On Wearing Three Hats

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Content: Adrian Piper On Wearing Three Hats(1996)
1. »Do you keep These remarks were originally delivered
(fight) or escaping (flight). I prefer escap-
your different at a symposium at Brandeis University on multi-talented women in March selves separate, 1996.1 The organizers and audience of
ing because it is, all things considered, more energy-efficient. And when I was considering having
or do you integrate the symposium posed certain questions of the participants, and we did our best them?« to answer them. I mention this at the
children, I interviewed friends of mine who did (they didn't realize they were being interviewed, of course, but they
outset because the questions were in
were). I like other's people's children
some ways like the polite query, »How There are no discrete selves to separate very much. But if I were to have children,
are you?« and the following remarks or integrate. My variety of professional I would get exactly the children I deserve.
like a certain kind of answer to that activities are all different, equally essential I saw, from coming to appreciate my
query. Under some circumstances »How expressions of one self. When I am alone parents' efforts as well as from interview-
are you?« can elicit a sudden self-
in the solitude of my study or studio, I am ing my friends who had them, that raising
awareness of how one in fact is that one completely out of the closet: I move back them properly would have to be any
may not have sought; and an over-
and forth easily among art, philosophy, parent's central preoccupation, just as my
whelming desire to unburden oneself of and yoga (my third hat). It's the only time work is for me. I was not even tempted
that uninvited self-knowledge, expressed I feel completely free to be who I am. So to try, and feel no regrets for lost options.
­ at least internally ­ with a snarl: Oh, I will go to almost any lengths to protect
The activities of art, philosophy, and
yeah? You want how am I? I'll give you my privacy. If I lose that, I lose everything. yoga themselves determine the life
how am I ...! It can thus elicit a kind
Often when I describe the dilemmas choices I am free to make ­ to have
and extent of answer the interlocutor I will shortly outline to some individual children or not, to relocate or not, to be
did not really mean to elicit; the kind in the helping professions, their first
in a relationship or not. But I am not free
it would have been even worse manners response is, »Well, you'll just have to stop to choose to be a different person than
to volunteer unasked (and that I, as
making art«; or »Well, you'll just have to I am; so I am similarly not free to choose
a well-brought-up middle-class person, cut down on the time you spend working not to engage in the activities that make
would never dream of volunteering
on your philosophy project.« This response me who I am. Not to be able to realize
unasked). So in responding to the sym- makes me see how different from them or express the self I am in action is to die
posium questions, I had to choose
I am. They view making art or doing
a slow and painful death.
between indulging my desire to unbur- philosophy the way I view parenting or
den myself of sudden and unwelcome relocating ­ as a choice I am free to make. 2. »How do other self-knowledge on the one hand, and What is a choice for them is a necessity
observing good manners on the other. Then I realized that to answer these questions would also be to elucidate certain dimensions of my life that many people find enigmatic or disquieting,
for me, and what is a necessity for them is a choice for me. Art, philosophy, and yoga are parts of me the way their children and their roots are parts of them. I learned this about myself after having
people react to your different selves?«
and so to reduce my risk of getting
repeatedly and instinctively resolved
burned at the stake. A pox on good
conflicts between partnering relationships When I am with other people, I do keep
manners, I decided.
and my work in favor of my work.
these different activities separate, and
I instinctively perceive anyone who tries those I am with help me to do that. They
to interfere with or compete with my work engage with the activity with which they
as an enemy. I think this means that my feel most comfortable, and withdraw
1 Originally presented at the Third Annual work is my self, and that I read a threat
Tillie K. Lubin Symposium, Who Is She?
to my work as a threat to my existence.
from others they find strange. If I insist on presenting more of myself than they
Conversations with Multi-Talented Women (with Mary Catherine Bateson, Perri Klass, Kristin Linklater, and Sherry Turkle) at
I defend my self against such threats instinctively, either by counterattacking
prefer, their withdrawal may turn to resistance, rejection, or aggressive attack.
Brandeis University / Rose Art Museum
on March 17, 1996.
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On Wearing Three Hats
The first time I remember partitioning philosophy professors who had very
mistrust the more advanced practices of
myself in order to accommodate other strong views about a field with which they yoga (although of course they don't mind
people's needs for an oversimplified other were largely unfamiliar. After a time
a good workout). Analytic philosophers,
was in the mid-1960s. Like many others I simply refused to take the bait.
like most academics, also tend to be
at that time, I had started doing yoga, and
The third time (since there are three hermetically engaged with their particular
had gotten seriously committed to it ­
hats, you get three anecdotes) was in order areas of specialization, and so mistrust
taking classes, doing postures at home, to protect my work in analytic philosophy Contemporary Art. And the contemporary
and reading Vedanta philosophy. During from the art world. The attacks came from art world's susceptibility to transient
art school I then developed an interest male artists who had earlier defined their intellectual fashion leads it to mistrust
in Western philosophy: Jasper Johns was own art practice in relation to analytic the rigor, discipline and traditionalism
reading Wittgenstein, so everyone else philosophy. But as I became more deeply of analytic philosophy.
in the art world did, too. Both interests involved in it, and particularly after I was
I practice yoga, moonlight in art and
moved me to start taking summer courses admitted to the Ph.D. program at Harvard, hold down a tenured day job in philosophy.
in philosophy at CCNY. My first philoso- they became progressively disenchanted My day job is particularly hostile to my
phy instructor, an analytic philosopher by it, and quite vocal in their criticisms work as an artist. But it requires me to
in the Anglo-American tradition, made of its academic and class elitism. Some maintain standing self-protective defenses
disparaging remarks in class about »fuzzy- of them ignored me when we met on the of various kinds against attacks on the
headed Eastern mysticism«. I responded STREETS OF NEW YORK, or made pointed
legitimacy of both of my two other
by tucking the fuzzy part of my head
remarks about not needing a Ph.D. in
essential activities: fighting for institu-
safely out of sight, under my hard-nosed philosophy to make good art, or dropped tional recognition and support of my role
analytic philosopher's hat. I didn't doff me from the anthologies and group
as an artist, or concealing it in order to
that hat in a professional philosophy
shows in which we had, up to that point, avoid institutional antagonism; or con-
context for twenty-five years. Happily, exhibited together. Later, I learned not fining my interest in Vedanta to reading
it's no longer politically acceptable to
to mention my philosophical interests
and exercise classes.
be quite that publicly contemptuous of around my art world colleagues for other
I have survived in each of these
a foreign culture's worldview.
reasons: they became restless when
respective fields through camouflage.
