Magazine article Artforum International

Lewis Hyde

Magazine article Artforum International

Lewis Hyde

Article excerpt

Poet, essayist, and cultural critic Lewis Hyde is a MacArthur Fellow; the Thomas Professor of Creative Writing at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio; a fellow at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society in Cambridge, Massachusetts; and the author of The Gift (Random House. 1983), a defense of the noncommercial portion of artistic practice. His new book on the ownership of art and ideas, Common as Air, will be published in August by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

1 DONALD JUDD, 100 UNTITLED WORKS IN MILL ALUMINUM, 1982-86 (CHINATI FOUNDATION, MARFA, TX) This installation is the American Taj Mahal. Spend an afternoon in the old army artillery sheds--now walled in glass--and watch the sunlight endlessly transform Judd's simple-complex boxes. In the distance, thirty miles across the Chihuahuan Desert, Goat Mountain marks the horizon.

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2 THOMAS JEFFERSON, LETTER TO ISAAC McPHERSON, AUG. 13, 1813 The seminal American defense of the common ownership of art and ideas. Economists now like to speak of the fruits of human wit and imagination as being "nonrival." How much more eloquent was Jefferson: "He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me." Read the whole letter and count up how many books Jefferson just happened to have at hand to make his argument.

3 POET AS ORPHEUS WITH TWO SIRENS (GETTY VILLA, MALIBU, CA) Greek terra-cotta from southern Italy, ca. 300-250 BC. So haunting, the bird-legged women, the singer holding a plectrum to the missing lyre. Why do we die? Why do we sing? Why do we mark our graves with art as fine as this?

4 ADAM PHILLIPS'S ESSAY "SUPERIORITIES," IN HIS BOOK EQUALS (BASIC BOOKS, 2002) The British child psychotherapist (author also of On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored [1993]) builds a bridge between politics and therapeutic practice. The aims of psychoanalysis, he suggests, might also be the preconditions for democracy: that we learn not just to hear conflicting voices but to enjoy them, and that we be willing to confer equal status on each, even those that seem beneath us. At the essay's core is a vision of how to turn from violence (against ourselves, against our enemies) and discover instead the pleasures of discord.

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5 HUDDIE LEDBETTER AND JOHN LOMAX, 1935 "MARCH OF TIME" NEWSREEL (YOUTUBE) Internet nugget of high folk culture and unabashed racism. Scene 1: Leadbelly in prison stripes, singing "Goodnight, Irene" and asking Lomax to help get him out of Lousiana's notorious Angola penitentiary. Scene 2: Leadbelly in bib overalls seeking out Lomax (two-finger-typing in a Texas hotel room, a half-unpacked suitcase in the foreground, sink in the corner) and offering to be his driver. (Leadbelly: "I came here to be your man. I got to work for you the rest of my life. You got me out of that Louisiana pen." Lomax: "You can't work for me. You're a mean boy. You killed two men. ..." Leadbelly: "Please, boss, take me with you. You'll never have to tie your shoestrings anymore long as you keep me with you.") Scene 3: Leadbelly singing in Lomax's Connecticut home, wearing suit and bow tie. Cut to the Library of Congress, his songs now preserved "along with the original copy of the Declaration of Independence. …

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