February 1st, 2010 5:33 pm | by MATTHEW KORFHAGE News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP

The Gift scribe Lewis Hyde at PNCA/Lewis & Clark, February 3-4.

Lewis Hyde

Lewis Hyde—social anthropologist, poet, scholar, gentle hero—is coming to Portland. Even better (as perhaps befits the author of The Gift), he will be giving lectures that are both free and public, at PNCA (6:30 pm Wednesday, Feb. 3) and Lewis & Clark (4 pm Thursday, Feb. 4), on the subject of The Gift and the Commons: Creativity and the Public Good.

If you've never heard of Hyde, you're far from alone, but there's no reason this should continue. Though Hyde's only written three books (two nonfiction, one poetry) over a 30-year career of writing and thinking, his books are the sort of thing that artists and writers pass on to each other as if samizdat—person to person, in hushed reverent tones—though his works have in fact never been out of print, and his new editions are passed on from publisher to publisher in the same quiet way.

People like David Foster Wallace, Zadie Smith, the Roberts Pinsky and Bly, Jonathan Lethem, and Michael Chabon—people we like—have been so vocal about their love for the man they might as well be street criers, carriers of posterboards. In fact, I'll defer to the late, bemourned David Foster Wallace for a moment:
"The Gift actually deserves the hyperbolic praise that in most blurbs is so empty. It is the sort of book that you remember where you were and even what you were wearing when you first picked it up. The sort that you hector friends about until they read it too. This is not just formulaic blurbspeak; it is the truth. No one who is invested in any kind of art, in questions of what real art does and doesn't have to do with money, spirituality, ego, love, ugliness, sales, politics, morality, marketing, and whatever you call 'value,' can read The Gift and remain unchanged."

Hyde speaks largely in allusion—myth, history, image, anecdote, sideways discursion—and resists easy summary, but his subject in The Gift, his most famous work, is perhaps more relevant now than when it was first published 30 years ago. The Gift gives the lie to our society's current notion that art atrophies outside of a market, that dance or opera or the novel are somehow suddenly dead when they stop making money; he shows instead— brilliantly, humbly, a bit diffusely, with no resort to bozo spiritualism, in clear and pretty prose—that the creative endeavor has always existed not only in a market economy but also a gift economy, that it cannot exist or survive as art except as something received. Somewhere along the way, he touches on the themes of inherent or immanent value, the nature of the creative endeavor, art as a public and not private good, and the fact that a gift ceases to be a gift when it is kept. What Hyde's work embodies is a broad and generous vision of what it is to be human, backed up by history and our own still-somehow-present sense of life as something fundamentally shared. You know?

Hyde lectures on The Gift and the Commons: Creativity and the Public Good at at 6:30 pm Wednesday, February 3, at Pacific Northwest College of Art, Swigert Commons, 1241 NW Johnson St, 226-4391, and at at 4 pm Thursday, February 4, at Lewis and Clark College, Templeton Campus Center, Council Chambers, 0615 S.W. Palatine Hill Road, 768-7000.
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