on generosity

Generosity, gratitude and creativity (art).

The nature of the relationship between these becomes clearer, but is not clear enough yet (to me). This piece of writing therefore has a beginning and a middle, but no ending.

The context. Our ultra-capitalist economy which is ever growing, and ever seeking to commodify all things, including those things which traditionally have been held to be commons, or spiritual and non-commodifiable properties. The symbol or metaphor for these commons is the spring, the source. Thus, the disjuncture that we experience, our discomfort, is exemplified by the casual use in our contemporary societies of the word ‘resource’. As in: ‘human resources department’ or ‘exploitation of mineral resources’.

Source: Lewis Hyde, The Gift. (And he was drawing on work by Marshall Sahlins,Walt Whitman and Ezra Pound).

‘The Gift’ is a complex and important book that is on my list for a second reading. Hyde’s central argument is that the work of art (the creative spirit) properly sits within the gift economy (rather than the commodity economy). A conundrum in the book is that of creatives making a living in contemporary (ultra-capitalist) economies. [This is a conundrum that all creative persons are required to work on and with, like it or not.]

The nature of a gift transaction is the transaction of something freely bestowed and unearned. The gift increases in the giving, the motion. The hoarding of a gift is transgression (or sin). The action of the gift is connective, binding: Hyde says “gift exchange is an erotic commerce, joining self and other … the gifted state is an erotic state: in it we are sensible of, and participate in, the underlying unity of things.” And people, all people, seem to understand about gifts. We have a fine and unconscious sense of discernment as to the status of a transaction (within our own social and cultural context); ie. where it is on a spectrum between gift exchange and commodity exchange.

And so Hyde is pointing out that the nature of creativity and art, both for the creator and for the receiver of the work of art, is that it is perceived as properly falling within a gift economy. Hyde says “it is when art acts as an agent of transformation that we may correctly speak of it as a gift.” Thus, the source of creativity is that which is gifted to us. And the labour of gratitude is to be worthy of the gift. (This means to do the work, to develop the gift and to give it away, to keep it moving – not to hoard it, which would be to transgress).

All of which is not to say that artists (creatives) should not be paid. But it does point to some interesting questions of value, and some reasons for the difficult balancing acts which we perform daily.