“This story has a lot to do with why there isn’t very much variety. I don’t think that this characteristic is confined to America at all. Two well-known characters might be taken as the prototypes of our artists today: Faust and Schweik. Faust who makes a gnostic religion or way of life or even mystery out of art is the older style. He is beautifully described in Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus, which is said to be based on the life of Alban Berg. Mahler, Schoenberg, Stockhausen, Paik – I think of these people as Faustian.
The other type of image is even more poetic than old Faust. Schweik is a character in a great novel by that name by Haşek. Schweik is a soldier. The world explodes, but he endures. His country crumbles, but he sells dogs. He is forced into the army. He is buffeted and thrown around here and there. But he is too naive and too fine a person to pay any attention to all that. He is, perhaps, above it. At the end of the novel he wanders off into no man’s land, in pursuit of a beautiful butterfly. He may have been captured or shot: we do not know.
Right now this is the more popular kind of image. Most artists are behaving as if they had set this image for themselves. I think some consciously have. And to me, the terrible thing is that anyone behaves as if they had set any image for themselves.
Schweik is poetic. But to live up to one’s image is sheer Madison Avenue. And Madison Avenue is sick, don’t you think? Madison Avenue may plant the trees on Park Avenue every Christmas, but Madison Avenue is available to the highest bidder.
And so is living up to the image of Schweik being for sale at the noblest phrase.
But that is to get ahead of the story.”
(Dick Higgins, Postface, p. 4 in Jefferson’s Birthday/Postface, 1964.)