Blogging excerpts from "The Gift" by Lewis Hyde. This post started a very lovely comments thread:

In Chapter two of the "The Gift" Hyde writes about how the benefits which arise from a gift must remain gifts in themselves if the gift's power is to continue. He looks at the increase of gifts in three ways: natural, spiritual and social.

Honouring gifts from the natural world, such as in the First Salmon Ceremony practiced by the coastal First Nations here on the west coast depend our relationship with the natural world, and place us in a position of recipient of natural bounty. To treat this bounty as anything other than a gift endangers its long term sustainability

Gifts of the spirit increase beyond the life of the gift's embodiment. It is the gift's life that endures beyond the actual embodiment of the gift; a spirit of generosity.

The social increase of gifts happen when the circulation of gifts creates community out of individual expressions of goodwill. Blogging is a little like this. So is the community that has formed around people who have been given a copy of the "The Gift!"

Here is another interesting quote from "The Gift" which extends the ideas about what happens when gifts move:

Where...the market alone rules and particularly where 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. For where we maintain no institutions of positive reciprocity, we find ourselves unable to participate in those "wider spirits" i just spoke of - unable to enter gracefully into nature, unable to draw community out of the mass, and, finally, unable to receive, contribute toward, and pass along collective treasures we refer to as culture and tradition. Only when the increase of gifts moves with the gift may the accumulated wealth of our spirit continue to grow among us, so that each of us may enter, and be revived by, a vitality that is beyond his or her solitary powers.

-- pp. 38-9

Sending our own gifts out into a circle and receiving their return from another source is essentially a very good working definition of "community building."


Chris, you are incredible - I love what you are sharing.

Can't wait until you get to chapter four - one of my favorites...

A friend who was a writer and a wonderful letter writer (the old fashioned kind - this was a number of years ago) once told me, after I had apologised for not "returning" her letter with one of my own, that a letter is a gift; one must accept it as simply that (in other words, it did not demand an exchange as if it were a commodity). Jon Husband said recently something about blogging being our collaborative writing; and what you just said about the role of the gift in the creation of community - it could be that at best our collective writing creates community and, at the very least, it's a gift. (Or, perhaps, it one and the same?)

I hope you have lots of time to read... Susan Kerr | Email | Homepage | 07.22.04 - 12:30 am | #

Susan, you're contributing mightily to the blogosphere through your wonderful words in commments here and there and everywhere. What a gift! Ted Ernst | Email | Homepage | 07.22.04 - 2:30 am | #

Ted! How wonderful to hear from you - I wondered where you had gone. Love to hear how your conference went last weekend and how your foldable bicycle is working out. I'll have to learn how you implemented that blogroll so I can readily find everyone... Susan Kerr | Email | Homepage | 07.22.04 - 9:08 am | #

Apologies if this is terribly obvious, but reading your synopses reminds me terribly of a few works by the French Sociologist George Bataille. The Accursed Share outlines a theory of economy based on excess . . . societies always create a surplus, and the means of surplus reduction (growth, religion, personal indulgences) are important factors in the creation and form of the culture.

One method of surplus reduction, of course, is gift giving. Bataille, too, sees this as a sacred/erotic activity: the gift is never just a gift, but always imbued with some sort of 'sacred' power.

Again, I'm sorry if this was already rehashed in 'The Gift' . . . I was just surprised to read about another work on the topic. Siona | Email | Homepage | 07.22.04 - 12:49 pm | #

Hi Siona:

Haven't come across Bataille yet, and Hyde hasn't mentioned there a source for Bataille where I can read more?

And thanks for your contributions Susan. A agree that there is something heavily "gifty" about the collaborative nature of writing online. I'm into chapter four at the moment...but it'll take a litle time to digest it down to a couple of posts!

