Fall 1979 • Vol. I No. 4 NonfictionOctober 1, 1979 |

Some Food We Could Not Eat: Gift Exchange and the Imagination

I would like to write an economy of the imagination. I assume any "property system" expresses our own spirit---or rather, one of our spirits, for there are many ways to be human and many economies. As we all know, capitalism brings to life and rewards its own particular spirits (aggression, frugality, independence, and so on). My question is, what would be the form of an economy that took the imagination as its model, that was an emanation of the creative spirit?   The approach I have taken to this question might best be introduced by telling how I came to it in the first place. Some years ago I sat in a coffeehouse listening to someone read an exceptionally boring poem. In trying to imagine how or why the poem had come into existence, the phrase "commodity poem" came to mind---as if I had heard the language equivalent to a new Chevrolet. Even at that early point I meant "commodity" as opposed to "gift," for my own experience of poetry (both of reading and of writing) had b

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Lewis Hyde's books include Common as Air: Revolution, Art, and Ownership (FSG, 2010), The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property (Random House 1983; reprinted 2007), Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art (FSG, 1998), and the book of poems This Error is the Sign of Love (Milkweed Editions, 1988). He has edited a volume of essays on Henry David Thoreau and a book of responses to the poetry of Allen Ginsberg, and has translated the selected poems of Vicente Aleixandre. Hyde's many awards include grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Lannan Foundation, and the Guggenheim Foundation. In 1991 he was named a MacArthur Foundation Fellow. He is currently the Richard L. Thomas Chair in Creative Writing at Kenyon College. In addition to Pablo Neruda, Hyde has translated Spain's 1976 Nobel laureate, Vicente Aleixandre.

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