Saturday, January 29, 2011


The way I was educated I was not given the meaning of discipline. I was told that if I were going to be a composer I should know harmony, counterpoint, and all those things. you are told that you have to study those things, although they are of no use to you ultimately, and that you learn those things in order later to give them up when finally you get around to self-expression. But this isn't the nature of discipline. True discipline is not learned in order to give it up, but rather in order to give oneself up. Now, most people never even learn what discipline is. It is precisely what the Lord meant when he said, give up your father and mother and follow me. It means give up the things closest to you. It means give yourself up, everything, and do what it is you are going to do. At that point, what have you given up? your likes, your dislikes, etc. When it becomes clear, as it now becomes to many people, that the old disciplines need no longer be taken seriously, what is going to provide the path to the giving up of oneself?

(John Cage in Richard Kostelanetz ed., John Cage, an Anthology, 13-14)

I'm putting this quotation here in part so I can find it again easily enough. Quite a bit is made, especially in the arts and humanities, of the perceived shift from the strict disciplinary boundaries of modernism to postmodernism's aspirations of fluidity. (I put little stock in either claim, since in both cases they mistake the example for the rule--compare Greenberg and Adorno, for example.) Especially in feminist literature one comes up against the problems of being disciplined, and how that limits one's epistemological capacity: historians understand things through a different methodological framework than philosophers do, for example. Cage, as he formulates the situation here (through his Zen lens) sheds an liberating light on the problem. I don't think I presently have the vocabulary to remark much further upon this.

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