Arts & Culture / Politics / The Stage / Vol. 1 No. 3-4

The Coming of the Second-Time

1989 Cecil Taylor Poster

Image Credit: Poster for a solo concert by Cecil Taylor in Willisau/Switzerland, designed by Niklaus Troxler

for pianist, composer, poet – friend, and mentor, Cecil Taylor

The following was delivered in tribute to the great artist, Cecil Taylor (March 25, 1929-April 5, 2018), at his funeral and Memorial Service, which took place on Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in New York City.

A first and only note; which comes to me from Cecil Taylor: all is a preparation, to await the passive in generation; – that is to say, of, the masculine maternal, or the masculine feminine; – or, that is perhaps also to say, of generosity, from which all things begin; – of, hospitality.

I wish to share with you a few words of a thought of the second time, of what in the context of both music and philosophy I think of under the heading of the complicated a-logical logic of the second time, or a movement of the secondary rhythm: that is to say, the appearance of a specific form can take place only according to a genetic movement in which the origin can appear as such only by way of its emergence in the apparition of the shadowed blind of repetition, which is always other than the same; or, form can only announce its possibility according to an infrastructural organization in which, as Cecil Taylor put it astride the mid-1960s: “the root of rhythm is its central unit of change.” The a-logical logic of the originarity of the second time – my thoughts today take their articulation from this formulation. Which is to say that genesis is always at least and never only double.

This thought allows us to gain access to a whole sense of the organization of sound, of music and musicality, of poiesis, and performance, that I regard as radical. It is a perspective in which repetition is the most oppositional and non-radical sense of rhythm. Rather, that which one might suppose is central is never given, at, or even within, any instance.

Or, to put in better terms still: the generosity of other senses of the supposed vertical and horizontal dimensions of music as sound, for example – even if not yet fully given – become available for acknowledgement, in practice. Already, across the timeline of the 1950s to the 1960s, in Cecil’s work, it announces an opening beyond which a distinct and powerful perspective according to which a new sense of an “architecture” for a music might be proposed, can be given, made, rendered, and remade. While it is “architectural” it is otherwise than the “architectonic,” even as Cecil Taylor understood all that has been proposed in this latter sense, from the 18th century forward.

It is my thought to share with you that Taylor elaborated this sense of music from one end to the other, from the beginning to the end, of his lengthy itinerary, from early mid-1956 (most certainly, if not beforehand), and into the middle months of-2016, the occasion of my last hearing of his music, in live performance, at the new Whitney Museum.

Following Cecil’s practice, (discursive, gestural, and musical), we might formulate a series of questions. What, then, if rhythm is not time, or, even, space? What if rather, it may be understood to mark or remark the very opening of temporality for sense, or to announce duration as the reciprocity of space in its eruption and the concomitant organization of all that we might place under the heading of time – that, if at all, spacing gives temporality; perhaps we can say, say, simply, in one word, as Cecil often said – dance?

Such practice, as music, would thus be otherwise than time, that is as traditional sense of time; it might be other than a one or a simple; it would be as the making of time, as it were, as it will have been made, and thus is at stake in a future.

Could we not formulate then a sense of Cecil’s relation to tradition as a history of the future that is not yet, that is a historicity in which our relation to the future is the decisive bearing of tradition – as that which is not yet and yet also as that which will have remained, inhabitable, if at all, only in this passage to the terms of a future anterior sense? It would thus be otherwise than time, that is as traditional sense of time; it might be other than a one or a simple; it would be as the making of time, as it were, as it will have been made.

Yet, it would thus also rearticulate the problem of the future with regard to forms of existence, if you will, of that which may be given as space and extension – as body. Thus, it may be proposed that along with the radicality that might be justly granted to a protocol that would insist on the passage to the absolute, or to a concept of the whole in general, whether as philosophy, theology, or science (noting in particular that such has been the avowed thought of philosophy worldwide across the past two and a half centuries; yet we may also say, or we might be remiss, that so in certain traditions such it has been even across the past two millenniums and more), it remains that thought and practice must also affirm that existence (or, as contemporary philosophy, of our moment, might say, being), all that we can gather by these headings announces itself, or is at issue, only in and through an asymmetry of limit and passage. In this sense, it might be said that the implacable demand of our time – in thoughtful and artistic practice – calls for a dilation of imagination by way of a certain labor of contraction. For me, it articulates as a masculine maternal, one in which the masculine maybe understood and, perhaps, may come to understand itself, as constituted within, shall we say, as itself of all that gives the radical order of the feminine.

