Wednesday, April 18, 2007

John Cage (Picture from www.culturevulture.net)

The Contemporary comparative Euro-Asian Studies Research Group
Sir John Cass
department of Art, Media and Design,
London Metropolitan University
Comment on the discussion of John Cage’s lecture on nothing, 5 March 2007

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Nothingness is a key concept in the ontology of Mahayana Buddhism; the teaching can be traced from the Prajna Paramita Hridaya Sutra, commonly known as Heart Sutra, which contains about 600 scrolls that make up the Maha Prajna Paramita. Presumably this is the oldest Mahayana texts that originated from India around the time of Christ.

This is an extract from the Heart Sutra translated into English by Edward Conze, it goes like this:

Here, Sariputra, form is emptiness and the very emptiness is form; emptiness does not differ from form, form does not differ from emptiness; whatever is form, that is emptiness, whatever is emptiness, that is form, the same is true of feelings, perceptions, impulses and consciousness.

Many Chinese Buddhism writings claim that, 色se即ji是shi空kong,空kong即ji是shi色se,色se不bu异yi空kong,空kong不bu异yi色se, (in English which means form is emptiness, emptiness is form, form does not differ from emptiness, emptiness does not differ from form) is also came from the Heart Sutra. This sentence often being misinterpreted not only by the West but also a large proportion of Chinese speaking society. The West likes to interpret emptiness as void and see the doctrine as a form of nihilism. And, the East often relates it to sexuality because the word 色 can also mean wanton.

Emptiness which translated from the Sanskrit word Sunyata (Sunnata in Pali) does not mean void, there are neither two separate individual nor the opponent. In fact, emptiness and form is like both sides of the same coin, there are in one. What is the sound of one hand clapping? We need both left and right hands, or clapped on a surface to produce sound. D.T Suzuki once said:

“As long as man is the work of nature and the even the work of God, what he does, what he makes, can not altogether be despised as material and contrasted to the so-called spiritual. Somehow it must be material-spiritual or spiritual-material, with the hyphen between these two terms – spiritual not divided from material, material not severed from spiritual but both combined, as we read, with a hyphen.”

Does this mirrors the phrase emptiness is form, form is emptiness? Shall we say form – emptiness or emptiness – form like Suzuki’s description above? Can we accept that the idea of emptiness and form, spiritual and material, positive and negative are comparable examples of “oneness”? Somehow, these exist interdependently like the interconnection between people and materials; everything is part of something else.

Thanks to Professor Brian Falconbridge taking nearly 30 minutes of his concentration to read through the whole of Cage text from Lecture on Nothing (5 March 2007). Cage attended D.T Suzuki’s lectures at the Columbia University and had several private talks with him. His interest in nothingness or emptiness may be stemmed from his long interest in Zen Buddhism, Cage said in his autobiographical statement:

“It was also at the Cornish School that I became aware of Zen Buddhism, which later, as part of oriental philosophy, took the place for me of psychoanalysis. (…) In the late thirties I heard a lecture by Nancy Wilson Ross on Dada and Zen. I mentioned this in my forward to Silence then adding that I did not want my work blamed on Zen, though I felt that Zen changes in different times and places and what it has become here and now, I am not certain. Whatever it is it gives me delight and most recently by means of Stephen Addiss’ book The Art of Zen. I had the good fortune to attend Daisetz Suzuki’s classes in the philosophy of Zen Buddhism at Columbia University in the late forties. And I visited him twice in Japan.”

In my opinion, Cage’s lecture on nothing works like a modern day apocalypse. He grabbed and pulls down our veils to reveal our nervousness when thing falling in silent or when we stop for a moment just doing nothing, for instant going for a purposeless walk. In the world of needs, production and consumption where time is often being seen as money, almost everything we do must be justified and purpose fulfilling. The uncomfortable repetition of words like “nothing to say” and going no where of the lyric make the pulse of the listeners grow quicker and they begin to hear the sound of their blood stream. It is like Cage described he notice that silence was not the absence of sound but was the unintended operation of his nervous system and the circulation of his blood that led him to compose 4’33’’. Fortunately for Cage, he was able to understand nothingness in which a space of silence is needed in order for our mind to cast the rhythm of the ignored commonplace sound. Thus, Cage also saw the point of Rauschenberg’s White Painting in which it allows dust, shadows, insects etc to land on it to take its form; Cage also claimed that White painting inspired 4’33’’.

