Sunday, November 16, 2008


There’s a fascinating article in this week's Sunday N.Y. Times magazine about poet and essayist Lewis Hyde, whom I had never heard of, despite the fact that he’s regarded as one of the most “illuminating, transformative, and completely original” writers of our age. The article was enough to get me out to the bookstore last night to find a copy of Hyde’s extended essay on Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World, entitled The Gift. It’s been a while since I have been as blown away by a book as I have been by this one. I’ve been reading with a highlighter and colored pens in my hand, and though I’ve only read 60 pages or so since last night, the book is already becoming well worn.

The other day I put together a post reflecting on elegance as a criterion for evaluating creativity. In his introduction to The Gift, Hyde suggests another, one suggested by the word inspiration, the etymology of which is from the Latin “spiro,” to breathe. Thus to breathe in, or, as Hyde puts it, quoting Lawrence, to have something breathed into oneself, “the wind that blows through me”:

As the artist works, some portion of his creation is bestowed upon him. An idea pops into his head, a tune begins to play, a phrase comes to mind, a color falls in place on the canvas. Usually, in fact, the artist does not find himself engaged or exhilarated by the work, not does it seem authentic, until this gratuitous element has appeared, so that along with any true creation comes the uncanny sense that "I," the artist, did not make the work. "Not I, not I, but the wind that blows through me," says D.H. Lawrence. Not all artists emphasize the "gift" phase of their creations to the degree that Lawrence does, but all artists feel it.

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