Since my book for Yale is part of a series (first in the series: The Hamburger: A History), I didn’t think I would have any choice over the title, but it turns out they wanted me to come up with one, and so it’s going to be No Such Thing as Silence: John Cage’s 4’33”. I’m not much of a fan of colons in titles, considering them an academic affectation, but I don’t think this one was avoidable. I had been worrying about how I was going to finesse being “the author of 4’33”,” or “the author of John Cage’s 4’33”.” Colons in titles of musicology papers are so ubiquitous that when I was in grad school, my teacher Peter Gena and I used to joke about the paper we were going to submit to the AMS: “The Colon in American Musicology: an Overview.” Someone recently told me about a grad student she overheard saying, “I’ve finished everything about my dissertation except for the part of the title that goes after the colon.” Seems to me that if it’s not bleedin’ obvious what goes after the colon, you don’t need anything. Moby Dick: The Search for a White Whale. Bleak House: The Tale of a Long Legal Case. Colons in titles: Blech.


  1. says

    Speaking of colons, why isn’t the Cage piece 4:33? 4’33” seems like it should be 4 feet 33 inches.
    KG replies: I seem to recall that the use of the colon in timings was an innovation of the digital age, or perhaps at least of the recording industry. I’m old enough to remember when the apostrophe seemed normal.

  2. RIchard Friedman says

    Standard notation uses ‘ for minutes and ” for seconds. 4:33 could also be read as 4 hours and 33 minutes. Or 33 minutes after 4 o-clock.
    Mark Applebaum has a chamber orch piece titled “56 1/2 ft.”, because that’s how long the printed score is. 56.5’
    So it’s conceivable that “4ft. 33in.” could be a legit name for a piece.
    And that raises the question about what one means when they ask “How long is that piece?”. Feet or minutes?

  3. says

    I’ve seen JT Dillon credited with originating the “hypothesis of titular colonicity” (sounds obscene, doesn’t it?) in a paper titled: “In pursuit of the colon: A century of scholarly progress”. I first ran across it as a linguistics undergrad… thought it was hilarious then, and now. Thanks for the reminder.
    KG replies: Sheez, Peter and I didn’t take it far enough. That’s rich. A high school friend and I made up a whole ornate mythology about a dumb friend of ours, and when The Simpsons appeared, my friend thought Homer Simpson was the spitting image of guy we’d invented – that we could have made a cartoon about him and made millions. You have to jump on these impulses.

  4. Paul H. Muller says

    If I remember my trigonometry correctly, 4′ 33″ would equate to 4 minutes, 33 seconds of arc. Maybe it was picked up as an indication of time because the words are the same.
    Or maybe it all goes back to Mozart and the Freemasons.

  5. Luk says

    I like the way your book will be part of a series that includes a monograph on the hamburger. Very iconic! (Until I clicked on the link you provided, I didn’t believe it would have been about food.)
    When will your title be on the market? I am curious to see how far one can go in writing on the subject of 4’33”.
    KG replies: Don’t get your hopes up too far: I really just summarized a lot of great articles that are already out there, many of them in relatively obscure publications. The book was scheduled for this fall, but I’ve been caught in permissions hell for so long that the royalties may have to go to my heirs instead. I might write a whole blog entry on the kinds of things that you have to get permission for these days that one could once quote freely. It sours one on writing books.

  6. says

    I recall that our conversations went a bit further. We used to identify those scholars who went to Yale with the colon, and those who held degrees from Princeton with the opening disclaimer “Towards a….” If one attended both institutions, say a masters at Princeton and a PhD at Yale, then you could expect to see something like this: “Towards a Theory of synchronous dyads: An Introduction.”
    BTW, during one of the times that I brought Cage to my classes we talked about how some students misread his pieces with timings for titles as feet and inches. He said, “Well, you can look at it that way as well.” That was Cage, always so damn accommodating.
    KG replies: Once again, I wish I had your memory. I was *occasionally* sober in grad school, wasn’t I?

  7. says

    I’ve never even been to grad school, and I’ve noticed it too. The paper I fantasized about writing was called, “‘Clever Title: Informative Subtitle’: An Analysis of Academic Titling.”
    KG replies: And you get extra credit for getting *two* colons in.