[1999] The gift

  title={The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property},
  author={Hyde, L.},
  series={A Vintage original},

In openlibrary.

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The way we treat a thing can sometimes change its nature. It may be possible to destroy a work of art by converting it into a pure commodity.

Every modern artist who has chosen to labor with a gift must sooner or later wonder how he or she is to survive in a society dominated by market exchange. Where commerce is exclusively a traffic in merchandise, the gifted cannot enter into the give-and-take that ensures the livelihood of their spirit.

A gift that cannot be given away ceases to be a gift. When gifts circulate within a group, their commerce leaves a series of interconnected relationships in its wake, and a kind of decentralized cohesiveness emerges.

Gift economies tend to be marked by three related obligations: the obligation to give, the obligation to accept, and the obligation to reciprocate. Gift exchange tends to be an economy of small groups, of extended families, small villages, close-knit communities, brotherhoods and, of course, of tribes.

Indian giver: whatever we have been given is supposed to be given away again, not kept. If it is kept, something of similar value should move on in its stead. It is better if the gift is not returned but is given instead to some new, third party.
A man who owns a thing is naturally expected to share it, to distribute it, to be its trustee and dispenser.

Where someone manages to commercialize a tribe’s gift relationships the social fabric of the group is invariably destroyed.

Widening the study of ecology to include man means to look at ourselves as a part of nature again, not its lord. What nature gives to us is influenced by what we give to nature. The circle of gifts enters the cycles of nature and, in so doing, manages not to interrupt them and not to put man on the outside.

The forest’s abundance is in fact a consequence of man’s treating its wealth as a gift. Fertility is a gift from God, and in order for it to continue, its first fruits are returned to him as a return gift. The first salmon ceremony establishes a gift relationship with nature, a formal give-and-take that acknowledges our participation in, and dependence upon, natural increase.

Modern capitalist societies, however richly endowed, dedicate themselves to the proposition of scarcity. Under the assumptions of exchange trade, property is plagued by entropy and wealth can become scarce even as it increases. A commodity is truly “used up” when it is sold because nothing about the exchange assures its return. Because the sale removes it from the circle, it wastes it, no matter the price.

If it brings the group together, the gift increases in worth immediately upon its first circulation, and then, like a faithful lover, continues to grow through constancy.

The increase is the real gift in those cases in which the gift-object is sacrificed, for the increase continues despite (even because of) that loss; it is the constant in the cycle, because it is not consumed in use.

In gift exchange it, the increase, stays in motion and follows the object, while in commodity exchange it stays behind as profit.

Where the market alone rules, and particularly where its benefits derive from the conversion of gift property to commodities, the fruits of gift exchange are lost. At that point commerce becomes correctly associated with the fragmentation of community and the suppression of liveliness, fertility, and social feeling.

A gift, when it moves across the boundary, either stops being a gift or else abolishes the boundary. A commodity can cross the line without any change in its nature; moreover, its exchange will often establish a boundary where none previously existed (as, for example, in the sale of a necessity to a friend). A commodity can cross the line without any change in its nature; moreover, its exchange will often establish a boundary where none previously existed (as, for example, in the sale of a necessity to a friend).

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