The second time I oversimplified
I discussed it, or took my interest in it to Since I am committed fully and in equal
myself was in order to protect my
undermine my authenticity as an artist. measure to all of them, I am familiar
commitment to art from attack by philos-
I don't have a similar anecdote to tell enough with the language and practices
ophers. It was right after I'd graduated about yoga. Since Vedanta places a high of each to present myself as an authentic
from art school. I had already established priority on the values of receptivity and »native speaker« in whichever one
myself professionally, and had attained a insight into everything life has to offer, I happen to be in at the moment. And
certain degree of visibility as an artist. A it is generally less resistant than art
I have learned to blend in professionally
philosopher friend had introduced me to or philosophy to perceived anomaly, and with each, by temporarily suppressing my
Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, and this correspondingly more welcoming of all interests and involvement in the others.
had motivated me to enroll at CCNY full- of my activities.
One philosopher attempted blackmail
time for an undergraduate degree in
by threatening to expose my art activities
3. »How do you philosophy. I was 21 years old. After read- ing a review of my art work in the news-
to our colleagues. I called her bluff by encouraging her to by all means publicly
deal with other papers, one of my philosophy professors
parade her philistinism.
people's reactions?« took me aside after class to explain to me why what I was doing was not art at
There's an edgy, sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach you get when you are
all. Our brief conversation established
riding with a garrulous cab driver and you
that he had not kept up with developments I have never found a professional context both wander too close to the limits of safe
in contemporary art since Impressionism. anywhere that was not hostile in some conversation. You know that beyond those
He wasn't sure Picasso's cubist imagery measure to at least one, and sometimes limits, your friendly repartee will freeze
was really art, either. Lord, please wake two out of the three of my hats. Jnana
into stony silence, turn ugly, or deteriorate
me up, I prayed silently. He did not want Yoga, the yoga of analysis and scholar- into a shouting match. As he nears the
to hear about Duchamp, Dada, Surrealism, ship, is not well established in this coun- danger zone, your heart sinks, your pulse
or Minimalism, and I was too immersed try, so many yoga afficionados mistrust races, and your hackles rise simultane-
in the newly emerging practice of Concep- the intellect in general, and academic
ously. I get that feeling a lot, with many
tual Art to convey its importance. I found philosophy in particular. Like many
of my colleagues, in each field. Greater
the exchange futile and enervating, a real academics more generally, analytic
conversational depth, breadth, and self-
waste of time. That was only the first of philosophers are often dismissive about revelation set off warning signals. As
many such diatribes I had to listen to from matters of the spirit, and so tend to
my colleague innocently wanders too near
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Adrian Piper
the border, I have to decide whether to xenophobia is similarly an instance
I find among philosophy students
change the subject, lie, leave, or say what of anomalophobia. Other instances of
and professionals for whom the process
is true and thereby destroy our connection. anomalophobia include a philosopher's of venturing into the alien territory of an
Only the avoidance of connection succeeds experience of anxiety, violation, or
author's mind, by reading, attending to,
in avoiding the danger.
disorientation in the presence of contem- and analyzing closely her or his written
These manoeuvres, particularly between porary art, and an artist's experience
work is so threatening that they cannot
art and philosophy, make me feel like
of anxiety, violation or disorientation in bring themselves to do it at all. Similarly,
an adulterous spouse. Each field demands the presence of philosophy.
some artists' perceptual anomalophobia
my full energy, attention, and commit-
Because philosophers are trained to is expressed in rabid avoidance of the
ment; each resents my involvement with navigate the highways of abstract logical cutting edge, and in work that celebrates,
the other; each suspects such involvement reasoning, and to clear away the under- replicates, or permutes artistic convention.
when I am absent; each feels personally brush in order to pave new ones, the
betrayed when this suspicion is confirmed; and each is absolutely and unconditionally unwilling to concede any legitimacy to that involvement, much less make any accommodation to it. Each field is morally outraged by the suggestion that I am a resource that might be shared with the other, to the ultimate advantage of both. It is almost as though I had suggested
best tend to have a comparatively high tolerance for logical complexity and conceptual unfamiliarity. But philosophers also tend to have a correspondingly low tolerance for sensory stimulation and perceptual anomaly. They often live quietly and conservatively; prefer traditional Western art, music, dance, and literature; choose conventional lifestyles; and wear
5. »Does your involvement in more than one field influence your perception of each? If so, how?«
group sex.
classic, tailored clothes in muted colors
Some people are lucky enough to have (tans, tweeds, navy blues).
While withholding the anomalous parts
multiple talents that are publicly compat-
By contrast, contemporary artists are of myself from view, I rely on them in
ible, such as being a history professor
trained to seek out, discern, and transmute judging the one before me. I survey each
and a pianist, or a computer programmer perceptual anomaly. So the best tend to community with an outsider's eye, and
and a swimmer, or a nurse and a poet.
have a high tolerance for sensory stimula- sometimes find it lacking in some respect
I know of several academics who, in their tion and unfamiliarity. But many artists the others supply. The yoga community's
time at the computer, sometimes do other also tend to have a correspondingly low depth balances the art community's
kinds of writing: poetry, fiction, food
tolerance for those uncharted highways of shallowness, and the philosophy commu-
criticism, journalism. They don't need the abstract logical reasoning that post no nity's rigor balances its vagaries. From
subterfuges that are necessary when the directional signs or geographical markers. the perspective of philosophy and yoga,
professional communities that exercise They often live dangerously and precari- the art community looks undisciplined,
those talents are at one another's throats. ously, define in their sartorial choices the impulsive, and gratification-oriented;
fashion of the moment, choose unconven- materialistic, obsessed with the fashion
4. »How do the members of each
tional lifestyles, and tend to be drawn to cutting-edge work not only in the Fine Arts, but in music, dance, literature, and
of the moment, and fundamentally unconcerned with standards of quality ­ which seem to be invoked only as a rationaliza-
field differ from the others?«
theory as well. (As for me, I live quietly and precariously; prefer traditional Western and cutting-edge art, music,
tion for maintaining the status quo of money and power. On the other hand, the art community offers a perspective of
dance, and literature; have an unconven- untrammeled spontaneity and unpredict-
Hegel thought art and philosophy were tional lifestyle; and wear classic, tailored ability from which both the philosophy
a good combination. If it's good enough clothes in muted colors.)
