In/Continuum: making Mycological Provisions
In the aptly titled text Mycopedagogy, Craig Dworkin (2004) links Cage’s work as an experimental composer to his passion for mycology. Dworkin reminds us that Cage was indeed an educator for many decades. He highlights an excerpt from a conversation with Joan Retallack, where Cage says, ‘Ideas are to be found in the same way that you find wild mushrooms in the forest … Instead of having them come at you clearly, they come to you as things hidden’ (Cage and Retallack 1996: 90, quoted in Dworkin 2004: 607).
For Cage the mushroom hunt is an allegory for living one’s life. He urges us to embrace the uncertainty of fungi, to seek out new mushrooms, to accept chance and the mystery of the hunt. Dworkin argues this is essentially Cage’s pedagogical impulse: a kind of dialogic learning that emerges through a critical awareness of the self and a phenomenological encounter with the land.
While this project merely touches upon some of these ideas, the metaphor of the mushroom is an important touchstone. It offers a starting point to relocate learning and art as something open-ended, networked, and fluid. It allows us to view the practices and identities of the contemporary artist-teacher as complex and transitory, perhaps signalling a new hybridised cultural worker who straddles the peripheries of cultural production, politics, and the public sphere, among others.
However, it is important to recognise the limits of social practice and the ethical dilemmas that emerge as artists, educators, and institutions continue to exert their authorial power and privilege (Kester 1995). Issues of access and economic and racial equity continue to linger as practitioners adopt socially engaged methods and practices in their work. If left unexamined, these attempts to restore some kind of ‘social bond’ may do more harm than good (Bishop 2004). This issue is especially urgent as these practices gain wider acceptance and use by institutions around the world.
A Cagian notion of the mushroom offers a space to deterritorialise and better understand these issues, while recognising the entangled nature of learning, art, and social engagement. This foregrounds the importance of evolving a Deleuze-Guattarian (1987) idea of the rhizome alongside an epistemological framework of post-formal thinking (Kincheloe and Steinberg 2011) to create a fertile soil in which cultural and educative ecosystems can mutually thrive. Perhaps in making this mycological provision, we can, as Cage says, move ‘from one idea to another as though we were [mushroom] hunters’ (Cage 1963: 21).
Bishop, Claire. 2004. ‘Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics’, October, 110: 51–79
Cage, John. 1963. A Year from Monday: New Lectures and Writings by John Cage (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press)
Cage, John, and Joan Retallack. 1996. Musicage: Cage Muses on Words, Art, Music (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press)
Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. 1987. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. by Brian Massumi (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press)
Dworkin, Craig. 2004. ‘Mycopedagogy’, College English, 66.6: 603–11
Kester, Grant H. 1995. ‘Aesthetic Evangelists: Conversion and Empowerment in Contemporary Community Art’, Afterimage, 22.6: 5–11
Kincheloe, Joe L., and Shirley R. Steinberg. 1993. ‘A Tentative Description of Post-Formal Thinking: The Critical Confrontation with Cognitive Theory’, Harvard Educational Review, 63.3: 296–321