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Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists [Kindle Edition]

Kay Larson
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $18.00
Kindle Price: $11.99
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Book Description

A “heroic” and “fascinating” biography of John Cage showing how his work, and that of countless American artists, was transformed by Zen Buddhism (The New York Times)

Where the Heart Beats
is the story of the tremendous changes sweeping through American culture following the Second World War, a time when the arts in America broke away from centuries of tradition and reinvented themselves. Painters converted their canvases into arenas for action and gesture, dancers embraced pure movement over narrative, performance artists staged “happenings” in which anything could happen, poets wrote words determined by chance.

In this tumultuous period, a composer of experimental music began a spiritual quest to know himself better. His earnest inquiry touched thousands of lives and created controversies that are ongoing. He devised unique concerts—consisting of notes chosen by chance, randomly tuned radios, and silence—in the service of his absolute conviction that art and life are one inseparable truth, a seamless web of creation divided only by illusory thoughts.

What empowered John Cage to compose his incredible music—and what allowed him to inspire tremendous transformations in the lives of his fellow artists—was Cage’s improbable conversion to Zen Buddhism. This is the story of how Zen saved Cage from himself.

Where the Heart Beats
is the first book to address the phenomenal importance of Zen Buddhism to John Cage’s life and to the artistic avant-garde of the 1950s and 1960s. Zen’s power to transform Cage’s troubled mind—by showing him his own enlightened nature—liberated Cage from an acute personal crisis that threatened everything he most deeply cared abouthis life, his music, and his relationship with his life partner, Merce Cunningham. Caught in a society that rejected his art, his politics, and his sexual orientation, Cage was transformed by Zen from an overlooked and marginal musician into the absolute epicenter of the avant-garde.

Using Cage’s life as a starting point, Where the Heart Beats looks beyond to the individuals Cage influenced and the art he inspired. His creative genius touched Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Yoko Ono, Alan Kaprow, Morton Feldman, and Leo Castelli, who all went on to revolutionize their respective disciplines. As Cage’s story progresses, as his collaborators’ trajectories unfurl, Where the Heart Beats shows the blossoming of Zen in the very heart of American culture.

Editorial Reviews


“Heroic… fascinating.” --New York Times

“Inspirational… exuberant.” --Los Angeles Times

"Revelatory… Where the Heart Beats may not just be the best book written yet about John Cage; it’s probably also one of the most substantive-yet-readable entryways into the nexus of 20th-century American art and the immortal qualities of Eastern thought… one of the most profound, not to mention unexpected, gifts imaginable."--Slate

"Absorbing… no future commentator on Cage's work or influence will be able to ignore Larson's contribution…a milestone in contemporary cultural criticism." --San Francisco Chronicle

"Remarkable… without a doubt the richest, most stimulating, most absorbing book I’ve read in the past year, if not decade — remarkably researched, exquisitely written, weaving together a great many threads of cultural history into a holistic understanding of both Cage as an artist and Zen as a lens on existence… Not unlike Cage’s music, Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists is impossible to distill, to synthesize, to relay. Rather, its goodness is best experienced in full, with complete surrender. "--Brain Pickings

"Strange and wonderful... a gloriously rich reading experience, studded with layers upon layers of deeply inspiring and endlessly fascinating paths. One of the best books of the year in any category." (A Favorie Music Book of the Year)

About the Author

Kay Larson was the the art critic for New York Magazine for fourteen years and has been a frequent contributor to the New York Times. In 1994, she entered Zen practice at a Buddhist monastery in upstate New York.

Product Details

  • File Size: 3787 KB
  • Print Length: 493 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0143123475
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (July 5, 2012)
  • Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0064W5NYQ
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #204,003 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning Appraisal of this Seminal Artist September 25, 2012
This book is a singular and thorough trip through the avant garde in the visual and performing arts during the second half of the Twentieth Century using John Cage as guide. It is also a stimulating look into the mind of this seminal artistic figure as he interacts with both artists and Buddhist teachers during this time. Given Ms. Larson's own deep knowledge of both John Cage and Buddhist practice, she brings a special clarity to this intellectual and artistic venture using Cage's own words and her own unique insights into his contributions to music and the visual arts.
One is stunned by John Cage's own work as well as the influence he has had with so many significant artists in his lifetime.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cage Comes Alive September 5, 2012
"Where the Heart Beats" is fascinating as both a chronological and spiritual biography. It accomplishes that rarest of feats in a book about an artist: not only putting us in Cage's shoes and his times, but also making his creative process come to life--probing into his motivations, his psychic struggles, and the revelations he experiences in such a way that we can see more clearly how his art came to be what it is. Larson proves herself a skillful, authoritative, and compelling guide. Based on her many years as a reporter in the field, she speaks knowledgeably and compassionately about Cage's impact on the contemporary art, music, and performance scene. Drawing on her own strong Buddhist practice, she illuminates the American Zen world and the profound influence it had on Cage. More important, as a human being, she effectively invites us to engage in a conversation with Cage using our own intelligence and imagination, which is probably the best way to develop a richer understanding of what he was trying to communicate. Her book helps us to value him more and to open up our hearts and minds more fully to his work.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it and surprised I did. October 2, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Fascinating. Ready to read it again to my surprise tho big and long but move between arenas and people so very engaging.
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "REMARKABLE, STIMULATING, EXQUISITE!" July 23, 2012
Kay Larson delivers a fascinating story portraying Cage's creative process, connecting us to his heart and mind as she paints a colorful portrait with her elegant writing style. This breathtaking story weaves together threads of cultural history as it conveys the tremendous changes sweeping through American Culture following World War II. A time when the Arts in America let go of tradition as they reinvented themselves. Painters, Dancers, Performance Artists, and Poets changed styles. In addition, a tumultuous period when composers began to touch thousands of lives through a spiritual quest. "WHERE THE HEART BEATS" is refreshing, enjoyable, beautifully written, and Highly Recommended.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A unique and poetic lens on the life of John Cage August 18, 2012
There are experiences in life where the process of living becomes revealed, much like unwinding a spool of thread. Reading "Where the Heart Beats" is very successful in poetically revealing the layers upon layers John Cage moved through in his art, his music, and his life. I have read other books about Mr. Cage and found this one to hold a very unique and different lens. This book does not critically analyze his musical compositions but instead shares the elements, the essentials, the details that led him down his creative seeking path. It felt like a line moving through time and I can now understand his choices on a higher level.