and the yoga communities seem staid
for Hegel, it's good enough for me. But
So whereas philosophers tend to suffer and controlling, achieving depth and rigor
the practices of art and philosophy are from anomalophobia of the senses, artists at the expense of inventiveness.
also diametrically opposed in certain
often suffer from anomalophobia of
Similarly, the art community's
ways. Everyone is to some extent afraid the intellect. Present one with the creative inclusiveness balances the philosophy
of what is strange, unfamiliar, or un-
products of the other and the reaction is community's provincialism, and the yoga
known. Call this anomalophobia. (Some usually instant antipathy. That is why
community's self-reflectiveness balances
people are also drawn to it, by curiosity, I never do so unless asked, and then only its intellectual glibness. From the perspec-
attraction, or the desire for mastery.
with great trepidation.
tive of art and yoga, the philosophy
Call this anomalophilia.) Just as racism,
Of course it can work the other way community seems rigid, narrow-minded
sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia,
around in particular cases. I have been and petty; emotionally stunted, obsessed
and so forth are instances of xenophobia, struck by the intellectual anomalophobia with professional hierarchy, and fatally
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On Wearing Three Hats
self-deceived by its conflation of
stitched to my head. The longer I meditate been duly reprimanded ­ or ridiculed,
entrenched socioeconomic status with on the subject of race, the more bizarre or bullied, or threatened with professional
philosophical worth. On the other hand, and pathological it strikes me that some retaliation ­ for getting out of line by
the philosophy community offers a
pink, beige, cream, tan, salmon, pale
those gatekeepers of the field whose self-
perspective from which both art and yoga yellow, cafй-au-lait, mocha, chocolate, imposed duty is to safeguard its purity
communities seem blind to the pleasures and mahogany-colored people should
against my contaminating influence. On
of what Plato would describe as the realm designate themselves as »white« and
my first job a senior professor befriended
of pure form, achieving full physical
other pink, beige, cream, tan, salmon,
me and nominated me for membership in
embodiment at the expense of intellectual pale yellow, cafй-au-lait, mocha, choco- an exclusive academic society. For doing
insight.
late, and mahogany-colored people
so he almost lost his own membership,
Finally, the philosophy community's as »black« and then insist vehemently and so I lost his friendship. Another was
rationalism and the art community's open- on the self-evidence of these designations. ridiculed for socializing with me, and put
mindedness balance the yoga community's It is particularly odd because optically, an end to the ridicule by putting an end
intermittent anti-intellectualism. From white results from combining all waves to the socializing. Then there was the
the perspective of art and philosophy, the on the spectrum of color ­ the height
colleague of long standing who moved
yoga community seems protected, isolated, of mongrelization, whereas black is the to a prominent department and tried to
and unworldly; rejecting of interrogative absence of color ­ the epitome of purifica- convince his colleagues to recruit me there
dialogue, resistant to moral complexity, tion. I would have thought that this was as well. It took years for him to rebuild
and overly respectful of authority. On
just the opposite of what devoutly white his credibility ­ at the expense, of course,
the other hand, the yoga community offers people would mean to say about them- of those recruitment efforts as well as
a perspective from which the art and
selves. Now whenever someone refers of our collegiality. These are only a few
philosophy communities seem so pre- to themselves or others using these terms, of many such cases. Not one of those so
occupied with chasing transient and
I feel as though I am trapped among
pressured has had the courage of his (and
illusionary goods that they seem simply somnambulistic mannikins in a very bad it is always a »his«) convictions.
to miss the basic point of being on the parody of a George Romero film ­ and,
Similarly, in some ways, with my art
planet in the first place. Yoga's doctrine what's more, expected to play a part. I world colleagues. I have gotten kicked out
of detachment and nonpossessiveness
keep on trying to get off the set, and can't. of the art world twice: the first time in 1970
counsels a critical and removed attitude
In the case of race, I have traded
when it became generally known that
towards all three communities, and belies greater professional recognition for
I was a woman; the second time in 1974
the Marxist and communitarian objection the privilege of publicly affirming my
when, after considerable exposure in group
to the foundations of social contract
African-American Heritage, and so
shows of women artists involved in second-
theory, that there is no self metaphysically confusing those who rely on crude racial wave feminism, it became generally
independent of social circumstance. In categories. I have been struck by the
known that I was African American. After
fact there is, and the aim of yogic practice number of philosophy colleagues for
that happened I had plenty of time, privacy
is to arrive at it. To engage in all three whom I seemingly ceased to exist after and solitude to pursue my artistic interests,
activities deeply, rigorously, inclusively, my racial identity became generally
compatibly with teaching and doing
self-reflectively, rationally, and open-
known. There are many who expressed research in philosophy and keeping up my
mindedly is the greatest personal fulfill- their interest and regard during my first yoga practice. It was not until the late
ment there is. It's better than sex.
years out of graduate school from whom 1980s, when the topic of gender, race, and
I no longer receive greetings when our difference became fashionable in critical
paths cross at conventions, nor invitations circles that I was rehabilitated. At that 6. »Does being dif- to speak at their departments, nor biblio- point I became very popular, and many
ficult to categorize make it difficult to
graphic citations when they make use
of the individuals for whom I had ceased
of my work in their publications, nor even to exist rediscovered my existence. Our
standard letters of acknowledgment or reunion was joyful. It was as though we'd
be recognized? If so, in what ways?«
rejection when I submit papers to their journals. Of course it works both ways: When my racial identity became known
never been parted. ­ Up to a point: many such individuals have a definite sense of how much recognition is fitting for some-
to them, their true characters became
one of my status, and I am often repri-
Here I would contrast being a light-
known to me. So these are individuals manded for overstepping myself.
skinned African-American woman with who have largely ceased to exist for me
In the case of being a Jill-of-all-trades,
being »multi-talented«. I consider both as well.
by contrast, having three hats to wear has
my white appearance and my black
Many others who have had the temer- not made it more difficult to be recog-
identity to be fourth and fifth »hats«
ity to befriend me professionally, or to try nized, because I have no scruples about
I would gladly take off if they were not to recruit me or promote my work, have wearing only one hat at a time. I try to
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Adrian Piper
adapt to each community by presenting into going ahead with it, by threatening gives me the very great satisfaction of
myself in such a way as to maximize easy to sue me in court if I backed out. (She proving to them that you don't have to
categorization. I do not demand any more now denies she did this, but in fact she reject your family and misrepresent who
recognition, of any more of me, from any did. I remember. I was there.)
