Can I Choose?

Janine Jembere: If there is a difference between an artist/non-artist and something else, can I choose? Can I be something else?

Imran Ali Khan: Being something else is such an exciting proposition, because it would be like the old Zen philosophy of being like water, navigating unknown terrains and only sometimes touching the shores. I have been reading Neruda these days (maybe because it’s getting so cold) and you know the famous line: »I want to with you what spring does to the cherry trees« … That’s the something else I would like to be; something quiet, something hidden, something that secretly and quietly does.

But I am being too romantic about something else and maybe spring is an artist! Would you like to be spring?

JJ: I think I would like to try. Spring is so complex, though. I hope I won’t forget anything?
I should change smells, light, warmth, wind, wake up plants and animals and tell them: »It’s okay, summer will come, let’s go, let’s grow!«
I don’t yet know how to do all these things. Do you think being spring means knowing how to be spring? Can I learn from other springs? Will I be like the other springs? How will I know? How could you recognize me? Would I be able to recognize you? Or in other words, do you think being something else entails knowing how to do what something else does and being able to do it?

Oh Imran, your question carried me away with more questions, way too many maybe, and I can’t stop! Do you think springs ask questions, too?

IAK: Haha! do you think that’s why it’s called »spring?«

Oh Janine this reminds me of that story I was telling you about in the treatise on art written in the sixth century, and it goes something like this …

Once, a long time ago, the great king Vajra began to wonder about the image of god and so he approached the mighty sage, Markadeya and said, »Great sage, you know much of the world, tell me how to make an image of the gods so that they may always be close.« Markandeya thought for a while and said, »For a man to make the image of god, he must know the art of drawing.«
»Will you tell me about the art of drawing so that I may make the image of god?« replied the king.
»I could tell you about that, but the rules of painting can only be understood by an understanding of the art of dancing.«
»Will you then,« replied Vajra, »speak to me about the art of dancing and the rules of drawing?«
»The art of dance cannot be learnt without a study of music.«
»Will you then explain to me the nuances of music, before you speak to me about dancing and drawing and images?«
»Great king! Surely you should know that music is empty without singing!«
»Then, great sage, you must teach me the art of singing, the art of music, the art of dance, the art of art itself.«

On another note entirely, do you think that choosing a category between artist/non-artist/something is like a dance? A dance alone is not always fun … so would you need someone to lead us to the dance and show us how to move? Or more simply, do categories need recognition from outside ourselves to reveal them to ourselves … like Sesame Street; you can only know the difference between here and there if there is someone else who is here? (JANINE WHY ARE YOU THERE WHEN I WANT YOU HERE?!)

JJ: I will digress somewhat from this question and tell you what I was thinking after reading your excerpt of the treatise (which was a delight). It reminded me of the question of authorship:
»Speak to me about the making of … x« – implies that the respondent would now how to author x.
I love how the question of authoring is answered by referring to a different kind of knowledge or craft. It seemed to underline the fact that every mathematician, every painter, every baker is making in the world, with the world and the worlds before them. While writing to you I am writing with everything I heard, read, saw, felt.
Dancing alone or being singular (I don’t know if that is the right word for what I mean) seems to be a hallucination or an embezzlement of all the beings that make us dance, or made us think of dancing in the first place.
We are all already framed and conditioned by what happened before us and those someones »who lead us to the dance« and led our ancestors to the dance. This can be great if it resonates, or something we have to free ourselves from, because it’s not helping in becoming alive or overcoming social death. But I think your question might be a different one altogether. Are you talking about concepts or words? Because I could feel the difference between your presence and your absence even without having concepts of space or an elsewhere outside of how far I can see/hear/sense.

Somehow I had to think of a bear dancing. Being led to dance and performing the dancing bear and being recognized as such by the outside: »Oh, you are a dancing bear. Bravo!«
I can imagine through idealizing stories about dancing bears to want to become one, maybe being recognized as one, but not having fun. Oh no!

But this should be light talk about a somewhat strangely framed question. So how do we get back there? From here?

IAK: Oh Janine, my lovely Janine! You have, yet again, in your quiet (springlike way) made the buds blossom! I am only sad that you say dancing is an embezzlement when you know how you and I love to dance and usually dance alone (luckily not like bears who are made to) … do you think someone saw us dance?

But to your statement – maybe the gap between presence and absence isn’t so wide … maybe just the edge of a small crack … it reminds me of a story I read somewhere, at some moment when I was present but almost entirely absent.

One day, a young man was rushing through the forest to the land of his forefathers when all of a sudden he came to the banks of a river. A river that was as wide as it was deep. He looked everywhere for a bridge or boat that would help him cross, but there was nothing in sight. As he sat there, despondent and full of anxious grief, he saw a great Buddhist monk on the other side sitting in a grove of bamboos, shining like the noonday sun. The young man was relieved; surely a wise man such as the old monk would know how to cross the river, he thought.
»Oh wise one!« he yelled. »Please help me. How do I get to the other side of this river?«
The old monk pondered for a moment, looked up and down the river and yelled back, »My son, you are on the other side.«

But maybe in the words of blue Herry, »Hey listen, that kid’s really pesky, lets get out of here!«
Want to go for a walk to the forest and not hear a tree fall?