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Études anglaises

2006/3 (Vol. 59)

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“It is a pleasure to witness, so to speak, the action of this hidden principle that forms languages. Sometimes we see it struggling against a difficulty that arrests its path: it seeks a form that is lacking, the materials at its disposal resist.”

Joseph de Maistre (Eco 105)

“A song means filling a jug, and even more so breaking the jug. Breaking it apart. In the language of the Kabbalah we perhaps might call it: Broken Vessels.” I take this short epigraph by H. Leivick that prefaces Harold Bloom’s Kabbalah and Criticism as my entry into the semiology of John Cage’s mesostic (medial-acrostic) writings. My point of reference will be his mesostic treatments (called by Cage the “writing through” method) of Finnegans Wake, a text conceived by Joyce on the wrong side of speech as a subterranean warren of polyglossia, anagrams, portmanteaux and eponymous theme-words and to which Cage’s reductive treatments proffer both homage and a testimonial of descent. The “writing through” engages an interventional poetics designed to disclose a hidden coherence by eradicating a manifest coherence. There is a double stake involved: the putting at risk of both cognitive and formal coherence to advance a variant coherence, a doubled, sublimated, paradoxical or, what I will call, a transcoherence. The central investigation pertains to the affinities of Cage’s mesostic practice with Saussure’s earlier investigations into anagrams which earned the Swiss linguist his posthumous logophilic reputation. En route I will touch upon a partial genealogy that helps historicize Cage’s practice and underscores its complex resonances and affinities.

I feel
the meaning that words hide;
they are anagrams, cryptograms,
little boxes, conditioned
to hatch butterflies. . .
(H.D. The Walls do not Fall, XXXIX)

Saussure’s research into non-linear textual economies, collected in 115 notebooks between 1906 and 1909, remained unknown until their discovery by Jean Starobinski in the mid-1960s (Starobinski). The research, staggering in its breadth, covers late Roman Saturnian verse, Homer, Virgil, Seneca, Horace, Lucretius, Angelo Politian, and the Vedic Hymns. Central to the project was a search for a latent yet accessible transcoherence, a message across a message recuperable from the fragments of a theme-name scattered through a text but reconstitutable via a non-linear reading across the textural separation of its parts. Saussure referred to these theme-words variously as anagrams and hypograms (underscripts) designed to emphasize “a name, a word, making a point of repeating its syllables, and in this way giving it a second, contrived being, added, as it were, to the original word” (Starobinski 18). He later replaced these terms by paragram, claiming it a “more accurate” term, thereby altering the topological bias of the text from a surface-depth model to that of a trans-spatial disseminatory dynamism (Starobinski 18). In Ms. fr. 3963 Saussure draws attention to a preoccupation in certain Vedic hymns with organizing a text around the syllables of a sacred name. The famous Rig-Vêda, he claims, explicitly declines the sacred name of Agni: agnim, agninâ, agnayê, agnê. Saussure hears the phonemes of a proper name gradually declare themselves transcoherently across a separation brought on by other phonetic elements (Starobinski 15). Yet the disseminatory force of paragrams resist containment; they inhabit that position from which language looks at us, a site of elusive and omnipresent alterity; they are what is not seen but already there, unsettling the coherence of conventional word order by offering an infinity of significatory networks accessed only through non-linear methods of writing and reading.


