Chronopolitics and race, rag-time and symphonic time in The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man.
What stands out in Johnson's scene of nocturnal ragtime performance is the importance of the category of time. The patron tyrannizes the narrator's time; moreover, his use of the narrator's ragtime reveals the extent to which the patron himself feels tyrannized by time. According to the narrator, the patron views ragtime as "a means of disposing of the thing which seemed to sum up all in life that he dreaded--time." "To escape, to bridge over, to blot out" time: thus the patron attempts to use the narrator's music (143). (Eventually, the patron does succeed in blotting out time, but only by ending his own life.) The narrator's time is at the service of the patron, the patron attempts to use it to escape the force of time, and sounding in the narrator's ragtime is a form of time cunningly aware of the patron's power and predicament, and slyly resistant to both. Music is the most eminently temporal of forms, and it is my contention that Johnson uses music in The Autobiography to critique the role of time in the racial formations and expectations of the early twentieth century. Music is central to Johnson's novel and to its narrator as he attempts to negotiate the racialized landscape of his era. A key part of the narrator's movement from his childhood with his black mother to his existence as a "white" real estate speculator is his passage from improvising ragtime performer to classical composer, a marker of his shift in allegiance from one conception of time to another.
Specifically, Johnson uses the counterpoint between two different musical traditions (ragtime and classical music) to meditate on the political valence of two different forms of time. If art is, as Albert Murray asserts, "the ultimate extension, elaboration, and refinement of the rituals that re-enact the primary survival technology.., of a given people in a given time, place, and circumstance" (111) and if, as Emile Durkheim writes, "the foundation of the category of time is the rhythm of social life" (20), then each form of music should give shape to quite different temporal conceptions. Ragtime and classical music each embody distinct modes of time-consciousness and of temporal being-in-the-world.
In The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man, classical music stands for a conception of time that revolves around necessity, calculability, and the expected. This progressive, sublimating time imagines temporal movement as movement away from embodiment, a correlative of a movement through social space organized in such a way as to present no impediment to the will of subjects figured as white or to the prerogatives of capital.
Opposed to this conception is the time that emanates from the narrator's pianistic improvisations, a repetitive, polyphonic time of entanglement and imbrication. (3) This conception of time emerges from a strong sense of the interrrelatedness of space and time and always aware of every time's provenance in a specific social space. Unlike the logicized, formal timelessness of the patron's time, this time is dynamic in the full etymological sense of the term. To be dynamic is to be built out of a clash of forces, and the rag-time that the narrator plays is Intimately familiar with the link between force and time.
In the hands of Johnson, the observation that different forms of music are related to different rhythms of social existence is no mere academic insight, but speaks of the very politics of racial existence in a social landscape where the lynching that the narrator witnesses is a hauntingly constant possibility. What Johnson lays bare in his novel are the brutal chronopolitics of race and culture, and the way in which an African American performative tradition responds with a chronopolitics of its own.
I take the term "chronopolitics" from Johannes Fabian's Time and the Other, which argues that "Time belongs to the political economy of relations between individuals, classes and nations" and that "there is a 'Politics of Time'" (x). For Fabian, time is always political because it governs the envisioning of otherness; the way that it has traditionally done so in Western society is by imposing an apparently insurmountable conceptual barrier between subject and object, exercising what Fabian refers to as an "epistemological dictatorship" that licenses oppression by creating and legitimating fixed hierarchical categories, the most pressing of which are, for us, those of race. Fabian labels this conceptual operation "allochronism," a denial of the dialectical relationship between subject and object that divests the object of knowledge (whether person, body, art form, culture, or race) of the ability to act in and occupy the same temporal space as the observing subject of knowledge. Fabian's conclusion is that "a clear conception of allochronism is the prerequisite and frame for a critique of racism" (182).
Johnson's novel precedes Fabian in its critique of allochronism and of the attendant practices of racism. Johnson shares Fabian's belief that where there are temporal practices, there are power relations and constructions of otherness. He highlights the extent to which the narrator's alliance of himself first with ragtime, then with a particular form of classical music is part of his negotiation of the racial and temporal politics that shape his movements. In Johnson's hands, these musics appear not as detached aesthetic practices but as technologies of temporal and subjective shaping that are heavily invested in the struggle over the proper shape of American culture and not without their own relationship to political and institutional power.
Although Johnson sets these two musics and these two conceptions of time against each other, they are not polar opposites. The division at work here is not like the distinction that Mirce Eliade and others make between linear and cyclical time. (4) The two times operative in Johnson's novel are perhaps best thought of as official and vernacular time. They depend on each other for their constitution; official time a reification of vernacular time, and vernacular time shaping itself in the interstices of official time. Both times emerge out of a specific positionality within a complex of social and economic conditions and practices, not out of any fixed cultural or biological essence. Thus, while classical music is a tradition having its provenance in Europe, and ragtime is a music unimaginable without the forced historical yoking of African subjects and American geography, neither form corresponds absolutely to the racial formations dividing the American polity. Ragtime is a music with a complex provenance, emerging as it did out of both an African American performance tradition rife with Africanisms, and out of a cultural situation characterized by an insistent give and take between Euro-American and African American forms and cultural traditions. (5) Exemplary here is the way that the great stride pianist James P. Johnson plundered the European classical tradition for techniques that he used to heighten his pianistic animations of Renaissance-era Harlem rent parties; according to Eileen Southern, "Johnson spent many hours listening to recordings of European piano compositions, so that he could use 'concert effects' in his playing of jazz piano" (390).
