“Performance and Truth”
Looke upon the rainebow, and praise him that made it, very beautifull it is in the brightnesse thereof. It compasseth the heaven about with a glorious circle, and the hands of the most high have bended it.
—Ecclesiasticus xliii: 11–12
At one time, for a period of several months, I had almost no inclination to write anything: general essays, research findings, or even my so-called poetry. I initially thought that this was some form of blockage, then I realized that it was but the next stage in a process that had become apparent over the previous few years, which included the giving up of my “composing”—and especially of my seminars and lectures. At this time, when I received a speaking invitation my immediate thought was how to get out of it. It was not performance anxiety—I have never experienced that—but rather the absence of the desire to perform. And this I regarded not as a problem but a virtue, not as an impediment but a breakthrough.
When I listened to the tapes of my seminars, or watched the videos, or even looked at the photographs, I realized with increasing concern that the person there was not really me. It was a performance me, a public me—but it was not me. I had distorted myself, my true self, my deepest self, in order to appear on the stage. I had constantly to think of the audience. I could never be really myself: only that exaggerated, convoluted public part of me, which the rules of performer-and-audience interaction prescribe.
It was the same with my writing. I was constantly aware of you, the reader. And what I wrote was determined by you. Not that I lied, or even set out to be devious or ingratiating. It was just that when I thought of you thinking of me, I could not say precisely what I wanted to say in precisely the way I wanted to say it. And thus writing became increasingly difficult.
Even though I wrote in my quiet study with no human beings around, only the trees and the birds, I was nonetheless aware of you as a member of my audience. I did not know you, and you did not know me—only that distorted, exaggerated part of me that I chose to present, the only part that I could present to the public.
It would have been better if you had been sitting beside me and we were talking friend to friend, or if my writing had been a letter to you. Then it would have been a private communication. And it would have been far more honest and revealing. But this was not the format. I was on a stage reciting a monologue, and you were out there in my audience.
I was not a truth-sayer, even if I could have been, but just a performer. I found myself constantly torn between something I felt deep inside and yearned to express, and the fact that I could not while I was concerned about you. Not about whether you would accept it or not, or like me or not. It was not the nature of your response that concerned me. It was my awareness that you had a response, any response, that caused me to distort what I really wanted to say. And I did not know what that was because I had never been able to speak freely. The thought of you always diverted, intruded, impeded.
Listen to the beginning of the Hammerklavier Sonata. Beethoven is so aware of his audience. He plays the first two bars and then stops. “Did you hear it?” he turns to ask. “What did it do to you?” And then again, and again he stops. Feeling the audience response, reaching for it, invoking it—working them for it.
Even as a composer, he was still always a performer, constantly aware of his audience. I wonder what he would have played if he were by himself on a Sunday afternoon, the sun streaming into the room, feeling peaceful and at one with the world. Alone with God. That would have been his real music. Although I am sure he so played, he never wrote it down, at least not in that pure form. He would have been compelled by the audience to adulterate it for public performance.
When I put on a record, any record—every record, I hear the “performanceness,” the public “presentationness” of it. I turn it off. It is not true. I hear the falsity, and I hear it now ever more clearly. “Who are you really?” I ask. Let me know your true self. But they cannot, and I cannot. We are meant to reveal our real selves not to the public, but only to those who reveal their truest selves to us: our loved ones and God.
The TV host and I appear to be having a dialogue, but each is really talking to the audience through the other. Thus, there is deceit and distortion in what we say, no matter how true it may appear to be. And there is some show business in all public utterance—including, of course, this one.
I pick up a book and I sense the author’s awareness of the audience—and again the falsity, the distortion, the lack of deepest personal truth. I see it in all paintings and sculptures. All are performances: every artist is a performer and his work just a performance. Always the exaggeration and display for the audience. Always the perversion of the deepest truth within.
The forms of all art are audience-oriented, larger than life. No one in real life declaims like the actor on stage. How would that character speak at home? That would be so much closer to his truth.
Blake called for a chariot of fire because we were before him. I do not know what he would have privately requested from God—but it would have been less grand, and more sincere. Even Basho’s frog jumped for the audience.
