see symmetrically : canoe on northern
Canadian lake , stars in midnight sky
repeated in water , forested shores
precisely mirrored. Our hearing’s
asymmetrical: noticed sounds surprise us,
echoes of shouts we make transform our
voices, straight line of sound from us to
shore’s followed by echo’s slithering
around the lake’s perimeter.
Another great I-Ching reading for today’s essay – I am always struck by unchanging hexagrams because they are statistically quite rare, and an unchanging hexagram on one of the four encircling hexagrams of the I-Ching (1,2,63,64) is the rarest. So far I have received three unchanging readings, and two of them are from the outward poles. The last strong unchanging reading was 1. Ch’ien, the Creative, for Cage’s essay on Robert Rauschenberg.
Hexagram 64 represents the opposite end of the spectrum from Ch’ien, as I understand it. While the first two hexagrams, consisting of all solid lines or all broken lines, represent the interpenetration of yin and yang, the last two hexagrams consist of alternating broken and unbroken lines, which stand for transition from disorder to order. For reasons I am unfamiliar with, hexagram 64, which starts with a broken line and alternates, represents instability, while hexagram 63, which starts with a solid line and then alternates, represents completion. This likely has to do with the trigram images: in hexagram 64 fire is over water, while in hexagram 63, water is over fire, but again I do not pretend to have a complete answer here. I am fond of the reading itself though and the fox metaphor:
BEFORE COMPLETION. Success.
But if the little fox, after nearly completing the crossing,
Gets his tail in the water,
There is nothing that would further.
The conditions are difficult. The task is great and full of responsibility. It is
nothing less than that of leading the world out of confusion back to order.
But it is a task that promises success, because there is a goal that can unite the
forces now tending in different directions. At first, however, one must move
warily, like an old fox walking over ice. The caution of a fox walking over ice
is proverbial in China. His ears are constantly alert to the cracking of the ice,
as he carefully and circumspectly searches out the safest spots. A young fox
who as yet has not acquired this caution goes ahead boldly, and it may happen
that he falls in and gets his tail wet when he is almost across the water. Then
of course his effort has been all in vain. Accordingly, in times "before
completion," deliberation and caution are the prerequisites of success.
I’m impressed by this reading mainly because this is a big transition point in this project. I am moving beyond Silence, as I mentioned last week, and on to Cage’s second book, A Year From Monday (1967), and after this I will be near the end of the project, a year from Monday, on September 5th 2012. Cage’s “diary” is an important part of this and later books, and like “Indeterminacy” framed some larger concepts surrounding Cage’s approach to writing, poetry, memory, and text.
The idea for “Diary” came out of an essay I’ll discuss in-depth next week, “Diary: Emma Lake Music Workshop 1965.” Cage set up specific writing objectives every day in order to complete a commissioned project. For “Emma Lake” Cage decided to write 100 words of text for 15 days, and for “Diary,” Cage determined by chance how many elements of the mosaic he would write and how many words would be in each. He chose twelve different typefaces, and chance procedures determined the typeface and marginations of each line and section. The result is a rather beautiful text. Here are some excerpts from the beginning (I’m just choosing random fonts to give one an idea of the text):
I. Continue; I’ll discover where you
sweat (Kierkegaard). We are getting
rid of ownership, substituting use.
Beginning with ideas. Which ones can we
take? Which ones can we give?
Disappearance of power politics. Non-
measurement. Japanese, he said: we
also hear with our feet. I’d quoted
Busoni: Standing between musician and
music is notation. Before I’d given the
history: chance operations, indeterminacy.
I’d cited the musics of India: notation
of them’s after the fact. I’d spoken of
direct musical action (since it’s
ears, not interposing eyes). 2::00 A.M.,
Jensen said, “Even if you didn’t like
the results (Lindsay, etc.), we hope
you liked the telling of it.” Telling
(?) of it! We were there while it was
And so on. Like the anecdotes in “Indeterminacy,” Cage’s “Diary” installations are a window, meant to allow the spectator a glimpse behind the curtain of Cage’s inner world of artists and intellectuals, a sort of voyeuristic activity not unlike other forms of celebrity intrigue. He is decidedly elusive in his name-dropping; even as a Cage scholar it is hard to pinpoint all of these subtle and intimate connections. What happened that night at 2am, and why was it so funny?