Thus, the time-conception regnant in the music of figures like James P. Johnson and James Weldon Johnson's narrator is indebted to the form of African time kept alive in the ring-shout tradition, but is in no way reducible to it. In Blues People, his seminal work on the sociological significance of jazz and other forms of African American music, Leroi Jones--later Amiri Baraka--contends that "the African, because of the violent differences between what was native and what he [or she] was forced to in slavery, developed some of the most complex ideas about the world imaginable" (7). Time is one of these ideas, and the complexity of the time-conception at work in ragtime means that the opposition Johnson sets up between classical music and ragtime can not be a simple one. Ragtime improvises through the distinction between European and African culture with a brilliance perhaps best captured by James Snead's essay "Repetition as a Figure of Black Culture." Snead defines black culture as a culture built on acknowledgment of repetition and of time's social basis. In his formulation, however, European culture does not (and cannot) eschew repetition; it merely tries to suppress its implications. He concludes that there are "elements of black culture already there [in European culture] in latent form" and "that the separation between the cultures was perhaps all along not one of nature, but of force" (75). Snead captures the complex interplay at work in black music's rhythmic shaping of repetition without ever losing sight of the fact that this music is the product of black culture and that it aims, in James Baldwin's words, "to checkmate the European notion of the world" (87). Critiquing allochronism is a key part of checkmating the European conception of the world, and in critiquing what I am calling "official time," Johnson allies himself with the imperatives of the music that his narrator ultimately abandons.
What marks my essay's departure from previous criticism is its focus on this alliance and on the importance of the category of time in Johnson's novel. While several critics have commented on the centrality of music to the novel to my knowledge none have highlighted the way Johnson's use of music is linked to strategies and conceptions of temporality. (6) I examine the conception of time implicit in and motivating the narrator's classical project, and then turn to the way ragtime attempts to evade this temporality to propose an alternative organization of time and of social interaction. I read the argument between the narrator and the patron concerning the narrator's desire to compose a work on "Negro themes," and then move to the narrator's behavior in the South before returning to consider the late night ragtime sessions that precede both scenes.
In the late night confrontation between the narrator's performance of ragtime and the patron's simultaneous command of, and willed deafness to, the music, Johnson gives us a scene of chronopolitical struggle. In exerting his power over the narrator's time and in refusing to heed the kinetic imperatives of his music, the patron makes use of the prerogatives of an official time divorced from participation. Yet ultimately more powerful is the patron's ability to articulate persuasively his conception of time to the narrator. The patron's attempt to use ragtime to "blot out" time is doomed to failure, but his attempt to conscript the narrator into allegiance to his view of time is much more successful. With the success of this argument, Johnson emphasizes that dominant conceptions and performances of time are maintained more through ideological rather than physical force.
The narrator's conscription into the patron's conception of time occurs in an argument between the two, an argument that follows on the heels of the late night ragtime sessions and that exposes the underpinnings of the patron's conception of time and the larger implications of his desire to "blot out" time. Tellingly, the argument concerns the narrator's desire to transform himself from a ragtime pianist into a classical composer. He wants to leave the patron's employ and return to the United States to compose a symphony "on Negro themes." (7) Having heard the theme of one of his ragtime compositions transposed into "classical form" by a German guest of his patron's, the narrator becomes possessed by the idea of "making ragtime classical." But when he tells the patron of his plans, of his desire "to voice all the joys and sorrows, the hopes and ambitions, of the American Negro, in classic musical form" (148), he is met by a "cynical" smile. The patron has nothing but scorn for the narrator's planned return to America, and refers to it as "this idea of making a Negro out of yourself" (145). This scorn is a manifestation of the patron's conception of time and his indifference to the past; like a good modernist he envisions the past as a dead force void of consequence for the present and the future. (8) He sees the narrator's artistic plans as an endorsement of the racial divisions of US society, divisions that he disdains as much as the narrator does. To the patron, race is something that one assumes rather than something one is born into; he finds it ludicrous that the narrator's experience might inspire his desire to work with "Negro themes," and the patron can see this desire as nothing more than a free and irrational choice, based as it is on a seemingly unnecessary exposure of the narrator to prejudice and violence. Unlike Johnson, the patron cannot see that divisions based on racial identity are both irrationally arbitrary and productive of a cultural heritage that has a different value or weight for individuals of different racial identities. He cannot understand that the race of the narrator is not just a function of decisions and categories in the present, but is produced by the weight of the past on the present, both the past of the narrator and the past of the people who have produced the "Negro themes" that the narrator is so eager to get his hands on. Concomitant with the patron's blindness to the past is his theory of art, a theory perhaps best understood as a 'free market' theory of art. In his continuing attempts to dissuade the narrator from his intended course of action, the patron argues that "Music is a universal art; anybody's music belongs to everybody; you can't limit it to race or country" (144). When the patron speaks, he speaks the language of capital; art is attached only to those who can appreciate and pay for its value. The possibility of art functioning as an expression of national or racial ideals is as meaningless to him as the narrator's plan to "make a Negro" out of himself. The universality of art that the patron espouses envisions an art unattached to and untainted by the conditions of its making, free to circulate beyond the bounds of race and nation. In this construction, art bears none of the responsibility to community that is so important to both Johnson and his narrator. We should recognize here the conditions of the circulation of jazz that characterized its propagation in the period book ended by the two release dates of Johnson's novel, as well as the conditions of the narrator's presence in Europe. The narrator's detachment from the place where he learned the music that endears him to the patron makes him liable to the financial arrangement that binds him to the patron and allows him to circulate throughout Europe. His very situation is an exemplification of his patron's theory of art, an exemplification that the unbinding from responsibility to race or nation is a binding to the dictates of capital. In his passage through the capitals of European culture, the narrator must indulge every whim of the patron and is prohibited from playing without the patron's mandate. What the patron imagines as the "universality" of art is the replacement of one set of constraints for another, the severing of the ties to the past that the demands of racial and national identity constitute replaced by a "free" contractual agreement predicated on the patron's ability to continue to pay for the narrator's complete allegiance.
