– John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professor of Humanities at Bard College

Joan Retallack first met John Cage in 1965 when the Cunningham company came to Chicago where she was studying philosophy. A conversation began with questions about one another’s interests which led, over several days, to talk of Eastern philosophy, the I Ching, Cage’s book Silence, Wittgenstein, and Retallack’s curiosity about how, precisely, the Cage-Cunningham aesthetic worked. (Retallack had known nothing about Cage before coming early to the dance concert to find two men – Cage and David Tudor – setting up electronics tables and preparing a piano.) In a way, those conversations, ocurring in the Harper Theater during company rehearsals over several days, culminated decades later in the book of conversations the two recorded from September 1990 until just 12 days before Cage’s death on August 12, 1992. Retallack published them with an introductory essay in MUSICAGE, CAGE MUSES ON WORDS. ART. MUSIC: John Cage in Conversation with Joan Retallack (Wesleyan University Press) for which she received the America Award in Belles-Lettres in 1996.

Retallack has lectured widely and published many other essays on the work of Cage with particular attention to the relation of his experimental attitude to developments in 20th century science,  utopian aesthetics, and global socio-politics. She has served as dramaturge for multiple performances of Cage’s Lecture on the Weather and performed (the role of Buckminster Fuller) in a recent production of James Joyce, Marcel Duchamp, Erik Satie: An Alphabet at Bard College. Her visual constructions and word compositions have been shown and performed in many venues including the Guggenheim SoHo (in association with Cage’s Rolywholyover    A Circus), the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and, in January 2012, as part of the Getty sponsored K-PST festival dedicated to John Cage in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Retallack has published eight volumes of poetry, the most recent of which Procedural Elegies / Western Civ Cont’d / was named a best book of 2010 by ARTFORUM. Others include Memnoir (Post-Apollo, 2004),  Mongrelisme (Paradigm Press, 1999), How To Do Things With Words (Sun & Moon Classics, 1998), Afterrimages (Wesleyan University Press, 1995), and Errata 5uite (Edge Books, 1993) chosen by Robert Creeley for the Columbia Book Award. She has also been the recipient of a Lannan Foundation Award, and two Gertrude Stein Awards for her poetry. A volume of essays Poetry & Pedagogy: The Challenge of the Contemporary (Palgrave/MacMillan, 2006) was coedited with Juliana Spahr; a book on ethics and aesthetics The Poethical Wager (2003), and Gertrude Stein: Selections (2010) are both from the University of California Press. Most recently, she wrote the critical introduction for Yale's 2012 republication of Gertrude Stein's Stanzas in Meditation. Retallack lives north of New York City in the Hudson River Valley where she is John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professor of Humanities at Bard College.

Joan Retallack
Joan Retallack
Christopher Dobey/
John Cage Centennial Festival Washington, DC