I’ve been revisiting some of my old essay reading, as I never seem to finish books like these. I come across some point, get very excited thinking about it, and then abandon the book like a tenth cup of coffee that’s giving me a stomach ache. So, based on a conversation I had earlier in the week on the place of art in life and history, I re-read Morton Feldman’s essay “The Anxiety of Art” (an review in Artforum of Give My Regards to Eighth Street, which it is anthologized in.) In this particular essay, Feldman laments how history contextualizes a work, removing from it what is intuitively enjoyable about it. “…the fact that a thing happened, that it exists in history, gives it an authority over us that has nothing to do with its actual value or meaning. We see it in life; why do we fail to see that in art too, the facts and successes of history are allowed to crush all that is subtle, all that is personal, in our work?” This sentiment extends, in Feldman’s view, to the traditions of composition and the controls of reading or playing variations on the verbatim, for taking something at face value. Without the acceptance (forgiveness?) of chance, the work cannot achieve a transcendental quality: “For art to succeed, its creator must fail.”
Richard Byrne, in the publication “American Prospect,” recently wrote about a similar topic regarding an actual event. The author Milan Kundera was recently found, at the age of 20, to have gone to the Checkoslavic secret police and denounced a man for spying. Through the clear lens of hindsight, this is a deplorable act. Yet, through the uncertain haze of a present moment, to Kundera, Communism leveled the classes and seemed to provide equality for even its poorest relations. “Man proceeds in a fog. But when he looks back to judge the people of the past, he sees no fog on their path. From his present, which was their faraway future, their path looks perfectly clear to him, good visibility all the way. Looking back, he sees the path, he sees the people proceeding, he sees their mistakes but not the fog.” Read the article here.

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