Alex Niemi translating Vincent Tholomé

The John Cage Experiences
A doctor’s visit

(during his experience in the waiting room at the doctor’s office john cage or his equivalent will sit equipped with a newspaper that he’ll manipulate here and there during the experience itself)

It’s 1935. We’re at doctor williams’ office. Here we have a cousin of mrs. cage visiting doctor williams. A curly-haired cousin of mrs. cage. A cousin from New York City. At this time in her life she goes. To the doctor on average 3 times per week. The good doctor williams. He has an office in john cage’s neighborhood. He is also john cage’s doctor. When john cage. Decides. One day. To go to the doctor due to. Say. Due to something that isn’t right. We suppose a black hole in his head. There. That’s it. One day john cage notices that he has a black hole in his head. He

 (it would be appropriate in fact to put some sort of choreographed dance or musical theater number at the center where john cage or his equivalent will first be seen manipulating the newspaper as it happens the way anyone would by turning the pages jesus)

then decides to go to doctor williams’ office. First to the waiting room. A small thing 10 square meters. There are 5 chairs 1 table with magazines and newspapers. There is. John cage will say. John cage will say later. All that’s needed for distracting oneself. John cage will say. The composer. A man like you and me. He sits one day in doctor williams’ waiting room. He greets mrs. cage’s cousin with a kiss on the cheek. Then he sits right next to her in doctor williams’ waiting room. While 3 other clients read magazines. They are waiting to go into the doctor’s office. The good doctor williams’ office. And. While john cage mechanically. Just to have something in his hands. Just to have something in his hands. Takes a. Yes why not. Newspaper. Doctor williams. Well. Enters the waiting room and greets

(then gradually throughout the experience between silences arbitrary or determined by chance john cage or his equivalent will add the noises of heels clacking on the floor and the newspaper rustling)

everyone. And asks whose turn it is. And goes back into the office with the person who said that it’s his or her turn. This time it’s a little old woman. She has trouble walking. She has a sore on her leg. She came to change the bandage. She came to have her leg bandaged. She came to have her leg-sore disinfected and bandaged. Disinfected and then bandaged by doctor williams. The good doctor. And. Meanwhile. In the waiting room the conversation between john cage and mrs. cage’s cousin subsides. Meanwhile. Suddenly john cage plays with the newspaper. Suddenly. Without anyone expecting it. Without anyone expecting it. There is a black hole in john cage’s head. He’s acting up. He’s. Let’s say acting up. So that. John cage. Composer. Suddenly. In 1935. With a newspaper

 (in fact john cage or his equivalent could also get up from the chair and why not do a dance step while manipulating the newspaper)

 in hand. In a New York City doctor’s waiting room. Discovers the musical possibilities. Mind-blowing to say the least. Of a simple newspaper. Thick of course. Thick of course. But. All the same. Like. Like no other. So that. So that. We quickly perceive. In the waiting room. That something. We don’t know what. In 1935 we don’t know what. To say the least. Perturbs john cage. Not a piece of news from the newspaper. Mrs. cage’s cousin will say. I know it’s strange but I owe it to myself to tell you. I can’t not tell you. My dear. Mrs. cage’s cousin

 (a rhythmic structure mixing papers rustling newspaper tearing feet clacking bodies moving may little by little appear to stop to begin again more and more frenetically)

will say. To mrs. cage. In person. In person. But something coming from the newspaper itself as if. Well. As if. Something from the newspaper itself. Suddenly. Absorbed john cage. Your husband. Your husband. All the same. Mrs. cage’s cousin. Will say. Later. To her cousin mrs. cage. In a cafe on 5th avenue. So. In the waiting room. Well. There’s something like a chill that circulates between the clients. In fact a black hole. While doctor williams. Well. Calls the next client into his office. A little old man with bushy eyebrows. Suffers from a tumor in his left hip. He limps as he enters doctor williams’. Office. And. Even though the entry of doctor williams could have. At least. Drawn the attention of john cage. The composer. The man literally fascinated. Truly. By. Say. The great musical potential of the newspaper. To the point that. Nothing. Not even the entry of doctor williams into the waiting room. Not even the entry of doctor williams coming. Judiciously. Say judiciously. To break. Say. The atmosphere. The climate in the waiting room. The dirty climate. Established. Unknowingly. Unknowingly I tell you. By john cage in person. The individual suffering. In 1935. From a black hole in his head. To the point that he must

