Giving to Get:
2,037 Words on Generosity et al.

“Generosity is nothing else than a craze to possess. All which I abandon, all which I give, I enjoy in a higher manner through the fact that I give it away.” Jean-Paul Sartre

Generous (as it appeared in the 1947 edition of Funk & Wagnalls New Standard Dictionary of the English Language):

1. Giving or bestowing heartily and munificently; freely and self-sacrificingly liberal; munificent; as, a generous contributor.

2. Having noble qualities; honorable; high-minded; as, a generous nature.

3. Characterized by fullness or liberality; abundant; overflowing; large; bountiful; as generous fare.

4. Of good descent: said either of men or of animals; thoroughbred; hence spirited; 
courageous; mettlesome; as, a generous steed.

5. Having stimulating qualities; strong; as, generous wine.

Use generous or generosity in 3 overblown sentences that apply to art: 

1. The actor's lack of generosity betrayed an equivalent lack of commitment to the scene.

2. Each sentence moves with generosity, as though compassionately bled from the author over several years in such a way that it cost an equivalent number of years from her life. 

3. Instead of relying on closed circles of encrypted iconography, a generous dialogue of color and rhythm was deployed in pastel acrylics and rattlesnake tails.

Aurora Borealis, The Icy Skies at Night
On November 20, 1999, a search for free yielded 23,666,150 web sites (granted, most of these are free hardcore sex chats/dog-sex pics with teenage lesbian chycks & Dobermans from Malaysia). A search for motivation yielded 801,720 items, most of which were inspirational messages meant to most effectively maximize will-power amperage. I tried motive and only got 452,447. A search for generous spat out 594,262 items, mostly restaurants bragging about their portions. A search for generosity churned up 176,270 items, including this encouraging message of the spirit. I deduce that fish are always more interested in the wiggling lure than all that stuff about who’s holding the rod. I will not attempt to offer statistical analysis, however. 

How to Improve the Inevitable Xmas? If Santa Claus were to consider covering his suit, his sled, his elves, his Mrs. Claus, and his reindeer in corporate logos, the potential advertising income would be tremendous. His generosity would probably enable him to emerge into reality, and all the boys and girls, men and women, would get everything they wanted thanks to corporate sponsorship.

Owners! Listen up.
Bob Thompson recently weather sealed the blacktop on his asphalt and paving business in Belleville, Michigan, selling it for $422 million. He took $128 million and dished it out among his employees. Hourly employees received $2,000 for each year worked and salaried employees welcomed between one and two million dollars. He says it was the right thing to do. No dispute here. 

Give Me All Your Money 
Bill Gates always threatens to generously unleash many several billion dollars on the world. Apparently he’s uneasy about raising a supremely privileged monster child. He’s also thinking about world envy, trying to avoid the Montgomery Burns, scepter-wielding, mean and equally omnivorous rich man pose the world wants him to strike (and has already superimposed over his body despite smiling PR photos). People devote time to this.

Is philanthropy good business sense? Buy a halo. Charm the world. Register at if you're interested in getting on the receiving end of his generosity. Count eyes. Sell advertising. Would you register your e-mail address and fill out an intrusive survey on if you got a chance to get in on the smallest fraction of Gates’ wealth? He could make a few million in the process of giving away a few billion. Resolved: a few people would give Gates everything they had to be the last person in the receiving line. The underlying idea is clear: Give a little today. Receive more tomorrow. 

I Have A Question 
In all the reviews I read of David Foster Wallace’s recently published “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men,” I haven’t read a discussion of generosity. (My motivation for searching through the articles is simple: I wanted a reviewer to validate my thoughts, and if none did, I wanted to express this idea of generosity and make it accessible to, like, set everything straight.) Reviewers of Mr. Wallace’s latest book often mention “sex” and “alienation” and the “war-of-the-sexes,” or they wax absolutely pathetically about how DFW’s characters “exemplify what can go wrong in a society when the romance of individualism turns inward and loosens restraints.” Survey says? XXX. (These signify “three strikes” and not the previously mentioned teen/dog sex pics; most of DFW’s reviewers would probably mistake XXX for pornographic content just as they mistook the book to be primarily about society’s “hideous” obsession with sex.)

Allow me to extend the fishing analogy past breaking: reviewers of “Brief Interviews With Hideous Men” have been like shallowstream-running fishies that swallowed the lure and died belly-up rather than getting snagged and eaten by the author. Or if the reviewers are fishing they’re pulling up nasty cartilaginous skates from obtuse angles. Here’s the problem: reviewers don’t seem to come up with the right question. (One of the coolest formal contrivances in the book is that the “brief interviews” are in question-and-answer format, but they lack explicit questions: there’s just empty space for the reader to fill-in after Q and before A). As in Jeopardy, Wallace (a hyperliterate Alex Trebek) supplies the reader (the contestant) with a 273-page question. Now I have the opportunity to buzz in, my question to the overriding response of “Brief Interviews With Hideous Men” is four-fold: “How is generosity manipulative? What are the dynamics of give-and-take, giving and receiving? How does motivation complicate generosity? How are these complications played out in daily lives?”

