On a citrus fruit, the zest is the outer covering that adds flavor. In life, zest refers to a sense of opening to possibilities – taking advantage of what life has to offer.
- What I’m proposing, to myself and other people, is what I often call the tourist attitude – that you act as though you’ve never been there before. If you really get down to brass tacks, we have never been anywhere before. [John Cage]
- The world of ideas which it discloses or illuminates . . . are the surest grounds of the title of mathematics to human regard, and would remain unimpeached and unimpaired were the plan of the universe unrolled like a map at our feet . . . [J.J. Sylvester]
In cooking the zest, or outer part of a lemon or orange, is called the zest. It imparts a special added quality to a recipe. In spiritual and personal development, zest is the quality of adding something new to the autonomous person, thereby making the person “larger” than before.
Freedom liberates us to pursue ends beyond sustenance and survival, to become creative more readily and to live in a way that people generally find fulfilling. Our challenge then is to take advantage of the opportunity: to see possibilities and act on them. When we see what is possible and open to the horizons before us, excitement begins to motivate us as the goal begins to appear nearer to our reach.
At this stage, we can see our ethical and spiritual journey taking shape. We have identified the shape of what being human means, and can mean. We have paused to acknowledge suffering, and to consider the humility that is necessary for us to begin to free ourselves. We have taken the baby steps of engagement and self-restraint, and recognized that there is an order in the ethical and spiritual life. Now, with the development of the ideas of autonomy and freedom, we are prepared to enter another stage in our development. All these underpinnings are necessary to competence in this and all the later stages. We experience difficulties in fulfilling our commitments to others and the self because one or more of these early stages has been left empty or unfulfilled. As we go forward, we will track our own progress, keeping an eye out for any signs that we should revisit an earlier stage. For now, however, it is time to press forward as free and autonomous beings prepared to make the most of life.
John Cage was an avant-garde American composer who drew on raw sounds for his compositions. Of his biography, fellow composer John Adams writes in review: "What emerges most powerfully in 'Begin Again' is Cage's enormous capacity for work, together with his exceptional self-discipline . . . and his willingness to approach every new challenge with a 'beginner's mind.'" We might observe that sounds are present everywhere, so that Cage was not observing anything new. That is true but for him the awareness was new. So it is for each of us as we see a new path or a new destination: both were always present but both are new to our awareness.
- Kenneth Silverman, Begin Again (Knopf, 2010). As the title suggests, Cage's career emphasizes the art of looking constantly for "a new creative beginning."
- John Cage, Silence: Lectures and Writings (Weslyan University Press, 1961).
- John Cage, A Year from Monday: New Lectures and Writings (Weslyan University Press, 1967).
- John Cage, M: Writings '67 to '72 (Weslyan University Press,1973).
- John Cage, Empty Words: Writings '73 to '78 (Weslyan University Press, 1979).
- John Cage, X: Writings '79 to '82 (Harper & Row, 1983).
- Kyle Gann, No Such Thing as Silence: John Cage's 4'33" (Yale University Press, 2010).
- Richard Kostelanetz, Conversing with Cage (Routledge, 2002).
- Kathan Brown, John Cage Visual Art: To Sober and Quiet the Mind (Crown Point Press, 2001).
- Marjorie Perloff and Charles Junkerman, John Cage: Composed in America (University of Chicago Press, 1994).
- John Cage
Documentary and Educational Films
- Don’t Look Back, a documentary film that catches Bob Dylan, with all his warts, “on the cusp of a radical career change”
Novels and children's books:
- David Wiesner, Flotsam (Clarion, 2006), a children's book about a camera, found on a beach, that transports us to the depths of the sea.
- Sándor Márai, Portraits of a Marriage (Knopf, 2011), proposing that “the greatest human yearning . . . is to recover that sense of belonging and possibility that attaches to childhood . . .”
- Lee Cole, Groundskeeping: A Novel (Knopf, 2022): “. . . when he shares his work in progress with Alma, an autofiction, she recoils: He hasn’t bothered to change the names and situations of his family, or hers. Owen waves it away as an novice’s gaffe, but his betrayal whips her into a frenzy. He can’t help noticing a burr of resentment in her voice, though — perhaps he’s more talented than his girlfriend? And perhaps she knows that he knows?”