Listened to Cage’s Lecture on Nothing reminded me Suzuki’s lecture in London for the World Congress of Faiths, 9 July 1936. He was asked to contribute a topic on The Supreme Spiritual ideal. Instead of going on talking about the supreme spiritual ideal, Suzuki humbly said in his lecture:

“When I was first asked to talk about the Supreme Spiritual Ideal I did not exactly know what to answer. Firstly, I am just a simple-minded country-man from a far corner of the world suddenly thrust into the midst of this hustling city of London, and I am bewildered and my mind refuses to work in the same way that it does when I am in my own land. Secondly, how can a humble person like myself talk about such a grand assembly of people, everyone of whom looks to me to be wise and intelligent, knowing everything that is under the sun? I am ashamed that I have somehow been made to stand here. The first mistake was committed when I left Japan.”[1]

Instead of going on talking about the supreme ideal of spirituality for hour, he went on to talk about common things in everyday life. However as he was talking through the almost nothing, but just everyday trivial, there was supreme spiritual to be grasped. The listeners have to be capable to understand it was something in Suzuki’s nothingness speech in order to learn the “Supreme Spiritual ideal”.Lecture on Nothing too. Cage’s lecture also reminded me when the Buddhist monks holding and repeatedly going through a bead chain in one hand and chanting the phase 南無阿彌陀佛 (the pronunciation in English is Namo a mi tuo fo)[2]. The chanting going no where but the chanter sitting still and patiently repeat the same phrase over and over again.
And, this is reflected in Cage’s

I also recognise that there is a connection between 2001 Tuner prize winner Martin Creed’s work about nothingness and Cage’s nothingness. Creed made these comments on his 1993 Blu-Tack-piece:

“I was taken with the idea of using the sticky substance, but had nothing to actually put up with it - so I just displayed the Blu-Tack. (…) I have nothing in particular to say. (...) I find it a lot easier if it [the work] negates itself at the same time as pushing itself forward--so there's an equal positive and negative which adds up to nothing, but at the same time is something too."

Odawa is a three piece band features Martin Creed (guitar, voice), Keiko Owada (bass, voice) and Adam Mcewen (drums). They produced their debut CD album Nothing which contains 23 tracks representative of their live set. It is said that Nothing “long on songs and short on shit. (…) without using too many notes and with hardly any superfluous words, Owada break music down and build it up to make funny and straight, sad and happy songs. The album has its low and its high, and through thick and thin, big songs and small, it takes the rough with the smooth heavy-handedly and with a lightness of touch.” I think I am going no where without ending my text with the lyrics of these 23 tracks in their album:

hello (0:45)

hello
hello
hello
hello
hello
hello
hello
hello

1234 (0:15)

one two three four
one two three four
one two three four
one two three four
one two three four

thirty thirty (2:20)

one two three four five six seven
eight nine ten eleven twelve thir-
teen fourteen fifteen sixteen se-
venteen eighteen nineteen twenty
twenty-one twenty-two twenty-
three twenty-four twenty-five twen-
ty-six twenty-seven twenty-
eight twenty-nine thirty thirty

three four eight nine leven twelve thir
one twen three twen twenty-five twen
twenty eight twen thirty thirty
teen fif venteen nineteen twenty

one twen three twen twenty-five twen
three four eight nine leven twelve thir
teen fif venteen nineteen twenty
twenty eight
twen thirty thirty

one two three four five six seven
eight nine ten eleven twelve thir-
teen fourteen fifteen sixteen se-
venteen eighteen nineteen twenty
twenty-one twenty-two twenty-
three twenty-four twenty-five twen-
ty-six twenty-seven twenty-
eight twenty-nine thirty thirty

the new instrumental one (1:53)

no words

short g (0:08)

feeling blue (3:02)

