John Cage on why he wished to make English less understandable
John Cage once made the following remark when asked why he wished to make English less understandable:
I let it be known to my friends, and even strangers, as I was wandering around the country, that what was interesting me was making English less understandable. Because when it’s understandable, well, people control one another, and poetry disappears — and as I was talking with my friend Norman O. Brown, and he said, “Syntax [which is what makes things understandable] is the army, is the arrangement of the army.” So what we're doing when we make language un-understandable is we're demilitarizing it, so that we can do our living.... It’s a transition from language to music certainly. It's bewildering at first, but it’s extremely pleasurable as time goes on. And that's what I'm up to. Empty Words begins by omitting sentences, has only phrases, words, syllables and letters. The second part omits the phrases, has only words, syllables and letters. The third part omits the words, has only syllables and letters. And the last part has nothing but letters and sounds.
Here is a recording of Cage making this remark (in a radio interview given prior to a performance of Empty Words).