The psychological comfort of having arrived at a point of view

Houston Street (It Is The System Itself That Holds Out The False Promise) ©MAIERMOUL
Houston Street (It Is The System Itself That Holds Out The False Promise) ©MAIERMOUL

I knew I was going to be a professional the day I first became practical. Practicality took the form of copying out my music neatly, keeping my desk tidy and organized– all the unimportant things that seem unrelated  to the work, yet somehow do affect it.

I remember for a time I had an idée fixe that if I found the right chair to work in, all compositional problems would be nonexistent. I don’t want to imply that practicality is another word for comfort. I rather mean that it brings us closer to the work, establishing a rapport with it, rather than encouraging a network of ideas that keeps us outside it.

“What was great about the fifties,” Feldman later said, “is that for one brief moment—maybe, say, six weeks—nobody understood art.” – quoted by Alex Ross “American Sublime” in The New Yorker

This is where the practical differs from the technical. The technical, no matter how foolproof, is always in the realm of the speculative– a notion about perfection– the system. But what happens when these gods fail us?

Kierkegaard says that all speculative philosophy cannot equal in complexity the dialectic of a woman who has been deceived. He goes on to explain that such a woman cannot find an object for her pain, because love cannot grasp the thought that it has been deceived. In art, it is the system itself that holds out the false promise, that deceives. We might almost say that art is in pain, because it is unable to believe this deception is taking place. The artist feels his work goes badly because he is not reaching technical perfection. Actually, he is looking into the eyes of a deceiver, who constantly throws him back into the dilemma– the paradox. Is it lying to me or not, he asks himself. He ends by believing the lie, in the face of all the evidence against it, because he needs this lie to exist in art.

If I have a resistance to process, it is because I don’t want to give up control. Control of the material is not really control. It is merely a device that brings us the psychological benefits of process– just as relinquishing control brings us nothing more than the psychological benefits of a nonsystematic approach. In both cases, all we have gained is the intellectual comfort of having made a decision– the psychological comfort of having arrived at a point of view.

– Morton Feldman, Some Elementary Questions, collected in Give My Regards to Eighth Street