“When I give to someone from whom I do not receive (and yet I do receive elsewhere), it is as if the gift goes around the corner before it comes back. I have to give blindly. And I will feel a sort of blind gratitude as well,” Lewis Hyde wrote in his fascinating 1983 study of gift-giving, The Gift. “When the gift moves in a circle its motion is beyond the control of the personal ego, and so each bearer must be a part of the group and each donation is an act of social faith.”
It is this type of exchange that I hope to create using the publication of this book of poems as a catalyst. In a perfect market transaction, Hyde explains, both buyer and seller emerge unscathed -- a blanket is exchanged for its equal worth in money and both parties move on. However, gift exchange operates differently. It is erotic. It binds us together. By offering you my book, I am inviting you to community.
At the same time, we live in a capitalist system -- it costs money to publish a book, even on your own. As Hyde eventually concludes, we can hope to limit the market’s influence in our lives -- and we are right to want this -- but we can never elude it entirely. What I would like to create, then, is a commerce where each party gives “around the corner.” Instead of a balanced exchange where people give money in exchange for my book, I hope to initiate a series of faithful acts through which arises community.
I envision the exchange as follows. By contributing money to my Kickstarter campaign, you will automatically become part of the community. You can also gain entrance by pledging something else that you consider to be a gift—artwork of your own, a book you know and love, a packet of tomato seeds, a lesson of some kind, etc. I ask that you briefly describe your contribution to me in an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope to collect these letters into a book of their own.
As long as our fundraising goal is met, everyone in the community will receive a copy of The Language of Grief. Members, meanwhile, pledging to give a non-monetary gift will receive contact information for someone else in the community; this person becomes their gift-recipient. It is up to the giver to fulfill the terms of their pledge -- there will be no “checking in” or “holding people accountable.” Members can request more than one recipient if they want to give more than one gift. They can also choose to give both money anda gift, if they like.
If you are receiving this note, it is because I already count you as part of my community. I am a product of you, in some way; you have contributed to me, and it is you who I want to have my poems. If there are people in your life who you think would benefit from this project, please feel free to extend the invitation.
Finally, by receiving my book in the spirit that it was given, by reading my poems with attentiveness and generosity, you will be bestowing an incomparable gift onto me. I hope that you will receive something from this project in return.
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- (19 days)