Although the patron is ultimately unable to convince the narrator to drop his plan to return to America, the nature of the narrator's rebuttals show that he has partially adopted the patron's logic of detached self-interest. The strength of the patron's argument forces the narrator to extend his deliberations for a couple of weeks, and when he finally makes his decision, he asserts that he "settled the question on purely selfish grounds, in accordance with my millionaire's philosophy" (147). He puts his concluding argument to himself in the following form: "I argued that music offered me a better future than anything else I had any knowledge of, and, in opposition to my friend's opinion, that I should have greater chances of attracting attention as a colored composer than as a white one" (147). The narrator wins his argument with the patron and with himself, but only by proving the merit of his plan in the patron's terms. The narrator's inability to confound the patron's logic leaves the patron's voice ringing in his head and indicates the extent to which his admiration for his millionaire "friend" continues to influence his thinking even after he has left him. The patron's effect on him is present in the very shape of the narrator's musical project. In his intention to translate African American content into "classic musical form," the narrator perpetuates the patron's philosophy and hierarchy of values as much as he will in his later life as "an ordinarily successful white man" (211). In other words, despite his physical break with the patron, his return to the US engages him in a project that treats the music that he sees as material for his symphony in a manner remarkably similar to the way that his patron had treated him and his music. (9)
The narrator writes: "I gloated over the immense amount of material I had to work with, not only modern ragtime, but also the old slave-songs--material which no one had yet touched" (142-43). In looking forward to his trip to the US South to gather material for his project, the narrator sees the music that he will encounter as a form of raw material remarkable as much for its being untouched by other hands as for any intrinsic musical character. (10) At another point, the narrator describes the musical richness of a "big meeting" (a kind of stationary religious camp-meeting) as "a mine of material" (173). The use of a mining metaphor here tellingly indicates the narrator's adoption of what I have described as the patron's "free market theory of art." The narrator imagines his trip to the South as a mining expedition in which he aims his headlamp at the obscure backwaters of small southern communities in search of the most valuable veins of musical ore to chisel out of their surroundings. These musical "nuggets" clearly will be taken far from their original settings and contexts, for the narrator repeatedly expresses his urgent desire to "get to some place where [he] might settle down and work" (182). He views the social setting of the music that he makes his material as no fit place for the kind of artistic construction that he has in mind. Instead, he imagines a solitary workshop where he can run his newly acquired material through "the alembic" of his genius, distilling and purifying it into a form fit for expression in classical music form. (11)
The narrator characterizes the artistic process as follows: "nothing great or enduring, especially in music, has ever sprung full-fledged and unprecedented from the brain of any master; the best that he gives to the world he gathers from the heart of the people, and runs it through the alembic of his genius" (100). The metaphor used here is a revealing one. An alembic is a heat-resistant laboratory vessel in which solid material is refined or transformed into gas; it is a key instrument in the chemical process known as sublimation. The narrator references the alembic to describe the creative process as a purification in which impure folk materials are refined into a more ethereal, and less material, finished product. (12)
Notably, this metaphor compares to the rhetoric that the patron employs in attempting to dissuade the narrator from leaving him and returning to the US: "Perhaps some day, through study and observation, you will come to see that evil is a force, and, like the physical and chemical forces, we cannot annihilate it; we may only change its form" (145-46). Here the patron suggests that, if the narrator thinks "rationally" about the world--that is, if he apprehends it through "study and observation," not practice and experience--the passage of time will, almost of its own accord, bring the narrator to see the world as the patron does. For the patron, time is a force that may purge the narrator's errors of opinion, but it cannot deliver him anywhere but to the intellectual location that the patron already inhabits. The narrator can only catch up with the patron, and when he does he will realize the essentially unchanging nature of the world.
At work in both the narrator's aesthetic theory and the patron's assumption that time will inevitably draw the narrator closer to his position is the logic of cultural sublimation. Sublimation, the impossible but culturally valorized process that a hegemonic American identity gives to individuals and cultures as a way of shaping a future for themselves, is what sounds in the patron's speech and in the configurations of sound dictated by classical form. It is the target of the critique mounted by Johnson's novel and by the ragtime that resonates throughout it.