I'm feeling low
I'm feeling down
I'm feeling blue
I'm feeling brown

I'm feeling orange
I'm feeling green
I'm feeling purple
I'm feeling cream

I'm feeling scarlet
I'm feeling loose
I'm feeling maroon
I'm feeling puce

I'm feeling black
I'm feeling dead
I'm feeling yellow
I'm feeling red

I'm feeling pink
I'm feeling light
I'm feeling buff
I'm feeling white

I'm feeling up
I'm feeling bright
I'm feeling clear
I'm feeling alright

I'm feeling off-white
I'm feeling grey
I'm feeling mixed-up
I'm feeling okay

up + down (0:48)

short g (0:05)

not yours (4:38)

and here and there and when
here and there and when and

and where and now and then
where and now and then and

not mine not yours not ours
mine not yours not ours not

not theirs not always not never
theirs not always not never not

but who but what but how
who but what but how but

but why but yes but no
why but yes but no but

or me or you or us
me or you or us or

or them or all or none
them or all or none or

up yours up mine up ours
yours up mine up ours up

up theirs up now up then
theirs up now up then up

circle (2:45)

Stephen Willats thought that
Art & Language were ripping him off
Art & Language thought that
Joseph Kosuth was ripping them off
Joseth Kosuth thought that
Lawrence Wiener was ripping him off
on a recent trip to London
Lawrence Wiener saw a show by Stephen Willats
he said
fuck me this guy's ripping me off

30 seconds with the lights off (0:31)

black rectangle

1-100 (1:22)

one
two
three
four
five
six
seven
eight
nine
ten
eleven
twelve
thirteen
fourteen
fifteen
sixteen
seventeen
eighteen
nineteen
twenty
twenty-one
twenty-two
twenty-three
twenty-four
twenty-five
twenty-six
twenty-seven
twenty-eight
twenty-nine
thirty
thirty-one
thirty-two
thirty-three
thirty-four
thirty-five
thirty-six
thirty-seven
thirty-eight
thirty-nine
forty
forty-one
forty-two
forty-three
forty-four
forty-five
forty-six
forty-seven
forty-eight
forty-nine
fifty
fifty-one
fifty-two
fifty-three
fifty-four
fifty-five
fifty-six
fifty-seven
fifty-eight
fifty-nine
sixty
sixty-one
sixty-two
sixty-three
sixty-four
sixty-five
sixty-six
sixty-seven
sixty-eight
sixty-nine
seventy
seventy-one
seventy-two
seventy-three
seventy-four
seventy-five
seventy-six
seventy-seven
seventy-eight
seventy-nine
eighty
eighty-one
eighty-two
eighty-three
eighty-four
eighty-five
eighty-six
eighty-seven
eighty-eight
eighty-nine
ninety
ninety-one
ninety-two
ninety-three
ninety-four
ninety-five
ninety-six
ninety-seven
ninety-eight
ninety-nine
one hundred

short g (0:06)

101-200 (1:25)

one hundred and one
one hundred and two
one hundred and three
one hundred and four
one hundred and five
one hundred and six
one hundred and seven
one hundred and eight
one hundred and nine
one hundred and ten
one hundred and eleven
one hundred and twelve
one hundred and thirteen
one hundred and fourteen
one hundred and fifteen
one hundred and sixteen
one hundred and seventeen
one hundred and eighteen
one hundred and nineteen
one hundred and twenty
one hundred and twenty-one
one hundred and twenty-two
one hundred and twenty-three
one hundred and twenty-four
one hundred and twenty-five
one hundred and twenty-six
one hundred and twenty-seven
one hundred and twenty-eight
one hundred and twenty-nine
one hundred and thirty
one hundred and thirty-one
one hundred and thirty-two
one hundred and thirty-three
one hundred and thirty-four
one hundred and thirty-five
one hundred and thirty-six
one hundred and thirty-seven
one hundred and thirty-eight
one hundred and thirty-nine
one hundred and forty
one hundred and forty-one
one hundred and forty-two
one hundred and forty-three
one hundred and forty-four
one hundred and forty-five
one hundred and forty-six
one hundred and forty-seven
one hundred and forty-eight
one hundred and forty-nine
one hundred and fifty
one hundred and fifty-one
one hundred and fifty-two
one hundred and fifty-three
one hundred and fifty-four
one hundred and fifty-five
one hundred and fifty-six
one hundred and fifty-seven
one hundred and fifty-eight
one hundred and fifty-nine
one hundred and sixty
one hundred and sixty-one
one hundred and sixty-two
one hundred and sixty-three
one hundred and sixty-four
one hundred and sixty-five
one hundred and sixty-six
one hundred and sixty-seven
one hundred and sixty-eight
one hundred and sixty-nine
one hundred and seventy
one hundred and seventy-one
one hundred and seventy-two
one hundred and seventy-three
one hundred and seventy-four
one hundred and seventy-five
one hundred and seventy-six
one hundred and seventy-seven
one hundred and seventy-eight
one hundred and seventy-nine
one hundred and eighty
one hundred and eighty-one
one hundred and eighty-two
one hundred and eighty-three
one hundred and eighty-four
one hundred and eighty-five
one hundred and eighty-six
one hundred and eighty-seven
one hundred and eighty-eight
one hundred and eighty-nine
one hundred and ninety
one hundred and ninety-one
one hundred and ninety-two
one hundred and ninety-three
one hundred and ninety-four
one hundred and ninety-five
one hundred and ninety-six
one hundred and ninety-seven
one hundred and ninety-eight
one hundred and ninety-nine
two hundred

