John Cage Refuses
An Honorary Degree
June 25, 1973
107 Bank Street
New YorkDavid Alexander, President
Pomona CollegeDear President Alexander:
Thank you for your letter offering me an honorary degree of the College. For a number of reasons, I cannot accept.
First: At the end of my second year at Pomona, I left to continue my education without organizational assistance. One of my reasons then could be one of my reasons now: though I hadn't done my work as instructed, I received an A.
Second: Innovative acts in the arts are criminal. (Duchamp agreed with me on this point.) Though I've not been able to refuse punishments, I can refuse rewards. In fact, it is my obligation to do so.
Third: It was in '68 or '69 that York University in England offered me an honorary degree: In my letter of refusal I promised not to accept such a degree from any institution in the future. I've had occasion to keep my promise and do not wish now to break it.
Fourth: Just as I look to that individual life which is free of likes and dislikes, so I look to that social life which is free of rewards and punishments. I have the example of China.
However, let me mention that your letter brought tears to my eyes. But life, as I trust you agree and Pomona teaches, cannot be well-conducted sentimentally.- - - John Cage