The motion and the future that emerge from sublimation depend upon the privileging of three interrelated conceptual operations: a model of truth based on a strict separation of thought and experience, an assumption that this truth is timeless and valid for all future experience, and a suppression of materiality and the body that legitimizes the distinction between thought and experience as well as being the precondition for thinking of any truth as outside of time. All three are implicit in the patron's argument with the narrator, and all three are operative in the way that the narrator interacts, or fails to interact, with the practices he finds on his trip through the South. Taken together, these three ideologemes act as a normative filter that masks the vibrant call-and-response movements of the African American musical practices present in the text.
In his lectures on Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, Adorno sketches out the imbrication of the first two of these ideologemes, referring to them collectively as the "residual theory of truth," a reductive method in which "everything that can be regarded as ephemeral, transitory, deceptive, and illusory is left to one side, so that what remains is supposed to be indispensable, absolutely secure, something I can hold permanently in my hands" (25). Permeating Adorno's description is the logic of sublimation: one arrives at "residual truth" through an intellectual distillation that transmutes experience into thought by boiling away the inessential and the impure. The truth that results from this process is then conceived of as having a timeless quality that gives it an ease of applicability "to all future eventualities." An implicit assumption is that all possible forms of experience have at their core the same immutable and unchanging truths and thus, that while the process of arriving at truth takes place in time, the truth that arises out of it is not affected or shaped by time. Time serves to separate truth from experience, and once this process is accomplished, time becomes the motion by which new objects and experiences are fitted into already existing categories of thought. In other words, time, in its avoidance of the genuinely new or unexpected, becomes timeless. Adherence to this conception of time fuels both the patron's desire to "blot out" time and the narrator's aspiration to fix the improvisatory and collective musical practices he encounters in the South within the framework of a narrowly conceived classical form.
The conception of time and concomitant disparagement of experience that motivate the actions of the narrator and his patron are central organizing principles of the form of early 20th-century modernity and exchange society. Adorno writes that "this strange idea of the truth as something lasting and enduring somehow always appears where urban exchange ideas have developed" (26). (13 For him, the residual and timeless theory of truth that is distilled out of experience is, "in economic terms," "the profit that remains after deducting all the costs of production" (25). The timeless truth of Kant and of exchange society is modeled on the commodities that capitalism produces, and the aversion to the new is a function of the inability of exchange-thinking to imagine the emergence of anything that has not been paid for by the "proper" form of intellectual or economic labor. (14)
Exchange society mobilizes all the resources at its disposal to insure that the future is profitable and that this profit is distributed in a way that does not threaten the intellectual, material, or social conditions of its existence. In the interest of minimizing risk and the possibility of profitless activity, manual labor is separated from intellectual labor, a conceptual operation based on the analogy that compares social processes to the chemical process of sublimation. The profit deriving from manual labor flows away from the bodies responsible for this labor to the "higher" realm of those who practice intellectual labor. This division of labor shadows the narrator's assumption that he will win fame for his arrangement of the themes he gleans from his southern sojourn. The sublimating flow of time that he allows to shape his actions leads to a hierarchy in which his individual work on the themes he extracts are "worth" more than the work involved in generating these themes. (15)
Following the analogy of sublimation, this flow is figured as natural, and the realm of intellectual labor is figured as both self-sustaining and free from any manual labor. What sustains this analogy is the negation of materiality, both in the disavowal of the link between intellectual labor and the extraction of profit from the manual labor that makes it possible, and in the disavowal of the fact that intellectual labor is also manual labor. The cultural logic of sublimation is at base a logic that operates by transforming the impossibility of an escape from materiality into the desirability and possibility of mastering materiality in order to move beyond it. This logic enforces a move away from the body, the very thing that ragtime plays so provocatively upon, and away from the interaction between bodies, one of the main sources of the genius of the African American music that the narrator comes to see as raw material.
Having adopted both the patron's selfishness and the assumptions about time and sublimation that lie behind it, the narrator goes about gathering material for his symphony in a way that consistently strives to transform collective expression into individual expression. That a skilled ragtime pianist would ever attempt this transformation demonstrates the cultural force of the logic of sublimation, for the music that the narrator claims inspires him is so intimately linked to the situation in which it is performed that it is hard to imagine exactly what the narrator takes away from it in the notebooks that he uses to jot down "themes and melodies." The two figures who most impress the narrator are the preacher John Brown and the hymn-leader "Singing Johnson"; what is most remarkable about both figures are their improvisational skills and their ability to judge the perfect moment for specific musical or rhetorical effects. Singing Johnson's impressiveness lies in his unfailing knowledge of "just what hymn to sing and when to sing it" (178) as well as of the appropriate key for each congregation, while John Brown's brilliance results from "an imagination so free and daring" that, when combined with his "intuition of a born theatrical manager" (175), allows him to employ his knowledge of oratory to tailor his sermon to fit the needs of each congregation. Brown's powers convince the narrator that "eloquence consists more in the manner of saying than what is said" (176).
