Syllabus Questions

Julian Dodd's lecture on Cage

Ted Talk (15 min).

  • What is the argument Dodd makes about Cage's 4'33“?
  • What criteria or logical framework does he offer in making a judgement about the piece?
  • Do we follow the logic?
  • Do we share the conclusion?

(What might a Julian Dodd argument that 4'33” is a witty, profound piece look like?)

Marina Music

Cage, John. Silence: Lectures and Writings by John Cage. Middletown, Hanover, NH: University Press of New England/Wesleyan UP, 1961. cage-silence-selections-print.pdf and two poems from the Norton Anthology of Postmodern American Poetry cage-poems_from_norton_anthology.pdf


  1. Create an account and register to create your blog. (After you create it, you will be able to post to your personal blog().
  2. Compose a brief, introductory note to your blog
  3. Consider one of the two Cage poems. In a post of 2-3 paragraphs, consider how it seems to shift what counts as poetry? If you were Julian Dodd, what kind of judgement would you offer? What is the relationship between Cage's challenging views of music/sound and his mesostic poems which avoid some of the usual intentions of the writer? How can we read, interpret, or appreciate them?


Discussion of Cage Poems (Groups)

  • Consider the argument that could be made for them as poems
  • Consider what claims about “experimental music” from Cage's talks might be applicable

Additional Discussion of Cage essays/ non-lectures

  • Orientating questions
  • How does Cage want to shift what count as music (or good music)?

Blog Trouble



  1. Listen to Cage on Silence (4:17) and
  2. Download a recorder app on your phone; take it someplace outside of your living area; record for 4'33“. Return home, then listen to it, and write about it and post your “Listening Experiment” to your blog (what you heard, what it made you think, how you felt during the process of recording or during listening after the fact, etc.). If your phone allows, please share the recording here upload to dropbox
  3. Read “Blind Man” (PDF/handout) (No writing yet, but I hope to introduce Duchamp on Thurs)



  • Please check your blog is listed (or work with me to solve any technical problems) student_blog_sites
  • You CAN change your password!

Recording and listening

What was your experience like listening to the recordings you made? In what sense did the activity alert you to something you might have heard but not listened to previously (i.e. what you might have been tuning out)?

Based on this exercise, can you infer a larger significance to a composition like 4'33 or a mesostic poem?

Cage on experiment

Here are a few quotes from the Cage essays I find interesting and potentially relevant:

(what do his statements imply about a definition of “good” poetry for John Cage?)

noise …. When we listen to it, we find it fascination …. music … we can substitute a more meaningful term: organization of sound. . . . (3) NEW METHODS WILL BE DISCOVERED (5) . . . . There is no such thing as an empty space or an empty time. There is always something to see, something to hear. In fact, try as we may to make a silence, we cannot (8) . . . advantage can be taken of these possibilities only if one is willing to change one's musical habits radically . . . .habits include scales, modes, theories of counterpoint and harmony . . . (9) . . . [The] word 'experimental' is apt, providing it is understood not as descriptive of an act later to be judged in terms of success and failure, but simply as of an act whose outcome is unknown …. (13) Our poetry now is the realization that we possess nothing. Anything therefore is a delight . . . [W]e need not destroy the past … it is gone …. (110) . . . I remember loving sound before I ever took a music lesson. (114)

Introducing Duchamp

Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) was a French born artist who later became an American citizen. His oil paintings hang in major museums such as the Tate, Gugenheim and Philadelphia Museum of Art, but his “readymades” and untraditional installations – with the infamous “Fountain” first among them – have been most influential.

What are the sacrosanct ideas about art? How does "R Mutt's" piece "The Fountain" trouble them?

Group Discussion: a) Is there a quality difference between the object, the signed object on a pedestal in an exhibit, and the sepia-toned photograph of the object? (Explain)

In-class Writing: b) In what ways could a writer perform a similar challenge to dominant ideas of what makes for good writing?


For Friday, please consider the journal “The Blind Man” as the context for “The Fountain.” While The Fountain was supposed to be exhibited by the Society of Independents, they quickly rejected it – and it was apparently destroyed (replicas were later “made” and collected by many museums but not the “original”). So, few people got to see the actual piece. Instead they read about it in the newspaper, saw Stieglitz' photo, and learned about it from the magazine. What can you infer about the overall ethos of this time, and the things that interest the poems and painters represented in this limited edition magazine (or its implied audience) edited in NYC by Duchamp? Write a blog post in which you explore a connection between at least one poem/article/essay from the magazine and The Fountain.


DIscussion of The Blind Man

Groups: Which poems, stories, letters or articles seemed most interesting in relation to The Fountain? In what ways to they shade the “meaning” of this piece? In what ways do they give a context for the value or significance of the piece?


Please read the two short articles and the four poems by Duchamp below. As a way to prepare for class Monday, please choose one poem to discuss; what are your reactions? What rules does it seem to break or invent? And choose one quotation from a Duchamp article to help in your explanation.

Marcel Duchamp, selections from The Essential Writings of Marcel Duchamp. Eds. Michel Sanouillet and Elmer Peterson. London: Thames and Hudson, 1975 . duchamp-marcel-essential-writings-marcel-duchamp-edit.pdf

Duchamp, Marcel. poems/selections, from Revolution of the Word: A New Gathering of American Avant-Garde Poetry 1914-1945. ed. Jerome Rothenberg. Boston, Exact Change, 1974. pp. 24-34. m_duchamp_poems.pdf