More than two decades after Cage’s death, a small press called Siglio has published a definitive edition of his major long text. Starting in 1965, Cage developed a poetic form he titled a Diary and accurately described as “a mosaic of ideas, statements, words, and stories.”
Among the constraints informing these writings were these: He would write less than 100 words each day, use no more than twelve different typefaces available at the time on an IBM Selectric typewriter (now antique), count no more than 45 characters in a single line, and change the typeface for each new statement. Earlier selections from Diary appeared as a pamphlet from the legendary Something Else Press in 1967 and in later perfectbound collections of Cage’s essays published by Wesleyan University Press. This new handsomely produced hardback assembles all eight texts, the first seven written annually until 1972 and then an eighth, previously unpublished and perhaps incomplete, “continued” from 1973 to 1982.
Cage’s informing theme is announced in the book’s subtitle: How To Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse). Always is he predisposed to leave well enough alone; almost always are his sympathies libertarian. (The exception is a peculiar, unfortunate, and temporary admiration for Mao Zedong.) In addition to appreciating such ’60s touchstones as Marshall McLuhan, Buckminster Fuller, and Norman O. Brown, Cage was influenced deeply by the American individualist anarchists. His guide to their work was James J. Martin’s 1953 history Men Against the State. Martin for a while was Cage’s Rockland County neighbor, and Cage would purchase copies directly from him. “It’s one of those books I never have,” he once told an interviewer, “because I’m always giving them away.”