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


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.