Monday, May 30

Paragraphs from John Cage (c. 1966)

"When in the middle 1940's I was searching to find out why one would make a work of art in this society, I was thinking not in terms of theater, but specifically in terms of music. My search for a reason for making art came about because of this.

"I had been taught in the schools that art was a question of communication. I observed that all of the composers were writing differently. If art was communication, we were using different languages. We were, therefore, in a Tower of Babel situation where no one understood anyone else.

"So I determined either to find another reason or give up the whole business. Lou Harrison and other composers joined with me in this quest. At the same moment, a musician came from India alarmed over the influence that Western music was having on Indian traditions. She studied in a concentrated fashion with a number of teachers of Western music over a six-month period. I was with her nearly every day.

"Before she returned to India, I learned from her the traditional reason for making a piece of music in India: 'to quiet the mind thus making it susceptible to divine influences.'

"Lou Harrison, meanwhile, was reading in an old English text, I think as old as the sixteenth century, and he found this reason given for writing a piece of music: 'to quiet the mind thus making it susceptible to divine influences.'

"Now the question arises: What is a quiet mind? Then the second question arises: What are divine influences? One of the things that is happening to society now is that the East and the West no longer are separated. We are, as Fuller and McLuhan point out continually, living in a global village.

"Formerly, we thought that the Orient had nothing to do with us; that we had no access to it. We know better now. We learned from Oriental thought that those divine influences aare, in fact, the environment in which we are. A sober and quiet mind is one in which the ego does not obstruct the fluency of the things that come in through our senses and up through our dreams. Our business in living is to become fluent with the life we are living, and art can help this."

--John Cage

reprinted in *John Cage: An Anthology* ed. Richard Kostelanetz [New York: Da Capo Press, 1991]

1 comment:

Michael Andre said...

On the morning of 11 September 2001 I was in Kinko?s just north of the World Trade Center. I was Xeroxing all the material John Cage had contributed to my magazine, Unmuzzled OX. I thought it might make a good book. But there was a lot of material and it was complex. And then there was a loud noise and Kinko?s rocked. It was probably a gas explosion, I thought. Somebody had been careless. I continued Xeroxing. Cage was tricky. As I worked, I happened to glance out the window, and saw flames and smoke a few blocks south. Yes, I decided, someone had been very careless. But then there was another tremendous explosion. Not only did the building move, but rubble bounced off the shaking window. I stopped Xeroxing. You know the rest except for one thing. I?ve started a John Cage blog.

(The blog also concerns Ray Johnson.)