As an artist myself, the process of understanding why one chooses what one does is a great tool. This book gave me hope to keep believing in process and trusting layers do come together to form a whole. Mr. Cage was such a determined being and Larson depicts this perfectly time and time again through her sharing of story. And, I think it is just that, the sharing of story of John Cage, meandering through different creative nodes which brought this book to a place of intimacy. Quite remarkable!!
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars MI5 August 12, 2012
By Natalie
From strands of many lives -tracked in memories of conversations, meetings, parties , in old announcement, dusty catalogs, diaries, in interviews and research, Kay Larson gathers intelligence like the MI5 and puts together the story of how Zen Buddism and John Cage seduced the West. An amazing variety of people and events are assembled--John Cage at Black Mountain, Kerouac on the road, Ginsberg at Columbia, Johns and Rauschenberg meet D.T. Suzuki, D.H. Suzuki at Columbia and the New School, Yoko Ono and Happenings, poetry evenings, the Judson Dance Center, Dick Higgins--and are revealed to have a single unifying source: Zen Buddhism. "Where the Heart Beats" by Kay Larson is an amazing insight into the seeming chaos of movements,styles, and groups that agitated American art of the 1950s and 1960s .

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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written, a wonderful perspective August 12, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is an excellently researched and well-written story. It has moments of almost stream-of-consciousness mixed with straight-up journalism and some Zen language that creates a book unlike anything else I've read.

It's definitely a little long-winded at times, but you kind of just go with it. It paints a picture of the early-to-mid-20th century arts scene, Dadaism, and how Zen concepts shaped not only John Cage's approach towards art, but also the work of other major artists like Marcel Duchamp and Robert Rauschenberg. Finally it argues (pretty well) that John Cage and Marcel Duchamp basically changed the way the world considers and creates art.

This is not my usual fare, but I was totally drawn in.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
It has made me do research on different topics:Art, Literature. refreshing reading
Published 5 months ago by Valentina Cuadrado Marcos
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good and important work
On about a hundred levels this is a must read. Very good and important work.
Published 7 months ago by Joseph OConnor
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent, thorough study in depth of the importance of ...
An excellent, thorough study in depth of the importance of Zen in the life and work of America's most fascinating composer.
Published 8 months ago by Stephen Addiss
4.0 out of 5 stars Zen Buddhism
Very inclusive and well written concerning Zen Buddhism.
Published 9 months ago by John P. Mulgrew
5.0 out of 5 stars Spellbinding read...
What a great book! I'm still reading this bit so far it's such a great book! I have found it to be inspiring and contemplative. Very happy I purchased this insightful book.
Published 10 months ago by Kelticveganbard
5.0 out of 5 stars "...they knew they all had the consciousness..."
An exploration of the transitional experiences, not only of Cage, but of all of the poets and artists who began to find their way in and through zen from the 50s on. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Michael Robertson
4.0 out of 5 stars I fascinating book about a fascinating artist, like him or not.
John Cage was arguably one of the most fascinating and enigmatic composers of experimental music of the 20th century. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Kirk McElhearn
5.0 out of 5 stars Zen and modernism
seemed somewhat chaotic at the start...gets better as it goes on in terms of bringing the zen aspects of Cage and his colleagues into focus.... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Richard Goldberg
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful book
This was a Christmas gift to a friend who is a huge fan of Cage. She is still telling me what a wonderful book it is. And she would know.
Published 15 months ago by Barbara Stearns
3.0 out of 5 stars Where is Varese?
Very informative with regard to Teitaro Suzuki's profound influence, exploring the way that his teachings affected Cage and pervaded all the seemingly disparate threads that ran... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Bradbury
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