John Cage – Indeterminacy

February 21, 2009


I enrolled in a class in mushroom identification.
The teacher was a Ph.D. and the editor of a 
publication on mycology. One day he picked up a 
mushroom, gave a good deal of information about it,
mainly historical, and finally named the plant as
Pluteus cervinus, edible. I was certain that that
plant was not Pluteus cervinus. Due to the 
attachment of its gills to the stem, it seemed to
me to be an Entoloma, and therefore possibly 
seriously poisonous. I thought: What shall I do? 
Point out the teacher’s error? Or, following school
etiquette, saying nothing, let other members of the
class possibly poison themselves? I decided to 
speak. I said, “I doubt whether that mushroom is 
Pluteus cervinus. I think it’s an Entoloma.” The 
teacher said, “Well, we’ll key it out.” This was 
done, and it turned out I was right. The plant was
Entoloma grayanum, a poisonous mushroom. The teacher
came over to me and said, “If you know so much about
mushrooms, why do you take this class?” I said, “I
take this class because there’s so much about 
mushrooms I don’t know.” Then I said, “By the way,
how is it that you didn’t recognize that plant?” He
said, “Well, I specialize in the jelly fungi; I just
give the fleshy fungi a whirl.”

the purpose of purposelessness.

one of the most interesting parts of this lecture is the other noises that enter into listening to the sounds of cage’s voice and composition.  Allen in his studio tap tap tapping, kids talking nearby, fish tank filtering water, bird chirping outside, running water, pots clanging in the kitchen etc…

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