Hi Ted! Chris Corrigan | Email | Homepage | 07.23.04 - 1:10 pm | #

hi siona (or anyone else),

i don't really get how these examples (growth, religion, personal indulgences) are means of surplus reduction. can you explain that a bit more and how they are important factors in the creation and form of the culture?

thanks, ashley ashley | Email | Homepage | 07.23.04 - 7:26 pm | #

Hm. Bataille. Again, it's been a while since I've read anything by him, but I'll do my best.

Again, he has a theory of economy based on surplus. Economies, he holds, are constantly generating energy: a society will produce more than it needs. In fact, this may be true of any organized system: bodies, machines, the solar system all produce excess energy, which is dissipated in the form of heat. An economy, though, has to use this energy surplus in other ways. One way to expend this energy is through growth: a country can expand, either through exploration or military exploits or merely by becoming larger in any sense. Religious is another option: excess can be shunted into worship, cathedrals, or other 'non-productive' venues. Gift giving is a final way of expending energy. A nation, or society, can rid itself of excess by gifting. Siona | Email | Homepage | 07.24.04 - 4:30 am | #

Bataille goes on to theorize about how giving is also a demonstration of power and wealth, indeed, of sovereignity. In giving, a country (or an individual) shows that it is powerful; rather than a mere object to be acted upon, it is an agent, capable of decision.

While he does tend to focus on the (more cynical) notion of power and gain, there is something to be said for his conception of the role of the gift in the creation, or the affirmation, of agency. Gift giving, for Bataille, is about recognizing and/or creating subjects, and this, I think, relates powerfully to Hyde's conception of the 'spirit' in gifts. Siona | Email | Homepage | 07.24.04 - 4:31 am | #

But perhaps not . . . I'm worried now that I'm grasping to make a connection that might not have otherwise existed. Still, there was /something/ that struck me earlier. Perhaps it's more that Bataille (who was, admittedly, not a little insane) grasped the underlying mechanism of the power of the gift (and where this power comes from) which Hyde refines in his book.

Eh. It's way too late for me to be rambling on in this manner. I wish I had a better reference than 'The Accursed Share'; again, I just remember reading selections (and taking lecture notes) for a course back in college.

Anyway, I look forward to reading more of your own review. Apologies for this lengthy and semi-coherent 'comment.' Siona | Email | Homepage | 07.24.04 - 4:31 am | #

quite insightful, related AND coherent, siona, thanks for expanding. i notice that i get a little stumped at the word 'subjects', that gift giving is recognizing and creating subjects. what is meant by subjects? receivers?

it's just one confusion after another for me! at least i now understand about using surplus and i am moved by how gift-giving demonstrates power, wealth, sorverignty, self-governing...

thanks! ashley | Email | Homepage | 07.24.04 - 8:26 am | #

What is meant here is subjects as opposed to objects; subjects as independent agents. The giver establishes him or herself as a subject (as something acting from his/her/it's own autonomy) rather than being a mere object that is acted upon, or by being something that 'acts' solely a result of, say, market forces. Siona | Email | Homepage | 07.24.04 - 7:30 pm | #

Looks like you have taken Hyde's book to heart. Me too. It does transform your sense of giving, and of art. Open Space and the gift economy have so much in common, don't you think? phil | Email | Homepage | 07.24.04 - 8:32 pm | #

I'm reminded of a forum I recently attended here in Vancouver - blogged a bit about it in the comments on Phil's blog prior to coming to Chicago.

The forum was titled "Humanising the Economy - The Value of Happiness". The first presenting academic noted that prior to the advent of Taylorism, assembly lines, mass production, etc. there was a scarcity of material goods and an abundance of social interaction (social "goods" if you will, and people generally lived in communities, knew each other, interacted daily/frequently and collectively traced the arc of the respective lives together.

Today we have an abundance of material goods, to the point where there is arguably deflation, lowering prices, outsourcing, etc., and a scarcity of social interaction/social goods, and mush less social well-being/social capital. Jon Husband | Email | Homepage | 07.24.04 - 9:47 pm | #

Continued ...