All in all, the narrator's description of the performances that he witnesses in the South emphasizes their improvisational flexibility and responsive suppleness, elements that seem unlikely to be captured in the narrator's notebook of "themes and melodies" (173). The narrator's approach appears likely to founder on a fundamental mistake: mishearing the essence of music in substantive rather than relational terms. As Johnson writes of ragtime in the Book of American Negro Poetry, "its chief charm is not in melody, but in rhythms" (12). What the narrator puts into his notebooks are just those aspects of music ("themes and melodies") that fit into the notation and conceptual scheme of western classical music, while left out are all the elements that contribute to the power and beauty of performances such as Singing Johnson's, all that makes up what the narrator refers to as "that elusive undertone, the note in music which is not heard with the ears" (181). (16)
In short, the narrator has committed himself to a course that directly contravenes the distinctive genius of the music described in his narrative, both through his insistence on transforming collective musical practices into a work attributable to an individual creator (that is, with a signature--unlike the novel itself) and in the resultant fixing of improvisational context-dependent practices in a structure notated in a manner meant to guarantee its unvarying repeatability in whatever context it might ultimately find itself. The choice of form and devotion to the logic of sublimation have decided this course in advance; the narrator's time with the patron has left him with an unthinking commitment to what he calls "classic musical form," a symphonic form given its canonical shape in the early 19th-century period of heroic bourgeois individualism and still saddled with the rhythms and logic of this conception of subjectivity. (17) Despite the narrator's disagreement with his patron over his plan to return to America, the musical project that ensues from the narrator's sojourn in Germany ensures that the aesthetic and social values of the patron accompany the narrator in his journey through the South. Central to these values and the musical form that the narrator is committed to using is the intense desire to "blot out" time.
The witnessing of a lynching puts a violent end to the narrator's symphonic project, but there is a violence implicit in the symphonic project before the lynching aborts it, a violent impulse linked to the symphony's ability to "blot out time." This "blotting out" is, of course, what the patron wants the narrator's ragtime to do, but it is also, according to Theodor Adorno, one of the main functions the symphony performs. In an article entitled "The Radio Symphony," Adorno writes that the symphony "suspends time-consciousness, contracts time, and in doing so annihilates the contingencies of the listener's private experience." Adorno is infamous for his inability to come to terms with jazz's distinct performative enactments, and it is just this aural defect, this deafness, that makes him the perfect reference here. Like the patron, Adorno approaches jazz with aesthetic expectations shaped by European forms; despite their diverging opinions of jazz and ragtime, both the patron and Adorno come to the music expecting it to deliver the same kinds of experience as does music from European classical traditions. The patron listens in ragtime for a suspension or compression of time capable of sustaining a sense of selfhood by delivering it from the threat of repetition and consecrating a nonreflexive unidirectional experience of time. This experience is what the symphony attempts to deliver; it strives to do so by virtue of its "particular intensity and concentration," a function of the fact that "a truly symphonic movement contains nothing fortuitous;" in it "every element is ultimately traceable to very small basic elements" (115).
What Adorno points to is the link between a totalizing integration achieved by banning everything not fully subordinated to a work's overall form, and the suspension or abolition of time. Time is abolished because in this construction there is no friction between different parts of the work or between any of the parts of the work and the form that contains these parts. What listeners hear in the succession of these frictionless parts is a parade of necessary moments to which they are asked to merely nod in assent. A listener's private experience is set aside in what is essentially a ritualized celebration of universality purged of all contingency, particularity, or conflict.
The abolition of time and particularity enacted in the symphony depends, ultimately, on a manipulation of volume that can only be described as the presentation of a force that is both overwhelming and undifferentiatedly ideal at the same time. Adorno describes this force in the following terms: "The power of a symphony to 'absorb' its parts into the organized whole, depends, in part, upon the sound volume" (118). According to Adorno, to achieve the proper symphonic experience, and concomitant suppression of time, the range of volume presented to the listener must vary not only from soft to loud, but from "Nothing to All" (123). Expressing as it does a vastness beyond that which individuals can imagine themselves producing, the massed sound of the symphony delivers the listener into a sublime transcendent space overwhelming enough to separate those who enter it from their private experience. (18)
What Adorno describes here is the aesthetic analog to Michael Hanchard's central insight in "Afro-Modernity: Temporality, Politics and the African Diaspora": that time is determined by power and by power differentials. Following Fabian, Hanchard explicitly links time to the relations of power and the mechanisms that distribute power unequally within any particular society, alerting us to "the distinct temporal modalities that relations of dominance and subordination produce" (253). Hanchard is speaking specifically of racial time, as am I, but the implication of his critique is that all time is a function of force and power, an implication that, when combined with Zora Neale Hurston's dictum "Discord is more natural than accord" (305), leads us to expect that time will necessarily be replete with surges, ebbs, rushes, lapses, and eddies. To expect otherwise is to fall prey to the idealistic illusion that time is transcendental and, thus, motionless in its total detachment from any tangible object that might move "through," "with," or "in" time, all metaphors obscuring the fact that time is an abstraction determined by, as well as determining, movement. Primarily a technique of social coordination, time, when detached from social experience, reduces itself to the same sterile principle of self-consistency that threatens to engulf a rationality conceived of as the mere satisfaction "of certain axioms of formal coherence" (Aglietta 14). A clock is valued not because it tells us anything about the outside world (as does a clock that beats more slowly when it is damp outside might), but because it is consistent with itself, methodically beating out the same interval that it beat out yesterday and will beat out tomorrow. Faulkner's assertion that "time is dead as long as it is being checked off by little wheels" is part of a nostalgic romanticization of the past, but it is still correct about the inadequacy of a mechanical time imagined as independent of the society that produces it (185).
