“The problem is that wealth ceases to move freely when all things are counted and priced. It may accumulate in great heaps, but fewer and fewer people can afford to enjoy it."
Art can survive without the market (cave paintings? what about a time before the market - or has there always been a market for art) but where there is no gift there is no art.
“The art that matters to us – moves the heart, or revives the soul, or delights the senses, or offers courage for the living – that art work is received by us, as a gift is received. Even if we have paid a fee at the door, when we are touched by a work of art something comes to us which has nothing to do with the price…
…our sense of harmony can hear the harmonies Mozart heard. We may not have the power to profess our gifts as the artist does, and yet we come to recognise, and in a sense to receive, the endowments of our being through the agency of his creation.”
His book goes on to explore this often through anthropological studies.
He only briefly mentions a few downfalls of gifts: gifts that leave an oppressive sense of obligation, gifts that manipulate or humiliate, the tragedy of the commons (the sea is a gift of fish that everyone takes from and so depletes). On this, Hyde's book, Common as Air, is a defense of our "cultural commons," that vast store of ideas, inventions, and art that we have inherited from the past and continue to enrich in the present.
This conjures two thoughts in my mind.
Why do characters give what they give in plays? They almost always are trying to do something with their gift, they want something or they are trying to manipulate… if we see someone giving something – we know there is meaning behind it. Occasionally, we know the meaning but the character does not, a form of irony. Some times it is symbolical. Rarely is a major gift meaningless and if it is, often, we are disappointed.
The other thought is this sense of obligation. There was someone I liked a lot once. She told me gift giving for Maoris was reciprocal, if you gave there was a circle so you would give back. This is called Koha (The koha reflects the mana of both the giver and the recipient, reflecting what the giver is able to give, and the esteem they hold of the person they are making the gift to - and hence plays an important part in cementing good relations, and is taken very seriously).
"Circular giving differs from reciprocal giving in several ways. First, when the gift moves in a circle no one ever receives it from the same person he gives it to...When the gift moves in a circle its motion is beyond the control of the personal ego, and so each bearer must be a part of the group and each donation is an act of social faith.” (Lewis Hyde)
For a wonderful period of time, it was a circle of joy. Wild flowers unexpectedly sprinkled in a room begat jelly babies hanging from a door frame begat surprises in your post box. Then the weight of life cracked the circle.
I didn’t notice (my Dad was dying, a reasonable excuse) and thus the weight of my gifts created an unwanted and unhappy sense of obligation. Or even an unwanted sense of memory.
I think this is one reason ex-lovers (or ex-friends even) find it hard to give each other simple things - or anything at all. All their exchanges are weighted with memory and symbols. The same for story.
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