WGXC-90.7 FM

All Things Cage: Laura Kuhn on Cage’s "Writing for the Second Time Through Finnegans Wake"

Sep 18, 2021: 7pm - 8pm
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Hosted by Laura Kuhn, Executive Director of the John Cage Trust.

I’m your host, Laura Kuhn, Director of the John Cage Trust, and tonight I’m in the mood for a lullaby. This made me think about James Joyce, and wonder what to listen to by John Cage, who adored him. Which made me think about Finnegans Wake, about which David Rose wrote so beautifully in his “Cryptogrammic Cryptogams: Fungi in Finnegans Wake” (in “Notes from Underground,” Fungi, Vol. 4:1 Winter 2011, pp.23-27):

“Imagine a book, written in English yet incorporating dozens of languages, whose constant demand of the reader is the need to look up the meaning of nearly every word. One may seem to know the words; they are familiar…yet largely unfamiliar. Strange constructions like hierarchitectitiptitoploftical and cryptoconchoidsiphonostomata erupt into this de-realized wordscape with unforgiving regularity….the overall effect is one of befuddlement, hypnosis, or perhaps delirium tremens. Welcome to the world of Finnegans Wake.”

Just what the doctor ordered! But, this is “All Things Cage,” after all, so let’s listen to Finnegans Wake as “written through” by John Cage, one of his several “writings through” Joyce’s masterpiece, this one the second and the star of his beautiful Roaratorio: An Irish Circus on Finnegans Wake (1979), a realization of his ____ _________, __ Circus on _____________. No words precede it, just it, in four parts.

John Cage’s Writings Through Finnegans Wake & Writing for the Second Time Through Finnegans Wake (1978), a beautiful volume from Printed Editions, published as a special supplement to Volume 15 of the James Joyce Quarterly and as No. 16 in the University of Tulsa’s Monograph Series. In an edition of 200, each signed and numbered by the author.

All Things Cage is a weekly program featuring conversations between Laura Kuhn, Director of the John Cage Trust, and Cage experts and enthusiasts from around the world. If you’d like to propose a guest or a topic for a future program, write directly to Laura at lkuhn@johncage.org. She’d love to hear from you.

The late Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Kenneth Silverman once described his Begin Again: A Biography of John Cage (Knopf, 2012) as the hardest book he’d ever written. This was because, as he put it, pick up any rock and there’s John Cage! Indeed, Cage was not only a world-renowned composer, numbering among his compositions the still notoriously tacet 4’33”, but a ground-breaking poet, a philosopher, a chess master who studied with Marcel Duchamp, a macrobiotic chef, a devotee of Zen Buddhism, a prolific visual artist, and an avid and pioneering mycologist. He was also life partner to the celebrated American choreographer, Merce Cunningham, for nearly half a century, and thus well known in the world of modern dance.

No wonder, then, that nearly everyone who encounters the man or his life’s work has something interesting to say about John Cage!