In Ms. fr. 3963 Saussure comments: “to write lines incorporating an anagram is necessarily to write lines based on that anagram and dominated by it” (Starobinski 17). Yet, though assignable to an order of production (either readerly detection or writerly deposit) the paragram does not derive necessarily from a conscious intentionality on the writer’s part. Saussure’s error at this point lay precisely in not recognizing that paragrams and words within words are an inevitable consequence of western writing’s alphabetic, combinatory nature, ineluctably compromising any monologic coherence. By 1908, however, he writes to his friend Leopold Gautier admitting profound perplexity as to the real or phantasmagoric status of the paragram. Through the failure in an obsessive project of detectional reading Saussure seems finally to have hit upon the vertiginous nature of all textuality in which the paragram is the transphenomenal aspect that commits writing to unavoidable productional excess. Existing as non-linear threads of flight, paragrams are non-intentional expenditures that pose a constant threat of instability to any coherent textual habitat. Moreover, the logic of the paragram runs counter to Saussure’s own notion of the linguistic sign. As Kristeva explains, “in the multivocal totality of the paragrammatic network, the signifier-signified distinction is diminished and the linguistic sign emerges as a dynamism that proceeds by quantum force” (Kristeva 1998, 35).


Although Cage’s creative interventions in Finnegans Wake date back to 1942 (Cage 1979, 133) the mesostic method of the write-through did not begin until 1976 when, at Elliott Anderson’s instigation, Cage submitted “7 out of 23,” the first of his mesostic treatments of Joyce’s book, for the planned special issue of Tri-Quarterly on Finnegans Wake (Cage 1979, 133). Like the hypograms that Saussure detected, the mesostic method exposes hidden, nonlinear and translinear relations within a pre-existing work. Both excavating and repeating a theme-name, the mesostic transmutes the source text by way of systematic erasures and repositionings that yield a different text. Cage outlines the rule-constraint governing his method as “first finding a word with J that didn’t have an A, and then a word with A that didn’t have an M, and then an M that didn’t have an E, etc.” (Cage 1982, 76). Clearly this medial-acrostic structure is governed not by words per se but by a finite number of repeated characters coherently organized along a vertical axis with surrounding verbal elements. In this way, “writings through” reverse the conventional hierarchy in linguistic articulation with lineation determined according to a principle independent of the line. Rather than a letter’s placement being governed by a semantic rule (the word “CAT” requires the letter T to terminate the word), the letter enjoys a strategic control of the construction and distribution of its lexemic neighbourhood. “It is a question,” Starobinski informs, “simply, of duplication, repetition and appearance of the same in the form of the other” (Starobinski 43). Cage’s method further mimics the textile model of a constant warp that supplies a fixed system of support for numerous other moving lines, inscribing the shifting domain of “betweens” and perplications produced by transits, flights, and selections. Like Yago Conde’s submission to the competition for the Special Place in Granada, a “guerrilla” conquest obtains between and beneath Cage’s reading.


Cage himself speaks of a desire “to let words exist” emancipated from the enforced coherence of human intentionality (Cage 1981, 151) and of his work as an attack on traditional syntax for the explicit purpose of demilitarizing language:


Syntax, according to Norman f, is the arrangement of the army. As we move away from it, we demilitarize language. The demilitarization of language is conducted in many ways: a single language is pulverized; the boundaries between two or more languages are crossed; elements not strictly linguistic (graphic, musical) are introduced; etc.

(Cage 1974, [x])

The attack on coherent syntax is effected with great force in the “writings-through,” for the mesostic obeys a skewed, heretical syntactic rule that demands each line appear in a severely vertebral form. Flush left, normative linearity is abandoned in favour of a vertical or spinal syntax determined entirely by the formal obligation to disclose a previously imperceptible trans-phenomenon: the decentered and embedded letters that spell out sequentially the name James Joyce. (It is significant that Cage preserves the original page numbers in the left hand margin of the page, thereby introducing the notion of scale and contraction.)

to jAlice
two ways of opening the Mouth i
not stoppEd
water where it Should flow and i know
106 the first book of Jealesies
childsize herOes
howk cotchme eYe
abe to sare stood iCyk
nEuter till brahm taulked him common sex
(Cage 1979, 148)

Such a “verse” form of phrasal lines, generated by a systematic deletion of sections of Joyce’s source novel, aptly invokes an architectural analogy. Indeed, Cage’s text is the systematically chance-generated ruin of the Wake. The canny affinity of this medial acrostic ruin-maker to a central tenet of the eighteenth-century Picturesque remains unacknowledged among Cage scholars, yet Martin Price offers the evidence to support this claim:


The picturesque in general recommends the rough or rugged, the crumbling form, the complex or difficult harmony. It seeks a tension between the disorderly or irrelevant and the perfected form. Its favourite scenes are those in which form emerges only with study or is at the point of dissolution.... Where it concentrates upon a particular object, the aesthetic interest lies ... in the internal conflict between the centrifugal forces of dissolution and the centripetal pull of form.

