Love Is Real: John Maus

The experimental polymath on infinity, romantic love, meaningful human connection and the banality of evil

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John Maus has been described by his sometime collaborator Ariel Pink as "a tortured evangelist on a mercenary quest to rid our world of the villainous defilers of The Gospel of True Love”. Whether the Animal Collective and Haunted Graffiti lynchpin is successful in that quest is debatable, but it’s certainly true that the intensely intellectual musician-cum-artist-cum-scientist-cum-philosopher spans multiple disciplines in his attempt. When he’s not leaping up and down shouting over his mashed-up electronic punk compositions he is busy lecturing students in political philosophy or extracting alkaloids in a makeshift lab. We caught up with him this weekend at Jean Nouvel’s Serpentine Pavilion, where his Fluxus-esque performance of the monumentally weird album Love Is Real witnessed as many people scratching their heads in disbelief as it did those cheering him on.

Dazed Digital: You work across a wide variety if disciplines: do you think the current moment in history calls for a unification of knowledge?
John Maus:
That would be the ideal, right? To have something like that, but unfortunately I think we find ourselves in a situation where precisely the opposite is true – specialization and division of labour is at an all-time high. I feel like everything is kind of rigorously divided and heterogeneous.

Dazed Digital: Do you think music is a place where you can transcend those kinds of societal restrictions?
John Maus:
 Absolutely. I think it’s one of the few places where a human being can actually speak. The goal is to step out of this stupid clamour and affirm that you are here and that you have been here forever, do you know what I mean? Whatever the medium is – whether it’s science or music or politics – the goal is to affirm that you are truly alive. I tend to think it’s a rare and precious thing to actually step into that trans-finite eternity and affirm your place within it. I don’t claim that I have done that, but it’s what I am always striving to do.

Dazed Digital: Is there a parallel in the kind of transcendence music engenders and that which one can gain through transcendental meditation?
John Maus:
 I don’t know. I have a limited knowledge of that discipline but my feeling is that it basically accommodates you to the status quo – it’s a resignation rather than an intervention or a stepping out.  I think when you experience transcendence through music, it’s sublime – it’s a violent kind of encounter: rapture. It’s not necessarily a peaceful thing.

Dazed Digital: Is it important to you that music creates an arena for meaningful connection?
John Maus:
 Absolutely. The only place meaningful connection ever takes place is in a situation when you are kind of disconnected from the everyday comings and goings, and one of the places we can see that happen is in romantic love, when we can see some kind of singular entity or being step out from the dumb blur. I completely resist this idea that there is such a thing as unity, though. I mean there’s always ‘the other’ that you are separate from. If we were all ‘one’ there would be nothing to desire or love – it’s the true ‘other’ that comes out through the connection, and that happens in art and in love.

Dazed Digital: Would the words ‘to hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour’ particularly resonate with you?
John Maus:
 Absolutely, but you can’t ever have infinity in the palm of your hand, you can only strive towards that. There are infinite infinities and each is larger than the other. There are no brackets around the universe. That’s where art love, scientific breakthroughs and political revolutions come in – when the uncontrollable interrupts the contained and forces an interruption to the regime, it transforms it. I think it’s really, really hard to do that, and I think that if you look at some of the people who most certainly did do something like that – such as Blake or Beethoven – then it’s very intimidating, because it’s so rare someone truly steps out of the everyday.

Dazed Digital: If we don’t strive to make those interventions are we not fulfilling our purpose as human beings?
John Maus:
 If we don’t try then we are complicit in evil. Theodore Adorno always get a bad rep as this elitist hater of all things popular, but the essence of his whole philosophy was that the concentration camps should not happen again, and why did the camps happen? They happened because people didn’t think. If you look at Germany in the 20s and 30s then the culture was kind of similar to our own in that it fostered a kind of thoughtlessness. Evil is just a banal thoughtlessness, so anything that doesn’t involve a reaching out or effort on the part of human beings can be defined as evil, even if it’s just a crappy movie or a pop song.
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