One cannot necessarily blame Cage for this; he was after all quite explicit about this being a diary. However the restrictions with word count forced Cage into corners where he specifically had to make choices regarding the tone and the amount of revealing information that any specific segment allowed. Surprisingly, there are very few detailed analysis of Cage’s methodology in assembling these texts. The most extensive is by Christopher Shultis, which one can read HERE. Chris spent a great deal of time with Cage’s extensive manuscript collection at Wesleyan University, and traced his compositional process for a few specific essays from this period and beyond. Chris argues that Cage essentially was applying similar chance procedures to writing as he had for his musical works: selecting a gamut of possibilities and then arranging strict chance-determined methods of execution. This is, as I and Chris have noted, an outgrowth of earlier essays in Silence, and the ultimate goal, as I will examine later, was the reduction of syntax and grammar to nothing more than a succession of nonsyntactical sounds, so that when one “performs” an essay, all one hears are sounds rather than words, thoughts, or ideas. Cage later applied similar methods to his Song Books and later non-syntactic essays.
However there are many problems with this strategy. Other concrete poets were exploring the implications of nonsyntactical grammar and visual layout to different ends, and Cage’s approach to randomization of textual objects was in many ways incomplete. I’ll elaborate on this more with later essays that really start to dissolve grammar, but for “Diary” I want to focus on the content that remains after the randomization methods are applied.
Based on biographical evidence, I believe it is safe to pinpoint this first essay as starting in late October 1965 and ending around December the same year. There are references to Cage’s travels to Salt Lake City, where he performed with the Cunningham Dance Company on Noveber 10th, and many references to art and electronics, which were the result of another essay composed with the same strategy in October of the same year on Nam June Paik. Paik unveiled his famous exhibition at the Galeria Bonino in November, “Nam June Paik: Electronic Art,” for which Cage provided the exhibition essay, “Nam June Paik: A Diary” (which I may discuss later).
The intellectual threads that encompass the first diary entry are closely related to Paik’s discourse on art and technology, and for the first time we are introduced to Cage’s two idols of the period: Buckminster Fuller and Marshall McLuhan. Both replaced many of the familiar Zen and East Asian herisitics that dominated Silence, and are reminiscent of Cage’s interest in technocratic utopianism during the 1960s. Cage’s loosely-defined anarchic theories of technological determinism can be described as a network or utility theory, in keeping with Buckminster Fulller, that prophesied a future in which all of one's needs would be met by automatic machinery, thus leaving us free to explore intellectual and creative pursuits rather than toil away at tasks meant merely to provide us with sustenance, shelter, and security.
I’ll slowly work through this theory as I make my way through A Year From Monday. Needless to say it is idiosyncratic and contradictory, and more than anything reflective of the general optimistic atmosphere of the 1960s boomer generation. There are dangerous tendencies of hegemonic liberalism, or perhaps better libertarianism here, as I’ve mentioned in the past, and social and economic pressure eventually thwarted many of these idealistic proclamations by the 1970s, to which Cage vehemently decried the failings of American society thereafter in his later texts. A touchy issue in the current political climate, to say the least, but one worth investigating nevertheless.
But returning to the method in “Diary.” As with any of Cage’s various randomization techniques, there are competing forces of self-expression and indeterminacy throughout. Moments of poetic clarity are juxtaposed with confusing transitions. For example, the beautifully worded passage quoted in the beginning of this post reflects Cage’s stream-of-consciousness writing, and reveals in my mind some very wonderful descriptions of nature and environment. I appreciate these breaths of fresh air, of clarity and emotional depth, as much as I revel in the confusion of other moments. Providing a tension like this is what makes many of Cage’s indeterminate works work. We are suddenly given small breaths of air amid a sea of chaos, anchoring our incessantly analytical and emotional minds with something, preparing us as we enter again into the abyss of indeterminacy and scattered glossolalia.
I’ll continue this approach to analysis in future essays, along with a more in-depth investigation of the specific randomization techniques in future weeks. In the meantime, another beautiful passage:
The lake is undefined. The land around
rests upon it obscuring its shape, shape
that needs to remain unrevealed. Sung.
“Floating world.” Rain, curtain of wind-
swept lake’s surface beyond: second view
(there are others, he tells me, one with
mists rising). Yesterday it was stillness
and reflections, groups of bubbles. An
American garden: water, not sand
vegetation, not stones. Thunder.