As we quickly approach our fourthirtythree:Caged! event, we wanted to share a sneak peek at one of our guest’s lectures. Peter Jaeger is a Reader in the Department of English and Creative Writing at Roehampton University in London. He writes literary criticism and poetry, and is the author of six books, including ABC of Reading TRG: Steve McCaffery, bpNichol and the Toronto Research Group (2000), Prop (2007), and The Persons (2011). His next book, a critical monograph on the interface of Buddhist philosophy and ecological concerns in the work of John Cage, is set to be published by Continuun Press next year.
Cage Buddha Nature Description: On a number of occasions, John Cage cited the writings of South Asian philosopher Ananda Coomaraswamy’s definition of art as “an imitation of Nature in her manner of operation.” My paper will investigate Cage’s “nature” writing, with a focus on his understanding of Zen Buddhism and on what the American eco-critic Jonathan Skinner has labelled as entropological poetics. Skinner borrows and recontextualizes this term from land artist and writer Robert Smithson, in order to describe a formal practice engaged at the level of materials and processes, where entropy, transformation and decay are part of the creative work. For Smithson entropology occurs when the reproduction of information is so overwhelming in terms of its physicality that it tends to obliterate itself. However, where Smithson finds exhaustion in the entropic transformation of the universe, Cage finds a highly affirmative sense of playfulness and humour, a big “Yes to our presence together in chaos.” I will begin by considering Cage’s affirmative version of entroplogical poetics with reference to his 1961 essay “On Robert Rauschenberg, Artist and his Work,” as well as to his texts Mureau (1970) and Empty Words (1975). These texts depart from the tradition of nature writing from the outset, because instead of referencing an object in the natural world or a topological scene, they self-consciously foreground language itself as a natural phenomenon. Cage complicates any straightforward reading or understanding, thereby calling into question the transparent norms of communication so typical of nature writing, and offering instead information as a site for the eruption of non-sense. As Smithson writes in another context, “the more information you have, the higher degree of entropy, so that one piece of information tends to cancel out the other.” For Cage, the non-organization of sounds and words functions as a sort of a microcosm of nature, as well as of social anarchy and personal liberty. However, in an interview with Joan Retallack conducted in 1992, the year of Cage’s death, he claimed that we may be able to address our individual experiences in the world of art, although we have more difficulty doing so in the “real world.” I will conclude by investigating the problematic and complicated relationship among Cage’s anarchist philosophy, his entropological “nature” poetics, and his embrace of Zen.
See you all on November 1st and 2nd!