownership Alcohol and Poetry: John Berryman and the Booze Talking This Error Is the Sign of Love On the Poetry of Allen Ginsberg

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“Erik Erikson has commented: Potentially creative men like (Bernard) Shaw build the personal fundament of their work during a self-decreed moratorium, during which they often starve themselves, socially, erotically, and, at last but not least, nutritionally, in order to let the grosser weeds die out, and make way for the growth of their inner garden. ” 10 likes
“Most artists are brought to their vocation when their own nascent gifts are awakened by the work of a master. That is to say, most artists are converted to art by art itself. Finding one's voice isn't just an emptying and purifying oneself of the words of others but an adopting and embracing of filiations, communities, and discourses. Inspiration could be called inhaling the memory of an act never experienced. Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void but out of chaos. Any artist knows these truths, no matter how deeply he or she submerges that knowing.” 9 likes
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