John Cage





A musician and his ideas about society and individuals.

Source: John Cage, Anarchy, New York City, January 1988



In order to write Themes and Variations I made a cursory examination of my earlier books, jotting down subjects or ideas which still seemed lively to me. When I counted them up they came to one hundred and ten. Anarchy is one of them.

The themes of Themes and Variations are the named of fifteen of the men who have been most important to me in my life and work. Buckminster Fuller is one of them. From the beginning of my knowing him I had as he did confidence in his plan to make life on earth a success for everyone. His plan is to make an equation between human needs and world resources.

I had the good luck in Hawaii to see proof of the viability of Fuller's plan. The island of Oahu is divided by a mountain range. Honolulu is on the southern side. I was staying with friends on the northern side. The mountain range is of course tunnelled. But at its ridge I noticed each day crenelations as on a medieval castle. What are those, I asked. I was told that formerly, actually not so long ago, the tribes on one side of the mountain were at war with those on the other side. The crenelations were used for self-protection when shooting poisoned arrows at enemies. Now the tunnel exists and both sides of the island share the same utilities. The idea of fighting one another is out of the question. This change was not brought about by a political agreement. Buckminster Fuller believed, and I follow him, that politicians are of no good use. They could be sent as he used to say to outer space and left there without matters getting worse for humanity here on earth.

We don't need government. We need utilities: air, water, energy, travel and communication means, food and shelter. We have no need for imaginary mountain ranges between separate nations. We can make tunnels through the real ones. Nor do we have any need for the continuing division of people into those who have what they need and those who don't. Both Fuller and Marshall McLuhan knew, furthermore, that work is now obsolete. We have invented machines to do it for us. Now that we have no need to do anything what shall we do? Looking at Fuller's Geodesic World Map we see that the earth is a single island. Oahu. We must give all the people all they need to live in any way they wish. Our present laws protect the rich from the poor. If there are to be laws we need ones that begin with the acceptance of poverty as a way of life. We must make the earth safe for poverty without dependence on government.

That government is best which governs not at all; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have. That quotation from Henry David Thoreau's Essay on the Duty of Civil Disobedience is one of thirty quotations from which as maximum source the following lecture was written.

The lecture consists of twenty fifty per cent mesostics. In a fifty per cent mesostic the second letter of the string does not appear between itself and the first letter. In a one hundred per cent mesostic neither the first nor the second letter appears between the first and second letters. How many and which of the thirty quotations were used as source for each of the twenty mesostics was answered by IC (a program by Andrew Culver simulating the coin oracle of the I Ching). Which is the thirty quotations together with the fourteen names (authors, book titles, graffiti) was to be used as the string upon which each mesostic was written was also determined by IC. Where, through the use of chance operations, duplication of strings resulted, the mesostics having the same string became a single renga, a single poem composed for a plurality of poems. A renga in the text itself is indicated by an asterisk following the mesostic number. A program made by Andrew Culver extended the number of characters in a search string for MESOLIST (a program by Jim Rosenberg) to any length; this extended MESOLIST was used to list the available words which were then subjected to IC. The resultant mesostics are therefore global with respect to their sources, coming as they do from anywhere in them. In seven cases, for one or more letters of the string there were no words.

This is another text in an ongoing series; Themes and Variations, Mushrooms et Variationes, The First Meeting of the Satie Society precede it: to find a way of writing which through coming from ideas is not about them; or is not about ideas but produces them. Anarchy was written to be read out loud. The ends of stanzas are indicated by space, a full stop, a new breath. Within a stanza, the sign ’ indicates a slight pause, a half cadence. My mesostic texts do not make ordinary sense. They make nonsense, which is taught as a serious subject by Yasunari Takahashi, author of a huge book, Nonsense Taizen (translatable as Summa Nonsensica), whose official title is Professor of English at the University of Tokyo. If nonsense is found intolerable, think of my work as music, which is, Arnold Schoenberg used to say, a question of repetition and variation, variations itself being a form of repetition in which some things are changed and others not. Or think of work, as McLuhan did, as obsolete. Instead of working, to quote McLuhan, we now brush information against information. We are doing everything we can to make new connections.

I am glad that in preparation for this work I read Living My Life the two volume autobiography by Emma Goldman. William Buwalda, a soldier of the United States Army, who dared to go to one of Goldman's lectures on anarchy was court-martialed and sentenced to a year in jail. I recommend Goldman's book to all those who like books that are hard to put down once you've picked them up. I am grateful to Sydney Cowell who led me to Paul Avrich who led me to Paul Berman, author of Quotations from the Anarchists, to William Anastasi who loaned me Seldes' Great Quotations, and I am grateful to Electra Yourke who gave me The Essential Works of Anarchism edited by Marshall S. Shatz which she found in a second-hand bookstore in Easthampton on sale for ninety-nine cents. I have read and reread it. And I am grateful to James J. Martin who wrote Men Against the State. It is one of those books I never have because I'm always giving them away.

Periods of very slow changes are succeeded by periods of violent changes. Revolutions are as necessary for evolution as the slow changes which prepare them and succeed them. (Peter Kropotkin, Revolutionary Studies, 1892, in Berman, Quotations, 95). Alteration of global society through electronics so that world will go round by means of united intelligence rather than by means of divisive intelligence (politics, economics). (John Cage, A Year From Monday, 17).

The revolution is the creation of new living institutions, new groupings, new social relationships; it is the destruction of privileges and monopolies; it is the new spirit of justice, of brotherhood, of freedom which must renew the whole of social life and raise the moral level and material conditions of the masses by calling on them to provide, through direct and conscious action, for their own futures. Revolution is the organization of all public services by those who work in them in their own interest as well the public's; revolution is the destruction of all coercive ties; it is the autonomy of groups, of communes, of regions; revolution is the free federation brought about by a desire for brotherhood, by individual and collective interests, by the needs of production and defense; revolution is the constitution of innumerable free groupings based on ideas, wishes and tastes of all kinds that exist among the people; revolution is the forming and disbanding of thousands of representative, district, communal, regional, national bodies which, without having any legislative power, serve to make known and coordinate the desires and interests of people near and far and which act through information, advice, and example. (Errico Malatesta, Pensiero e Volontà, 1924, in Berman, Quotations, 102). Electronic democracy (instantaneous voting on the part of anyone): no government; no sheep. (John Cage, A Year From Monday, 52 [with addition of "no government"]).


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