Diary: How to Improve the World


John Cage

Co-edited by Joe Biel and Richard Kraft

It is a mosaic of ideas, statements, words, and stories. It is also a diary. For each day, I determined by chance operations how many parts of the mosaic I would write and how many words there would be in each.


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Once one gets interested in world improvement, there is no stopping it. —JOHN CAGE

Composed over the course of sixteen years, John Cage’s Diary: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse) is one of his most prescient and personal works. A repository of observations, anecdotes, proclivities, obsessions, jokes and koan-like stories, Diary registers Cage’s assessment of the times in which he lived as well as his often uncanny portents about the world we live in now. With a great sense of play as well as purpose, Cage traverses vast territory, from the domestic minutiae of everyday life to ideas about how to feed the world.

Originally typed on an IBM Selectric, Cage used chance operations to determine not only the word count and the application of various typefaces but also the number of letters per line, the patterns of indentation, and—in the case of Part Three published as a Great Bear Pamphlet by Something Else Press—color. The unusual visual variances on the page become almost musical as language takes on a physical and aural presence.

While Cage used chance operations to expand the possibilities of creating and shaping his work beyond the limitations of individual taste and perspective, Diary nonetheless accumulates into a complex reflection of Cage’s own particular sensibilities as a thinker and citizen of the world, illuminating his social and political awareness, as well as his idealism and sense of humor: it becomes an oblique but indelible portrait of one the most influential figures of the 20th century American avant-garde.

This beautiful hardcover edition from Siglio collects all eight parts for the first time. Co-editors Joe Biel and Richard Kraft used chance operations to render the entire text in various combinations of the red and blue (used in the Great Bear pamphlet publication of Part Three) as well as to apply a single set of eighteen fonts to the entire work. In the editors’ note, Kraft and Biel succinctly elucidate the procedure of chance operations and demonstrate its application, giving readers a rare opportunity to see how the text is transformed.


About John Cage


Composer, philosopher, writer and artist, JOHN CAGE (1912-1992) blurred the boundaries between art and life, reframing the world so that it could be listened to and seen anew. A pioneer in extending the boundaries of music, often composing works through chance operations, Cage also had an extraordinary impact on dance, poetry, performance and visual art. Read “An Autobiographical Statement” at the John Cage Trust for more details on Cage’s life and work.



About the Editors

JOE BIEL is a visual artist who shows with Galerie Kuckei/Kuckei in Berlin. His work “Veil,” a 5 x 15 foot drawing with almost 1200 individual miniatures, will be featured in the exhibition “Telegenic” at the Kunstmuseum Bonn in fall 2015.  He is the recipient of several awards including two from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation as well as residencies at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art in Omaha and the 18th St Arts Center in Santa Monica. He lives and works in Los Angeles.

RICHARD KRAFT is a multi-disciplinary artist, the author of Here Comes Kitty: A Comic Opera (Siglio, 2015), and co-curator of “Robert Seydel: The Eye in Matter” at the Queens Museum. The most recent iteration of his series of walks—One Hundred Walkers, West Hollywood—took place in April, 2015. Future performances are being planned for New York and London. Kraft was born and raised in London and now lives in Los Angeles.