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Six Pieces Inspired by John Cage's Diary

10th of August, 2020

This piece was first left as a review on the website I was reviewing Diary: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse), which is a curious recording of John Cage reading from his diary without accompanyment. I wrote these six pieces over the two days or so I spent listening to these seven discs worth of Cage reading, and each piece is 433 characters long.

I enjoy some of the Harry Potter films for their failures. The invariably joyless child acting kills stone dead the hints of whimsy in the early books, in a way that reads like a parent refusing to mince words to their child about what happened to the cat. Not all failure is equally interesting: J.K. Rowling’s books read like she’s giving a witness statement. I can’t put my finger on why one of these is fertile and one is barren.

When I snap a slate tile in two, the flakes of rock interlock briefly into a snowflake geometry before ripping apart in layers and flinging dust about in the air. My roof is littered with tiny fragments of the old slate tiles, before the new composites. The sunlight makes the dust glamorous. The roof is brighter than the ground, and it’s also closer to the sun than the ground. Both statements are true, but not causally connected.

Cage said in this diary that when one blows air into a trumpet, air comes out of the other end. Nothing is lost, and sound is added, gained. A friend pointed out that energy is lost—expended by the human body when it blows the air. The energy of course comes from food, which came from the sun. I said: “was the food lost, then? I remember eating it. What about the sun?” I think he misses the point on purpose so as to make his own.

So much of a comedian’s voice consists of what they are capable of noticing. A Steven Wright joke: "Have you ever noticed, when someone gets a letter in a movie, you hear the voice of the person who wrote it? That happens to me, except with menus." An analogy forms its backbone, and so the observation of that analogy here is prior to the delivery in the comedy. The delivery also is informed by the perception of audience reaction.

I tried to sleep, but I had the physical symptoms of a panic attack. My head was spinning and I shivered as though cold. When I went to comfort myself by listening to Cage reading his diary I stumbled on a haunted thought—It is the threat of feeling dreadful that is making me look for beauty, instead of just the beauty itself bringing me in from ahead? Is that a bad thing? I don’t want a consequentialist aesthetics. I feel false.

Roland Barthes proclaimed that touch is the most demystifying sense of all, while sight is the most magical. A friend, identifying in some way as a 19th century aesthete, once messaged me at night to say that he had decided that as a culture we ought to engage more in the aesthetics of the olfactory, and so he would be henceforth venturing into the world of smells. I wonder what Barthes would have thought of him, sniffing things.