When Vietnamese refugees settled in Southern California they found its culture toxic to something they had always taken for granted, their family life. It’s a free country, you can do what you want: get married, get divorced, settle down, leave town, ski, farm, talk on the radio, buy the radio; the problem is to find someone to do it with. In this old lovers’ quarrel between liberty and community, Westerners are those who defend freedom and long for attachment. The tone of country-and-western music must be the American complement to blue-jeans mania in the East. In the typical country song, a man is driving his Studebaker away from a bad marriage, toward the lights of town; or else he’s working in the car factory in Detroit, all alone and pining for his home in the mountains. The truck drivers who figure so largely in these songs are a perfect image of commodity incarnate: free as a bird and lonesome.


The conflict between freedom and the bonds that gifts establish is not absolute, of course. To begin with, gifts do not bring us attachment unless they move us. Manners or social pressure may oblige us to those for whom we feel no true affection, but neither obligation nor civility leads to lasting unions. It is when someone’s gifts stir us that we are brought close, and what moves us, beyond the gift itself, is the promise (or the fact) of transformation, friendship, and love.

88-89. Hyde, Lewis. The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World. (viagallery221)