Thursday, October 14, 2010

Creative Rights And Writing With Lewis Hyde

Lewis Hyde (r) gets messy with fellow ox herder Max Gimblett. Via.
Lewis Hyde is a renowned author, teacher, MacArthur Fellow and cultural critic known for his thought provoking and careful but lively debates about artistic body and the creative process. Notes NPR in a recent profile:
Hyde, whom David Foster Wallace once called "one of our true superstars of nonfiction," is an infectiously enthusiastic writer. He's able to jump from topic to topic while never losing sight of his thesis, and the side roads he takes the reader down — from Emily Dickinson to Bob Dylan, from Benjamin Franklin (whom Hyde calls the "founding pirate") to John Cage — are fascinating.
His books include The Gift, the classic treatise on creativity in society, and Trickster Makes This World, about the playful and disruptive side of human imagination. His latest tome, Common as Air  rethinks copyright and intellectual property for the 21 century. Here is a typically Hyde-ian section from NPR's lengthy excerpt:
"Intellectual property" is the phrase now used to denote ownership of art and ideas, but what exactly does it mean? Does it make sense, to begin with, to say that "intellect" is the source of the "properties" in question? A novel like Ulysses, the know-how for making antiviral drugs, Martin Luther King, Jr's "Dream" speech, the poems of Rimbaud, Andy Warhol screen prints, Mississippi Delta blues, the source code for electronic voting machines: who could name the range of human powers and historical conditions that attends such creations? All that we make and do is shaped by the communities and traditions that contain us, not to mention by money, power, politics, and luck. And even should the artist or scientist think she has extracted herself from the world to stand alone in the studio, a tremendous array of faculties and mind- states may well attend her creativity. 
There is intellect, of course, but also imagination, intuition, sagacity, persistence, prudence, fantasy, lust, humor, sympathy, serendipity, will, prayer, grief, courage, visual acuity, ambition, guesswork, mother wit, memory, delight, vitality, venality, kindness, generosity, fortitude, fear, awe, compassion, surrender, sincerity, humility, and the ability to integrate diametrically opposed states of mind into harmonious wholes . . . We would need quite a few new categories to fully map this territory — "dream property," "courage property," "grief property" — and even if we had that list, only half the problem would have been addressed.
Hyde champions the idea that art does not grow through strict adhesion to doctrine but instead takes the framework from past generations and uses it to bring forth new life--an ancient dialogue to find the perspective needed to contemplate our modern world. For Japan Society's oxherding exhibit, he translated and reinterpreted the ancient Chinese Buddhist parable "The Ten Oxherding Pictures"  concurrently with the creation of Max Gimblett's powerful ink-brush paintings. Discussing the process, he writes:
When it comes to the translations, the plan is to have each oxherding text appear in three different English versions: a “one word ox” which sticks slavishly to the Chinese (one word per character), a “spare sense ox,” which puts each Chinese syntactic unit into a simple English sentence, and an “American ox” (or “fat American ox”) which takes considerable liberties while trying to be faithful to my intuitions about the meaning of the series.
In conjunction with oxherding , Hyde gives a creative writing workshop at Japan Society on Saturday October 16 called The Personality of a Poem . A former director of creative writing at Harvard, and currently a creative writing teacher at Kenyon College, he will help writers of all levels discover methods of finding the "personal personality" of any written work of art, steering away from conventional thought and fostering instinct to travel down the unbeaten path and enjoy the wisdom it offers.

One of several workshops Japan Society's Zen season (including painting, breathing, and meditation),  this event is a good example of the opportunity the Society regularly affords that fulfills Hyde's call to action in his essay "Created Commons":
Let us begin by recognizing how deeply all creative enterprise needs to be fed by its larger community. Let us work to build the institutions that will make all talent prone to the happy accident of its fruition. Let us create a future that will be proud to name us as its ancestors.

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