Feldman – Beckett – Johns: Patterning, Memory and Subjectivity

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Chapter abstract:

A number of Morton Feldman’s late works owe their existence to Samuel Beckett, and the text of the opera 'Neither' was written by Beckett in response to a request from Feldman. Much of Feldman’s late work is also strongly influenced by the crosshatch paintings of Jasper Johns. Crosshatching first appeared in one section of Johns’s 'Untitled (1972)', which subsequently formed the basis for his contribution to 'Foirades/ Fizzles', a joint venture with Beckett. In no sense did these three ever truly collaborate. However, a triangle of association and influence is apparent; in each case, certain works from the 1970s and 1980s were developed at least partly in response to work by one of the others. What remains debatable is how far these associations arose as a result of affinities already independently manifested, and to what extent the direct contact led to actual changes in artistic approach and method.

A close examination of these works illuminates this question. In each, the apparent drive towards self-reflexive abstraction belies a more complex relationship with the role of echoing and memory, through both formal and allusive repetition and difference. In turn, this very complexity exposes the difficulty of placing the three artists within any of the possible canons; each sits uneasily within either purely Modernist or Postmodernist boundaries, while Feldman’s late work also complicates his relationship with American Experimentalism, as does Beckett’s with the European Avant-Garde. Central to this, inevitably, is the question of how similar artistic concerns and techniques may or may not be translated between different media and across continents: how do these ideas mutate as they are mapped from language and to visual art and/or sound (and back again).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication The Modernist Legacy
Subtitle of host publicationEssays on New Music
EditorsBjörn Heile
Place of PublicationAldershot
Number of pages24
ISBN (Print) 9780754662600
Publication statusPublished - 2009

Cite this