The Gift, by Lewis Hyde

The Gift - Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property, by Lewis Hyde

After reading Trickster Makes This World, I went back and picked up this earlier book by Hyde. Again, his mastery of mythology amazes me. I used to read myths and think they were pretty stupid stories. Hyde makes them come alive, expressing the philosophies and beliefs of their tellers.

In this case, he follows the culture of the gift, which will have its value disappear if not passed on. However, if given away freely, it will come back to reward the giver many times over. He brings in many myths to support this, such as the several where a poor peasant gives away their last bit of bread to someone in need, only to have it turn out that the recipient was a god or a king in disguise, who then rewards the peasant for their generosity.

Hyde studies this culture from the viewpoint of an artist trying to find his niche in the modern world, where everything has a price. In a ultra-capitalist economy, how does one value art? By exploring the gift economy, Hyde demonstrates that there are areas where the market economy does not apply, where the gift economy must take precedence. Again, he supports his viewpoint with several myths where the greedy merchant tries to buy something that must be given away, and ends up with rocks instead of gold.

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