The Process That Is the World: Cage/Deleuze/Events/Performances
by Joe Panzner
Bloomsbury Academic, NY, NY, London, England, 2015
240 pp. Trade, £59.40
Reviewed by Edith Doove
Transtechnology Research, University of Plymouth
In The Process That Is the World: Cage/Deleuze/Events/Performances Joe Panzner develops an intriguing resonance between the thinking practices of John Cage and Gilles Deleuze. Although the affinities between both philosophers (one of which happens to use music or sound) might seem to be far-fetched, Panzner builds a convincing and consistent evidence of this connection despite the fact that they never really met. The only occasion that brought them physically close to each other was during the Schizo-Culture Conference organised by Sylvaine Loringer on 16-17 November 1975 at Columbia University when Cage functioned as a bridge between the European or French intelligentsia and that of the United States or more specifically New York. They never directly interacted after this.
In the five chapters following the introduction Panzner, who is a well-respected composer, mastering engineer, musicologist and hints at performing Cage himself, organises his thesis under the headings of Works, Ethics, Encounters, Performances and Politics. Each chapter starts with two quotes, which turn out to be by respectively by Cage and Deleuze when one consults the footnotes but at first glance seem perfectly inter-changeable. These quotes alone thus already give good evidence of their parallel thinking. The starting and main reference point throughout remains Cage with concentrating on his thought and performance work from after his famous experience in the anechoic chamber and the composition of 4'33" as this is the period in which the parallel with Deleuze is the most clear according to Panzner. True to Cage and Deleuze's shared believe it is however not about the individual or the object but about the event and the book develops much wider aspects their ideas tap into. Making reference to texts by Cage (For the Birds) and Deleuze (and Guattari, especially Difference and Repetition), Panzner also alludes to specialists such as Massumi, DeLanda, Meillassoux and Kostelanetz to state his case. The wider perspective he thus develops becomes especially apparent in the ethics chapter when he discusses the issue of error and judgment that are part of morality as opposed to the ethics that Cage and Deleuze advocate. It is especially habit that is to blame as it leads to "the emergence of a constitutive stupidity" that also leads to the explicit misunderstanding of Cage's work as described in the chapter on performances.
All in all it is a timely book now that we find ourselves in a clear impasse when it comes to art and politics. Cage and Deleuze's call to be in sync with a process-based world is, although more than 50 years old, actually rather up-to-date. It is still just as difficult a message as it was back then as the essence is for moving away from "the familiar, the policed, the preferred and the goal-minded" in order to reach "a genuine creation and the manufacturing of new eyes, new minds and new people." The Process That is The World is in that sense a real manifesto, which is, as Panzner states, certainly not meant as a critique and throughout on purpose affirmative. Provocative, because as he bluntly puts it, basically cold and inhuman with its move away from the comfortable and comforting but with the ultimate positive aim "to embrace the component of every situation, musical or political, that escapes the present bounds of understanding and explicate its consequences – to develop a sensibility that can detect the form of potential embedded in what escapes recognition." This sensibility, or what Cage also described as discipline, is the way to true creativity and exactly what we are in need of today.