you are in order to make it in this country.
particular specialized audience to my
Through this recognition I experi- After my parents died, I came to see that
work than I sense it is able to give. When enced for the first time the connection and they, and I, are of a species that is slowly
I am in the art, philosophy, or yoga com- affirmation with an actual audience that becoming extinct. In one hundred years
munities, I mostly just shut up about the I had always envisioned with my ideal there will be no families like ours left
other ones. This benefits others, by
audience. It's the experience of trying in the United States, and no one left who
reducing the conceptual anomaly I would to communicate something and knowing is like me and my relatives. They all will
otherwise represent; and it benefits me, that, even when you are not being fully have disappeared into the white main-
by allowing me to focus fully on the task understood, you are at least being taken stream. By contrast, on my first visit to
at hand.
seriously and listened to. I used to have Australia I was astounded to discover that
to do this for myself, which can lead to sand-colored, green-eyed, narrow-nosed
7. »What are the costs and benefits
a bad case of egomania. So it's very
Aboriginals of mixed ancestry had abso-
pleasant to have an actual audience help- lutely no interest in passing. Their pride
ing me out. It's part of what continues to in their Aboriginal ancestry was absolute
of being multitalented?«
motivate me, not only to do my work, but and public. They made me feel even more to present it in public arenas ­ galleries, ashamed of being an American than museums, books, articles, or public fora. I usually do; and bereft of a community
Another part of that motivation is
I had never imagined it was possible to
I've already described some of the rewards my awareness of the effect of my success have. In time, my public visibility will
and punishments, both personal and
on my parents. They were very proud of have become a reliquary tribute ­ to my
social. But the serious costs came when me. One of the most profound satisfac- parents' pride in their parents, in their
the recognition I was receiving in one
tions of my life, and their greatest gift to parents' parents, and in their parents'
field grew beyond my ability to confine me, is my knowledge that in doing what parents ­ that will be even more incom-
it to that field. Between 1974 and 1987 I most wanted to do and felt best suited to prehensible to future generations of
there was virtually no audience to
do, I made them happy. I have countless Americans than it is to this one.
my work in art, and I was for most of
photographs of them in later life,
My increased visibility as an artist
that time either a student or an assistant laughing, smiling, hugging me, hugging itself increased my visibility as a philoso-
professor with relatively low visibility each other. In earlier photos, taken when pher. The philosophy community's discov-
in philosophy. Under these conditions, it I was a bratty, bitchy teenager from hell, ery of my »other life« as an artist returned
was easy to avoid the antagonism of each they looked anxious and worried, uncer- its attention to my philosophy research ­
community toward the other. I instituted tain and apprehensive. But in later ones, attention that had lagged considerably
the policy of not engaging in professional they begin to look more and more light- after its discovery that I was black. So
art activity in the area where I live and hearted and content. When I look at those being a successful artist served to score
teach philosophy, so that neither commu- photos I am reminded that I lightened back some of the professional points I'd
nity would have to deal with my involve- their hearts. That reminder lightens mine. lost among some philosophers by being
ment in the other, and I would not have to
I also take vicarious pleasure in
African-American. Among others, it has
deal with their hostility to that involve- competing on my parents' behalf and
merely increased my notoriety.
ment. For thirteen years this arrangement winning the recognition and validation
allowed me to pursue both activities in relative peace.
8. »How has being I receive from the audience to my work. Since I didn't have siblings, I have never
My visibility as an artist took a sharp felt comfortable competing with my
multi-talented
affected your life?« upward turn in 1987, as the result of my various professional peer groups. (It took
first, twenty-year retrospective. When
me a long time to figure out that they
the Alternative Museum asked to do this were nevertheless competing with me.
retrospective, I was very pleased at the What a revelation! All those years my All this has meant an exponential increase
prospect of being rehabilitated. But
colleagues were thinking of me as a
in press exposure, invitations, demands,
I intuitively knew that the fragile balance competitor for professional rewards,
obligations, and paperwork from both
that had enabled me to pursue my interests I was thinking of them as cute guys.)
fields that continues to this day. These
in all three fields, without interference The groups I am competing with, in all constitute the language of public recogni-
from the others, would be destroyed.
aspects of my work and conduct, are those tion and appreciation to creative producers
I was extremely ambivalent. In the end, branches of my family who are passing in any field. But managing these expres-
Jane Farver, the curator, twisted my arm for white. Every public success I achieve sions of appreciation is a full-time job in
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On Wearing Three Hats
itself. If there is no one to take on this job, or to pay its salary, it can consume all of one's time and energy; and this has been true for me. My increased visibility as an artist has been almost entirely due to the critical and intellectual reception of my work among writers, curators, critics, academics, and other artists. Most collectors avoid it, and some museum trustees actually boycott board meetings at which curators attempt to propose it for acquisition. Since increasingly, America's rich people feel that they are not rich enough, this trend among collectors and trustees is likely to worsen. If there is a case for my work to be made, most would prefer to please just put a sock in it. So I am famous without being rich. This means that I must manage my visibilityconnected professional and administrative affairs more or less single-handedly, in addition to teach full-time, do research in philosophy, produce my artwork, and raise money to pay for materials and assistance. Needless to say, this is impossible. I have collapsed from physical exhaustion at least once every year since 1991. I have completed no new body of art work since 1992. And my progress on the threevolume philosophy project I began in 1982 has virtually ground to a halt just four chapters short of completion. For the last five years I have spent most of my out-ofclassroom time answering the phone, filing paperwork, giving outside talks to pay for assistance, and trying to recover my health. I am aware of constantly trespassing the outer limits of my physical ability to function. This, in turn, reduces my ability to keep up the yoga practice that has been so important in helping me to cope with all of it. Now, I don't know where my hot flashes are. But let me assure you that when they finally do arrive, it would be better for everybody if I were at least doing my yoga. Of course I could reverse this downward spiral by making work that was more palatable to those who are wealthy enough to buy it. But I am not willing to do that. This kind of obstinacy is typical for those blessed with Igbo forebears, as I am on my mother's side. You may recall that the Igbo were the Nigerian tribe
whose members committed suicide rather than permitting themselves to be sold into slavery. That's why there are so few remnants of Igbo culture and ancestry to be found among African Americans now. They are also the tribe who chose to be massacred rather than cut a deal with the British in Biafra. Unlike all other African tribes, the Igbo form of government is a parliamentary democracy rather than a monarchy. And unlike most other languages excluding English, Igbo does not distinguish between the familiar and the polite forms of address, so the Igbo are considered rude and disrespectful by other African tribes. The Igbo are known throughout Africa for being daring, ambitious, resourceful and enterprising on the one hand, but proud, bellicose, idealistic, arrogant and uncompromising on the other. Like the Klingons on Star Trek, they will gladly die defending their honor. When you're almost as hard-wired for martyrdom as Commander Worf, there's not a whole lot you can do about it. Since my rehabilitation I have also received many more threats to my privacy and safety than I had simply in virtue of being a black woman of the professional class. Most well known artists are available to the public only through their galleries. They thus have intermediaries to screen public access to them. Because my position as a philosophy professor at Wellesley College is public knowledge, many individuals simply bypass my gallery in an effort to gain direct access to me. They call (or write or Fed Ex or fax) me at my office in the philosophy department to discuss art-related business while I am in conference with students; or leave messages with the department secretary, and sometimes even with my colleagues; or travel to the Wellesley campus and turn up in my classes, appear at my office door during my office hours, or go to the campus police to try to get my home address. Increased recognition has made it impossible to control my self-presentation to any particular subset of my professional colleagues. For example, my philosophy colleagues have come to know more about my artwork than they learned from me, from having read about it in national newspapers and periodicals or having
