The artist appeals to that part of our being…which is a gift and not an acquisition—and, therefore, more permanently enduring .—Joseph Conrad.
With The Gift we can learn that a gift is kept alive by its constant donation. Lewis Hyde gives it to us.
Once a gift has stirred within us it is up to us to develop it. There is a reciprocal labor in the maturation of a talent. The gift will continue to discharge its energy so long as we attend to it in return.
The ‘cult of genius’ turns men and women into celebrities and cuts off all commerce with the guardian spirits. We should not speak of another’s genius; this is a private affair. The celebrity trades on his gifts, he does not sacrifice to them. And without that sacrifice, without the return gift, the spirit cannot be set free.
The bonds that gifts establish are not simply social, they may be spiritual and psychological as well. Gift exchanges may join figures and forces within the drama of our inner lives.
The commerce of the creative spirit
An essential portion of any artist’s labor is not creation so much as invocation. Part of the work cannot be made, it must be received; and we cannot have this gift except, perhaps, by supplication, by courting, by creating within ourselves that ‘begging bowl’ to which the gift is drawn.
Having accepted what has given to him—either in the sense of inspiration or in the sense of talent—the artist often feels compelled, feels the desire, to make the work and offer it to an audience.
To whom does the artist address the work?
Marcel Mauss said, ‘Every gift strives to bring to its original clan and homeland some equivalent to take its place.
Ezra Pound’s creative life was animated by a myth in which ‘tradition’ appears as both the source and ultimate repository of his gifts.
For Pound, I think, what gifts we have come ultimately from the gods, but a ‘live tradition’ is the storehouse in which the wealth of that endowment is preserved. Pound speaks certain names over and over again—Homer, Confucius, Dante, Cavalcanti—the lineage of gifted souls whose works had informed his own. To the end of his days he dedicated a portion of his labor to the renewal of their spirits.