Methods for Exploring Indeterminate Textuality in John Cage’s Practices of Bibliographic Encoding The Case of M

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Zack  Lischer-Katz


The increasing ubiquity of algorithmically mediated digital texts continues to generate debate about the instability and indeterminacy of texts. The American composer John Cage is well known for disrupting traditional Western aesthetics by incorporating chance operations, algorithms, and indeterminacy into his musical compositions and literary texts. This article analyzes materials found in the pre-print archive of Cage’s printed book, M (published in 1973 by Wesleyan University Press), in order to understand how Cage brought his aesthetic of indeterminacy into print. Through analysis of archival materials, it is argued that Cage exercised control over the performance and reading of his texts, even as he ceded authorial control to the aleatory processes of the I Ching — the ancient Chinese book of divination — and to the arbitrary choices of the typesetter/printer. This article offers new understanding about algorithms and indeterminacy in the performance of bibliographic codes.




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