PRINT Summer 1983



To the Editor:
I can almost understand why Thomas McEvilley, in his piece on Diogenes, “The Dog” [“Diogenes of Sinope (ca. 410–ca. 320 B.c.): Selected Performance Pieces,” March 1983], should have “changed Schopenhauer’s exemplum from a cat to a dog.” I say almost because where, in the passage in question, Schopenhauer goes on to speak of being “engrossed in the contemplation of these higher vertebrates,” and of their “unfathomable inner being” (shades of Kandinsky!), he is incontestably describing the cat, and to a T, too, I might add (The World as Will and Representation, trans. Payne). Besides, on Schopenhauer’s very next page there is a dog mention anyway, making much the same point, if, as one might have guessed, more crudely. Of course, I write as a “cat person,” and if necessary in the name of Cat Power, on behalf of Huysmans, Puschen, Ernestine, Oskar, and Sophie, who have done their part in letting me know that I was one after all.

Incidentally, Schopenhauer was interested in the final so-called “performance” of Diogenes, his legendary suicide by stopping breathing (volume I, section 23), but only in wondering if breathing is a voluntary act. For myself, to take these things as mere deeds, as contributions to a prehistory of “performance art,” places them in the realm of unbracketed “acting-out,” robbing them of any claim to be healthily fictive (if not downright fictional) critical/rhetorical propositions, moves—that is, moves made in a context.

Joseph Masheck
New York

Thomas McEvilley replies:
Differences between cat and dog people aside, Joseph Masheck raises interesting questions, and for this I thank him.

The historicity of the Diogenes anecdotes is of course subject to the same uncertainties as is any ancient anecdotal material. Some stories certainly date from his lifetime; others may have entered the tradition at later points. What is certain is that one Diogenes of Sinope did behave outlandishly, more or less in the manner recounted in the anecdotes, in Athens and Corinth in the fourth century B.C., and that he did call this activity philosophy. For this he was known by some as “Socrates gone mad.” The tradition of public symbolic gestures in the service of philosophy went back, in the Greek tradition, to the appearance of the Sophist Hippias at the Olympic Games with clothing, ring, oil flask, and strigil all made by himself, to illustrate his doctrine of self-sufficiency. That is: the doctrine was embodied in the man and acted out by him. The tradition was perpetuated in the line of Diogenes and, interestingly, was transportable from one culture to another, as its spread through the Roman Empire shows.

That this activity was not context-bound is a point of primary importance. Various scholars have argued for both Black Sea shamanism and Indian yogic practices as sources for some of the motifs in Diogenes’ behavior system. (Respectively, Farrand Sayre, Diogenes of Sinope, A Study of Greek Cynicism, Baltimore, Maryland, 1969, and Daniel H.H. Ingalls, “Cynics and Pasupatas,” Harvard Theological Review 55 (1962), pp. 281–298. More context on this situation can be found in my article “Early Greek Philosophy and Madhyamika,” Philosophy East and West 31, 1981, pp. 141–164.) The great achievement of Diogenes was precisely that he took a behavior system either learned in or derived from specific religious and cultural contexts and, under the abstracting influence of Athenian philosophy, broke it free from its context and made of it an open gesturalism. One of the points that Diogenes stressed was precisely a freedom from contextual limitations and ethnic determinisms. It was the same Diogenes of Sinope who, when asked where his homeland was, replied, “I am a citizen of the cosmos.” My article in this issue of Artforum goes more deeply into the idea of a prehistory for performance art and attempts to make clear the types of context problems involved.

The question of whether a person with special training could hold his or her breath until death is uncertain. Western scholars, of course, raise their eyebrows at this, especially since the same story is told of Zeno the Stoic (Diogenes Laertius VII, 28). But yogis have demonstrated under clinical observation that both respiration and pulse are at some level voluntary activities. The value of the story as a symbolic object arising from the sensibility of both the Cynic and Stoic schools is not much affected by the question.

To the Editor:
Donald Kuspit’s article “Uncivil War” was extremely well written and indeed carried a relevant message. As a veteran of Viet Nam I was in the midst of that war’s horror and insanity. Having had that experience I can agree with Kuspit that most Modern art does not have the capacity to convey the feelings one is confronted with by the daily experiences of war.

Lakin Jones
Newport News, Va.

To the Editor:
It was with great interest that I read Kate Linker’s piece in the Forum section of your April issue. Based on her figures, the gallery with the largest percentage of women represented would seem to be Acquavella Contemporary Art, which represents six women out of 14 artists for a whopping 42.857%.

Duncan MacGuigan
Director, Acquavella Contemporary Art
New York