(in fact it would be funny if there were 2 or 3 of john cage or his equivalent so that a game of charades of looks of relationships could then take place)

go. Without mrs. cage knowing. To doctor williams’ office. Inopportunely also the doctor of one of mrs. cage’s cousins. A curly-haired blonde. Here on this day for one of her 3 weekly visits at doctor williams’ office. Maybe she’s secretly in love with doctor williams. I think she’s secretly in love with doctor williams. John cage will say. The man who. Apparently. Apparently. When he remains in the waiting room alone with the curly-haired blonde

(after all it’s the job of john cage or his equivalent to see)

cousin from New York City. Didn’t even notice doctor williams’ arrival then the doctor’s departure accompanied this time by a housewife and her sniffling and coughing daughter. She’s 5 years old. She’s wearing thigh-high white stockings. She must have whooping cough. She doesn’t notice mr. cage. The strange little game of mr. cage. Now alone in the waiting room. Now alone with me. The cousin says. Later. To mrs. cage. In front of a hot chocolate. Somewhere in an upscale 5th avenue cafe. She calls her cousin just after her doctor’s visit. She calls mr. and mrs. cage’s apartment. It’s mrs. cage who answers. She sets up a meeting with her in the afternoon. Somewhere on 5th avenue. In an upscale cafe. She doesn’t hesitate to tell mrs. cage how strange she found the behavior of mr. cage. This morning. In doctor williams’ waiting room. A newspaper in hand. She says it in front of a hot chocolate. Served here in big high straight mugs. Served here with a lot of milky foam. It’s the meeting place of choice for mrs. cage and her cousin. Here they can keep. In 1935. Their hats on their heads. And. In effect. They keep them on. So that. When doctor williams leaves the waiting room accompanied by mrs. cage’s cousin. Well. John cage remains alone in the waiting room.

 (yes to each their own according to their knowledge in fact according to their level of comfort etc. yes truly)

Alone continuing this singular and magnificent truly magnificent experience that. For about an hour. He now attempts. So. John cage. Exhausted. Literally. Physically. By the intense concentration that this uh well type of experience needs. Well. Ended with. Say. Leaving his black hole. Leaving his black hole. And. And exiting the room. So that’s what was germinating. John cage says to himself. Once outside. Once back in the street. It was just that. Nothing. Truly nothing to worry about. John cage says to himself. Carrying a magazine with him. And 2 or 3 newspapers. Impatient to get home. A New York City apartment. His experiences. Fortunately he didn’t see the doctor. The good doctor williams. What would he have said to him. Fortunately he was right not to worry mrs. cage. Fortunately I was right not to worry mrs. cage. John cage says to himself again. Going back home. 3rd floor. At a brisk pace.

Translator's Note

Vincent Tholomé’s book The John Cage Experiences turns the famous composer into a poetic experiment. The result is a hybrid: a collection of theatrical poems that twists biographical facts, all while considering a newspaper’s potential for beautiful music. Tholomé, a musician as well as a poet, is very much aware of the potentials of sound and performance in his work. The text invokes a sense of curiosity that asks readers to improvise and take pleasure in creating their own literary experience in the spirit of John Cage.

John Cage wrote much of his music based on chance operations, which involved creating music derived from charts based on the I Ching. The I Ching is the oldest book of divination, composed of 64 sets of six lines called hexagrams. Cage would chart sonorities and use an element of chance, such as flipping a coin, to choose the aesthetic elements of his music. Tholomé, likewise, used what he calls “dream catchers,” mechanisms or games that force the author to surprise him or herself, in order to structure The John Cage Experiences.

The John Cage Experiences is a well of playfulness and theatricality. Each setting seeks moments of depth and excitement within mundane activities, which become sources of inspiration for the poetic version of Cage and the reader. You can read more of Tholomé’s work in English the journal Action Yes. The John Cage Experiences will be available from Autumn Hill Books in the fall of 2017.

Alex Niemi

You can read Alex Niemi’s other writing and translations in Horse Less Review, Prelude, Asymptote, Action Yes!, Dusie, Banango Street, and other journals. Her translation from the French of Vincent Tholomé’s The John Cage Experiences is forthcoming from Autumn Hill Books.


Vincent Tholomé

Vincent Tholomé is a Belgian writer and performer living in Belgium, eating Belgian food, drinking Belgian drinks, but writing in French and sometimes in English. As a writer, he has published almost twenty books mixing fiction and poetry. As a performer, he works with musicians and reads his writings in a lot of countries (the USA, Canada, Russia, Germany, France, Hungary, etc.). His latest works are: Cavalcade, a short movie inspired by one of his books, and Kaapshljmurslis a CD/book co-written with the guitarist Xavier Dubois. Currently, he is working on “Grand parler des fabriques et des prairies,” a new book inspired by his childhood in the country. You can also hear some of his works with musicians on the net, here, for instance, or here, or here.