(Price 277; emphases added)

Transposed from the Picturesque tours of a William Gilpin to a twentieth-century avant-garde practice, Price’s summary of the Picturesque ideal of putting formal unity at risk in a tensional aesthetics, serves as an accurate description of the “writing through.” Moreover the latter attains that specific picturesque effect that Price specifies is “a conception of structure based upon the overthrow of limited ideas of unity” (Price 279). Designed as a proactive mode of negation the “writing through” enters to unsettle and partly destroy the significations it encounters. Compliant to the law of the mesostic and transgressing the different laws of grammar and normative syntax, it is an oxymoronic, if not a paradoxical, construction-destruction, a production realized precisely by a loss. The transcoherent aspect is thus clear, through the destruction of a coherent writing the mesostic paragram constructs a coherent name. The “writing through” further precipitates the conception of textual cohesion into paradox, for as a systematic method of chance generation it produces not only the coherence induced by the mesostic rule, but also a text which judged by normative standards of reading and comprehension is disjunctive and fragmentary at best and utterly incoherent at its most extreme. Perhaps the skewed semantics of the quoted passage are worth remarking. Despite the fragmentation and disjunction, the instantly erotic implications of Joyce’s own portmanteau method (fusing words in semantic copulation) are not entirely lost in this oddly erotic passage whose anamorphic narrative becomes insistent via titillating suggestions. Like jAlice through a looking-glass we glimpse a scene of elephantine members (“Jumbo”), oral sex (two ways of opening the Mouth), discharge (“water where it Should flow”), and jealousy in which “common sex” replaces common sense.


There are far-reaching ontological implications in this practice. For the mesostic not only organizes and exposes a subterranean signification, heterogeneous and paramorphic to the inhabited grammatical order, but also abolishes all vestige of a locutionary subject behind the text, exposing, via a negative assault, the fundamental alliance between linearity and voice. As such it would seem to be the extreme realization of Eliotian impersonality. As Kristeva explains in her delineation of paragrammatic disposition “The term network replaces univocity (linearity) by encompassing it” (Kristeva 1998, 32). In its wider ramifications the mesostic establishes the puissance of the non-linear, i.e. the invisible or transphenomenal, to modify the visible, and if the poetic line locates, as Kathleen Fraser suggests, “the gesture of [the poet’s] longing brought into language” (Fraser 152) then the paragram marks the emergence of an authorless text, one read into existence. In a “writing through” writing itself loses all monologic ground; a paralogical and impersonal text emerges through systematic chance generation and emancipative paragrammatic consequences.


But how does Cage’s “writing through” Finnegans Wake relate to coherent and incontrovertible authorship? In a way it’s both correct and incorrect to claim that James Joyce repeatedly embedded his name throughout the pages of Finnegans Wake. Joyce never wrote the name “James Joyce” the way it appears in Cage’s text but nonetheless that name, James Joyce, shows itself repeatedly to be present throughout the Wake. Through an entrelacs of coherence and incoherence (what I am calling transcoherence) Cage brings to light what is present but unapparent in his source text. In its entirety, the “writing through” is part of Joyce’s book but also the book by Joyce that never was. A fundamental doubleness obtains to this semiology where every phrasal line functions as the systematic ambience of a single letter and at the same time intertextually engages as an action on another writing constructing in that way “a Whole, which is nonetheless ‘two’” (Kristeva 1998, 39).

