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Lecture On Nothingness: John Cage Essay

1540 words - 6 pages

In Cage’s poem the use of no words is the language he develops, which includes the silence of blank spaces, sentence gaps or fragmentation, and the flow or continuity of the entire piece, is as critical as the use and placement of actual words. Together, in balance with each other (not with words in a more exalted position than no words), they form what he wishes to say in a manner similar to a musical composition. And what he wishes to say is there is nothing to say - there is no one phrase of words that sums up the poem’s significance. Instead, reading Lecture on Nothing in its proper language or dialect is meant to approximate the experience of listening to a piece of music. The poem is written in a manner that allows it to be grasped, like music, in the moment of hearing and listening, not in an exercise of analysis afterwards. It is a reading of sheet music that becomes music as it is read.
The poem is set up in a rhythmic structure using measures, similar to music, and is to be read from left to right with rubato. This musical term, rubato, describes the art of a performer slowing down or speeding up the tempo of a piece in order to give it more depth and emotion and variability. In viewing the poem overall, as one piece, there are many blank spaces interjected within sentences or sets of words. In addition, punctuation is often separated from phrases and sentences so that periods, question marks, colons, semi-colons, etc., rest in their own measures, quite apart from both words and blank spaces. Due to the juxtaposition of words and no words (punctuation and blank spacing), the poem does not present a smooth, unbroken text from beginning to end, but rather a complex pattern of spaces, phrases, isolated words, and punctuation marks that is divided into five units.
The idea of creating a language for the poem that is closer to music than straightforward poetry is reinforced by Cage throughout Lecture on Nothing. In the third unit, he admits, “This is a composed talk, for I am making it just as I make a piece of music” (414). At the beginning of the fourth unit, he states: “What I am calling poetry is often called content. I myself have called it form. It is the continuity of a piece of music” (415). At the conclusion of the poem, Cage asserts, “Nothing more than nothing can be said. Hearing or making this in music is not different – only simpler – than living this way. Simpler, that is, for me, – because it happens that I write music” (415). Cage wants his poem to be as much music as the musical works he composes.
Cage also draws attention to the large blank spaces between words and phrases and sentences that he calls silences. This again brings to the reader the sense a new language is involved different from any regular poetic metre. In unit one, Cage instructs, “What we re-quire is silence; but what silence requires is that I go on talking” (414). In units two and three, he carries on in the same vein, “But now there are silences...

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