Thursday, October 29, 2009

Not a Contradiction

The more I delve into my studies of environmental science, the more I think I share John Cage's way of viewing the world. Comparing his early to his later writings, one might think that he contradicts himself, that he's changed his mind with regards to his general outlook. He begins his career with the view that the world is beautiful, and that one only need open one's eyes (or ears) to what exists around us. His later writings take a more activist approach, a conservationist stance. In his How to Improve the World: You Will Only Make Matters Worse, he expresses an urgency, a desire resist the adultrative changes that mankind is bringing to the planet.

I don't think this later philosophy is a contradiction to his earlier one. Rather, I see it as an extension, a natural progression. Cage opened himself to the world and found it to be amazing. He spent his early career trying to get others to see the world as terrific as it is, without mankind's interference or meddling. Consequently, it only stands to reason that he would come to the realization that what he saw as so beautiful was threatened, and that it deserved to be preserved and protected. This later world view is simply the second stage of the first. To find enjoyment in the sounds of birdsong is to see the world as beautiful the way it is. To realize that the birdsong may disappear with the advent of a mini-mall and only the sounds of traffic in its place will no doubt spur one to protect the world and preserve the beauty that is.

I won't argue that he didn't change his mind about things. He said so himself. At first enchanted with the possibilities that electronic sounds presented, he later moved to an attitude that valued the preservation of natural soundscapes. He liked the sounds of traffic, but not to the extent that he would have the sounds of traffic drown out the sounds of nature. His belief that all sounds are created equal still stood, but he came to see that, all sounds being equal, no sound deserved to be trampled upon, to be eradicated or driven out by another.

I see the world as a beautiful place. I want others to see the world as a beautiful place. And if they do, I hope that they will also be moved to keep it that way. So many individuals just let life happen, without reflection, without opening their eyes to the world, which, in the words of John Cage, "is so terrific." The optimist in me wants only to show them this beauty. The realist wants to tell them how stupid they're being for not protecting it better. I'd like to think that Cage may have felt the same way.
Today was spectacular. Absolutely, without a doubt magnificent. I got out of organic chemistry lab early and sat outside to read. We spent all of my ES Research methods class outside collecting water samples and being outside, with the water and the ducks and all of the trees decked out in their flashy fall ensembles, a riot of color... it was simply wonderful. I walked to the parking lot, intentionally swishing through the leaves the whole way, admiring how they appear nearly fluorescent as they lay scattered on the green grass. I may or may not have even picked up an handful and thrown them in the air to see them flutter down again. The sky was so blue, the grass so green, the leaves so obnoxious in their fall colors that I actually did a little dance out beside my car (And then I found a present for me there, which brought me to the point of possibly exploding with happiness).
Perhaps I was wrong when I thought Cage's work devoid of inspiration. Perhaps it wasn't the work itself that was inspired, but the process that was inspired. I can't contain myself on a day like today, when I want to share the beauty of the world with anyone and everyone. That's what Cage's philosophy was grounded in: sharing. Perhaps he felt like I do today, and thought that the best way to share the glory of the world was to present the world to people in the way he did. Me, I have settle with a little happy dance next to my car, because I barely have time to write up a lab report...but I can do with that.

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