On Generosity

What does it mean to be generous towards something — towards a book, an idea, a work of art, even a person?

It doesn't mean liking that thing. On the contrary, it means putting judgment aside in order to engage the thing, consider the thing, take it on, take it up. And what can be more generous than that? To consider something entails a certain intimacy, letting it play across you, with your ideas and memories, your blood and tissue and muscle. Generosity entails lending something else your body to see how it plays with your system, how it sets and where it settles — its speeds and intensities, its desires and drives, its shapes and trajectories.

And this means letting this thing have its way rather than making it conform to your pre-established ideals. Needless to say, you will make it conform to you. How could it be any other way? An engagement with the world is singular: this going with that, you going with that book, that word, that photograph. But this is different than making it conform before its had a chance to speak, before its made its way. The best reading is a co-operative event, you and thing together making something new: you take the thing somewhere it didn't know it could go and it returns the favor.

Letting something have its way demands great trust. And so this is another aspect of generosity: assuming the best from something. That is, rather than looking for how something fails, why it sucks, why you hate it, you look for what's great, what's interesting, what has possibility. Why spend your time, your energy, talking about something you don't enjoy, you don't respect? What a perverse thing to do! Generous reading seeks to proliferate a thing, make it as interesting and wondrous as possible! It doesn't reduce; it multiplies.

And, well, if you don't like something, put it down — stop eating, shut the book, leave the theater, click to another page. Life is too fucking short to spend it with shite.

Shed the shite! (Ok, ok: I'm a fan of Irving Welsh's, ergo, "shite.")

Does this mean there's no place for what seems to be negative critique? Does this mean you can't stand up every now and again and say, "This sucks shit"?

Well, I say: if you can walk away, walk away. Better to use your attention, your energy, your vitality on something that makes you more attentive, more energetic, more vital — on something that propels you in the healthiest, most robust fashion possible.

And for those things from which you cannot so simply walk away — things like capitalism — well, I say that in the spirit of generosity, try to make your critique as interesting and nasty as possible.


Anonymous said...

this piece has been galvanizing my thought processes all weekend

Daniel Coffeen said...

I hope that's a good thing! Thanks for commenting, either way.....

drwatson said...

This is not meant to be melodramatic: but it can't help but to be.

My town had a tornado recently and my parents house and their nursery were just devastated. I mean it's bad - the worse thing I've seen with my own eyes.

And I got there as early as I could after police let people in that part of town and there were like 30 people already there. And not just people in town, but nurseries from near-by towns brought work crews, loaders, dump-trucks and so forth.

They were not nurseries that were in a capitalistic state of competition. They were people who were networked. And honestly it was the most moving example of generosity I've ever seen face to face. It was beautifully sad - like Picasso's Blue Nude, but way more meaningful, because this was more real than art. (And I don't think I've ever thought of anything being more real than art.)

And I feel weird about posting this because I'm not looking for sympathy. I just couldn't not respond because I've been thinking about nothing but generosity all day.

Daniel Coffeen said...

@ DrW: Well, all I can say is: beautiful, truly. Not melodramatic at all — just beautiful. Thank you.

Pierre said...

Imagine you are in a small village, far from megalopole lights and numerous possibilities of interaction. This village is not so lost, most of the guys are not alcoholic (france), most of the guys don't go to church between two fox tv broadcast (us). The place is nice, discrete landscapes are well worked by generatiins of inhabitants who put some trees there to surprise future inhabitants at the corner of a narrow roads ( france, again). Imagine that, like in contemporary myths, the poorest guy of the village nevertheless watch public brodcast with intellectuals arguing on social matters, far from his every day life, just to know a little about the world he generally only knows by the little stream at the end of the raod.

Imagine you have only one world which can be reached, and that this village world, lost in french country side is nevertheless ok.

You can't switch in this situation. It's not possible to say, ok, let's switch to something else.

And in this case your generosity has to deal with the day after. And you have sometimes to go to the end point your generosity leads you, or just preserve your own integrity when you don't want to deal any more, but, in this case, old rules of sociability helps you stay friend even being more distant.

What I mean is that you can imagine generosity with out existential fear of the lost.