(John Cage’s unusual dedication of his book “Silence – Lectures and Writings“)
The pinnacle of every book
I recently became an enthusiastic book dedication collector. It’s every writer’s Achilles hill, their most vulnerable part and therefore the part most sincere. A name of a teacher, a beloved, a kindred friend, a son or daughter, one’s parent, an enemy even, singular or plural, whoever the author may choose, it is a declaration of a connection – eternalized; a testimony from backstage that we, the readers, cannot have access to. It is a notably private moment almost violated, but not. Just like a wedding, with all that unnecessary audience swirling around the bride and groom. Why is anyone else invited? Why would any witness be needed? Every dedicated book begins with such sweet trespassing, and I wish to confess here, even if this might sound radically nonsensical, that I wonder whether an entire book isn’t but the dance that follows the actual matrimonial ceremony happening in the first line, that forgotten thread: the opening dedication.
Please indulge me for a moment and make room for what would seem as a strange question at first: Is the dedication truly subordinate compared to the book? Can’t it be the very center, and everything else the orbiting periphery? What if the whole book is merely a bait, a skillful way of calling in very certain witnesses to share that private moment belonging to two only?
This question is not an easy one, if one truly immerses in the act of asking. Let go of the obvious, it will lead nowhere. Lose ground. Look around. Intrepidly suffer with me.
I lay this question here, in the beginning, where it belongs, though at the doorstep of Genesis it must wear a slightly different form. After all, this book has no dedication what so ever. Or… has it not?
An open invitation
Last weekend I went to a retreat led by a more-or-less Zen Buddhist teacher (“more or less” because he dissociates himself from such definitions). One of the exercises he gave us was focusing on a pole that stood in the middle of the room. Our focus had to change every few minutes: We were to watch the pole from our eyes, then the center of our heads, then move to the back of our necks, then observe it from two centimeters away, and after a while watch the pole as if our eyes were half a meter behind, from outside the room. We transitioned each time without moving a single muscle, and were almost collectively in awe of the results. Distance and proximity presented themselves as a fluid product of the mind.
And what about time?
A known saying, originating in the bible’s oldest interpretative literature, stares chronology in the eye and laughs. “There is no early or late in the Torah“, it states and means that the bible, as the ultimate ex-territory, is not bound to chronological order, cause and effect, earlier or later. Those can be lenses through which one observes the world, but this is only one possibility out of many many more, and “more” is always a more interesting playground to watch the stars from. This radical statement has won many dignified opponents, yet despite its wild defiance of what we usually consider as common sense, it mostly became a releaser of other truths made possible only when this time-unstitching rule is applied. If that is so, even the term “beginning” is shaken, and the sought after dedication might await elsewhere, somewhere in the middle, or even better, somewhere in the very end, on top of the book’s own nose.
John Cage, an uncompromising zen partisan, related to this narrowing time convention in his article “History of Experimental Music in the United States”, recalling the words of his teacher, D.T. Suzuki, and a fellow artist, Willem de Kooning:
‘Once when Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki was giving a talk at Columbia University he mentioned the name of a Chinese monk who had figured in the history of Chinese Buddhism. Suzuki said, “He lived in the ninth or the tenth century.” He added, after a pause, “Or the eleventh century, or the twelfth or thirteenth century or the fourteenth.” About the same time, Willem de Kooning, the New York painter, gave a talk at the Art Alliance in Philadelphia. Afterwards there was a discussion: questions and answers. Someone asked De Kooning who the painters of the past were who had influenced him the most. De Kooning said, “The past does not influence me; I influence it.”‘
Similarly to the Jewish statement that dictates a different kind of reading, D.T. Suzuki, De Kooning and Cage understood a different relation between the past and present, revealing the futile obsession with history and calling for a new center of reference. The bible then, a resistant survivor of thousands of years, even before opening its cover, is a living product of the present. Alive and kept alive by the living. The celebrated marriage is, then, the union between the reader and the book. Between the length and breadth. Every reading is an act of intertwining. In this marriage lies the seed of discovery.
This book, then, is deadicated to us. Dedicated with an “a”, because we, the observers, are the ones bringing it to life. And here begins our own intimate love story, which every letter is reflecting, like a pair of mirroring sunglasses. We (but this time, a capital W We), are the real spectacle. And therefore, this story must begin with the entire universe.
The hopefulost and . . . found
This is quite a moving realization, relying solely on a decisive interpretation – what we choose to do with our powerful fist: release that butterfly free or squeeze it to death. When the roads seem shut one must decide to stop seeing the world in categories of roads. When no calling is heard or no personal dedication is seen, one must widen his hearing and broaden his seeing spectrum. What if the whole world is dedicated to You?
Our joined trespassing into possibility is waiting.
If you feel this tingling already, you are ready to Begin.
♦ Before continuing to the next lesson, find the right moments to read chapter 1 and think of three questions that come to mind regarding the first verse only — What is asking to be asked there?
♦ A bonus assignment: Print the first chapter and unveil a hidden dedication made to you — It may be an acrostic message waiting to be discovered or any other encrypted form that draws your attention.
I beseech you to post it here or send it over afterwards.
♦ A bonus dedication: Alan Watts’ Wattsy dedication found in his phenomenal book “The Way of Zen” –
Got a lovely dedication of your own? Post it here as a comment or e-mail me!
Breathe on and see you when you’re ready on Lesson 1.2: Traveling to the Edge ♥