The Cultural Commons and Collective Being
Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar
Monday, February 18, 2013 | 4:30 pm, Porter Hall #100
Lewis Hyde, Richard L. Thomas Professor of Creative Writing, Kenyon College
In this lecture Lewis Hyde offers a defense of our cultural commons, that vast store of art and ideas we have inherited from the past and continue to enrich in the present. Suspicious of the current idea that all creative work is "intellectual property," Hyde turns to America's founders—men like Franklin, Adams, Madison, and Jefferson—in search of other ways to imagine the fruits of human wit and imagination. What he ends up describing is a rich tradition in which knowledge was assumed to be a commonwealth, not a private preserve.
For the founders, democratic self-governance itself demanded open and easy access to ideas. So did the growth of creative communities like that of eighteenth-century science. And so did the flourishing of public persons, the very actors whose "civic virtue" brought the nation into being.
The lecture elaborates especially this final point, that we need to understand the creative self in its collectivity rather than its individuality, and illustrates the case with examples ranging from Benjamin Franklin's refusal to patent his own inventions to the young Bob Dylan's acknowledged debts to the American folk tradition.
Lewis Hyde is a poet, essayist, translator, and cultural critic with a particular interest in the public life of the imagination. He teaches during the fall semesters at Kenyon College, where he is the Richard L. Thomas Professor of Creative Writing. He is a former director of undergraduate creative writing at Harvard and currently a faculty associate at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Chosen a MacArthur fellow in 1991, he is the recipient of grants from the NEH, the NEA, the Lannan Foundation, and the Guggenheim Foundation. He is the author of The Gift, an inquiry into the situation of creative artists in a commercial society; Trickster Makes This World, a book about the value of disruptive imagination; and Common as Air, a defense of our “cultural commons.” His poetry and essays have appeared in numerous journals, including the Kenyon Review, the American Poetry Review, the Paris Review, and the Nation.