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The Erotic Life of Blogs and Condos

April 7, 2010

Slowly making my way through the Faithful Fools’ canon. In a conversation about economics, Carmen recommended Lewis Hyde’s The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property. Not even 50 pages in, and it’s already transforming the way I see my everyday life.

Basically, Hyde is interested in the material and spiritual benefits of gifts and gift economies, as opposed to capitalism and economies of exchanged commodities.

Given material abundance, scarcity must be a function of boundaries.  If there is plenty of air in the world but something blocks its passage to the lungs, the lungs do well to complain of scarcity.  The assumptions of market exchange may not necessarily lead to the emergence of boundaries, but they do in practice.  When trade is ‘clean’ and leaves people unconnected, when the merchant is free to sell when and where he will, when the market moves mostly for profit and the dominant myth is not ‘to possess is to give’ but ‘the fittest survive,’ then wealth will lose its motion and gather in isolated pools.  Under the assumptions of exchange trade, property is plagued by entropy and wealth can become scarce even as it increases. 23

Having lived for more than a year now with no income, depending somewhat on my savings but largely on the generosity of others (including the major generosity of the foundation that paid for my undergrad degree, allowing me to graduate from Harvard debt-free), I’m beginning to see firsthand the ways in which scarcity, that fundamental rule of the economics preached in Cambridge, truly is myth and perspective, not fact. I’m becoming what Khalil Gibran calls, in The Prophet, a “believer in life and the bounty of life”:

There are those who give little of the much which they have–and they give it for recognition and their hidden desire makes their gifts unwholesome.

And there are those who have little and give it all.

These are the believers in life and the bounty of life, and their coffer is never empty.

There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward.

And there are those who give with pain, and that pain is their baptism.

And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue;

They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space.

Through the hands of such as these God speaks, and from behind their eyes He smiles upon the earth.

At this very moment, for instance, I’m sitting on a big, lovely, suede couch in a big, lovely, 4th-floor condo in the big, lovely Embarcadero neighborhood, enjoying cranberry juice and Pellegrino, as well as the company of an adorable terrier-greyhound named Maxine.  I’ve been invited to help myself to anything and everything in the condo, and to have friends and loved ones over during the week to partake, as well.  And more importantly, I’ve been invited into the lives of a wonderful, loving, giving couple: Chris and Donna.  How did I get all this?

I got it by giving.  I gave of my love, support, and time to Lori, by taking care of Buster — overnight for a few days, and now once a week in the afternoons.  There’s no business relationship, she hasn’t hired me or anything, but she’s a true friend and I’m happy to offer what I can.  She, in turn, takes me out for breakfast and tea, gives writerly feedback and advice on my blogging efforts, and stocks the freezer with frozen raspberries (my favorite) when I’m sitting Buster through the night.  And then, when she heard that her co-worker Chris was looking for someone to care for Maxine while she and Donna vacationed in Hawaii, Lori recommended me.  Chris and Donna had Lori and me over for dinner, and the rest is history.

This is just one example, but there are so many blessings in my life right now that trace directly back through gifts.  Gifts of donations sustain the Faithful Fools.  Dana (generosity — through financial support and volunteer labor) sustains the East Bay Meditation Center.  An exchange of kind letters (one of my favorite types of gift) planted seeds for my current relationship.  My family (including my eighty-something-year-old Oma) footed the first semester’s bill for my Masters program at Goddard.  Unpaid organizers continue investing their blood, sweat, and tears into building power for workers.  Everywhere I look, it seems, people are giving.

And what makes gifts “erotic” as property, as opposed to rational exchange commodities, is that they connect life, rather than separating it.  Gifts bind us to one another, with a web of invisible umbilical cords.  Sure, they can be abused, offered with the intention of obligating someone else, creating a debt.  But then they’re not really gifts at all — just exchanges in disguise.

Even this blog, I realize, is a gift in its own way.  Offered freely to whomever might find it useful.  And for me, that’s what makes it more than a diary, a scrapbook, or journal (none of which I was ever any good at keeping).  In the giving there is real contact.  And abundance, too.  I’ve connected and reconnected  with such lovely people through Kloncke, and many of you continue to offer me your own wonderful gifts through comments, emails, letters, conversations, and encouragement.  Not to mention the greatest use of the gift: not reciprocation, but taking inspiration to give to someone else.  I’m reminded of my friend Ashley, who watched my Stevie Wonder video blog way back in the day and decided to call her grandparents, just to say hello.  I’ll always remember that, you know?

