Review: John Cage lecture: “Cage Buddha Nature,” by Peter Jaeger

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By April Joseph

Michelle Naka Pierce began with an introduction for the “fourthirtythree CAGED!” event, celebrating John Cage’s centennial birthday, foreshadowing an investigation of Cage’s work as a “moment of silence that isn’t silent.”

Peter Jaeger, a professor of poetry and literary theory at Roehampton University in London, began the evening with an homage to Cage, centering his lecture on John Cage’s use of the I Ching in his literary

and musical compositions.

I began taking notes based on Jaeger’s delivery,

or interpretation, of Cage’s work with space.

“Blank space: the larger

the space

the longer                                                                                            the silence.”

This blank

space represents the

“physical body of writing.”

Jaeger brought up the inquiry:

“How should one perform

the image of


“Exaggerate: the strange breaks of silence.”

Essentially, Jaeger emphasized the notion of indeterminacy—

we (the performers) are the judge of the length of silence, based on space, since Cage’s graphic scores did not contain a time signature.

This reading of Cage inspires my own work in sound poetics. The use of the I Ching can illustrate chance, or “indeterminacy,” especially in regards to ululation.

How can you direct or place a time signature on the length of someone’s

mourning cry?

Jaeger also related Cage’s work to his interest in Dada and Zen.

If space is empty

and we inhabit space,

we are inhabiting


And thus,

we are empty.

Jaeger also focused on Cage’s work representing Zen awareness in language, or the shattering of language or the failure of semiotics and meaning production.

Jaeger performed this

failure, or representation of the subject matter,

with silent space in his lecture.

Jaeger continued to explore Cage’s “Buddha Nature” as the composition of nature as “void.” Cage’s art, in relation to Zen, illustrates the imitation of nature, or the natural process

of “transformation and decay [as] part of the creative work.”

The subject of nature, our presence in chaos, the nature of self, or no-self, anātman, and interdependence connects to my recent study of Joanna Macy’s “Greening of the Self,” which relates to Cage’s “anarchy and ecology.” Cage’s social realization, coming out of the 1960s awareness of the environmental crisis, which we continue to face, is reflected in Cage’s work. Cage and Macy’s works demonstrate a cultural shift: the refusal to see the “ego-self” as separate from the environment. Macy refers to “greening the self” as the realization of an “eco-self.” Similarly, Cage’s critique of the ego is rooted in (Zen) Buddhism.

While Jaeger noted that Cage did not meditate, Cage’s contemplative practice was composing and writing. Through “skillful means,” upāya, Cage’s silence was louder than words as his approach to Zen translated into an “American version of Dada,” illustrating a new form of openness and


When we leave Some

time between the Place we
cAme from love

notiCe we land
on two fEet from the past.


april joseph is occasionally called a clarinetist-poetess, who travelled from California to work on an MFA at the Jack Kerouac School at Naropa University. april can be found frolicking around the mountain-town of Nederland, CO, with a trusty side-kick, Bello, speaking to trees, holding plant leaves for comfort and hidden messages. april finds peace in writing: silence, reading: tarot, and rising to moonshine.

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