Many thanks to the organiser(s) of the campaign to get John Cage’s 4’33” to number one in the UK charts this Christmas. This campaign has inspired me. If at any stage in my life a Gladwellian tipping point is passed and anything improbable happens like the award of the Nobel Prize for Literature to me, then my speech will be silent. Instead of talking, I will act. My action shall be to give away my prize to women. Since 1901, as I understand it, 41 Nobel prizes have been awarded to women (to 40 women since Marie Curie bagged two) compared to 776 awards provided to men. It took till 2009 for a woman to be awarded the prize for economics (Elinor Ostrom). I would not have achieved anything at all without the support of lots of both men and women, but perhaps it might be nice to honour the latter in particular for once by giving the prize away to 735 contemporary female writers whose work I admire, love and respect. I am 32 years old which is too young to have written an autobiography already. It is called “Carpe Diadem“. There are links to a portfolio of other work there too.
Note on the picture on the right: as I understand it, the title of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” worked on the basis that ‘noting’ was sexual slang in the Elizabethan period and ‘nothing’ and ‘noting’ were homophones so the end result was a play on words and part of the rich, bawdy and lascivious sense of humour of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. As Hamlet didn’t ask, what are words, words, words for if not for play?
Surely language is either for silence, as George Steiner might not have put it, or it is for laughter, play, enjoyment, pleasure, creativity, optimism, dynamism, innovation, peace and the expression and manifestation and representation of our hopes, dreams and desires? Boris Pasternak, who turned down a Nobel Prize for Literature, said that silence was the most beautiful sound in the world. It is important to stress that John Cage’s work is only as silent as “Silent Night”. And while silence is golden, sometimes we need conversation, conversation, conversation. When a global population or a country or a society has huge problems to solve, it is vital that there is liberty of expression and respectful dialogue, and it is vital that nobody is written off as ‘unimportant’ because their view might just turn out to be the most important of all. Without liberty of conversation, no problems can be properly solved, because they will not even be diagnosed in the first place. With it, we can change the world. Ultimately, however, I am with Erasmus in my praise of folly: without jokes and humour, our plans to change the world are doomed. Humour is an essential component in creativity – it is where the rational and the emotional meet, fall in love, and give birth to new ideas. Humourless rationality alone will never create anything other than utopias on paper which lead to dystopias and kakistocracies in reality. This was the great lesson to the 21st century given by the various totalitarian regimes of the 20th century, almost all of which were constructed by serried ranks of unlaughing and often extremely clever organisers, schemers, architects, engineers, functionaries, apparatchiks, pen-pushers, central planners, demagogues, dogmatists, systematists, taxonomists, arrangers, composers, bureaucrats, technocrats, inspectors, overseers, overlords, visionaries, controllers, experts, utilitarians, calculators, measurers, regulators, leviathans and hubristics who believed they were genuinely building a better world just so long as everybody stopped being their free, natural and spontaneous selves and moved in a straight line with the grand design. The overwhelming majority of these grand designers and self-appointed improvers of reality and correcters of nature were male. Let me at this juncture throw a new noun into the English language: malecontent – a male who is so malcontent with his inner world that he decides to make everybody else discontent by constructing a totalitarian system that attempts to tell everybody else what time to get up in the morning and what colour of cravat to wear. The malecontent characteristically attempts to force everybody else to stop talking and to stop dreaming and desiring changes and growth in their lives and through closing down conversation the malecontent hopes that everybody else will be discontent because the malecontent falsely believes that he is making the world a more content place by making it less content. The more discontented the people become, and the less they converse and express their desires and dreams, the more the malecontent convinces himself that their discontent and growing silence is a sign that his utopian project is progressing. The malecontent tends to leave behind them nothing much apart from the decaying remnants of the monocultural groupthink they tried to enforce, a maelstrom, and mess. Other people then usually clean it up.
So if language be the food of love, please talk on.
And, on the other side of the same coin, please listen on. For after all, a conversation with mouths but not ears is not a dialogue at all, but parallel monologues – and parallel monologues all too easily end in wars. Listening is the underrated half of conversation. It is just as important as talking. John Cage’s work was all about listening, and not about silence at all. The ‘silence’ was a red herring all along. Anybody who writes the work off because it is “just silence” simply proves they weren’t listening in the first place.
FINAL NOTE/DESCRECENDO: This Nobel Prize for Literature lack of acceptance speech/give it away to the opposite sex speech was written in the waltz rhythm, which is 3/4 time.
That is all I want to say on the matter. And I didn’t say it, I wrote it. It was a speech as speechless as a Kruder and Dorfmeister track.
Thank you very much for reading this and noting it. Goodbye, farewell and much adieu. Ich schweige. Vielen dank to Dai Lowe for teaching me that beautiful German verb. Its antonym, of course, is reden. To talk.