Thinking of time as detached and regular is a kind of illusion, but it is an illusion whose pervasiveness, or even necessity, accurately expresses the overwhelming forces that go into producing it. A time that surges and ebbs is the function of a give and take between different configurations of force, but a time that is both transcendental and absolutely regular can be engendered only by a concentration of force so overwhelming that any individual force that confronts it is rendered virtually inconsequential. This inconsequentiality is why the abolition of time that the symphony strives to deliver is dependent on the ability to generate a range of volume far exceeding that which an individual can possibly produce. The sound volume of the symphony surrounds and engulfs listeners, removing them from a position in which any response other than awed submission is possible and drawing them into an imaginary and bodiless "symphonic space" free from contingency and the friction of contesting forces. The symphony asserts the opposite of Hurston's dictum that "Discord is more natural than accord," by presenting a puissant auditory vision of force naturalized as necessity and by inviting each listener to set aside her or his individual experience in order to join in the timeless but forward march of symphonic progression.
It is this conception of time that Johnson's novel critiques; the novel insists on the link between force and abstract timelessness by presenting the flip side of the sublime aesthetic timelessness at work in the symphony. The two most overt displays of violence in the novel are the lynching that ends the narrator's trip through the South and the shooting of a white woman in the club where the narrator learns to play ragtime. In both of these instances, the narrator experiences a suspension of time-consciousness, but one much less pleasant and much more crudely engendered than that experienced by a listener in a concert hall. Describing the lynching that he witnesses, the narrator asserts, "It was over before I realized that time had elapsed" (187). In his account of the jealousy-inspired shooting of "the widow' at "the Club," the same removal from any consciousness of the passage of time is apparent: the narrator's flight is a nondescript blur that leads him to state, "How long and far I walked I cannot tell" (124). In both cases the spectacle of violence removes the narrator from his usual sense of time, and transforms him into a mindless and mute victimized object, a metaphorical leaf blown by the wind of violent force itself.
In these scenes showing experiences of timelessness brought on by unexpected and unsanctioned eruptions of violent force, Johnson dispels the myth of timelessness as the medium of free, self-determining individuals. The narrator is never more bound by the fetters of physical causality than when he mindlessly flees from the club or when his stupefied horror prevents him from turning away from the lynching. These scenes take the grid of the narrator's planned symphony and use it to plot the narrator's real-life experience; in this transposition from the aesthetic register to the everyday, the pleasure that symphonic form should yield becomes a very unpleasant terror. Johnson literalizes the aesthetics of symphonic sublimation to show that the pleasure that the symphony promises to deliver centers on the presentation of an alluring but impossible trajectory. (19) Alluring, because it is the trajectory of ascension into the sphere of absolute and unlimited power; impossible because the protagonist of this ascension is never an individual. The sublimating movement narrated by the symphony is the movement of power enshrining itself, a movement that does not bring individuals with it.
In these scenes, Johnson makes visible the contradictions inherent in the narrator's musical project. The narrator wants to "give voice" to his people, but the only way that he can conceive of doing so is by removing from specific members of his race those elements of their musical and rhetorical practices that articulate the most heightened version of their own voices. The narrator's uncritical adherence to the dictates of classical form motivates him to lift certain "themes and melodies" from the participatory time of the camp meeting and transpose them into a form that mutes the rhythmic exchanges that give them their significance. He wants to make these themes timeless by making them elements in a symphonic monument to his race. The problem with this transformation is that the monument he has in mind bears little resemblance to the cultural practices of those he wants to monumentalize; the form he has chosen to express their "hopes and ambitions" unfolds itself in a rhythm untrue to the way their hopes and ambitions attempt to access the future. Furthermore, his plan to fit African American content into classical (western) form repeats the racial hierarchy that links dark-skinned Americans to formless materiality and lighter skinned Americans to higher principles of form and order. The narrator operates in accordance with the conception of time adopted from his patron, and the result is an approach to musical production that inures him to the time operative in the forms that he wants to make into his material. Despite his desire to align himself with his race, he is so entranced with the movement of sublimation and symphonic development that this becomes impossible. It requires a radical rethinking of form, (something like what Houston Baker refers to as "deformation of mastery") in order to derive change from a form committed to timelessness, and thus antithetical to change. Johnson's novel undertakes such rethinking, but the narrator does not.
The impossibility of the narrator's situation is closely aligned with the patron's impossible situation as he sits stoically listening to ragtime, straining to hear in it an escape from time. The idiosyncrasy of the patron's rather irregular expectations of when and for how long the narrator should play for him is matched by his idiosyncratic response to the music. For this response is fundamentally a nonresponse. The response of the guests at the first occasion on which the patron directs the narrator to play is characteristic of the way that virtually everyone in the novel responds to the narrator's performance of the music "that demanded physical response"; they are astonished and surprised, and end up "involuntarily and unconsciously" doing "an impromptu cakewalk." The patron, on the other hand, takes the music as a kind of soporific "drug," sitting grimly and mutely, and "making scarcely a motion except to light a fresh cigarette" (121). The patron is deaf to the demands that the music makes and refuses to yield to its bodily imperatives, choosing instead to hear in it a confirmation of his power to command and a possible escape from the time that will eventually destroy this power.
