Essays

Selected essays by Lewis Hyde


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"Two Essays on the Oxherding Series."

Originally published in Parnassus, these essays reflect on a set of medieval Chinese poems and drawings known as the "oxherding series," a parable about the conduct of Buddhist practice. The essays were written to accompany a modern version of Oxherding done in collaboration with the painter Max Gimblett (Gimblett has made new versions of the paintings and Hyde has made new translations of the Chinese poems). One of the essays, "To Complete the Incomplete," is about the process of translation and its relation to Buddhist practice; the other, "Cicada at the Gate," is a meditation on the role of the senses in the Oxherding poems and in Buddhism generally. (21 page pdf)

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"A Geography of Solitude."

The introduction to Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet written to accompany Charlie Louth's 2011 translation of the letters as published by Penguin Books. (19 page pdf)

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"What is Public? The Case for a 'Rich Common."

In 2011 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a 1994 copyright law allowing foreign authors whose work had entered the public domain to have their copyrights 'restored.' This essay comments on the Court's opinion in Golan v. Holder and outlines what was at stake if seen in historical perspective. (4 page pdf)

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"How to Reform Copyright."

Part of the "Afterword" to the paperback edition of Common as Air as published in The Chronicle of Higher Education. The essay explains how restoring copyright's traditional formalities (such as the need to register with the copyright office to obtain the privilege) could improve our current system. (online) (6 page pdf)

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"The Enclosure of Culture."

A stand-alone version of Chapter 3 of Common as Air, as printed in the August 2010 issue of Tin House. The essay outlines current threats to the commons of culture. (25 page pdf)

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“Advantage Google.”

A critique of the Google Book Search settlement. In 2005 American authors and publishers brought suit against Google for having digitized many in-copyright books. In 2008 the litigants asked the court to approve a settlement they had worked out. This op-ed (from the New York Times Book Review, October 4, 2009) argues that the court should reject the settlement (as in fact it did in March of 2011). (online) (3 page pdf)

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“Lessons from Robert Bly’s Barn.”

An April 2009 address given at the University of Minnesota on the occasion of the University's acquisition of Robert Bly's papers. Primarily a memoir of the teachings that Bly offered to younger poets during the 1960s, especially in regard to solitude and political poetry. (10 page pdf)

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“Karagiosis, Art Critic.”

A three-act play that amounts to a portrait of Karagiosis, the hero of Greek shadow puppet theater. Written as a catalog essay for In Praise of Shadows, an exhibition at the Benaki Museum in Athens of work by artists who use shadows and silhouettes. (11 page pdf)

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"Afterword" to the Canongate edition of The Gift.

Some of the themes of The Gift revisited through a history of support for the arts over the last half century. Written in 2006 for a new United Kingdom edition of the book. (11 page pdf)

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"Frames from the Framers: How America's Revolutionaries Imagined Intellectual Property."

The entertainment industry speaks of their products in terms of "property," "piracy," and "theft." Men like John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, on the other hand, saw the ownership of intellectual property as a form of monopoly privilege, and thought it should be limited if the new Republic wanted to have a well-informed, self-governing citizenry. Published on the web in 2005 as a "Berkman Center Research Publication" from the Harvard Law School. (Read more)

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"The Senses of Penland."

Most of us think that human beings have five senses; artist and philosopher Paulus Berensohn thinks we have sixty. This essay is the diary of a two-week visit with Berensohn and with the community around the Penland School of Crafts in Penland, North Carolina. The occasion was the seventy-fifth anniversary of the founding of Penland, and the essay appeared in their celebratory publication, The Nature of Craft and the Penland Experience (2004). (25 page pdf)

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"Prophetic Excursions."

This foreword to The Essays of Henry D. Thoreau (2002) addresses Thoreau's prophetic art and the complications that arose when it met with actual politics, the abolitionist violence of John Brown in particular. The ending is revised, and differs from the North Point Press edition. (38 page pdf)

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"Isabella's Will."

When Lee Mingwei was artist in residence at Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum he asked that Lewis Hyde write one of the catalog essays. Originally published in Lee Mingwei: The Living Room (Boston: Gardner Museum, 2000). (14 page pdf)

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"The Children of John Adams: A Historical View of the Fight Over Arts Funding."

When the private arts-funding foundation, Art Matters, decided to close its doors in the late 1990s, they commissioned a group of essays to look back on a decade of culture wars. This essay looks back even farther--to the Founders' general suspicion of patronage, to American's love of the practical and the pragmatic, and to other American themes that seem to reemerge whenever there is public debate over funding for the arts. Originally published in Art Matters: How the Culture Wars Changed America (1999). (26 page pdf)

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"Created Commons."

A look behind the myth of self-reliance, done through a description of the many ways in which Thoreau's work emerged from a wide network of family, community, and institutional supports. Includes a discussion--repeated in revised form in the new "Afterword" to The Gift--of several alternative ways to support creative artists. First published in 1998 by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, part of their Paper Series on the Arts, Culture, and Society. (The Andy Warhol Foundation)

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"Alcohol & Poetry: John Berryman and the Booze Talking."

Does John Barleycorn have a voice? This essay argues that we can hear speak in John Berryman's Dream Songs. Originally published in The American Poetry Review, October 1975. Later reprinted in The Pushcart Prize (1976), and--the version posted here--as a pamphlet from The Dallas Institute (1986). (20 page pdf)

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"Berryman Revisited."

A 1993 collection of essays on John Berryman's work included several thoughtful reflections of addiction and creativity. Responding to these gave an occasion to revisit the 1975 essay, "Alcohol & Poetry." Originally published in Recovering Berryman: Essays on a Poet. Ed. Richard J. Kelly and Alan K. Lathrop (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993). (4 page pdf)

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