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Notes on Lewis Hyde

From What is Art For?
In the late 1990s, Hyde began extending his lifelong project of examining “the public life of the imagination” into what had become newly topical territory: the “cultural commons.”

a corporate “land grab” of information... has put a stranglehold on creativity, in increasingly bizarre ways.

We may believe there should be a limit on the market in cultural property, he argues, but that doesn’t mean that we have “a good public sense” of where to set that limit. Hyde’s book is, at its core, an attempt to help formulate that sense.

Hyde maintains that little of true political worth will be accomplished until the very terms of the “intellectual property” debate are changed.

“Capaciousness” is the keynote of Hyde’s own approach to the commons

Lawrence Lessig is careful to distinguish between “rivalrous” resources, like drinking water, in which one person’s use by definition competes with another’s, and “nonrivalrous” resources, like the English language, which cannot be depleted no matter how many people make use of them.

the commons can embody cherished values — indeed, cherished American values — that private property cannot.

Thinker-politicians like Jefferson, Adams and Madison were just as familiar as we are with the metaphor that likens created work to physical property, especially to a landed estate. But they thought of that landed estate in a new way — as the basis of a republic. An American’s land was his own — he owed allegiance to no sovereign — but his ownership imposed on him an almost sacred moral requirement to contribute to the public good. According to Hyde, this ethic of “civic republicanism” was the ideological engine that drove the founders’ conception of intellectual property, and to his mind, it undercuts the ethic of “commercial republicanism” that dominates our current conception of it. Our right to property is not absolute; our possessions are held in trust, as it were. Seen through the prism of early civic Republicanism, Hyde asks, what might the creative self look like? Do we imagine that self as “solitary and self-made”? Or as “collective, common and interdependent”?

“It takes a capacious mind to play host to … others and to find new ways to combine what they have to offer,” Hyde writes, “but not a mind for whom there are no masters, not a ‘unique.’ Quite the opposite — this is a mind willing to be taught, willing to be inhabited, willing to labor in the cultural commons.”

‘Yesterday I read in a book somebody stating very well an idea I had myself, and I felt glad that I was not alone, and that my ideas were not my ideas.’

his intellectual life was chaotic with debts, influences and fellow travelers.