Some Food We Could Not Eat
Gift Exchange and the Imagination
First appeared in the Kenyon Review, Kenyon College, Gambier, OH 43022.
Poet and translator Lewis Hyde has accomplished several distinct things with this article. First of all, by way of traditional (that is, “pre-” or non-capitalist) folk and fairy tales, as well as anthropological observations, he has revealed the origins of many of the commonplaces associated with capitalist social relations—for example, things have always been as they are today (primitive and traditional peoples are just societies of small-scale capitalists each working in his own self interest), a penny saved is a penny earned, you can’t have your cake and eat it too, the idea of a “noble savage” is only a modern romantic prejudice, etc. By showing how people—including our ancestors—treat property in, a society in which it is not the ruling sign or the axis around which all social relations orbit (indeed, in which present notions of property and wealth do not even apply), he presents a contrast to modern capitalist society which critiques it from a position of affirmation. Whereas many of our discussions of capital have generally implied only a vague sense of the life we envision, his article reveals that many elements are already to be found in our cultural memory. “Folk tales are like the soul’s morality plays,” he writes, but they are also a key to culture. Hence, he has not only undertaken an “economy of the imagination,” but, in a sense, a “political economy” of culture.
Feb 14, 2019