Television kills telephony in brothers’ broil.
Our eyes demand their turn. Let them be seen!
(Joyce 52)

In so far as the “writing through” emerges from a reading rather than a locution, Joyce’s claim above resonates throughout Cagean mesostic practice; it further bears testimony to Zukofsky’s urge in Bottom: On Shakespeare to trust “the clear physical eye over the erring brain” (167) as well as endorsing that earlier claim of Heraclitus in his 101a fragment that “The eyes are more exact witnesses than the ears.” Despite its nomenclature the “writing through” is less a contribution to the history of writing than to the cultural and political history of reading—questioning, by implication, the very grounds of coherence upon which interpretive and expository practice rests. Cage abdicates the authorial role to become witness to a text’s reorganization and part-deletion under the mesostic regimen of a system of chance. In that way Cage carnivalizes hermeneutics, repudiating the conventional reasons why we read. A logophilic pursuit and transcription of certain letters replaces normative reading, arriving that way at an incoherently-coherent text. In this teleological transformation of its function the reader no longer seeks a destination in some interpretative or thematic terminal but spends itself in an optical tracking of the polylogical alterations of a constantly shifting textuality. Like Saussure, Cage reads to liberate those surface and single-letter aspects of a text that pass invisible in conventional reading.


to “see again,”

the verb is “see,” not “walk on”

i.e. it coheres all right

even if my notes do not cohere.

(Ezra Pound, Canto CXVI: 186-87)

It might be useful to historicize Cage’s optical bias in a sojourn to Joyce’s own cultural heritage. The early Irish regarded Latin “primarily as a written or ‘visible’ language [apprehending] it as much (if not more) by the eye, as by the ear” (Parkes 23). Prior to this Isidore of Seville (c. 560-636) had seriously contested the Aristotelian and Augustinian tenet that letters are the signs of sounds that present themselves as the signs of thought. Isidore considered letters as signs without sounds, not signs of sounds (Parkes 21). According to Parkes the early Irish scribes “more readily perceived the written medium as a different manifestation of language with its own ‘substance,’ and with a status equivalent to, but independent of, that of any spoken opposite number it may have had” (Parkes 23). There is a further precedent for Cage’s method in the mille quattro cento shift in sensory bias from the acoustic to the visual, from the phone to the gram recommended by Alberti in his Della pictura (1435) and later reaffirmed by Pico della Mirandola. Catherine Ing traces the impact on Tudor lyricists of Thomas More’s translation of Mirandola’s Liber de imagionatione (1501) and the more general influence of Alberti’s treatise: both works fix the archetype of sense experience in the visual, implicatively endorsing the primacy of sight over hearing, and legitimating such subaltern forms as the acrostic, the palindrome and the irreducibly graphic in general (Ing 26-28).


Endorsing this genealogy (wittingly or unwittingly) Cage encourages a severe rethinking of the textual page as a plexus of non-linear subsets. Albeit the “writing through” is a fastidious method of detection that logocratic interpretive criteria would judge pointless, heterological, and passive, it nonetheless marks a highly consequential intervention into the sociology of reading. For this shift from interpretive reading to character detection, from negotiating of syntagms to pursuing of letters, offers an exemplary mode of production capable of inducing “other producers to produce [and putting] an improved apparatus at their disposal,” one that turns consumers into producers, readers into collaborators (Benjamin 233).


In an age of incipient miniaturization it is apt to return to the rumble beneath the word. There is a stubborn, even tautological literalness about that material element we call the letter and against Agamben’s insistence that Language is always “a dead letter” (Agamben 108). Cage demonstrates how Language is frequently a struggle to contain “a living letter.” When Cage famously likened grammar to the military line, he pointed to the same carceral effects of the word on the letter that were emphasized early in the twentieth century by the Russian Futurist Velimir Khlebnikov: “You have seen the letters in their words—lined up in a row, humiliated, with cropped hair, and all equally colorless, gray—these are not letters, these are brands!” (Khlebnikov 63). Tellingly, it is from the spirit of Khlebnikov’s observation, not his own critique of grammar, that Cage’s “writings through” find their motivation—if not legislation—as paragrammatic embeds of letters whose non-linear displacements thread and cantilever the source text like so many magnetic nodes or strange attractors.


