Try to Make Your Way Through This Book Dictated by Random Chance—if You Can

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John Cage’s experimental “silent” sonata, 4’33’’, was the first of his pioneering works to be influenced by random chance. Now Eagle Rock’s Siglio Press has published Cage’s Diary: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse). It’s a cheerfully iconoclastic scrambled journal written over 16 years using the I Ching (a kind of ancient Chinese Magic 8 Ball), whose arbitrary answers dictated the length, font, color, and highly variable coherence of this run-on soliloquy. A koan-like nugget amid the jumble: “But of what use is good art?” This sort of Bartlett’s-on-peyote absurdism won’t be everyone’s cup of green tea. But as with Finnegans Wake (which Cage adored), venturesome readers will be beachcombing jewels out of this thing for a lifetime.

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