Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A Cage


Random emphatics out of the eponymous piece of Morton Feldman’s Give My Regards to Eighth Street, (Exact Change) likely the most gratifying book for thinking about art (music, poetry) and what art (music, poetry) does I’ve ever broken the spine of. (The humidity bloats me into such pronouncements, and such metonymy.)
Not long ago I saw the Elgin Marbles. I didn’t faint, as they say Shelley did, but I certainly had to sit down. Nothing knocks us out like this anonymity—the beauty without a biography. The artist himself loves the idea. What artist hasn’t longed to get away from the human effort he puts into his work? What artist doesn’t have the illusion that the Greeks did their work without human effort? Even the “timelessness” of Giacometti seems to us more a reference to a buried civilization that to a buried colleague. [The anonymous redactor here adds: whose art, today, moreso than Giacometti’s, appears rooted irretrievably in a particular “time,” that of the post-war “existential” fifties. It seems inalterably insane to project eternity in G.’s direction from the smug vantage point of these ’thousands, no? And, certes, our own most apt “verities,” eternal-minded or not, will suffer the same tarring by time’s splendid brush . . . and thank God for that.] Nietzsche with his Greeks, John Cage with his Zen—always this need for an idealized, depersonalized art.

. . . The critic’s ideal has always been the process without the artist. If it wasn’t Classicism, it was Expressionism or Cubism—whatever it is, the artist gets in his way. More and more today there is this feeling of “By all means, let’s have art, but no names, please.”

But the fifties in New York have to do with names, names, names. That’s why they’re worth writing about.
And (about John Cage, apparent natural boy-wonder of chance operations):
John and I spent a lot of time playing cards. One afternoon my friend Daniel Stern came over with a pair of dice. John came down immediately, and we told him how the game was played. John made his first throw standing up and just dropping the dice to the floor. We explained the procedure was to bend your knees as far down as possible, then throw the dice. This he did. He also started to shake them (we hadn’t told him to do that), and before letting them go he cried out, to our amazement. “Baby needs a new pair of shoes.”