Independence and interdependence in John Cage's adoption of Zen Buddhism and anarchism
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The composer John Cage adopted Indian aesthetics, Zen philosophy, and anarchism to underpin his music and aesthetic. Although his interest in each ideology has been studied, the reason why he incorporated ones from disparate values remains unclear. Considering the trajectory of his intense quest for the theories that reinforced his music and aesthetic, elucidating the commonalities and differences among Indian aesthetics, Zen philosophy, and anarchism should reveal what he ultimately pursued. This dissertation explores comparative analyses of his interests in order to detect the notion of the coexistence of independence and interdependence. Cage drew on Indian aesthetics first to dispel his doubt about his attitude relying on self-expression. The aesthetics denied expression of individual emotion, centering on the interdependence between a divine realm as an artistic source and art as its manifestation. Because Indian aesthetics contains no independent aspects, he turned to other philosophies. He next turned his attention to Zen. This philosophy is interested in discovering the independent, innate self not disturbed by delusion caused by self-centered thinking. That is, Zen believes that the purified self is directly connected with the world. The Zen tenet associates the interdependent nature with its teachings of salvation of others. Under the tumultuous social circumstances in the 1960s, Cage was fascinated by anarchism. Buckminster Fuller advocated the world in which people could achieve comfortable life, not by national politics, but by the redistribution of wealth allowed by the improvement of technology. Such a society, he believed, could realize global welfare with its improved technology. Henry Thoreau’s social theory has been regarded as an alternative to Fuller’s. However, Thoreau’s orientation toward connections with others and the notion of welfare was very limited in comparison with his special emphasis on the independent self. It was with Emma Goldman’s anarchism that Cage eventually found the coexistence of individual freedom and supportive environment that allowed welfare for all human beings. Cage engaged with these theories in order to discover independence and interdependence within his aesthetic. The pursuit centered on the concept of the self; more specifically a pure self that accepted the universe as it was and is. His exploration of the literature can be referred to, then, as the journey to self-identity. My dissertation is based on a close reading of primary sources, including the treatises by Indian aesthetician Ananda Coomaraswamy, Zen master Huang-Po, Zen scholar Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, Fuller, Thoreau, and Goldman as well as Cage’s writings and interviews. Scholarship of religious studies and political theory, in addition to musicology, supports the interpretation of their various sources.