Obtain photographic records which no longer look like photographs of something

I picked up John Cage’s “X: Writings ’79–’82” today at Spoonbill. A gorgeous book for a lot of reasons, and a few specific surprises. First of all, the book is

“illustrated fortuitously by twelve photographs made at my request by Paul Barton of twelve weathered images on the Siegel Cooper Building, first balcony level (eight images on the Avenue of the Americas, two on 18th Street, two on 19th Street, New York City). I call them Weather-ed I-XII. I did nothing to make them the way they are. I merely noticed them. They are changing, as are the sounds of the traffic I also enjoy as each day I look out the window.”

The images appear to be degraded photocopies, or to have gone through some kind of process to take away any representational quality. They’re beautiful, and I wonder what kind of life, if any, they had outside of this book.

But most astonishing was my discovery of a passage on page 92, within the work “James Joyce, Marcel Duchamp, Erik Satie: An Alphabet,” describing a book project — a kind of dictionary based on photography. Cage has lifted Duchamp’s writing here, I think, from Á l’infinitif (The White Box), 1967:

“Dictionary — With films, taken close up, of parts of very large objects, obtain photographic records which no longer look like photographs of something. With these semi-microscopics constitute a dictionary of which each film would be the representation of a group of words in a sentence or separated so that this film would assume a new significance or rather after the concentration on this film of the sentences or words chosen would give a form of meaning to this film and that, once learned, this relation between film and meaning translated into words would be “striking” and would serve as a basis for a kind of writing which no longer has an alphabet or words but signs (films) already freed from the “baby talk” of all ordinary languages. — Find a means of filing all these films in such order that one could refer to them as in a dictionary.”

As though Duchamp is speaking to me, through Cage, and proposing a project for me to do — as I’m doing it.

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