John Cage & Zen Poetics

On Thursday, Peter Jaeger gave a lecture at Naropa on John Cage and Zen poetics. In Cage fashion, Jaeger utilized the I Ching in the production and performance of his lecture. Breaks and pauses occurred as determined by randomly generated integers. One audience member, a junior at Naropa’s School of the Arts, said, the effect was provocative because he used a technique he was describing, but the pauses themselves were annoying.  I do not think Jaeger would disagree.

Cage’s performances frequently induced annoyance. In fact, when Cage gave a reading at Naropa in 1974 he sat for two hours with his back to the audience and was assailed with bird calls and thrown objects. Allen Ginsberg and other poets intervened to protect him. Jaeger explained that the annoyance audiences feel is a response to boredom, and Cage’s prescription for boredom was typically Zen:

If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at […]