seen it in major museum shows. Some have gotten confused about the kind of work I do in each field: Since I make art that targets racism and xenophobia, they infer that I must work in this area of research in philosophy as well, which is false (my primary philosophy research is in metaethics and Kant's metaphysics). Or, what is worse, they read into my philosophy research a »subtext« of commentary on race of their own devising, then respond to that rather than to what I actually say. Among others, this new information about me has elicited precisely the reactions I feared: I have lost friends in the field who had defined their relationship to me in nonpolitical or non-cultural terms, and found these new variables too difficult to deal with; or who had assumed I worked in traditional art media, and had no way of coming to grips with the »experimental« forms my art work often takes; or who have felt obligated to take some sort of stand on this other work I do, and have not known quite what stand to take. Still others pretend it doesn't exist, or accord it the status of a private hobby, or attempt actively and explicitly to thwart my success at it. I have found similarly hostile reactions among some of my art colleagues to my professional status as a philosopher. Many are like those philosophers who assume that their general level of education entitles them to pass judgment on the specialized field of contemporary art with which they are largely unfamiliar, and then react negatively when it does not meet their preconceptions. Similarly, many of my art world colleagues reason that since they are generally well-read and intelligent individuals, and since philosophy is a discursive discipline (rather than technical and symbolic like mathematics or physics), they should be able to grasp a specialized philosophical argument or text simply by reading it carefully. Given the turgid impenetrability of the deconstructionist texts in art theory they are expected to master, this is not an unrealistic expectation. But when they approach my work in philosophy with this attitude and discover that it is not that easy, they often react antagonistically or disparagingly, or simply withdraw. One art critic
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Adrian Piper
who proposed to write a book evaluating my work in both fields ­ and dismissed my warnings about the special training philosophy requires ­ eventually took the only face-saving way out of the impasse this created, by picking a fight, terminating our friendship, and thereby the book project. Others who have intuited the importance of delving into my philosophical research in order to fully understand my art work have distanced themselves from me and my work altogether; or have complained that it is over-intellectualized; or have reasoned that it can't be that significant if it can't stand on its own. 9. »Does being multi-talented cause hostility in others? If so, what do you do about it?« The sheer numbers of people in both fields who have personally demonstrated to me (I watch what people do rather than what they say) how much they want me to fail at my work ­ or go off somewhere else, do something else, or just plain disappear from their line of vision ­ is staggering. It is also deeply demoralizing. Really, sometimes these people behave so badly, so clumsily, and so shamelessly that it is impossible not to speculate on what must have been done to them in early childhood. One suspects at the very least youthful schooling deficient in Austen and Tolstoy, and overly devoted to The Three Stooges. But I can handle them. When I am bed-ridden I read many, many novels, each of which provides me with a consoling narrative in which, to suit the occasion, I may appropriately recast myself as someone else. I also write this essay. (Here I envision myself as Marcel Proust, hard at work on Remembrance of Things Past, the coverlet up to my chin, the bedroom curtains drawn, and Mozart's Jupiter symphony keening and throbbing obligingly in the background.) I have a two-volume art-related project coming out soon. This should be an
occasion for celebration. Instead I feel anxiety and foreboding. I now know from experience how this event could further damage my work, my health, my safety, and my professional relationships. I anticipate disaster. I spend a lot of time mentally casting about for avenues of escape (perhaps I'll emigrate to Berlin, I fantasize; or look up my maternal Hindu relatives in New Delhi and join an ashram; or in any case give geographical foundation to my alien status), and avoiding the reality that such people are everywhere to be found. It's difficult to imagine going on this way for another thirty-odd years, so I avoid that thought, too. Instead I remember how much satisfaction I would give these floating patches of pond scum if I were to let them win. Reading biographical accounts of historical figures who triumph over adversity is also very inspiring. Besides, you can learn a tremendous amount about human nature from being on the receiving end of this kind of thing. Plus you get an unending source of material for your work. So I protect myself by doing my work and staying as far away from such people as possible. And I remind myself that things could be much worse. If I'd been born two hundred years ago, I would've been a slave. I wouldn't be having these problems at all. So I certainly wouldn't want to seem ungrateful or anything. I recently read Stephen Jay Gould's essay on the multiple and nonstandard types of intelligence that enabled Charles Darwin not only to formulate his theory of natural selection, but to publish and gain recognition among his peers for it. He comments that »all the world's brilliance, and all the soul's energy, cannot combine to produce historical impact without (...) the health and peace required to live into adulthood; sufficient social acceptability to gain a hearing; and life in a century able to understand (...)«.2 He goes on to quote George Eliot on the pain of brilliant women without opportunity, and to comment on Darwin's good luck in being a rich, upper-class white male who had at his disposal the »pervasive, silent, and apparently frictionless functioning (...) of the Victorian gentleman's world ­ the clubs, the networks, the mutual 123
favors, the exclusions of some people, with never a word mentioned.« That world of course has an analogue in contemporary academia. It is the world of high-profile research institutions, whose primary commitment is to research innovation. Its currency is the »mutual favors« ­ the exchange among all of its members of the assistance, resources, contacts and opportunities ­ that encourage and facilitate its »frictionless functioning«. I am not now in that world, and no longer hungry for it. As the worlds in which I live multiply, combine and divide ­ art, philosophy, yoga, African-America, European-America, music, dance, literature, German culture and politics (of course I have hobbies, just like everybody else) ­ it occupies an ever smaller place in the larger one. Nevertheless I cannot bring myself to condemn unconditionally this contemporary version of the »Victorian gentlemen's club« of »rich, upper-class white male[s]«. I owe the most crucial opportunities of my professional life to the generosity and support of upper-class white males: John Rawls and Roderick Firth in philosophy, Sol LeWitt and Hans Haacke in art. It is not their fault I turned out so differently from what they might have expected. Besides, I think the business of harping on »the exclusions of some people« can be carried too far. When I read Budd Hopkins' and John Mack's research into extra-terrestrial abductions,3 my first reaction was not incredulity or skepticism. It was hurt feelings at being left out. How come the little creatures aren't abducting me? I asked myself. Aren't I interesting enough for them? 2 Stephen Jay Gould, »Why Darwin?«, in: The New York Review of Books XLIII, 6 (April 4, 1996), S. 10 ­14. 3 Budd Hopkins, Intruders: The Incredible Visitations at Copley Woods, New York 1987; John Mack, Abduction: Human Encounters with Aliens, New York 1994.
