Somewhere between a transcendent purpose and demoralizing charity…
“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.” Thomas Jefferson
“The citizen called into being by a republic of freehold farms, is close cousin to the writer who built himself that cabin at Walden Pond. But along with such mainstream icons goes a shadow tradition, the one that made Jefferson skeptical of patents, the one that made even Thoreau argue late in life that every ‘town should have … a primitive forest …, where a stick should never be cut for fuel, a common possession forever,’ the one that led the framers of the Constitution to balance ‘exclusive right’ with ‘limited times.’ It is a tradition worth recovering.” Lewis Hyde
The contemporary threat to civilization is characterized by a declining commons, and it is two-fold:
1. Our common natural resources have been denigrated and destroyed.
2. Our cultural commons are severely jeopardized by corporate and individual greed in the form of copyright and intellectual property restrictions.
Although seemingly unrelated, these trends run along a poetic parallel with an increasing intensity in our state of Western hyper-capitalism.
Light has killed the night. Patents for plants. They own the spectrum, our stories our songs…
We are living through the anthropocene, and the global ecological disasters humans have wrought are now self-evident. Less clear, perhaps, is how a similar disregard for a healthy public sphere of culture affects us. All knowledge, and especially that manifest as material culture (such as works of art), derives its potency in exchange, compounds its power through collaboration and only proves valuable over time with successive reworkings. As such, the imperative to protect our cultural commons springs from the same simple logic that compels us to restore our earthly resources and preserve what remains of our natural public commons. Just as we have all lost the darkness of night, there is no good without a common good.
For Hyde, redressing the balance between private (corporate, individual) and common (public) interests depends not just on effective policy but also on recovering the idea of the cultural commons as a deeply American concept. To that end, he excavates a history of the American imagination in which the emphasis is not on the lone genius (Thoreau scribbling hermetically in the Massachusetts woods) but on the anonymous pamphleteer, the inventor eager to share his discoveries.
An impressive project with deep theoretical implications, or at least deeply psychedelic imagery.
More information on Nikolas Schiller, here.
Selections from Los Angeles, often wrapping and weaving the interchanges in ways that simulate the circuitous navigation of this city’s commutes.