‘Élan Vital … and How to Fake it’: Morton Feldman and Merle Marsicano’s Vernacular Metaphysics

Ryan Dohoney*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Scholars have explored the relationship between US experimentalism and vitalist philosophy largely through John Cage’s reception of Henri Bergson. Recent scholarship has shown the importance of vitalism to the wider New York School. Evidence from Feldman’s archive suggests he too absorbed Bergsonian philosophy. Feldman signalled this when he wrote of ‘Henri Bergson’s élan vital … and how to fake it’ in his unpublished lectures, New York Style. He borrows vitalist vocabulary for piece titles (Extensions and Durations) and, in an early sketchbook, describes his open-form Intermission 6 as ‘an outline of becoming’. These interests are also apparent in his collaborations. His nearly-lost dance piece Figure of Memory, written for choreographer Merle Marsicano, is Feldman’s only other open form piece (along with Intermission 6). Marsicano employed similar vitalist language to Feldman and applied it to her dance. Feldman’s collaboration with Marsicano signals a shared vernacular metaphysics mingling Bergsonism, self-abnegation, and aesthetic form.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)229-246
Number of pages18
JournalContemporary Music Review
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Jul 4 2019


  • Bergson
  • Figure of Memory
  • Intermission 6
  • Merle Marsicano
  • Morton Feldman
  • vitalism
  • élan vital

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Music


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