low (0:29)

high (0:30)

long g (1:31)

one whole song (2:20)

one whole to go
seven eighths to go
three quarters to go
five eighths to go
one half to go
three eighths to go
one quarter to go
one eighth to go
nothing to go

x (2:50)

a
b
c
d
e
f
g
h
i
j
k
l
m
n
o
p
q
r
s
t
u
v
w
x
y
z

the usual first one (1:45)

1234 (0:14)

one two three four
one two three four
one two three four
one two three four
one two three four

nothing (5:01)

nothing
nothing
nothing
nothing
nothing
nothing
nothing
nothing
nothing
nothing
nothing
nothing
nothing
nothing
nothing
nothing
nothing
nothing
nothing
nothing
nothing
nothing
nothing
nothing
nothing
nothing

start middle end (0:31)

start
middle
end



[1] Suzuki, Daisetz Teitaro (edited by Christmas Humphreys). "The Awakening of Zen (Shambala Dragon Edition)." Ed. Christmas Humphreys Shambala, 1980. Page107-112

[2] The phrase literally "mindfulness of the Buddha" is a term commonly seen in the Pure Land school of Mahayana Buddhism. It refers to praise offered to Amitabha Buddha as a devotional act. The original Sanskrit phrase was Namo Amitabha Buddha, which can mean either "I entrust in the Buddha of Immeasurable Light and Eternal Life" or simply "Hail to the Buddha of Immeasurable Light and Eternal Life".

1 comment:

William Hailiang said...

Bloody long article to read!.....I gonna go to bed;)!...but nice website, welldone!

Specially, the 'Something comes from nothing' turner prize guy.......it is Golden Rubbish....modern fairy tale in Art world;)

Welcome to the ground

Thank you for stopping over. The Ground We Share evolves from my research study where I make a comparative study between the concepts of the everyday in art practice and Zen.

My art practice may be seen as the result of my interest on the matters of the everyday and Eastern thoughts. Over the years, I have produced a body of cross-disciplinary work that explores the as-it-is-ness of things, and interconnectedness between objects and people. My own cultural background and life experience are often revisited, examined and evidenced in the work within this journey of exploration.

In Zen tradition, mindfulness to everyday trivial is important in their spiritual pratice, my research relates this notion of attentiveness from my work to this tradition. Historically, many important twentieth century artists and art groups who expanded Duchamp’s theory of the ready-made and the everyday were also influenced by Zen teaching from D.T. Suzuki and Shunryu Suzuki that can also be related to this research.

In contrast to the Western sociological perspective on the study of the everyday from important thinkers like Henri Lefebvre and Michel de Certeau; I look at it from a different perspective - through the prism of a contemporary artist that comes from an Eastern background.

This blog provides a space to share my activities and information arising from my work and research. You are welcome to be part of this interconnection by posting your valuable experience, thoughts and comments.