Because it pursues the letter-chain and not the word, the mesostic “writing through” is, in principle, a compositional method open to anyone and everybody, requiring no special skills beyond a zero degree of character recognition. It is the democratic gesture in the “writings through” that links mesostic composition to both Lautréamont’s poetics of the populace and Brecht’s dramaturgical theories. Moreover, the mesostic can be comprehended as a textual application of the architectural principles of Reyner Banham’s 1960s “Other Architecture” in which “inhabitants define their own environments by a fluid and playful selection of objects, services, and technologies” (Sadler 38). Banham’s architectural position serves to articulate Cage’s practice onto the consumerist inspired thinking of the 1960s, presaged in 1934 by Benjamin’s call to a productive art-consumerism already noted. The urge to restructure reading along an axis of democratically accessible productivity emerges at the moment of the surge in consumerism and the definition of the latter along the contours of productive choice. This is, of course, the logic governing both the sociology and the architectural space of the supermarket: that second icon (after the automobile) of the immediate post-war age.


Although Saussure and Cage alike pursue a hypogrammatic agenda, hunting non-linear assemblages hidden within and across the line, they differ in their key proclivities. Unlike Cage, Saussure’s intention is not to generate a written-reading but to remain entirely within the reader function. Moreover, in the texts Saussure examines, each poet—although obliged to re-deploy the phonic elements of the theme-word—is nevertheless free to develop the surrounding text as he wishes. In contrast the “writing through” is predominantly a practice of deletion not expansion, and whereas Saussure traces the repeated chains of syllables and sounds, Cage vigilantly pursues a catena of alphabetic letters. For Gerald Bruns, this micropoetics of the letter inflects an ethical dimension into poetic practice. “Certainly, a crucial link between poetry and ethics lies in allowing words, or particles of words (the sounds of parts of words, and with them the world of things, not to say of others), to live their own lives; it means listening, not tuning things out but letting them take us along” (Bruns 220). But are “listening” and “sound” really in evidence in the mesostic? Ironically, while Cage the musician opts for pursuing the graphic provocation of the silent letter, Saussure the linguist traces the acoustic itineraries of paragrams (Starobinski 14).


The medial acrostic appears to be one variant realization of Cage’s famous, if not original, admission “I have nothing to say and I am saying it and that is poetry.” The sentiment is already present in Paul Valéry’s comments on some lines of Baudelaire: “These words work on us (or at least some of us) without telling us very much. They tell us, perhaps, that they have nothing to tell us” (Valéry 917). Recall that Cage’s texts are transcribed readings or trackings not compositions ex nihilo, and that the mesostic-paragram principle opens up to unlimited combinability a dynamic force applicable to an infinity of nominal, verbal, or phrasal sets any one of which could function as the organizational axis. (Cage could just as well have read through Ulysses for the theme-names of James Joyce, Stephen Dedalus, Molly Bloom, or Harold Bloom for that matter.)


Like Saussure, Cage unwittingly specifies a general condition of finite recombinant writing systems that ensures a text will always offer a transcoherent network of paragrammatic fecundity, whose excess of virtual information will part impale and part elude its reader. Because of the omnipresence of paragrams, a text always offers itself not only as a tangible system of semic relations but as an infinite recombinant potential, attesting that way to a certain autonomy in language. What Cage ultimately demonstrates is how infinity can be systemized and in this respect the paragram bears comparison to Cage’s ontological disproof of silence in “4’33”.” Much as the latter demonstrated that sound cannot be eliminated, that sounds persists as the supplement of silence, so the transcoherence of the paragram reveals how meaning ultimately cannot be foreclosed: “There is no invention without a commensurate dose of instability” (Massumi 85).


