The consuming fire to create
November 18, 2007

 Please know that I question Cage’s theories as much as anyone else. They don’t work for me. And I do not equate artistic passion with Fascism.

Many composers feel a sort of consuming fire to create, myself included. But for the first couple decades after the war, the role of the artist in society was deeply questioned, including their propensity toward obsessive, idealized passions about their work. (This questioning was probably much more common in Europe than in the States, because Europeans suffered far more from the war, and were directly involved in its crimes.) It was in that climate that Cage drew his conclusions about intentionality, syntax, and will (or radical will) in art. People were horrified at what Western culture had produced, and were looking for entirely new definitions of what art and artists could be.

Cage usually addressed issues like these in vague terms, such as when he said he heard the sounds of marching drums in words. If I remember right, he was also referring to something similar that Thoreau said. I think Cage found something authoritarian, not only in Western music, but even in language itself.

You might be interested in this quote of Carl Jung, who was anything but a Nazi:

“The artist’s life cannot be otherwise than full of conflicts, for two forces are at war within him – on the one hand the common human longing for happiness, satisfaction and security in life, and on the other a ruthless passion for creation which may go so far as to override every personal desire. There are hardly any exceptions to the rule that a person must pay dearly for the divine gift of creative fire.”

I think a lot of us know what Jung was talking about. And I think most of us also know there are times when these passions can go terribly wrong. Examples range from the old obsessively abusive conductors and composers, to musicians destroying their bodies through obsessive practicing, to driven musicians suffering drug addictions, to artists like Van Gogh who cut off his ear and then killed himself. The “ruthless passion for creation” can be a burden for which we can indeed “pay dearly.”

Anyway, I think we might see how someone like Cage might have searched for another model, especially in the first couple decades after the war.

Just one other thought, I don’t have a problem with Ryan’s posts. He often takes rather idiosyncratic stances on issues, but they are just ideas. No reason to get one’s blood pressure up. If you think Ryan's bad, you ain't seen nothin' yet. :-)

William Osborne

Sunday, November 18, 2007, 10:44:08 AM