Lewis Hyde has some wonderful reflections on the “labor of gratitude” in his The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property (47-51): With “transformative gifts,” the recipient of the gift “feels gratitude. I would like to speak of gratitude as a labor undertaken by the soul to effect the transformation after a gift has been received. Between the time a gift comes to us and the time we pass it along, we suffer gratitude. Moreover, with gifts that are agents of change, it is only when the gift has worked in us, only when we have come up to its level, as it were, that we can give it away again. Passing the gift along is the act of gratitude that finishes the labor. The transformation is not accomplished until we have the power to give the gift on our own terms. Therefore, the end of the labor of gratitude is similarity with the gift or with its donor. Once this similarity has been achieved we may feel a lingering and generalized gratitude, but we won’t feel it with the urgency of true indebtedness.”
Again, “The labor or gratitude is the middle term in the passage of a gift. It is wholly different from the ‘obligation’ we feel when we accept something we don’t really want. (An obligation may be discharged by an act of will.) A gift that has the power to change us awakens a part of the soul. But we cannot receive the gift until we can meet it as an equal. We therefore submit to the labor of becoming like the gift. Giving a return gift is the final act in the labor or gratitude, and it is also, therefore, the true acceptance of the original gift.”
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Saturday, June 30, 2012 at 8:14 pm
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