Monday, July 09, 2012

Where the Heart Beats 7

Chapter 6, "Ego Noise (1950-1951)" begins the second section of the book, where the mountains are no longer mountains. Many characters are introduced, and I'm noticing a pattern in these introductions that gets annoying in its repetitiveness. A leap back in time to show the origins of a particular character's interest in Zen, or in contemporary music, or in contemporary art, traced forwards to that character's meeting with one of the more major figures of the book. I'm also annoyed by the shifts between past and present tense, often within the same paragraph. Speaking of ego noise, these imperfections pull me out of a merged contemplation with the subject, instead becoming aware of the writing as writing, rather than as ideas expressed. This is also the problem with the structure, such as on page 193. This was the end of a fascinating description of Cage's fourth lecture of "Empty Words" at the Naropa Buddhist Center in Colorado. The quotes by Cage disrupt the narrative, muddying the idea that the Buddhist leader, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, had liked the confrontation of ego noise spurred by Cage's lecture performance. The author both clouds the punchline, and avoids addressing Cage's misunderstanding of his audience and Trungpa's delight in ego noise. Why is this ego noise good, if the goal is to avoid ego noise? Why doesn't Cage appreciate this ego noise? Why is the audience stupid for not being part of Cage's journey through Thoreau? (I'm using questions, just as the author likes to do when discussing Zen.) That last question reflects my frustration with Cage. He wants to create music that opens the mind, but he is unwilling to provide the same help that he got in his own spiritual journey. The four lectures go through a process of winnowing Thoreau's words, what Cage envisioned as clouds dissipating. But he got to see the beautiful cloud shapes first, before they dissolved. By delivering only the fourth lecture, Cage was doing the equivalent of showing a picture of a tiny wisp of cloud and saying, "look at that beautiful big shape!" I'm very intrigued by the lectures, but I feel that Cage was not only disinterested, but also indifferent to the audience. From page 136:
His music was headed toward disinterestedness – which is not "indifference," the word that keeps cropping up in academic writing on Cage. From the standpoint of spiritual practice, the two words having nothing in common. Indifference borders on nihilism. It has a quality of "not caring." It is "apathetic." It expresses corrosive cynicism. Ultimately, it is poisonous, both to the practitioner and to the culture as a whole."
It may not be that Cage didn't care about the audience, but perhaps was showing his own stupidity in not understanding their needs. He even faced away from them during the performance, creating more and more barriers to their understanding. Either way, he demonstrated a mighty ego in criticizing their responses as "stupid criticisms." Yes, the audience showed signs of closed-mindedness, but so did Cage in his own responses.

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