As I Exemplify: An Examination of the Musical-Literary Relationship in the Work of John Cage
This thesis examines the ways in which John Cage negotiates the space between musical and literary compositions. It identifies and analyses the various tensions that a transposition between music and text engenders in Cage’s work, from his turn to language in the verbal score for 4’ 33’’ (1952/1961), his use of performed and performative language in the literary text “Lecture on Nothing” (1949/1959), and his attempt to “musicate” language in the later text “Empty Words” (1974–75). The thesis demonstrates the importance of the tensions that occur between music and literature in Cage’s paradoxical attempts to make works of “silence,” “nothing,” and “empty words,” and through an examination of these tensions, I argue that our experience of Cage’s work is varied and manifold. Through close attention to several performances of Cage’s work— by both himself and others—I elucidate how he mines language for its sonic possibilities, pushing it to the edge of semantic meaning, and how he turns from systems of representation in language to systems of exemplification. By attending to the structures of expectation generated by both music and literature, and how these inform our interpretation of Cage’s work, I argue for a new approach to Cage’s work that draws on contemporary affect theory. Attending to the affective dynamics and affective engagements generated by Cage’s work allows for an examination of the importance of pre-semiotic, pre-structural responses to his work and his performances. At the same time, this thesis demonstrates the importance of music and literature as frameworks for interpretation even and especially where Cage attempts to undermine these frameworks. The thesis, then, identifies the tension between pre-interpretative affective response and preconceived frameworks for understanding as part of a dynamic that drives the interplay between music and literature in Cage’s work.
Advisor: Edmond, Jacob
Degree Name: Master of Arts
Degree Discipline: English
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: John Cage; Affect Theory; Music; Literature; Musication; Silence; Nothing; Empty Words; Performance
Research Type: Thesis