A small microsmic example of same is what I believe is the rapidity with which we observe the latent desire for connection and community blossoming into tangible interaction and connection, as we all experienced in three short days in Chicago.

Hardly anybody really knew each other prior, and now there is arguably a fledgling community of interested, engaged, heartful people.

We are all so hungry for this, so often and in so many ways ... in a world where the comptrollers tell us "time is money", sorry gotta go, can't take the time to engage in conversation, so we don't get to know and valorise (from the French "to value") each other and the collective. Jon Husband | Email | Homepage | 07.24.04 - 9:55 pm | #

wow, i'm having fun skipping across this conversation in the middle of the night like a flat stone on a big swift river...

tonight i received an email update from the amazing marianne knuth, who is the founder of a learning community in zimbabwe called kufunda village ( i recalled something in the latter part of The Gift, where Hyde described ezra pound's crazy idea of "vegetable money" - a currency that actually physically decays so that it can't be stored up!

i was delighted to hear the kufunda is launching into the creation of local currencies, an idea which has long fascinated me though i have not ever participated in this type of deliberate alternative economy. as my own work of village-creation continues to struggle in so many ways at the interface-points with the larger economic system, i pay close attention to enticing reports like the one i'll post below, from marianne... chris weaver | Email | 07.25.04 - 2:03 am | #

The most exciting to me is that Tandi Community in Rusape will be our first pilot community to pioneer what, as far as we know, is the first community currency in Zimbabwe. With support from Kufunda they will be launching the Tandi Hour at the end of the year. Pam Pedersen has designed the currency which beautifully depicts rural Zimbabwean scenes and images on three different notes: the ?, 1 and two Tandi Hour notes respectively. If we are able to successfully launch the currency, we believe that we will be able to stimulate the local economy by encouraging local trade and exchange. Ambitious and exciting!

(i'm sure she would have loved to be at the giving conference! her email is chris weaver | Email | 07.25.04 - 2:07 am | #

still dreaming late-night dreams...

my understanding of the potlatch traditions in (us) northwest coast nations is that the social and ceremonial culture developed around the idea of giving away surplus wealth. among the coast salish people, i learned that this was also woven-in with the sharing of the songs and dances gifted to individuals on their vision quest initation experiences...there was (and is) a continual infusion of dream/song/dance as gifts from the spirit world, transmitted to any/all individuals, & communicated to the whole in the open space of the winter long-house ceremonies.... chris weaver | Email | 07.25.04 - 2:27 am | # i am thinking about "the art of hosting" (this is a workshop title that some of our danish friends - i think! - have developed...) and i myself am dreaming a world where our local villages are always hosting, inclusively...and in this way, new manifestations of emerging sustainable culture are shared - gatherings as give-aways...& while there's no substitute for physically being there in the circle, blog-connections like this one are surely part of the awakening culture...(!?) chris weaver | Email | 07.25.04 - 2:28 am | #

There is SOOO much richness here...really unbelievable. Thank you all for your gifts.

Siona: I think there must be a lot in Bataille...I was surprised that Hyde didn't mention him, not even in the bibliography. After Googling Bataille and reading your very eloquent summary of his ideas, I think a useful connection can be made, and IS being made (by you!).

Phil: Yes, for sure Open Space and the gift economy are children of the same spiritual parents. The idea for the conference started Wealth Bondage's comments section with a simple invitation to do an Open Space. Months later, in another comments section, you can see why I suggested OST! Chris Corrigan | Email | Homepage | 07.25.04 - 3:12 pm | #

Jon: Very powerful observation. You and Chris might be interested in Penny Scott's blog at BALLE BC where she has also writtne about the Italian thing. She is heading over there in November.

More at:

Thank you all for contributing here. Feel free to add more. I'm going to cut and paste this stuff into my Open Space wiki just to keep it alive after the page scrolls. Chris Corrigan | Email | Homepage | 07.25.04 - 3:14 pm | #