On Wearing Three Hats
10. »How does the strengths you develop in each field affect the others?« As to the effect of multiple strengths on each part, the effects themselves are multiple. My artwork has a purifying and strengthening effect on my philosophy work. For example, I am rabidly conservative on matters of philosophical curriculum and practice. One philosopher friend has attributed my »purist« attitude toward philosophy to my having other outlets for my »creative« and »experimental« tendencies. I think there's some truth to that. It's also true that the activity of doing philosophy functions for me as a sanctuary from the issues and experiences I feel compelled to address in my artwork. Philosophy is the place where I am free to think abstractly, comprehensively, rigorously, and precisely; to indulge my need to conceive the biggest possible picture in the greatest possible depth on the one hand, and split all the hairs there are to split on the other. At the same time, if I could not address the concrete and practical issues of racism and xenophobia in my art work, my many repressive and xenophobic professional experiences in philosophy would have turned me into a much more twisted and seriously damaged person than I already am. My work in art helps me to love philosophy for what it is, and not to demand of it more than it can give. Similarly, doing philosophy removes any temptation to pump up my artwork with large infusions of theory, theorizing, or philosophizing, and directs those impulses to a context in which I can give them free reign. This frees up my artwork to proceed entirely from intuition. I never try to force it into any preconceived theoretical framework, and resist most of those which others try to impose on it. Although the connections among all three of my central activities become clearer to me every day, my art work has its own logic and structure, which are quite independent of any intellectual meddling
on my part. At the same time, if I had not pursued my philosophical and theoretical interests as a professional philosopher, my artwork would not have had the ethical, political, and epistemological focus it has. And if I were not tenured in a completely different field, I would have no independent vantage point from which to make institutionally and politically subversive art without fear of professional retaliation. My work in philosophy has given me a taste for the challenge of making art that addresses the universal issues ­ integrity, justice, autonomy, freedom ­ that connect people across cultures and historical periods, independently of the aesthetic idiolect of a particular time and place. Doing yoga, by contrast, has influenced my work both in art and in philosophy from the beginning, in their strategies as well as their content. In order to confound crude racial stereotypes, my artwork attempts to bring its viewers into what I have elsewhere called »the indexical present«.4 It deploys certain psychological, theatrical, or literary devices for heightening the viewer's selfawareness of her immediate and present relation to the work, as a unique and singular entity that addresses her directly. This strategy is inspired by a yogic meditation technique known as samyama. In philosophy, I develop a Kantian conception of the self as maintaining its internal unity and integrity through the synthesizing activity of rational conceptualization. This preserves ego-coherence on the one hand, but obstructs fine-grained perceptual discrimination and selfknowledge, and reduces tolerance of conceptual anomaly, on the other.5 My cognitive analysis of ego-coherence, and my evaluation of its benefits and limitations, is partly inspired by the yogic tradition of Vedanta philosophy that seeks to relax and transcend the constraints of the individual self. Kant was familiar with this tradition.6 124
11. »What do you personally get out of pursuing such a variety of interests? What makes it worth the trouble?« As you can see, my concerns in all three fields have a large self-interested component. I am a conceptual anomaly who elicits xenophobic responses from most people. So it is in my own interest to confound crude stereotypes and bring the viewer to a greater awareness and acceptance of anomaly, singularity and individual complexity. My art practice is a tool for doing that. It is similarly in my own interest to be able to understand the structure and functioning of the individual self in such a way as to explain why that awareness and acceptance of anomaly is so very difficult to achieve. My work in philosophy offers the consolation of insight when awareness and acceptance are lacking. 4 See Adrian Piper, »Xenophobia and the Indexical Present«, in: Re-Imaging America : The Arts of Social Change, ed. Mark O'Brien, Philadelphia 1990; reprinted in Kontext Kunst, ed. Peter Weibel, Kцln 1994, S. 490 ­ 498; and in Out of Order, Out of Sight, Volume I: Selected Writings in Meta-Art 1968 ­ 1992, Cambridge 1996). 5 See, for example, Adrian Piper, »Two Conceptions of the Self«, in: Philosophical Studies 48, 2 (September 1985), S. 173 ­ 197, reprinted in: The Philosopher's Annual VIII (1985), S. 222 ­ 246; »Pseudorationality«, in: Amelie O. Rorty and Brian McLaughlin, eds. Perspectives on Self-Deception, Los Angeles 1988, S. 297 ­ 323; and »Two Kinds of Discrimination«, in: Yale Journal of Criticism 6, 1 (1993), S. 25 ­ 74; reprinted in Out of Order, Out of Sight, Volume II: Selected Writings in Art Criticism 1967 ­ 1992, Cambridge 1996). 6 So, for example, in part one of Die Religion innerhalb der Grenzen der bloЯen Vernunft, Kant demonstrates a surprisingly detailed knowledge of Hindu cosmology in his passing comment that »in einigen Gegenden von Hindostan der Weltrichter und Zertцrer Ruttren (sonst auch Siba oder Siwen genannt) schon als der jetzt machthabende Gott verehrt wird, nachdem der Welterhalter Wischnu, seines Amts, das er vom Weltschцpfer Brahma ьbernahm, mьde, es schon seit Jahrhunderten niedergelegt hat.« Imanuel Kant, Die Religion innerhalb der Grenzen der bloЯen Vernunft, hg. von Karl Vorlдnder, Hamburg 1978, S. 17.