The theories of non-equilibrium thermodynamics offered by Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers dwell at the bifurcation of chemistry and ontology where a metaphysics of being converts into a physics of becoming (Prigogine and Stengers 1982, 1984). Their research tabulates the vexatious problem of where to place chaos and coherence in the passage of becoming. Is chaos the birth or the breakdown of order? Prigogine’s most famous postulate, that the path of self-organizing systems leads from chaos to order (from incoherence to coherence), might be taken as an overly deterministic and ultimately conservative tenet. My interest here is less in testing the truth of Prigogine’s claim than in applying his concept of the dissipative structure as a conceptual tool for approaching Cage’s “writings through” as partly self-organizing structures. Most pertinent is Prigogine’s contention that complex stable systems carry within them unstable subsystems that pressure the dominant system into disequilibrium. At a maximal point the system bifurcates into either a higher complex organization, or into chaos. Such bifurcation points (transported and renamed “schizzes” in Deleuze and Guattari’s thinking) describe with fine accuracy the mesostic method as a dissipative agency. Reading is the outside that seeps into a book-machine’s closed system disturbing its entropic content with negentropic elements: interpretation, analysis or, in Cage’s case, mesostically determined constraint resulting in a new equilibrium by dissipation. The paragrammatic disposition and mesostic chain introduce a series of bifurcation points and dissipations into the maximum disequilibrium that is the source text. The remnant text provides a higher complex organization as a new state of equilibrium, while the mesostic chain itself functions as the new order within an otherwise chaotic system: “the possible is one of the provinces of truth” (Baudelaire 622).


An active poetic of the infinite transcribed within the actual is a bold claim to make for Cage’s “writings through,” so let me conclude by supporting this assertion via a further connection to a contemporary of Saussure’s. Edmund Husserl’s great contribution to the philosophical discourse on imagination lay in his seminal rethinking of the image as a relation. Neither a thing nor a percept, an image is an intentional act of consciousness directed to an object beyond consciousness itself. For Husserl the central potency of imagination is to liberate things from their grounds as facts and grant them an ideal status as “possibilities of which each fact is but a single instance” (Kearney 21). Richard Kearney explains the phenomenological intentional act of imagination:


Husserl believes that [the process of imagination] allows us to see beyond the actual mode of existence of a thing to variations of its other possible modes of being.... [T]he phenomenologist refashions the given data of an object ... by freely varying it in his imagination. He or she allows the data to move continuously from the actual appearance of the table to its “real possibilities.”

(Kearney 24)

Husserlian imagination works towards suspending the actual existence of a thing, detaching it from the empirical by subjecting it to free variation in an infinite set of open, ideal possibilities. In a key passage in Ideas Husserl links this infinite free variation to a fictive poesis. “[I]t is naturally important to make rich use of fiction for the free transformation of data ... and we can draw extraordinary profit from what art and particularly poetry have to offer in this regard” (quoted in Kearney 26). In his elaboration, however, Husserl makes no mention of the paragram. Yet, despite its counter-eidetic nature—it is, after all, an empirically accessible phenomenon—the paragram’s disposition is remarkably akin to the functioning of Husserl’s phenomenological imagination. Reading is a modality of consciousness established as an intentional program; it is a reading of a text. By opening up alternative contents that transcend the actual material significations, paragrammatic free variation suspends the natural attitude in reading. Like the description of phenomenology as an a priori science offered by Husserl in the second of his Cartesian Meditations (1929) paragrammatic readings like the “writings through” operate within the “realms of pure possibility” (Kearney 28).


