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I-VI: The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures
     

I-VI: The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures

by John Cage
 

Without doubt the most influential American composer of the last half century, John Cage has had an enormous impact not only on music but on art, literature, the performing arts, and aesthetic thought in general. His insistent exploration of "nonintention" and his fruitful merging of Western and Eastern traditions have made him a powerful force in the world of the

Overview

Without doubt the most influential American composer of the last half century, John Cage has had an enormous impact not only on music but on art, literature, the performing arts, and aesthetic thought in general. His insistent exploration of "nonintention" and his fruitful merging of Western and Eastern traditions have made him a powerful force in the world of the avant-garde.

There have never been lectures like these: delivered at Harvard in 1988-89 as the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, they were more like performances, as the audience heard them. Cage calls them "mesostics," a literary form generated by chance (in this case computerized I-Ching chance) operations. Using the computer as an oracle in conjunction with a large source text, he happens upon ideas, which produce more ideas. Chance, and not Cage, makes the choices and central decisions. Such a form is rooted, Cage tells us in his introduction, in the belief that "all answers answer all questions."

Acting as a kind of counterpoint to the six texts here are transcripts (edited by Cage) of the provocative question-and-answer seminars that followed each presentation. Included with the book are two audiocassettes, one of Cage reading a mesostic (IV), allowing the listener to experience it as it was delivered, and one with a lively selection from the question-and-answer seminars that conveys the flavor of the event. The illustrations consist of fifteen different chance-determined prints from a single negative by Robert Mahon of the first autograph page of Cage's Sixteen Dances (1951).

I-VI is, in short, an experience of John Cage, where silences become words and words become silences, in arrangements that will disconcert and exercise our minds.

Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review

Mr. Cage has overcome [the] disjunction between his anarchic art and his elegantly didactic texts, bending his words into a mirror of his music by fracturing conventional expectations and transforming didactic prose into elusive poetry...Especially when he reads [the words], in his frail but steadfast baritone, shaping the phrases and illuminating hidden meanings and poetic undercurrents in word jumbles that seem at first—and may still be, on the less important level of explication—meaningless, Mr. Cage attains a perfect synthesis of all that he is: soft-spoken backwoods storyteller, vanguard modernist, Zen master, kindly village preacher. Yet this is not mere accident: Mr. Cage is making art. And by any generous definition of what art is and can be, he is making beautiful music as well.
— John Rockwell

Choice
[A] handsome, impressive...volume...Cage once again demonstrates that the free play of his associations--paradoxically, filtered and channeled through a methodology--can produce a uniquely moving experience. Each of the three entryways into the experience (written text, recorded reading, question session) offers special insights into the whole. The complete package is a delight.
Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism

There is no lecturer here, nor exactly an artistic artificer in the old romantic (or Platonic) sense. Rather there is an inventor of a procedure designed to highlight the complexities of modern life and to accommodate us to our embodied ears in an act of liberation from concepts and impositions of all kinds.
— Daniel Herwitz

Notes and The Journal of Art

For his Norton lectures, Cage continued writing mesostics; but to the earlier collection of ten key epithets, he has added five more: variable structure, nonunderstanding, contingency, inconsistency, performance. Instead of writing out of his own head (or drawing upon a single literary source), he now selects words from several disparate sources: Ludwig Wittgenstein, Marshall McLuhan, Buckminster Fuller's followers, daily newspapers during the summer of 1988...The result is a more expansive text that not only befits Cage's taste for heady ideas...but encompasses the whole world, in part because it draws upon writings with global range, its theme thus becoming meditations on a scale at once personal and sociopolitical...Very much like Finnegans Wake, Cage's I-VI is at once unreadable and rereadable...I-VI is his finest poem, a major poem in a unique style, surely among the best American epic poems of the post-World War II period.
— Richard Kostelanetz

New York Times Book Review - John Rockwell
Mr. Cage has overcome [the] disjunction between his anarchic art and his elegantly didactic texts, bending his words into a mirror of his music by fracturing conventional expectations and transforming didactic prose into elusive poetry...Especially when he reads [the words], in his frail but steadfast baritone, shaping the phrases and illuminating hidden meanings and poetic undercurrents in word jumbles that seem at first--and may still be, on the less important level of explication--meaningless, Mr. Cage attains a perfect synthesis of all that he is: soft-spoken backwoods storyteller, vanguard modernist, Zen master, kindly village preacher. Yet this is not mere accident: Mr. Cage is making art. And by any generous definition of what art is and can be, he is making beautiful music as well.
Notes and The Journal of Art - Richard Kostelanetz
For his Norton lectures, Cage continued writing mesostics; but to the earlier collection of ten key epithets, he has added five more: variable structure, nonunderstanding, contingency, inconsistency, performance. Instead of writing out of his own head (or drawing upon a single literary source), he now selects words from several disparate sources: Ludwig Wittgenstein, Marshall McLuhan, Buckminster Fuller's followers, daily newspapers during the summer of 1988...The result is a more expansive text that not only befits Cage's taste for heady ideas...but encompasses the whole world, in part because it draws upon writings with global range, its theme thus becoming meditations on a scale at once personal and sociopolitical...Very much like Finnegans Wake, Cage's I-VI is at once unreadable and rereadable...I-VI is his finest poem, a major poem in a unique style, surely among the best American epic poems of the post-World War II period.
Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism - Daniel Herwitz
There is no lecturer here, nor exactly an artistic artificer in the old romantic (or Platonic) sense. Rather there is an inventor of a procedure designed to highlight the complexities of modern life and to accommodate us to our embodied ears in an act of liberation from concepts and impositions of all kinds.
Library Journal
This is a transcription of Cage's Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, delivered at Harvard University in 1989-90; it should be properly viewed as a performance rather than an informative monograph. The source material of these lectures consists largely of quotes from Buckminster Fuller, Thoreau, Wittgenstein, and others. These quotes are then subjected to a ``mesostic'' ordering using chance operations guided by the I Ching and a computer program, rendering the resulting prose fragmented and incomprehensible. In a lucid passage, Cage identifies 15 important parameters of his music, such as method, structure, intention, indeterminacy, etc., and spells these words in capital letters along the center spine of each page. The question-and-answer session preserved on one of the accompanying cassettes displays Cage's self-deprecating humor but is otherwise not particularly revealing. This is recommended for Cage enthusiasts only.-- Larry Lipkis, UCLA

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780674440081
Publisher:
Harvard
Publication date:
01/01/1990
Series:
Charles Eliot Norton Lectures Series , #43
Edition description:
Book, 15 halftone prints, two audiocassettes
Pages:
464
Product dimensions:
8.82(w) x 11.61(h) x 2.45(d)

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