So thanks, y’all, as always.  For reading, for commenting, for linking, passing on, and participating in what Hyde might call an erotic connection:

Gift exchange and erotic life are connected…The gift is an emanation of Eros, and therefore to speak of gifts that survive their use is to describe a natural fact: libido is not lost when it is given away.  Eros never wastes his lovers.  When we give ourselves in the spirit of that god, he does not leave off his attentions; it is only when we fall to calculation that he remains hidden and no body will satisfy.  Satisfaction derives not merely from being filled but from being filled with a current that will not cease.  With the gift, as in love, our satisfaction sets us at ease because we know that somehow its use at once assures its plenty. 22

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Happy Wednesday!

love,

katie

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Ps: special thanks to Kyle Maurer, one of my first true surprise-blog-reader friends, for your encouragement and warmth, and also for the Hojicha, which has warmed the bellies of many people in Fool’s Court and dwindled down to one last teapot’s worth. :)

5 Comments leave one →
  1. April 11, 2010 7:03 pm

    In gratitude for this most abundant gift of a blog, Katie, I express my heartfelt appreciation for the continued inspiration I receive upon each and every visit. Your well crafted thoughts, your kind deeds, your honed vision, it all speaks to the gift of your being in this time and place.

    Love,
    Natanya

  2. April 12, 2010 10:29 am

    OH This conversation is my jam. Have you read Lewis Hyde’s “The Gift”? I think I have a copy if you want to borrow. Probably similar ideas art-as-gift, art-as-anti-scarcity-myth, art-as-anticommodity. And you are practicing abundance of that gift all up in this piece.

  3. Lori permalink
    April 12, 2010 12:25 pm

    Katie, I’m just reading this blog post now, and I’m continuing to love your gift of words. Thanks for always giving me your abundance (in myriad forms)–1,000 times over.

  4. HARSH REALITY permalink
    April 12, 2010 1:03 pm

    I am very, very uncomfortable with this blog post and the accompanying book. Just because you are lucky enough to have a bunch of rich friends who give you stuff and connect you with people who can give you more stuff, does not mean that such “bounty of life” is a fact of life for the rest of the world. And when gifts are explicitly connected to “erotic” anything, usually they are not really free: think of all the women out there who aren’t formally prostitutes, they just get “gifts”–or are financially supported by their husbands. Think of parental demands for gratitude from their children–my family is fairly well off, but I can never accept financial support from them because I’ve had nightmares since age 17 of my dad trying to rape me and the price is just too high. We can’t all be happily dependent on the bounty of others.

  5. April 12, 2010 10:45 pm

    Damn Harsh Reality….that is a very harsh reality. I can’t imagine having to make decisions with that sort of threat waiting in the wings. I think the sort of “gift” you describe is exactly what Katie is talking about when she says:

    “Sure, they can be abused, offered with the intention of obligating someone else, creating a debt. But then they’re not really gifts at all — just exchanges in disguise.”

    I see what you mean on your other point about the inability of many people to live expectantly on charity from rich friends….that’s a definite fact. And while it’s true that Katie got the condo access she decribes “by giving”, it’s also true that she got it by giving in a very particular situation with people who were capable of giving back on the scale described. Ultimately the roots of these differences are not, as we all know, in different amounts of “giving” but instead in structures of racist, patriarchal capitalism, colonialism etc.

    But still, for me, Katie’s point is sustained. I interpret both the book (Katie’s quote and the first two pages I just read on the internet) and Katie to be saying not “if we only just all started giving our plentiful wealth then things would be cool,” but instead trying to question the zero-sum analysis of EVERYTHING that can arise from non-communal property relations. There’s a thin line between promoting generosity and commodifying friendship or caring, and close analysis of the economic context in which giving occurs is a key part of the process whereby we stay on the right side of that line. Anyway, as always thanks for the thoughts Katie, keep it up. <3

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