By rethinking the paragram not as a latency in general textuality but as a possibility within a strategy of reading that seeks a different coherence than the one normative reading engages, a new historical alignment can be proposed in which Derridean free-play, Husserlian free variation, and Saussurean hypogrammatism reach a confluence on the road to an emergent non-symbolic poetics of the infinite in the actual; a poetics of reading that remains implicit in Cage’s mesostic compositions.


Michel Pierssens offers the optimistic view that “As a practice and as a theory, paragrammatism is the dream of a knowledge and of a freedom, of a liberation of the letter through an adherence to its network and journeys: promise of a thrill, certainty of ‘glory’ for the castaways of the alphabet” (Pierssens xii). Kristeva, for her part, fixes this adventure of the letter in a grander philosophic theme: “Paragrammatic writing is a continuous reflection, a written contestation of the code, of the law and of itself, a way (a complete trajectory) that is zero (which denies itself); it is the contestatory philosophical enterprise become language” (Kristeva 40). Yet, insofar as the mesostic is governed by the law of the paragram and its transphenomenal perplications, Cage’s method “reveals the infinity of meaning, which desire will henceforth pursue” (Pierssens 111). As Saussure did before him, Cage escorts us to the dark side of language that uncovers to us its tunnels of Babel. Transcoherently humans read in this space on an abyssal edge of vertigo and delirium. Here, where reading and desire meet writing, madness erupts in the impossible encounter of infinity by finitude. This remarks at once the temporal law of transcoherent writing and the ontological circumscription placed on the writer. It is the writerly space of Bataille’s impossible. Coherence requires boundaries, but transcoherence cuts across those boundaries to open up what it simultaneously represses: the unrestricted access to inexhaustible signification. Mallarmé avoided the brink of this madness by retreating into the science of the sign. Saussure, however, stared it in the face.


When a paragram appears, it seems a ray of light. Then, when we see that we can add a second and a third, rather than experience relief from our doubts, we begin to lose that absolute confidence we had in the first: because then we begin to wonder whether we could not definitively find all possible words in each text....

(quoted in Pierssens 111)

We have yet to think through this Saussurean sublime and it remains a mystery whether Cage’s nomophilia led him to its experience.


But what would these claims have meant to Cage? There is a Buddhist belief in Sarva-dham-sunyatà relevant to his practice; the phrase translates as “the vanity of all signs.” Perhaps the paragram’s delireal economy ultimately corroborates the truth of that tenet, returning us to the poverty and finitude of the human inside the infinity of language. And if the issue, finally, is not to make the paragram some minimum poetic aspiration but to emphasize its omnipresence as a virtual, disruptive, and transcoherent force in the written, then Italo Calvino best articulates this call of the moving gram to human endeavor. “Only the ability to be read by a given individual proves that which is written shares in the power of writing, a power based on something that goes beyond the individual. The universe will express itself as long as somebody will be able to say, ‘I read, therefore it writes’” (139).


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The mesostic (medial-acrostic) writings of John Cage pose an interpretational problem: how does a reader negotiate a treated source text whose procedural method yields incoherent phrases with minimum semantic reward? Most critics of Cage’s “writings through” Finnegans Wake have dwelt on the second-order meanings of Cage’s systematic chance method. This essay attempts to conceptualize the paradox of a coherence within incoherence via the concept of transcoherence as an order imposed upon, yet never totally controlling, textual cognitive dissonance.


Les mésostiches de John Cage soulèvent un problème d’interprétation: comment un lecteur s’accommode-t-il de la transformation d’un texte-source lorsque les procédures de traitement aboutissent à des expressions incohérentes n’offrant qu’un minimum de gratification sémantique ? La plupart des critiques s’intéressant aux mésostiches de Cage à partir de Finnegans Wake s’attachent aux sens seconds que produit la méthode aléatoire systématique de Cage. En élaborant le concept de transcohérence qui impose un ordre à la dissonance cognitive textuelle sans jamais totalement la réguler, cet essai tente de penser le paradoxe que constitue la cohérence au sein même de l’incohérence.

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