They say that when we read a poem we hear the voice of the poet. Yes, but it is his public voice. How did Tennyson really talk to his family? Blake to his wife? How did Hopkins really talk to God? This is the true voice, which we do not hear, not even in the most private of poems: for no poet thinks in iambic pentameter, let alone in sonnets. No composer hears the sweet music in his soul as a symphony or cantata, not as counterpoint, or fugue, or canon. All are artificial, unnatural.
When a child starts to play the piano, he has no thought of public performance. But early in every musician’s life this becomes permanently welded to his concept of music. Initially he played for himself, for his mother and family. But soon he is asked to perform for relatives and strangers who visit. And then the music school puts on concerts and recitals at which he is expected to perform. Now, whenever he plays, even by himself, the thought of the audience intrudes.
He practices and practices to get it right—for the audience. All is preparation for the next public presentation. His ego becomes more and more involved. And performance stress becomes inevitable. He displays himself before them. “Look at me. Listen to me. Aren’t I wonderful?” He fears they will not love him. “Do you think they really loved me? Do you think they really loved me?”
Yet there is no real reason why a musician should ever need to perform for a public audience. For his family— yes, especially for his mother, the source of all music. Not for the public, not for strangers. Why should he not be content just to play at home? But what would he play? All music has been composed with an audience in mind, and somehow it is incomplete without their participation. Can you imagine the finale of Beethoven’s Ninth being played to an empty hall?
I encounter many musicians, artists, and writers who really are not performers. Deep down they do not wish to be, but they are unaware that this is acceptable—indeed, that it may be preferable. They really just want to play and sing for themselves and their families. They have no desire to appear on the stage of Carnegie Hall, and yet they believe that they should, because in our society art has become synonymous with performance.
I am not suggesting that the highest art should be self-directed—not at all. This would be but a supreme example of the narcissism that already so infests the arts. What I am suggesting is that all artistic endeavor should be directed upward—up to God, not out to the audience.
This was the problem I faced with my writing. I wanted you to have the information, and I wanted it to help you. But somehow in the telling it became distorted, I lost sight of God when I thought of you. I could not ever say what I really wanted to say—and I doubt that there are words for it anyway.
The last seminar I had given was on how natural phenomena could induce Belovedness: rainbows, dew, frost and snow, and sunshine. All from heaven, like manna. All manifestations of God. I burned to tell the audience what this revelation had done to me, and what it could do to them. It was as if I had been given an inkling, just an inkling of the wonders that transformed Job.
With all my heart I wanted the passion and ecstasy to burst out from me into them. But I did not have the understanding or the power.
As best I could, I tried. And I failed, utterly failed. I looked at them sitting before me, and I looked at them looking at me. I felt so alienated. Never had the distance between us seemed so great. Never did they seem so remote. I realized then and there that the feelings in my heart would forever be locked within. And I felt my heart breaking. I stopped, closed my notes, and walked out of the hall.
On not a single occasion since has any member of that audience ever mentioned rainbows or sunshine, or any of the other wonders. And this I know now is what should be expected. The translation of one’s deepest thoughts and feelings into speech is utterly impossible. Please tell me, really tell me, how it feels to give birth to a baby.
The indescribable feelings that those leaves on the tree arouse in me are just that—indescribable. And every attempt to communicate them fails, abjectly. I should just point—or perhaps take a photograph. Putting thoughts and feelings into speech is the problem, for all communication seems to have this performance element that blurs and distorts. The very presentation of truth misrepresents it.
All I can do, and all I should ever try to do, is to help you to see, really see, the dew—and to taste it. My task is to point, and hope.
Quantum physics teaches that the presence of the observer affects the experiment. And the knowledge of his presence affects the Belovedness. In solitude, a priest does not pray the same as he does when leading the congregation. Perhaps the way is to become ever more private, to sing only upward, alone with God. To renounce all public presentation: not to perform, but just to be.
What of the audience who wants to hear me and to learn from me? Am I to disregard them by singing only upward? This seems so selfish—a priest would never refuse to pray with his congregation. To do so is his duty, and to speak to you is mine.
But how to speak? How to be true to the audience, to myself, and to my Highest Self? The answer must be not for me to speak to you, but for my Highest Self to commune with yours, from the God within me to the God, the very same God, within you. Then all outward communications are upward, for all is upward.