Four Short Statements on the Sentence

3 Sailboats
  1. Entering the sentence, one feels caught in a trap, a cage, punctuation the catches and latches of entrance and exit that clamps down on our heads and tails, our arms or legs, fingers – when we let out an exclamation point, holding swelling finger up.
  2. Returning to the three persons (me, you, and the other: navigator, driver, and passenger), in a race to the finish, around pylons of periods.
  3. Periods around and around we go, how to begin and how to end, and where to dot the nose, punctuation choices a kind of Mr. Potato Head game.
  4. Returning to the sentence, the idea of the sentence as a measure of composition. “Where Are We Going? and What Are We Doing?” John Cage asked in “Silence.” And not sure of the answer, we feel the tension of certain sentences, we feel the intensity of the sentence, like a taut wire, fish on, pencil bent like a deep-sea fishing rod.

Rows sans end

El Porto, 1969A sentence, this one, for example (though another might do), the one you are now reading, backlit, for some purpose, presumably (your body like a house in disrepair, suit fraying, limbs sagging, glasses missing one temple, pads bent, joints crooked, hair crinkled dry moss, green going grey, a bird’s nest), late summer as the sentence gets started, lolling, dozing, without antecedent, no foreshadowing, no shadows at all, no dashes, noon, then, the beach clear, the water shipless and shapeless, but shiftless still, then suddenly awakening and rising, like a quick second wind, and just as quickly a third wind, the afternoon slop now upon the coast, the water rougher than it looked from the beach, sudden, swell upon swell following the sleepy noon lull, and you are not ready for this, each new wave an and, followed by another and, and another and, until, caught now in a riptide, a rebuttal that has the stylish lifeguards proofreading for drowning readers, and when they find one, they click on the swimmer and go, click and go, click and go, sweeping the sentence down to the water clear of this sort of thing, fragments, wave fragments, ripples from where they sit high in their tower

A row is a row is a row is a row,
a row a row a row a row.
A paddle is a paddle is a paddle is a paddle,
and we are out past the break,
out to sea,
so to speak
is to speak is to speak is to speak.

No matter      what we do (rules)      where we go (directions)
there are margins,                                            edgeswe come up against.
                        The world is flat
after all,
                  the flat earth squaring us in,
switchbacks,               zigzags              away from intuition. 
For the world wants style:
                  8 & ½ x 11, 3 hole punched,
the thin red vertical line creating a margin,    a double edge.

“Sometimes a thing is hard because you are doing it wrong” (Don DeLillo, “Point Omega, p. 27).

To Whom It May Concern: An Invitation to Silence and Composition

John Cage dedicated his lectures and writing collected in Silence “To Whom It May Concern.” As it turns out, it concerns everyone, though most of us do our utmost to ignore it. Yet Silence is still in print, and the amorphous, variable audience Cage invoked in his dedication continues to grow. But if we can’t ask anything specific about Cage’s intended audience, can we at least ask, what is it that may concern us? When asked what Cage’s Silence is about, I usually say it’s about composition, the way we arrange things.

A recent neighborhood atlas project by students in the CAGE Lab (no relationship to John) contains a noise map of San Francisco neighborhoods. The atlas is a form of composition, an arrangement of nouns and verbs and objects, labeled to “tell different stories.” A map is a composition. Noise is usually heard symmetrically, but some in the audience may hear asymmetrically; concentric noise, proceeding in wave-circles, gets confused, as sound bounces and ricochets (gives and takes), pouring into one ear, squeezing into another. Composition is dynamic; silence is static. Sound is not linear (line-ear).

jOhN cAGE was born in 1912, and there’s much ado about his 100th birthday year at the John Cage site.

Related Post: On the Noise of Argument, where John Cage meets Seneca; or, There is No Silence – Bound to Sound