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Lewis Hyde

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.

    *Donald Judd, 100 untitled works in mill aluminum (detail), 1982–86,* aluminum. Installation view, Chinati Foundation, Marfa, TX, 2009. Photo: Douglas Tuck. Donald Judd, 100 untitled works in mill aluminum (detail), 1982–86, aluminum. Installation view, Chinati Foundation, Marfa, TX, 2009. Photo: Douglas Tuck.
  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?

    *Artist unknown, sculptural group of a seated poet and two sirens, ca. 300–250 BC,* terra-cotta with polychromy, dimensions variable. Artist unknown, sculptural group of a seated poet and two sirens, ca. 300–250 BC, terra-cotta with polychromy, dimensions variable.
  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.

  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.” You can’t make this stuff up.


    Huddie Ledbetter and John Lomax “March of Time” Newsreel (1935).

  6. DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKERS’ STATEMENT OF BEST PRACTICES IN FAIR USE (CENTER FOR SOCIAL MEDIA, WASHINGTON, DC; NOV. 18, 2005)

    If my film history of the 1950s uses TV clips, do I need to clear permissions? If one scene has a radio playing in the background, do I need to pay for music rights? This handy pamphlet does more than help filmmakers answer such questions; it helps them claim the “fair use” rights that copyright law actually bestows on all creative artists. Now all we need is a national movement to do the same for each and every creative community. Artists arise! You have nothing to lose but those endless permissions hassles!

  7. ANNA SCHULEIT, BLOOM, 2003 (MASSACHUSETTS MENTAL HEALTH CENTER, BOSTON)

    Curious fact: No one brings flowers to the mental hospital. No one, that is, but the artist Anna Schuleit. In fall 2003, when Boston’s century-old “Mass. Mental” closed, Schuleit managed to get twenty-eight thousand flowers to bloom simultaneously and with them paved the building in living color. Tulips and begonias swamped the halls; heather and ferns rose like water around the office furniture; paperwhite narcissus flowed into the bathrooms. Most stunning: the basement’s empty swimming pool lined with African violets. Curious it was to find the therapists, on their final visits to the building, grieving in the halls, as if these winter blossoms had released some decades of sorrow.

    *Anna Schuleit, _Bloom_, 2003*. Installation views, Massachusetts Mental Health Center, Boston. Photos: Frick LeBue. Anna Schuleit, Bloom, 2003. Installation views, Massachusetts Mental Health Center, Boston. Photos: Frick LeBue.
  8. BLUES, RAGS, & HOLLERS (AUDIOPHILE/ELEKTRA)

    Recorded in 1963 by Koerner, Ray & Glover. These three musicians went on to do many things (John Koerner has five solo albums; Dave Ray recorded Bonnie Raitt’s first album; Tony Glover wrote for Rolling Stone), but they were very good from the jump. Just listen to their cover of Cat Iron’s 1958 “Jimmy Bell” and to the bell-like clarity of “Snaker” Ray’s guitar in “Dust My Broom.”

    *Publicity photo for _Blues, Rags, & Hollers_ (Audiophile/Elektra), Minneapolis, 1963*. From left: “Spider” John Koerner, Tony “Little Sun” Glover, Dave “Snaker” Ray. Photo: Paul Nelson. Publicity photo for Blues, Rags, & Hollers (Audiophile/Elektra), Minneapolis, 1963. From left: “Spider” John Koerner, Tony “Little Sun” Glover, Dave “Snaker” Ray. Photo: Paul Nelson.
  9. AMBROSIANA ART GALLERY (MILAN)

    Cardinal Borromeo’s collection was already remarkable when he opened the doors in 1618, and it has grown ever since. In room 2, see how Botticelli paints transparent clothing for the baby Jesus. In room 3 there’s Bramantino’s huge, foreshortened, upside-down, dead frog, just one detail in the Saint Michael altar, ca. 1520. At the moment, the Ambrosiana Library also has its treasures on display, including one of the earliest surviving Bibles, a sixth- or seventh-century version in Syriac, and Leonardo da Vinci’s Atlantic Codex (ca. 1478–1519), being shown at various venues over the next five years, a few dozen pages at a time.

    *Design for a revolving crossbow with treadwheel, from Leonardo da Vinci’s Atlantic Codex, ca. 1478–1519, folio 387, recto.* Design for a revolving crossbow with treadwheel, from Leonardo da Vinci’s Atlantic Codex, ca. 1478–1519, folio 387, recto.
  10. FRANCES REID AND DEBORAH HOFFMANN, LONG NIGHT’S JOURNEY INTO DAY: SOUTH AFRICA’S SEARCH FOR TRUTH & RECONCILIATION (2000)

    An astounding record of how South Africa responded to murderous apartheid, not with more of the same but with public displays of human integrity and compassion. Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “We make the mistake of conflating all justice into retributive justice, whereas there is something called restorative justice, and this is the option that we have chosen.” Any jurist who could watch this documentary without weeping ought to be disbarred.