What was the question?

Art, blogging, Life, music, philosophy
St Augustine Quotation

St Augustine Quotation

‘If one makes music, as the Orient would say, disinterestedly, that is, without concern for money or fame but simply for the love of making it, it is an integrating activity and one will find moments in his life that an complete and fulfilled.’     – John Cage.

I suppose the same goes for any occupation we choose to partake in.  Engage in the activity, and the truth begins to emerge that when we are experiencing ‘flow’, then material benefits pale in comparison.  This is a political statement because it addresses the fundamental values on which we build our societies, whether we look to increasing productivity or whether we look to increasing the value of human life, the opportunity for human beings everywhere on the planet to look toward a fulfilling, active life . Increasing productivity increases the wealth factor for a very small minority of capital providers whenever the means of production are owned by very rich capitalists.

My aim is not to polarise the argument but to raise the question amongst the producers and consumers , what are you doing? Who are you doing it for?

“Greed and envy are the real dirt in the world”

But realistically whenever the difference between the rich and the poor remains so great, there will always be aspiration to achieve the status and the luxuries in which the richest indulge. The matter then appears to reduce the divide, and how is that achieved? Only by politics. Only be sharing the ownership of both the challenges we encounter and the resources with which we manipulate the world. And that has to begin with ourselves, and knowing our motivations. Do I want to earn enough to have a swimming pool? Do I want to earn enough to feed my family?

If we can free ourselves of our ego driven aspirational desires, and address the matter of working in order to provide the necessities, then it will emerge that work itself is not what people despise. It is the kind of work they are driven to perform in order to maintain a lifestyle.

…”..My composition arises out of asking questions. I am reminded of a story early on about a class with Schoenberg. He had us go to the blackboard to solve a particular problem in counterpoint (though it was a class in harmony).

He said, ‘When you have a solution, turn around and let me see it.’ I did that. He then said: ‘Now another solution, please.’ I gave another and another until finally, having made seven or eight, I reflected a moment and then said with some certainty: ‘There aren’t any more solutions.’ He said: ‘OK. What is the principle underlying all of these solutions?’ I couldn’t answer his question; but I had always worshipped the man, and at that point I did even more. He ascended, so to speak. I spent the rest of my life, until recently, hearing him ask that question over and over. And then it occurred to me through the direction that my work has taken, which is renunciation of choices and th  substitution of asking questions, that the principle underlying all of the solutions that I had given him was the question that he had asked, because they certainly didn’t come from any other point. He would have accepted the answer, I think. The answers have the questions in common. Therefore the question underlies the answers.”  John Cage

The questions we ask ourselves is what life is all about.

” Cage linked his life and his music. Life is filled with uncertainty. Chance events happen to us all.  Each of us must take responsibility  and make decisions.  None of us should be imposing our ego image on others.  Most music tries to control its circumstances, just as most of us do. But there’s another way to live.  Accept indeterminacy as a principle, and you see your life in a new light, as a series of seemingly unrelated jewel-like stories with a dazzling setting of change and transformation. Recognize that you don’t know where you stand, and you will begin to watch where you put your  feet”

– Where  the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism by Kay Larson


7 thoughts on “What was the question?

  1. Very introspective article – so much is said between the lines. So often we glorify the good works of those whose names are in the news, yet there are so many humanitarians who offer their kindness and good deeds behind the scenes, and yet ask for nothing in return. These are the people we need to honor. Quoting St Augustine “Wherever I go it is my love that brings me there.” So too, as we each have our own crafts, it is not the # of sales or views that make our work great, but the love that goes into each item created. We are a product of ourselves.


  2. I really enjoyed this post. As a teacher on break for the summer, I am coming to realize that I actually love/need to work in order to keep myself happy and sane. Of course, I’m great at inventing work for myself during the summer to keep me busy, but it is nice to realize I picked a job I actually don’t mind returning to after a break– and, it is also a job I picked because I care about it, not because it maintains a lifestyle, (goodness knows, the job I quit before I became a teacher maintained a much better lifestyle, but I hated it!). Thanks for the food for thought.


    1. You made a brave choice, thank goodness!! I packed my demanding job in to stay at home. Never regretted it and now my boys are 20 and 17, and I also have three stepsons. Leaving my marriage of 12 years was my bravest choice. It wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t good enough. Looking back , I am glad I took that difficult choice.


      1. So fascinating how the most difficult choices are sometimes exactly what we need. Staying at home is definitely a wonderful choice and I can only imagine how hard it must have been to walk away from a marriage, good or mediocre or otherwise. Glad we’ve been able to connect in this lovely blog world! 🙂


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