Best wishes, MATTHEW AMADEUS DEVEREUX
00.27 hours, 17th October 2010. Above: “Rattle the Bars of the Cage this Christmas”. Made on Sunday 17th October 2010. I found the Ray Johnson John Cage shoes through the following link.
12.39 hours, 18th October 2010. I just made this image called “Magrit”. Rene Magritte’s famous painting “The Treachery of Images” did exactly what it said on the paint-tin. It wasn’t a pipe. It was a PICTURE of a pipe. Or according to Dai Lowe, it wasn’t even a picture of a pipe.
To emphasise again: John Cage’s silent composition isn’t silence. It isn’t silence. It. Is. Not. Silence.
The sources for the image are: 1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ren%C3%A9_Magritte
2. http://www.classicalarchives.com/images/coverart/6/f/4/1/028947615156_300.jpg To try to emphasise the point, I have put the words “John Cage’s 4’33” is NOT silence” into Google Translate.
So here goes. I hope the message is loud and clear. I apologise to any speakers of these languages if the translation isn’t quite on the nail. I offer no disrespect to any languages that aren’t included.
John Cage se 4’33”is NIE stilte. (Afrikaans)
4’33 جون كيج ;ليس هذا هو الصمت/ ليس هو الصمت (Arabic) – merci beaucoup to Nadia Derradji for help with this one.
4’33”Джон Кейдж НЕ мълчание. (Bulgarian)
約翰凱奇的 4’33 ”是不能平息。 (Chinese – Mandarin I think)
John Cage’s 4’33”er IKKE tavshed. (Danish)
John Cage’s 4’33”ay HINDI katahimikan. (Filipino)
4’33 ג ‘ון קייג”היא לא השתיקה. (Hebrew)
ジョンケージの4’33 ”はない沈黙だ。 (Japanese)
4’33 جان کیج است ”سکوت نمی کند. (Persian)
John Cage’s 4’33”siyo kimya. (Swahili)
John Cage’s 4’33”NID yw distawrwydd. (Welsh) 12.59 hours, 19th October 2010. I just made this quick sketch called “Our 21st century world is multipolar“. Please click on the image to see a bigger version.
In a multipolar world, when you need to branch out and talk rather than being silent, it’s good for people in a country to learn languages in order to take advantage of the opportunities that are out there. A country which is poor at learning foreign languages is a country that is not well positioned to build healthy and prosperous bridges to the outside world. I myself need to brush up on mine. And once again, I have to stress that 4’33” isn’t silence!
Sources for this piece of work: Ptolemy map: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Claudius_Ptolemy-_The_World.jpg
Japanese characters for silence taken from: http://www.cafepress.com/+silence_kanji_symbol_kids_sweatshirt,387721618
I translated the word ‘silence’ into the following languages at Google translate. I hope the translations make sense and no disrespect to any other languages out there!
To anybody still labouring under the delusion that 4’33” is silence (or to anybody who isn’t) I highly recommend “Silence” or ‘Chinmoku’ (沈黙), the 1966 novel of historical fiction by Shusaku Endo. It would make a spiffing stocking filler this Chrimbo along with all the Cage downloads. Obviously I would personally love to read it in the original Japanese but ten years after studying there on a one-year scholarship my skills are not currently up to the task. Languages, like a car, need regular re-oiling or they get rusty.
Apparently Martin Scorsese is planning to bring out a filmed version of “Silence” with Day-Lewis and del Toro in 2013. That is most certainly one to look forward to.
18.33 hours, 21st October 2010. I made the following picture called “Tabula Caga”. Please click on the picture above to see a bigger version of it. It is named after the idea of the tabula rasa or blank slate and also Caga is named after the raga in Indian music. Note: I do not necessarily agree with the theory of the tabula rasa. Second note: I like ragas or राग.
The list of books above is a suggestion for sticking fillers this Christmas.
From 22nd October onwards I lost track of time, dates and rent payments. But I kept making John Cage pictures in mspaint which are included below. Again, please click on them to see bigger versions.
