And there is. For what these works are doing is simply moving constantly toward more poetic fields of relevance. Let us now be specific: Waiting for Godot is a mightily moving and compassionate non-play. La Dolce Vita, which deals with emptiness and tawdriness, is a curiously invigorating film, even an inspiring one. Nabokov's non-novel Pale Fire is a thrilling masterpiece, and its hero, Charles Kinbote, is a pure non-hero. Balanchine's most abstract and esoteric ballets are his prize smash hits. De Kooning's pictures can be wonderfully decorative, suggestive, stimulating and very expensive. This could become a very long list indeed; but there is one thing that it could not include – a piece of serious anti-music. Music cannot prosper as a non-art, because it is basically and radically an abstract art, whereas all the other arts deal basicaIly with real images — words, shapes, stories, the human body. And when a great artist takes a real image and abstracts it, or joins it to another real image that seems irrelevant, or combines them in an illogical way, he is poeticizing. In this sense Joyce is more poetical than Zola, Balanchine more than Petipa, Nabokov more than Tolstoy, Fellini more than Griffith. But John Cage is not more poetical than Mahler, nor is Boulez more so than Debussy.
Why must music be excluded from this very prosperous tendency in the arts? Because it is abstract to start with; it deals directly with the emotions, through a transparent medium of tones which are unrelated to any representational aspects of living. The only "reality" these tones can have is form — that is, the precise way in which these tones interconnect. And by form I mean the shape of a two-note motive as well as of a phrase, or of the whole second act of Tristan. One cannot "abstract" musical tones; on the contrary they have to be given their reality through form: up-and-down, long-and-short, loud-and-soft.
And so to the inescapable conclusion. All forms that we have ever known — plain chant, motet, fugue, or sonata — have always been conceived in tonality, that is, in the sense of a tonal magnetic center, with subsidiary tonal relationships. This sense, I believe, is built into the human organism; we cannot hear two isolated tones, even devoid of any context, without immediately imputing a tonal meaning to them. We may differ from one another in the tonal meaning we infer, but we infer it nonetheless. We are stuck with this, and always will be. And the moment a composer tries to "abstract" musical tones by denying them their tonal implications, he has left the world of communication. In fact, it is all but impossible to do (although Heaven knows how hard composers have been trying for fifty years) — as witness the increasingly desperate means being resorted to — chance-music, electronic sounds, noteless "instructions", the manipulation of noise, whatnot.