Former New York Mag Art Critic Writes a Book About John Cage and Zen Buddhism

A galley came across our desk this morning for a new book published by the Penguin Press called Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists. It is the first book by Kay Larson, the former art critic for New York magazine. It is also the first book to address at length Cage’s relation to Zen Buddhism and its importance to his life and work.

Ms. Larson is a Buddhist herself. Her book argues that Cage’s famous piece of music 4’33”, a score that directed a pianist to sit at a keyboard for four minutes and 33 seconds without playing, was a turning point in both his career and as a Buddhist. The book is structured like a conversation with Cage: “My model is the conversations Cage devised with Erik Satie, one of his mentors and predecessors, long after Satie’s death,” Ms. Larson writes in her prelude. “Cage speaks here in italicized excerpts from his writings and recorded talks.”

Regarding the significance of 4’33”, she writes:

Cage said that he regarded 4’33”–his “silent piece”–with utmost seriousness. For him it was a statement of essence. Three years before he died, he told an interviewer: “No day goes by without my making use of that piece in my life and in my work. I listen to it every day…”

[I]n all of Buddhism, “silence” and “emptiness” are shorthand terms for the inconceivable ground luminosity–the Absolute “nothing”–out of which all the “somethings” of the world arise in their multitudinous splendor.

The book is out in July, 2012.


  Former New York Mag Art Critic Writes a Book About John Cage and Zen Buddhism