The patron wields a power over the narrator that depends on a conception of time antithetical to that contained in the music. The narrator describes the patron's power as essentially inhuman, a kind of "supernatural power" that fills him with "unearthly terror" (121). We should recognize this Impersonal, inhuman force as the power of capital, and the temporality of capital dictates a conception of the past and the future challenged by ragtime's improvisational rhythms.
The detemporalization of time that the patron clings to in his stubborn refusal to heed the music's incitement of motion is an avoidance of a particular form of the future as well as a barrier separating the present from the past. Beholden to the values of calculability and predictability, the future that the patron desperately listens for should sound like the smallest possible variation of the past, a further step on a developmental line drawn from the past through the present into the future. To hear this kind of future in ragtime requires an immensely powerful imaginative apparatus, one capable of distorting or effacing the supple unsecured future that peaks from between the music's aliquant ripples and cascades of sound. Approaching ragtime without the epistemological focus of the patron and with the weight of his cultural baggage quite differently distributed, the narrator describes it as a music of "surprise" and "the unexpected": he remarks on both "the intricate rhythms in which the accents fell in the most unexpected places" and the "sort of pleasant surprise at the accomplishment of [its] feats" (99) that results from its rhythmic audacity. (20)
The narrator's responsiveness to ragtime allows him to hear in it the dislocation and interruption of the very line of time that the patron strains to hear in it. Antithetical as this music is to the patron's mode of imagining subjectivity and temporality, he is nonetheless drawn to it. His attraction is a symptom of the extent to which time is a problem for him, a problem pressing enough to give him the desire to escape from it and to lead him eventually to escape it "by leaping into eternity" (143), that is, by taking his own life. Time is problematic for the patron because the repetition that he is at such great pains to avoid or disavow is at the same time an indispensable component of his existence. The fact that the narrator's most frequent appellation for his patron is "millionaire friend" indicates that wealth is the attribute that most defines him. His wealth was extracted from the labor-time of those working for him in the past and thus is, in Jacques Attali's terms, a "stockpiling of time." According to Attali, repetition enables such stockpiling: "We have seen that the first repetition of all was that of the instrument of exchange in the form of money. A precondition for representation, money contains exchange-time, summarizes, and abstracts it; it transforms the concrete, lived time of negotiation and compromise into a supposedly stable sign of equivalence in order to establish and make people believe in the stability of the link between things and in the indisputable harmony of relations" (101). Money stamps the sign of the same on different situations, defining all varieties of interpersonal exchanges as only quantitatively different and thus making each exchange yield different quantities of the same abstraction, money itself. Depending on the exchange logic of money, as the narrator does, puts one in the position of receiving every situation as a repetition of the process in which exchange-time is extracted from use-time. This logic attenuates the force of anything new ("surprise" or the "unexpected") by measuring it in terms of the relations of exchange existing in the past and fostering a non-dialectical relationship to any new object, in which this object is owned or mastered by a non-responsive and unchanging subject. This is the situation of the patron and of his relationship to ragtime; he attempts to escape from the ennui of the repeated event, but his subservience to the logic of exchange ensnares him; he cannot fully experience anything new or unique. Dead to the "surprise" and "unexpected" contained in ragtime, the patron is a figure for a particular version of hopelessness. In his attempt to dissuade the narrator from returning to America, he argues that "evil is a force, and, like the physical and chemical forces, we cannot annihilate it; we may only change its form" and that "to attempt to right the wrongs and ease the sufferings of the world in general is a waste of effort" (146). Collective action, political struggle, and any attempt to change or ameliorate injustice he considers futile because such acts are based on a deluded belief in a future qualitatively different from the present. For him, the only proper response to the world is an individual cultivation of a detached aesthetic appreciation of novelty and the exotic. (21) The only future that the patron can see is a blase, materialistic utopia constructed according to the dictates of exchange logic. (22)
This vision of the future is reinforced by the patron's allegiance to the motion of sublimation. For him, sublimation is a process whose forward motion lies in the past. He experiences it as the process that has led him to his present position of power and privilege, a position imagined as the end point of this process, beyond which stretches an endless and timeless expanse of dreary sameness. The lack of enjoyment that the narrator derives from ragtime, the result of its provenance in a place imagined as behind and below the patron's point of sublimation achieved, shows the patron's inability to conceive anything more desirable than his current position, as well as his fear that time might undo his privilege, passing him by and putting him in a situation that forces him to admit responsibility or subordination to something outside of or beyond himself. The patron avoids bodily response to the ragtime he listens to both because such a response looks like a return to an unsublimated past in which his body responds to impulses outside of his own control, and because letting his body move to the vibrations emanating from the piano would put him in the same time as the narrator, threatening to abolish the gulf separating patron from artist (employer from employee), to reverse the relationship between the two, and to bring down the patron's mastery and disavowal of his dependence on his servant. The unsublimated past threatens the patron because it proffers the possibility that such a past might propel him into an encounter with not only his own corporeality but with the previously subordinated corporeality of others (disavowed "servants") on whom his mastery in the present depends. His mastery has been bought and paid for, but to open the present to the unruly power of the past is to call into question the validity of the coin with which this purchase was made. If the patron were to dance to the narrator's ragtime, whether "involuntarily and unconsciously" or not, the assumption of the kind of timeless temporality that allows the patron to imagine himself as a free, powerful, and self-determining subject would expose itself to the risk of disarticulation and dissolution. (23)
The patron's position exemplifies the combination of dread and fascination with which US society has always greeted jazz and other African American musical forms and the impossibility of this society's relationship to a repetitive dynamism that it both consumes and denies. In other words, we see in the midnight encounters between the adamantine patron and the put-upon but obedient narrator not only an isolated master/slave struggle but a confrontation of the power of capital that drives the industry responsible for much of the marketing and dissemination of jazz and ragtime with the very music that is both an object of this industry's operations and an object embodying a logic incommensurable with these operations. It is not that ragtime jettisons the strictly regular time of capital accumulation and abstract disembodiment; rather, ragtime exposes its mobilization of surprise and the unexpected; it shakes this regular time so that its affinities with, and dependence on, its ostensibly absolute other are made apparent. The result is a revision and redefinition of the possible ways of thinking and rethinking the relationship between temporal rhythms and social participation.