One chapter, “The Devil is A Busy Man,” comes in two installments. In the first, a redneck narrator’s father tries to give away the space-wasting contents of his machine shed/cellar. He even puts a “Free Stuff” ad in the local Trading Post, but no one takes anything until he affixes $5 and $10 tags to the old JC Penny Sleep Sofa and Old Harrow With Some Teeth a Little Rusted. People lap it all up and drive away “tickled to death to get a harrow for next to nothing.” (For extra credit: draw parallels between this story and Kafka’s “In the Penal Colony.” The sin is written across one’s back by a harrow.) The son asks the father the moral of the story and the father tells him he guesses “you don’t try to teach a pig to sing.” In the second story, a man anonymously “diverts” money to friends in need and justifies this anonymity thusly: “A lack of namelessness on my part would destroy the ultimate value of the nice gesture.” His “motivation” would be “not generosity, but desiring gratitude, affection, and approval.” The narrator meets with the recipients of the anonymous gift and refuses to acknowledge that he gave the much-needed money to them. The recipients gush about how thankful they are and the narrator dives into how the gift will help them (ie, the recipients), and he suddenly realizes that these words reveal his true motive to the recipients. Then he immediately spirals down into a despairing realization that his generosity has been emptied of any sincere good by his deception driven by motivation to receive something in return: “My attempts to sincerely be what someone would classify as truly a ‘nice’ or ‘good’ person . . . despairingly, cast me in a light to myself which could only be classified as ‘dark,’ ‘evil,’ or ‘beyond hope of ever sincerely becoming good.’”

There are more instances of this ping-ponging dynamic that I won’t go into now. The devil is a busy man because secular pigs believe “next to nothing” is more valuable than nothing. The devil is a busy man because there is little hope to live beyond motivation. I ain’t preaching, but check out Genesis: God gave Eve to Adam and then Satan gave Eve an apple. The first gift ends solitude, setting the stage for the tumbling interworkings of give-and-take; the second gift (Satan’s) is a temptation. It’s manipulative generosity. Light and darkness have been in perpetual round long before Milton. Ultimately I think the way out of this labyrinthine ball is to be good without being sincere. And the easiest way to not have to worry about being sincere is to do something for profit. That way there’s no despair. Income fills the moral cavity. Go outside, breath the open air, and buy DFW’s book at a local independent bookstore. Help everybody out. Get what you pay for. If the major chains have vanquished your area’s indy booksellers, however, go get it in the traditional way

Generosity on the Web 
Enter the Internet. For less than a dollar a day, there is a lot (understatement) of accessible free shit. The Internet is a massive storehouse of generosity. Open the eye sockets wide: they’re giving it away more than ever. The larger sites provide free services like e-mail addresses and free gifts to get more eyes coming and returning to the page, upping the click count, bringing in advertising. (The fact that a few people are still actually employed supporting these sites attests that generosity is profitable.) Advertising-driven content isn’t anything new; we’ve always had radio and television. The newness of the Internet, however, is it’s democratization of generosity. Now everyone can give away anything imaginable. On a much smaller scale than Gates or Bob Thompson, we the commoners can share whatever wealth we may have. Internal bullshit checker beeps. Tells me to backtrack and obfuscate my banal web hippiness. In the immortal words of the Sun City Girls: “Peace, love, freedom, happiness, blah, blah, blah  . . . Fuck ‘em down a one-way throat, I deal a stick. Yeah, I deal a stick. You better believe it.” 

Eyeshot's Motivation
Eyeshot's got a lot of generosity going on. Who knows how many pages (several hundred at least) of very printable fiction. What’s our motivation? To charge the world with purpose? Is the impact of misplaced sexual energy to blame? Or is it just the self-flagellating thrill of spending time and money? The unavoidable agony of self-promotion? Am I addicted to flipping bits of saliva off my tongue and seeing tiny prisms within the dew-like beads on my computer screen? Or is it something totally complex and all-inclusively existentially cluttered?

According to Vince Passaro's article in the August 1999 Harper's, "With the Internet comes the possibility of such an inexpensive distribution system of large blocks of language that writing essentially will become volunteer work, and similiarly oriented toward triage for victims of our culture." Name a better virture than patching up all those flushed down America's vortex of pop. Eyeshot attempts to provide an admirable service: administering literature to all those in need.

Two years ago I was leaving the country for a few years to travel and teach English in South America. I’d slung barbecued briskets in Austin for around $6 an hour (started at $4.75) and then wrapped and shipped rare books for an antiquarian bookstore in Boston. I didn’t know how to turn a computer on. I used an old Smith Corona word processor, and wrote shitty Wallace Stevens-inspired poems in notebooks, not to mention dozens of pathologically disturbed rants that reflected the state of my psyche. I’m feeling much better thank you. I’ve come a long way in two years, thanks to the generosity of one of my pals who hooked me up with the second-hand computer I’m typing this on now, and thanks to The Barcelona Review that got me interested in the legitimate literary potential of the Web by publishing a story of mine entitled Here's Something I've Typed Up So If One Day You're Staring At the Center of My Face and Feel Compelled To Ask I Can Just Hand You This and Thereby Avoid Losing All Sorts of Valuable Soul Points

Maybe the real motivation for all this is that we want others to equally enjoy what we enjoy. Maybe launching Eyeshot was just the right thing to do. Or maybe it’s just about enjoying what we get from giving. I’m not sure where any of this leaves us. As my grandfather used to say, pushing the words out through much raspy phlegm, dismissing everything with a wave of an arthritic hand, “Ahhcch . . . Who the hell knows?”

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