Saturday, December 17, 2016
Off the Shelf:
It's the Christmas gift-giving season, so it may seem reasonable to pull a copy of Lewis Hyde's The Gift from my bookshelf to read, appropriately, in this holiday scene.
I've had this "modern classic" for almost a year now—in fact, ever since I asked for it for Christmas last year. It accompanied me on my first flight of the year—to SLIG in January—at which point I made it through the preface, the introduction, and a decent way through part one, "A Theory of Gifts." The flight being over, I never seemed to make my way back through its pages.
The whole purpose in taking a second look at the unread books on my shelves is to remind myself of those titles which I once felt strongly about incorporating into my life. I start out with great intentions: to better myself, to understand concepts more clearly or to accentuate those positive tendencies to which others have applied a great deal of thought. There was something about the kernel of thought encapsulated within The Gift that spoke to me. I wanted to revisit that initial call. Coming up on this gift-giving anniversary, I thought it would make a thought-provoking antidote to the materialism that seems to have hijacked the real spirit of Christmas.
Granted, the read is not an easy coast through light fare. This is a book to ponder. Still, it has been one of those volumes which has kept in constant circulation—although admittedly partly owing to re-inventing itself through morphing subtitles and editions claiming to be "in slightly different form." The version I received is dubbed the twenty-fifth anniversary edition, released in 2007, so the book has kept itself alive for a commendable amount of time.
The book is classified as a "defense of the value of creativity and of its importance in a culture increasingly governed by money and overrun by commodities." Not that I'm against money, of course—and I certainly don't mind receiving a few more "commodities" all wrapped up in pretty paper with a bright bow and placed under the tree in my living room—but I think the draw of the book goes much deeper than that. It seeks to finger the tension underlying the interface between the essence of creativity as it is acted upon by people who must live within the reality of an economic world.
The current subtitle the book is running with—not its original, as you can see—is Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World. While not many see themselves as artists, there are a lot more of us harboring creative instincts than we may realize. I believe this dynamic is applicable to a wider range of people than just those who officially label themselves as artists, so I gave myself license to read this one.
Furthermore, the concept of gift-giving is itself an art which has constantly called to me; I want to peer at those undertones tugging me toward whatever it means to give gifts. There is certainly a psychology of gifting, but it sometimes disguises itself as a mystique—an untouchable aura which the impertinent in me wants to call out of its hiding place into the broad daylight of the examination room. I want the concept to take on tangibility. Perhaps this mind-bending essay will tangentially serve as midwife to bring me through the process of understanding it better.