Adrian Piper
When my person or presence itself elicits musical form and /or content, and for
furniture music, and similarly with what-
a too vehemently xenophobic response, I inscribed and /or enacted body language, ever speech I am hearing. I don't ask any
can turn to my artwork as an intermediary as well as visual symbology. Most view- more of my audience than I am prepared
for communicating with those who suffer ers spend approximately seven seconds to give as an audience to someone else.
from anomalophobia of the intellect, and in front of a work of art, and can »do« Lately I have been having the humbling
to my work in philosophy as an intermedi- a gallery in a few minutes and a museum experience of going back to some of
ary for communicating with those who show in an hour. By contrast,
Bach's more obscure cantatas that I'd
suffer from anomalophobia of the senses. my work typically demands much more thought were not very good the first time
Finally, it is in my own interest to
than that just to fully take in one piece. I heard them because I hadn't listened
achieve with all such individuals a quality One reason I make these demands, closely enough, and realizing, after
of relationship, a mode of functioning, I think, is because of my early training as repeated and attentive listening, that I just
and a level of awareness that transcend a painter. When I look at paintings, I not hadn't been ready to hear what was there.
the rigid and provincial conceptualizations only look from a distance at framing,
I've discovered the piercing sweetness of
of experience that turn me into an anoma- placement, and composition. Most of my Kurt Huber's tenor, the celestial majesty
ly in the first place. My yoga practice
looking is up close to the canvas, reading of the opening chorale to #110, and the
enables me to do this. Together, all three the brushwork for the history of the artist's humorous self-cannibalization of #178,
activities enable me to know that my
aesthetic and strategic decisions: what which Bach there carries to new and
experiences have not been for nothing. parts were rubbed out? overpainted?
outrageous lengths. This reminds me
They are ways of transforming pain into painted quickly, with short, rapid strokes? never to delude myself into thinking I've
meaning.
or slowly, with long smooth gestures?
grasped a work ­ in art, music, or
What forms are rendered in painstaking literature ­ just because I've skimmed it
12. »These fields
detail, and which ones with broad but suggestive brushstrokes? What is the
once; and so never to dismiss what I've skimmed with some easy rationalizations
are very different from one another. What are the constants?«
linear and spatial relation between one that happened to come to mind. area of brushwork and another? and so on. It is only this kind of looking that 13. »Where in your enables me to see what is there, and it typically takes hours. The first time I went life history do these multiple talents to see Cezanne's »Bathers« at the Museum of Modern Art, I stood in front of it for
In each area of activity there are certain basic elements or vocabulary that are constants. In art, I almost always deploy
and interests come four hours. »Is everything all right, Miss?« from?« the museum guard asked me solicitously. »Just fine, thank you«, I answered.
the frontal gaze, discursive or compressed And then I read some monographs on it,
text, and indexical language; in philoso- written language that guided me even
All three activities have deep roots in
phy, the analytic style of argumentation, further into Cezanne's language of ges- childhood experience. I was the only child
detailed scrutiny of texts, and Kantian ture, and so came back and looked even in an extended family of four adults for
epistemological and metaethical orienta- longer and saw even more. I do not see whom political argument and analysis
tion; in yoga, yogic meditation integrated many exhibitions, because when I do
(of McCarthyism and racism in particular)
with sequences of physical postures and I know I will look until my head is split- were the dinnertime conversational norm.
breathing exercises as the foundation for ting and my eyeballs are rolling down
There I learned quickly that reasoning
all other practices. So whatever works my cheeks. After the Met's »Painting in rationally and logically was the best way
pop up during these cycles are never a Renaissance Sienna« I was so teary and to command attention, authority, and
total surprise.
unfocussed that I caught the wrong bus respect for what I had to say. One of my
By »language« in art, I mean not only home. By contrast with the intensity of earliest memories is of my mother ex-
the language of images and words, but looking and seeing that traditional paint- claiming to me in exasperation, »Does
also the language of music, lyrics, and /or ing demands, my work is a piece of cake. there have to be a reason for everything?!«
the body. Whether spoken, written, formed, Another reason why I feel entitled to and my vehemently retorting, »Yes!«
or performed, my work usually makes demand so much of my audience is my My maternal grandmother kept an eye on
many demands on the viewer to read
early studies in Medieval and Renaissance me while both of my parents worked. She
deeply and complexly in many languages, musicology, which emphasized listening encouraged the drawing, painting, and
to pay attention for an extended period, over the study of scores in order to detect sculpting in which almost all children
and to compute with not just one, but two the structure of a composition. This leads naturally engage. And although I did not
and sometimes three or four channels
me to treat whatever music I am listening discover yoga until I was sixteen, it was
receiving: for writing and /or speech, for to as foreground rather than Satiean
continuous with earlier experiences and
125
On Wearing Three Hats
habits: of spontaneously focussed
older and crankier I get, the more difficult combined with other materials or media,
awareness on the richness, vividness and it becomes. Since my only resources are the space or context in which they should
mystery of some present but otherwise the very same traits that got me in trouble be realized, etc.
unremarkable moment; and of the medita- in the first place, it is usually a losing
This process ­ of gradually forming
tive discipline of certain kinds of physical battle anyway. I am accustomed to moving and realizing a work, in whichever field,
activity such as dance, playing catch,
through most social interactions in a
and then leaving it behind me while I go
or jumping rope (which, at the age of six, particularly challenging yogic posture, i.e. on to the next one ­ proceeds in natural
I once did for eight hours nonstop).
