[31. Hsien / Influence (Wooing), Nine in the Fifth Place, Six in the Sixth Place. Changing to: 56. Lü / The Wanderer]
A meal without mushrooms is like a day without rain.
I’m reading through two essays today, both of which are a continuation of the overarching theme of A Year From Monday: the mosaic diary. The three diary entries bifurcate the book (as bookends and a divider), and the essays in between focus on specific composers, theorists and artists. The only out of place essay is “Julliard Lecture” from 1952, which as Cage mentions in the introduction, was inserted at David Tudor’s request. This structure makes for a larger mosaic of ideas, interconnected in the diary entries and elaborated on in the specific essays.
I’ve already discussed the method Cage used to write his diary entries, which he also used for “Diary: Audience 1966.” Christopher Shultis broke down this essay based on Cage’s manuscript notes, and as I noted, Cage only used chance procedures for certain elements such as number of words and number of entries; otherwise the text itself is freely-composed. From Chris’s article one can get an idea of how Cage worked through (or around) some of the limitations. The word count restriction made for some interesting challenges, such as the opening few lines:
It is interesting to note how Cage worked through the word limitations. In most cases, the limitations forced him to simply be more concise; to write better and more clearly. Other than that, however, the chance operations really had little effect on the actual content here or elsewhere, and should really just be considered as a starting point or template for a freely composed essay. What makes these essays difficult, in my mind, is that each section does not necessarily follow in any specific logic or direction. Obviously that is what Cage was trying to do, but without any direction, all we really have is a collection of observations and anecdotes.
I think it helps to read these essays the way one would read an actual diary. Entries are sometimes long, sometimes complete, but more often than not incomplete, and many are deeply veiled personal anecdotes; this gives one a glimpse into the psyche of the writer: what is preoccupying them during a given week? does it have to do with interactions or conversations? Are there overriding preoccupations or ideas that they keep coming back to, and if so, what does that imply about their personality or intellectual interests?
If I had to summarize some of the main themes in these diary entries it would be as follows: Technocratic idealism, unimpededness and interpenetration, (seemingly) random anecdotes or aphorisms (such as the opening quote), and food. Technocratic idealism in particular floods the diary. I’ve already mentioned the relationship between Cage, Marshall McLuhan, and Buckminster Fuller, and the ideas Cage proposes in the diary are sometimes absurd, sometimes amusing, but always creative and idealistic.
Here are a few examples: The conversion of roadside telephone booths into temporary decentralized living quarters available to anyone who needs a place to stay; chemical therapies for diseased Russian chickens; the adoption of a universal voltage and electrical outlet standard (Vary the not the connecting means but the things to be connected); free cars within cities to be used like shopping carts (similar to the ZipCar, actually); subterranean living quarters in the arid desert climates; cover Times Square with a geodesic dome and put in plastic chairs and tables (which, ironically, Mayor Bloomberg recently did – sans dome, mind you); universal garbage can sizes to increase efficiency; return to the gold standard (sounds like Ron Paul to me…); picturephones (which are, of course, now ubiquitous with Skype and FaceTime); contraceptives for cows to reduce greenhouse emissions; Russian cosmonaut technology for electronically-induced sleep; the list goes on and on…
If Cage did not have the cultural cachet that he did one could easily mistake this for the ramblings of a mad scientist, or perhaps an engineer or inventor. Here I see the mind of an incessant inquisitor, one willing to turn over any stone for an idea, a mushroom, a new way of living, or anything curious enough to deserve one's attention. And that in a sense is the point of the diaries – to paint a picture of Cage as a person, and a persona.
Biographically speaking, it is clear that Cage wrote the majority of the second diary entry during his summer tour of Europe in 1966, where after a grueling series of performances with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company in Spain, France, and Germany (which included the wonderful taping of Variations V at WDR, which Kenneth Goldsmith has slyly uploaded to Ubu HERE), Cage spent several weeks in Cadaqués, the infamous Catalan retreat town home to, among others, Marcel Duchamp. Cage played chess with Duchamp nearly every day, and one gets a sense of the snide yet playful attitude of Duchamp in these diary entries. I’ll spend more time with Duchamp next week, and I think it’s no coincidence that Cage’s Duchamp essay was placed after this diary entry.
I’ll end with another great anecdote:
After an hour or so in the woods looking for mushrooms, Dad said, “Well, we can always go and buy some real ones.”