- René Magritte, Perspicacity (1936)
- Lee Krasner, Free Space
- Alessandro Botticelli, A Young Man Being Introduced to the Seven Liberal Arts (1484-86)
Film and Stage
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
The musical form of prelude and fugue musically expresses the idea of adding something to an original form, transforming it into something new and interesting. Of course, Bach mastered this form with his two books of preludes and fugues for harpsichord, commonly known as “The Well-Tempered Clavier.” Those are presented under connectedness, since Bach’s composition of a prelude and fugue pair for each of the musical keys in the twelve-tone scale is like reaching out beyond the self to all things; it could as easily be offered here. Fortunately, one of our great composers was good enough to follow Bach’s example. Dmitry Shostakovich also composed a book of twenty-four prelude-and-fugue pairings: 24 Preludes and Fugues for solo piano, Op. 87 (1951) (approx. 135-153’), covering all of the musical keys. Unlike Bach, he did not order the compositions in ascending order along the chromatic scale. Top recordings are by Nikolayeva in 1987, Nikolayeva in 1962, Melnikov, Ashkenazy, Levit and Jarrett.
- Jack Gallagher, Symphony No. 2, "Ascendant" (2013) (approx. 63’): “. . . this is a big work with a purpose and colorful personality, almost taking on a whole world of expression. Unlike Mahler, however, Gallagher is less prone to express angst and tragedy, and more likely to impart a sense of optimism and triumph.”
- Tālivaldis Ķeniņš, Symphony No. 6, “Sinfonia ad fugam” (1978) (approx. 18’). The composer explains the work’s connection to Bach: “Since my early acquaintance (and durable love) with the music of J.S. Bach, I have always been fascinated by the C sharp minor fugue of Book I of the Wohltemperiertes Klavier. Besides loving to play it as written, I used to extemporize around the four-note subject and its two counter-subjects, imagining other possible expressions of this thematic material.”
Saxophonist Houston Person and bassist Ron Carter created a few delightful albums on which each complements and enhances the other, noticeably and remarkably.
- “Now’s the Time / Something in Common” (1990) (99’)
- “Dialogues” (2000) (52’)
- “Just Between Friends” (2005) (54’)
- “Chemistry” (2015) (45’)
- “Remember Love” (2018) (53’)
- BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet, From Bamako to Carencro (2013) (49’): Cajun music with cosmopolitan zest, resulting in an eclectic flavor
- Jane Ira Bloom, “Sixteen Sunsets” (2013): “An asteroid is nice, but it seems a rather small celestial body for an artist that can create something as perfect as this disc.”
- Warsaw Village Band, “Mazovian Roots Re:action” (Re:akcja Mazowiecka) (2017) (56’): “Their style is Rootsy, yet experimental, euphoric and haunting. The band have revived many musical traditions that were all but lost in their home country. They play traditional instruments which are rarely heard in modern music; frame drums, the hurdy-gurdy and the suka; a Polish folk fiddle from the 17th century stopped with the fingernails rather than the fingers.”
- Matthew Shipp, Mark Helias & Gordon Grdina, “Skin and Bones” (2020) (74’), “mostly avoids pyrotechnics, instead igniting smaller fires whose embers almost accidentally touch on the players, inspiring them with the faintest light. With every shift of the wind, we are taken to a new and intriguing place.”
- Montparnasse Musique, “Archeology” (2022): “The cacophonous Congolese music known generically as Congotronic is a mix of homemade or improvised instruments pumped through amplification that edges it into a distorted blur, with micro-riffs repeating to form a hypnotic trance.”
My valiant fight! For I call it valiant, / With my father’s beliefs from old Virginia: / Hating slavery, but no less war.
I, full of spirit, audacity, courage / Thrown into life here in Spoon River, / With its dominant forces drawn from New England, / Republicans, Calvinists, merchants, bankers, / Hating me, yet fearing my arm.
With wife and children heavy to carry— / Yet fruits of my very zest of life.
Stealing odd pleasures that cost me prestige, / And reaping evils I had not sown; /
Foe of the church with its charnel dankness, / Friend of the human touch of the tavern; / Tangled with fates all alien to me, / Deserted by hands I called my own.
Then just as I felt my giant strength / Short of breath, behold my children / Had wound their lives in stranger gardens— / And I stood alone, as I started alone!
My valiant life! I died on my feet, / Facing the silence—facing the prospect / That no one would know of the fight I made.
[Edgar Lee Masters, “Jefferson Howard”]
Books of poems:
- Roger Reeves, Best Barbarian: Poems (W.W. Norton & Company, 2022) “riffs on Western tradition to challenge its omissions and expand its political and artistic possibilities.”