I’ve been in a deep relationship for months now with Lewis Hyde’s rich and fragrant book, Trickster Makes the World. Yes, fragrant. That’s how it feels to be enraptured by this amazing volume in all its lush, verdant and seductive power. While it can be approached with the traditional “start at the beginning and read to the end” sort of treatment, it has a more rhizomatic appeal to me, one that invites you to just open it up and bite down into the deliciousness anywhere, everywhere. And I’m needing deliciousness of the deep kind right now.

Here’s a passage from a chapter where Hyde spends a lot of time discussing John Cage’s aesthetic, one that was primarily centered on chance. (Cage often quoted a line from the mystic Meister Eckhart, “we are made perfect by what happens to us rather than by what we do.”)

It is especially by our “likes and dislikes,” Cage says, that we cut ourselves off from the wider mind (and the wider world.) Likes and dislikes are the lapdogs and guard dogs of the ego, busy all the time, panting and barking at the gates of attachment and aversion and thereby narrowing perception and experience. Furthermore, the ego itself cannot intentionally escape what the ego does—intention always operates in terms of desire or aversion—and we therefore need a practice or discipline of non-intention, a way to make an end run around the ego’s habitual operations. Zen Buddhism, Cage says, suggests the practice of cross-legged meditation: “you go in through discipline, then you get free of the ego.” Cage thought his own artistic practice moved in the other direction to the same end: “I decided to go out. That’s why I decided to use the chance operations. I used them to free myself from the ego.”

cage
John Cage

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