If so, in this domain, particular figures of being and historicity may acquire their general pertinence by way of their partiality and their limited emergence in the field of existence.
perhaps, then, it is not too much to propose that this thought belonged to Cecil Taylor when he wrote, of the anacrustic incipit of the musical group, or “unit,” in terms of his stated poetics at the mid-1960s, articulating itself, to itself, in its heterogeneity, according to a principle of freedom as well as a principle of necessity, as it undertakes the making of music, in a fashion that guides us here, from his notes to the album of recordings, Unit Structures, issued in 1966: “form is possibility.”

And here, today, we can recall at once what the great poet Derek Walcott wrote in Morning, Paramin (a text published in 2016, just a year before his passing), in dialogue, conversation, intra-introspection with the painter Peter Doig, thirty years his junior: “all forms miss perfection.”

Perhaps then, our thought is of an unceasing movement of asymmetrical reciprocity in the unfolding of what Taylor calls the atopic “area” configuring “anacrusis” and “plain” as relation. The orientation (and here no such descriptor can maintain or sustain an unmotivated pertinence), is toward the sense of the illimitable, an immanent concatenation of the possible and the impossible, the impossible possible world or, even, another world, as the imperative that solicits thought as practice or practice as thought, for example, music: yet, not as a finality or idea, but as a problem of existence – the ostensible instance, as note or remark (sounded or written) – that will only become such as that which will have been, perhaps, if at all.

If “the root of rhythm is its central unit of change,” we can thus think of an asymmetrical “irregular rhythm,” which does not, as such, state its theme, that is declare its form as a final idea. For, at best, such an idea, or statement, would always be after the fact, in its wake.

Rather, it is a thought of the genetic reciprocity of origin and end in the making of historical possibility and limit, in which the sense of the origin is always at stake and can only be declared in the arrival of a supposed telos. Yet the supposed origin can be named only in and by way of that ostensible arrival. In such a thought, not only can the supposed repetition or expression of an origin be thought of in this sense as the origin of the origin, but the arrival of an apparent telos is only the articulation of another form of problem, otherwise and beyond any thought of a possibility, of possibility as given; it is rather the constitution of another possible sense of a futural origin, or as I prefer, genesis, given of future.

Even then, it is in the form of an announcement of the second time. The claim is for all those who arrive at the threshold of historicity “too late,” after the fact. Form, if at all, would be as problem, of problem as possibility.

For, we must prepare ourselves to practice a commitment to that which is otherwise than what has for too long been understood under the heading of death; instead, we must practice an inhabitation of that non-place beyond the thought of death as a form otherwise than being.

As Cecil once said or wrote, or please allow me to say it again, this time in Cecil’s words: we must prepare ourselves to meet the face of our ancestors, including those yet to come, our ancestors of the future, those too beyond and otherwise than human as form, whether as animal, or otherwise; rather we must allow ourselves to be addressed by those who have given to us, those that have given us, are given in us, those who have made it possible for us, to give again – always at least, and thus never only – for a second time.


Working at the highest level of artistic innovation for nearly seven decades and widely regarded by fellow practitioners for such radically new work – in 2013 Cecil Taylor was finally recognized by the award of the Kyoto Prize in the fields of art and philosophy. It is the highest such international award in those fields, apart from literature. Previous recipients of included, among others, Olivier Messaien, Jurgen Habermas, John Cage, Isamu Noguchi, Pina Bausch, Iannis Xenakis, and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. My thoughts are thus also in memorial celebration that acknowledgement. For, I was fortunate to be there, in the event. With these words, then, I have sought to bear witness, today.
10 April 2018

Note: Cecil Taylor – Kyoto Prize Performances – Links

The 2013 Kyoto Prize Workshop in Arts and Philosophy – “The World of Cecil Taylor: Structure and Improvisation:” Cecil Taylor, piano (the Laureate in Arts and Philosophy); with
Min Tanaka, dance. November 12, 2013, at Kyoto Concert Hall.

The 2013 Kyoto Prize Commemorative Performance in Arts and Philosophy – Cecil Taylor (the laureate in Arts and Philosophy) with Min Tanaka, November 11, 2013, at Kyoto International Conference Center.

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