I had a vivid dream this morning that I was working for a music festival, which has happened to me in real life before, and in the course of my administrative work came across a conceptual piece by some early modernist artist (which I seemed to recall having known about before). It was a test tube with a scroll inside it directing one to open the much smaller test tube inside in case of suicidal thoughts. And the smaller test tube contained a tiny scroll of paper reading, “The usage is, instead of committing suicide, to write a canon.” This seemed so familiar to me upon waking that I Googled the phrase (in vain), thinking I must have read it somewhere.
I hasten to add that it has been very many years since I was plagued with what I believe is now called suicidal ideation. I am not depressed, but I am still writing canons. The odd wording instantly brought to mind the Almighty fixing his “canon ‘gainst self-slaughter” in Hamlet, and also the annotation to Satie’s Vexations, at the bass line where it says “À ce signe il sera d’usage de présenter le thème de la Basse.” I don’t possess the insight to tease out what this little constellation of meanings signifies, but now, when a student comes in depressed, I might start saying, “Why don’t you try writing a canon?”