Glenn Gould: les maisons grises (1974)

Enfin! J’ai retourné ma bibliothèque perso dans tous les sens plusieurs fois à la recherche du passage où Glenn Gould faisait l’apologie des maisons grises. Et puis,tout à l’heure, je tape « glenn gould grey houses » et voilà![en anglais dans le texte]:

Disons, par exemple, que j’ai le privilège de résider dans une ville où toute les maisons sont peintes gris « marine de guerre ». […] Maintenant supposons, pour le raisonnement, que sans prévenir un individu décide de peindre sa maison rouge pompier. […] La conséquence réelle de son action présagerait l’apparition dans la ville d’une activité maniaque et presque inévitablement – dans la mesure où les autres maisons seraient repeintes dans des teintes semblement criardes – encouragerait un climat de compétition et, corollairement, de violence.

Infra le lien et le contexte (en anglais).

Glenn Gould Interviews Glenn Gould about Glenn Gould (From High Fidelity, February 1974).- Resources – The Glenn Gould Archive

I simply feel that the artist should be granted, both for his sake and for that of his public — and let me get on record right now the fact that I’m not at all happy with words like « public » and « artist »; I’m not happy with the hierarchical implications of that kind of terminology — that he should be granted anonymity. He should be permitted to operate in secret, as it were, unconcerned with — or, better still, unaware of — the presumed demands of the marketplace — which demands, given sufficient indifference on the part of a sufficient number of artists, will simply disappear. And given their disappearance, the artist will then abandon his false sense of « public » responsibility, and his « public » will relinquish its role of servile dependency.

Mr. Gould, are you saying that you do not make aesthetic judgments?

No, I’m not saying that — though I wish I were able to make that statement, because it would attest to a degree of spiritual perfection that I have not attained. However, to rephrase the fashionable cliché, I do try as best I can to make only moral judgments and not aesthetic ones — except, as I said, in the case of my own work.

Let’s say, for example, that I had been privileged to reside in a town in which all the houses were painted battleship grey.

g.g.: Why battleship grey?

G.G.: It’s my favourite colour.

g.g.: It’s a rather negative colour, isn’t it?

G.G.: That’s why it’s my favourite. Now then, let’s suppose for the sake of argument that without warning one individual elected to paint his house fire-engine red —

g.g.: — thereby challenging the symmetry of the town planning.

G.G.: Yes, it would probably do that too, but you’re approaching the question from an aesthetic point of view. The real consequence of his action would be to foreshadow an outbreak of manic activity in the town and almost inevitably — since other houses would be painted in similarly garish hues — to encourage a climate of competition and, as a corollary, of violence.

g.g.: I gather, then, that red in your colour lexicon represents aggressive behaviour.

G.G.: I should have thought there’d be general agreement on that. But as I said, there would be an aesthetic/moral overlap at this point. The man who painted the first house may have done so purely from an aesthetic preference, and it would, to use an old-fashioned word, be « sinful » if I were to take him to account in respect of his taste. Such an accounting would conceivably inhibit all subsequent judgments on his part. But if I were able to persuade him that his particular aesthetic indulgence represented a moral danger to the community as a whole, and providing I could muster a vocabulary appropriate to the task — which would not be, obviously, a vocabulary of aesthetic standards — then that would, I think, be my responsibility.

It’s the post-renaissance tradition that has brought the Western world to the brink of destruction. You know, this odd attachment to freedom of movement, freedom of speech, and so on is a peculiarly Occidental phenomenon. It’s all part of the Occidental notion that one can successfully separate word and deed. (…)

McLuhan talks about just that in the Gutenberg Galaxy — that preliterate peoples or minimally literate peoples are much less willing to permit that distinction.

It’s only cultures that, by accident or good management, bypassed the Renaissance which see art for the menace it really is.

g.g.: May I assume the U.S.S.R. would qualify?

G.G.: Absolutely. The Soviets are a bit rough-hewn as to method, I’ll admit, but their concerns are absolutely justified.

I think that we must accept the fact that art is not inevitably benign, that it is potentially destructive. We should analyze the areas where it tends to do least harm, use them as a guideline, and build into art a component that will enable it to preside over its own obsolescence —

since I haven’t noticed a single ban-the-child-who-pulls-wings-from-dragonflies movement, I can’t join it, either. You see, the Western world is consumed with notions of qualification; the threat of nuclear extinction fulfils those notions, and the loss of a dragonfly’s wing does not. And until the two phenomena are recognized as one, indivisible, until physical and verbal aggression are seen as simply a flip of the competitive coin, until every aesthetic decision can be equated with a moral correlative, I’ll continue to listen to the Berlin Philharmonic from behind a glass partition.

I remarked that I, rather than Mr. Santayana’s hero, am « the last puritan. »

g.g.: And you don’t find any problem in reconciling the individual conscience aspect of the Reformation and the collective censorship of the puritan tradition? Both motifs, it would seem to me, are curiously intermingled in your thesis and, from what I know of it, in your documentary work as well.

G.G.: Well, no, I don’t think there’s an inevitable inconsistency there, because at its best — which is to say at its purest — that tradition involved perpetual schismatic division. The best and purest — or at any rate the most ostracized — of individuals ended up in Alpine valleys as symbols of their rejection of the world of the plains. As a matter of fact, there is to this day a Mennonite sect in Switzerland that equates separation from the world with altitude.

I’ve never understood the preoccupation with freedom as it’s reckoned in the Western world. So far as I can see, freedom of movement usually has to do only with mobility, and freedom of speech most frequently with socially sanctioned verbal aggression, and to be incarcerated would be the perfect test of one’s inner mobility and of the strength which would enable one to opt creatively out of the human situation.

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