John Cage images collage in the centre of the picture from http://www.wfmu.org/~kennyg/popular/articles/images/cage.gif
Ingredients for this particular soupette:
1. List of books re: Cage
2. Japanese characters for silence have been interspersed
The Bard’s the Word: Cageshake (this is simultaneously a suggestion for a new kind of milkshake called the Cageshake)
1. Quotations from Shakespeare.
2. Various Russian words included. These have been taken from an online translation so I hope they are right.
тишина – silence
тихий – quiet
согласованность – harmony
расслабление – relaxation
мир – peace
отдых – rest
праздничный – holiday
неподвижность – stillness
медленно – slow
свободный – leisure
удовольствие – pleasure
3. Image of Shakes from http://hrsbstaff.ednet.ns.ca/engramja/projects&evals/mag_1/shakespeare.htm
4. Image of JC from http://www.john-cage.halberstadt.de/new/index.php?seite=johncage&l=e
Poet Tree (or In Defence of Poesy, after Philip Sidney)
Image of JC is from the Warp records site:
(Hi to MF at Warp by the way)
TABULA BELLS: ICHING POWDER
On the left: people who, as I understand it, have been influenced by the I Ching along with JC. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Ching
I have no idea whether Rene Descartes consulted the I Ching when he came up with his famous “Je pense donc je suis” or “cogito ergo sum” or “I think therefore I am”
Obviously since this piece of work is about influence, it is dedicated to hexagam 31 (influence/wooing) within the I Ching system. A lovely hexagram it has to be said. And a beautiful Chinese character that goes with it, which is Hsien: 咸
More on numero 31 at http://deoxy.org/iching/31
Picture above: CDXXXIII.
Pictures used to create CDXXXIII:
1. Picture from John Cage playing electronic chess versus John Kobler, Duke University website:
2. Picture of “Chess Pieces” by John Cage (1944)
(Original: The John Cage Trust)
3. Picture of the 64 hexagrams of the I Ching system:
Picture above: “Great Minds Blank Alike”.
The comments made by Eddy Temple-Morris, the Xfm DJ who has backed the John Cage campaign, about suicide and depression have resonated with me. One day I would like to write about suicide and depression (hopefully not ripping off Emile Durkheim too much) and about how in many cases the major determinants of low mental health at an individual level are low mental collective health and the pressure of being forced to conform to faulty forms of groupthink; lack of control and autonomy over one’s life as a result of top-down organisations and structures; lack of proper provision of basic social needs such as housing and valid employment (with elements of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in play) and also, crucially, not being listened to. To have one’s voice and one’s narrative listened to and respected is absolutely central to human existence. When people are brushed aside and not listened to – often because under conditions where top-down structures are dominant those people are seen as of little value or importance, or because under conditions of low quality employment there is supposedly not enough time to listen to people – it is extremely easy for them to enter negative and vicious mental health spirals that can ultimately end up in suicide. In that area, as in others, prevention is better than cure. The Danish Human Library project has been an oasis of good sense in that sense. As I learnt from Bruce Chatwin in his achingly beautiful book “Songlines”, both jazz and birdsong rely on call and response patterns. So does human conversation. Conversation atrophies when people are not listened to; they then speak less, and are listened to less, round and round in a vicious spiral. One of the endpoints of that dangerous and negative process can be suicide. It is vital that we reduce the numbers of people who end up at that horrific place by listening and talking in a better, more open, more respectful fashion and allow people the space to articulate their frustrations. After all, what seems like a mountain in the mind of one person may be revealed as nothing more than a molehill when it is shared with somebody who has compassion for them. In Japan there is a formalised system of providing reciprocation and feedback in conversation called aizuchi (相槌) which can, at its best, help to encourage people to express themselves.
On another question of silence and listening, I once had the golden opportunity to listen to the ex-soldier Shiro Azuma 東史郎 talk for several hours at his home near Kyoto (on my one year scholarship to learn Japanese). He was the first soldier to speak out about Japanese military atrocities in China prior to and during the Second World War. Once he opened the floodgates, he did not stop talking. It was an honour to listen to him speak before he passed away and I must thank the historian in Japan who created that opportunity for me. I could not follow all the Japanese but what I did understand was the passion and conviction of a man who knew he had to speak out. I do not wish to get caught up in the legal questions that involved his testimony as I simply do not know enough about it; neither do I wish to say any bad words about Japan or the Japanese because I was treated with enormous hospitality and generosity in my year there and could not have asked for more. All that I can say is that when I met him I considered him to be a great man and it was a great and deep inspiration to have had that opportunity.
To finish, here is a Facebook first folio literary joke. Again, please click on the image to see a bigger version. I have removed the names and blanked out the profile pictures of friends to protect the inner-sent. The picture alone is quite enough for me to not get the Nobel Prize for Literature which is lucky because as I have already pointed out I would give it away anyway. At the top bar you can see evidence of me listening to the Oll-Zen remix of “Skills” by Gangstarr. Rest in peace Guru – your words helped me to keep going through some of what Charles Dickens might have called the hard times. The joke is based on the Mermaid Tavern in London where the finest playwrights in the previous Elizabethan era used to gambol and gyre in the wabe. The joke features the wrong number of female recipients of the Nobel Prize – it should be 735 not 724. I would like to argue this error is akin to the flaw deliberately created in a Persian carpet but I would be lying – I just got the arithmetic wrong.