with one foot planted firmly in my mouth. cycles I cannot predict. These cycles, too,
The deep-rootedness of all three
are multiple and simultaneous in nature,
activities has seriously undermined my successful socialization. They have
14. »Does one role
since more than one work of more than one type is usually in some stage of the
fashioned adult personality traits that complicate or thwart my relationships with others in a variety of circumstances. Part of the problem, of course, is the way I look. What people see is a nice white
or talent take priority over the others?«
process of formation at any particular moment. When External pressures obstruct the natural course of these cycles, I simply accumulate more and more unrealized
lady, and what they get is another difficult
ideas and visions, of all kinds, in my
black woman. But philosophy, art, and When I am free of the constraints imposed mind. These ideas exert increasing inter-
yoga make the problem even worse. My on me by each of the communities of
nal pressure on me to realize them, to
reliance on rationality in communication which I am a part, none of them do. I have transcend them by putting them out into
makes me insensitive or blind to other no professional discipline whatsoever. the world. When I don't have the time
kinds of social nuance in interpersonal I have always mistrusted those articles or to realize all of them, this can cause
interactions: I often respond to transactions interviews with writers that describe how, painful internal conflict and sometimes
of power, assertions of hierarchical superi- six days a week (they rest on the seventh), paralysis. When I am too exhausted to
ority, or signs of emotional investment they get up early in the morning, work for realize any of them, the tension between
inappropriately, with rational analysis or three hours, then eat a hearty breakfast, my inner life and my outer life increases
argument rather than diplomacy. Similar- go jogging, then get in another two solid unbearably. The natural connection
ly, my ingrained disposition to self-
hours of work, after which they have a between idea and action on its behalf
expression results in an Impulse control nutritious lunch, then a good nap, fol-
is severed, and the activity of doing my
problem: I often express my thoughts, lowed by two hours for answering corre- work itself recedes to a distant, tantalizing
um, forthrightly, at moments when it
spondence, a brisk walk, a light but
memory. I feel as though I am grieving
would be in my best interests to button nourishing dinner, and an evening spent a death.
my lip. Finally, my penchant for probing reading an edifying volume. Who are
Then I turn into a really bad person,
the appearances in search of deeper
these people? I wonder to myself. What and ­ even worse ­ an absent-minded one.
realities often leads me to violate conven- planet are they on?
This is when I start letting a lot of my
tions of polite discourse or conduct: I ask
My creative life consists in multiple professional plates drop. I forget dead-
tactless questions, make hurtful or awk- pro-active processes ­ intuitive, concep- lines, appointments, meetings, bills,
ward observations, or pursue an explana- tual, visual, verbal, auditory, and kinaes- correspondence, and a few more basic
tion far past the point of comfort for
thetic ­ that are in operation simultane- things such as brushing my teeth.
anyone else.
ously and at all times. These processes I become obsessed with the proliferating
These traits make me extremely
have something to do with grasping and contents of my mental space, and spend
difficult and irritating to work with. And forming. I can't be any more specific
many bedridden or physically immobilized
the more irritated others become, the more than that. (By contrast, emotions for me hours mentally envisioning the series
baffled I become and the more I act out are reactive, and so are among the experi- of steps by which I would realize them
these traits in an attempt to find out why. ential data these pro-active processes
if I could. This is how, in my mind, I have
(Of course I feel deep indignation and operate on.) Ideas or images or words or long since completed my three-volume
outrage whenever some impertinent young arguments gradually coalesce in my mind, philosophy project, and have made a great
whippersnapper behaves in these ways or sometimes appear fully formed. As
deal of art in the last four years. To
toward me.) Knowing these things about they become sharper, clearer, and more envision those steps in complete detail
myself, I work hard to sensitize myself to intense, they thereby become more
without being able to carry them out is
social convention and cultivate empathy, demanding of realization. Then I start
to be imprisoned, trapped in my body
by imagining what it must be like to be making strategic decisions about how to and strangled by circumstance.
the other person. But the better I get at do that: in what medium they should be
When the external obstacles disap-
this psychological exercise, the more
realized, what materials or colors should pear, those natural cycles lurch forward
disturbing and painful it is to do. And the be used, how, if at all, they should be
on their own course. They are basically
126
Adrian Piper
addictive-compulsive drives that express sometimes combine to form chords, or
my fundamental discontent with and
separate to form counterpoint. You can
optimism about the world, by changing tune in to one ­ i.e. turn up its volume,
and adding to it. So it is not within my and bring it into the foreground. The others
power to control them, and it would be continue, but more quietly, in the back-
a waste of valuable time and energy even ground. Then that one may return to the
to try. When I am in the midst of a project background, while the volume goes up
in any one of my three areas of activity, on two others, and you hear the shifting
I am fully absorbed in it, and work at it sequences of chords and counterpoint
obsessively. Nothing else exists and
they form in combination. And sometimes
everything else ­ schedules, meals, rest, you can hear all of the individual melo-
other people ­ falls by the wayside.
dies, chords, and counterpoints, distinctly
(Any professional plates that remained in and in partial and full combination, even
the air will come crashing to the ground though all are playing simultaneously.
at this point.) Over the course of a week When that happens you are floating in
or a month or longer, I may either focus a billowing, rushing stream of sound,
exclusively on that project, or else ­ what composed of rivulets of voice and instru-
is more typically the case ­ alternate my mentation. Then you just relax, and let
focus between two or even three such
it carry you wherever it will.
projects sequentially, moving back and
forth among them as they demand my
© Adrian Piper Research Archive 2007
attention. And sometimes as I'm doing
this, connections among them will appear
or influence the direction each is taking.
The more time I have to follow this
through before new obstacles appear, the
more the processes of realizing different
works even out. They gradually become
less tornado-like ­ more balanced, moder-
ate, and integrated with other activities
(such as brushing my teeth); and I become
increasingly even-tempered and charming.
Harmony is orchestrating all processes
simultaneously, each at its own pace. Bliss
is being able to give each the measure of
attention and energy it needs at that
moment, while the others purr quietly in
the background.
Then the relation between all three
kinds of cycles of work can be compared
to the process of recording and mixing
an early Renaissance mass by Johannes
Ockeghem. Ockeghem's method of
composition was polyphonic, in which
each voice or instrument was scored to
a different melody, and all played more
or less simultaneously. The relation
among them was musical, and numerically
proportional, but not strictly harmonic
(since the harmonic scale had not yet
been discovered). Listening to this kind
of composition is a little like mixing it in
the recording studio: within an ongoing,
complex band of sound, you can hear
different, ongoing strands of melody that
127

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