By George Cotkin
In 1952, John Cage stunned audiences with 4'33", his compositional ode to the ironic energy of silence. From Cage's minimalism to Chris Burden's radical functionality artwork 20 years later (in one piece he had himself shot), the post-war American avant-garde shattered the divide among high and low artwork, among artist and viewers. They replaced the cultural landscape.
Feast of Excess is an interesting and obtainable portrait of "The New Sensibility," because it was once named via Susan Sontag in 1965. the hot Sensibility sought to push tradition in severe instructions: both in the direction of stark minimalism or gaudy maximalism. via vignette profiles of admired figures-John Cage, Patricia Highsmith, Allen Ginsberg, Andy Warhol, Anne Sexton, John Coltrane, Bob Dylan, Erica Jong, and Thomas Pynchon, to call a few-George Cotkin offers their daring, headline-grabbing performances and locations them in the old moment.
This creative and jaunty narrative captures the thrill of liberation in American tradition. The roots of this unlock, as Cotkin demonstrates, begun within the Fifties, boomed within the Sixties, and have become the cultural norm via the Seventies.
More than a close immersion within the historical past of cultural extremism, Feast of Excess increases provocative questions for our present-day tradition.
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Extra resources for Feast of Excess: A Cultural History of the New Sensibility
Cage had a vision for music, art, and life that refused to be stilled. The Cherry Lane seated a little over two hundred. Cage expected aficionados of avant-garde music to flock to the performance. Additional seats had been set up on the stage and orchestra pit to accommodate the overflow crowd. As anticipated, the place was packed for the concert. Malina had known Cage less than a year, but she was captivated by the man and his music. In comparison with the neurotic artists whom she regularly encountered at the San Remo, Cage seemed to live in the present, with a courageous esprit.
They left the audience uncertain if the piece was simply suspended or ended. 27 Was Cage’s work of the 1940s and early 1950s—with its banging and silences— intended to challenge the cultural lethargy often associated with this period— which poet Robert Lowell referred to as “tranquillized” by conformity, economic comfort, and political consensus? If so, then Cage seems an anomaly of the highest order, which attests even more to his relentless quest for creativity, under any conditions. There is certainly truth in the view that American culture was rather lame and self-satisfied in this period.
Only a virtuoso pianist like David Tudor, who was deeply in synch with Cage’s experimentalism, could have flawlessly mastered the mixed tempi, constant pedal changes, and strange emphases. Poet John Ashbery attended the New Year’s Day performance. ”4 Music of Changes resisted any essential interpretation. Listeners could apply whatever meaning and perception to it that they chose—almost at random. This no doubt thrilled Cage, who had stated in his “Lecture on Nothing” (1950): “Our poetry now is the realization that we possess nothing.