I did it out of curiosity, but also for another simple reason – they’re giving away a free download of Lewis Hyde’s book The Gift. Hyde’s book has a cult following already, and has been lauded by the likes of Margaret Atwood (who, in fact, convinced Canongate’s Jamie Byng to publish it), the late David Foster Wallace, and Zadie Smith.
The first time I heard about Hyde’s book was during an interview with Jonathan Lethem where he talked about his ‘flippant’ novel You Don’t Love Me Yet, and his groundbreaking Promiscuous Materials project, where he has made available non-exclusive licenses, costing one dollar, to adapt certain of his stories – a project heavily influenced by The Gift.
To give you a flavour of The Gift, here’s an extract from the introduction:
“The artist appeals to that part
of our being…which is a gift and not
an acquisition–and, therefore, more permanently enduring.”
– JOSEPH CONRAD
At the corner drugstore my neighbors and I can now buy a line of romantic novels written according to a formula developed through market research. An advertising agency polled a group of women readers. What age should the heroine be? (She should be between nineteen and twenty-seven.) Should the man she meets be married or single? (Recently widowed is best.) The hero and heroine are not allowed in bed together until they are married. Each novel is a hundred and ninety-two pages long. Even the name of the series and the design of the cover have been tailored to the demands of the market. (The name Silhouette was preferred over Belladonna, Surrender, Tiffany, and Magnolia; gold curlicues were chosen to frame the cover.) Six new titles appear each month and two hundred thousand copies of each title are printed.
Why do we suspect that Silhouette Romances will not be enduring works of art? What is it about a work of art, even when it is bought and sold in the market, that makes us distinguish it from such pure commodities as these?
It is the assumption of this book that a work of art is a gift, not a commodity. Or, to state the modern case with more precision, that works of art exist simultaneously in two “economics,” a market economy and a gift economy. Only one of these is essential, however: a work of art can survive without the market, but where there is no gift there is no art.
There are several distinct senses of “gift” that lie behind these ideas.
MeetattheGate.com is an interesting project, as it’s aims are to be far more than a simple publisher’s site:
Although launched and hosted by the independent publishing house Canongate, Meet at the Gate is not a typical publisher’s website. Yes you can search the Canongate catalogue and find out more about the excellent and diverse array of books and writers we publish, but Meet at the Gate has much broader and bigger ambitions. It’s about the creation of a cultural hub, one that is totally independent in its spirit and content, a place with a particular focus on books, film, music and websites that will help guide you to the most interesting stuff around.
What we care about passionately is great work and we hope that Meet at the Gate will help lead you to things you weren’t aware of but, once discovered, can’t think of life without. As Lewis Hyde wrote, “The greatest art offers us images by which to imagine our lives”. We hope that you find this site inspiring, informative and illuminating and that it encourages you to contribute your own personal recommendations, passions and opinions.