The patron's avoidance of the temporality of ragtime is a version of what Du Bois calls "Listening without ears" (Black Reconstruction 124-25). To really hear the music, to give it the response that it demands, would be to hear the fictive nature of sublimation and mastery, and to move in a time where the body and the past can only be mastered temporarily, if at all. The unhoused rhythms of ragtime take advantage of the need to constantly restage and re-perform the coordination of mind and body, performing a pendular hinging of call and response in which the body's response to the dictates of the mind are constantly reversed into the mind's response to the call of the body. Ragtime forms itself in the gap between the time dominant in America's hegemonic conception of itself and the time of an African/ African American performance tradition. Its chronopolitics are both subversive and confrontational a repetitive play on social conditions that calls for a constant return to the music and to the conditions of its hearing and mishearing. (24)
Johnson's use of music sounds a sharp critique of the central temporal assumption of a culture whose acceptance of jazz and ragtime, and of Johnson's novel are never fully distinct from a racial schema that radically mutes and misrecognizes the play on time and truth at work in them. W. C. Handy describes this muting and misrecognition when he writes, "The white man has always liked this music, but he has liked it as a thing apart" (232). A music that "demands response," ragtime can never be "a thing apart." Its troping of time exposes the falsity of any time detached from the rhythm of social life, much as the troping of time and sublimation performed by Johnson's novel lays bare the structures of dominance at work in the sublimating acceptance of this music. In the dialectic between the ragtime of the narrator and the "grim, relentless tyrant" who commands its performance, Johnson shows us the complex mixture of embrace and disavowal that the dynamics of African American literature and music must always confront if they are to be heard for what they are, and not as "a thing apart." This literature and this music are both forms that "demand response," and the response they demand is a participation in their temporal movement, a response that sets aside assumptions about the movement of time and the relationship between performer, performance, and audience. To assume that these works can be fit into existent temporal schemas without requiring any revision of these schemas is to miss what is most essential about them, and to join the patron in his attempt to "blot out" or escape from time.
Much of the power of Johnson's tion with the improvisational rhythms of ragtime. To do full justice to the imperatives of the novel any analysis, including this one, would have to move from the realm of the strictly literary into the realm of music by attempting to come to terms with the manipulations of time and form at work in the performances of figures like James P. Johnson, Eubie Blake, and Willie "The Lion" Smith.
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(1.) Suggestive of the narrator's status as an object is the patron's practice of occasionally "loan[ing]" him out "to some of his friends" (120).
(2.) The best referent for what Johnson calls ragtime in the novel is probably the improvisatory stride style of James P. Johnson, rather than the more formal notated music of Scott Joplin. See Brown and Fell and Vinding. Note that the word jazz did not come into widespread use until 1913, a year after The Autobiography was first published. Before 1913, the term "ragtime" was used to refer to almost all improvised African American music. Many musicians (particularly Sidney Bechet) never adopted the term jazz and referred to everything we now think of as jazz as "ragtime."
(3.) My characterization of this time as one of entanglement and imbrication owes much to Baraka's theorization of jazz rhythm in the essays cited below. It also is informed by Mbembe's reflections on time in On the Postcolony, where he describes the "time of entanglement" as "an interlocking of presents, pasts, and futures that retain their depths of other presents, pasts, and futures, each age bearing, altering and maintaining the previous ones" (16).
Although Mbembe is most explicitly concerned with African rather than African American modes of sociality, his theories of the conceptual formations growing out of the interactions of African and European culture are not without relevance to jazz and ragtime. Also, insofar as he is indebted to the work of Leopold Senghor, who was never reticent about his debt to and intellectual affinity with jazz, Mbembe can be seen as standing partially in the tradition of ragtime temporality. Mbembe spoke about the influence of Senghor's work on his own in the third of his Wellek Library Lectures, given at UC Irvine in February of 2004.
(4.) This disclaimer is important because the cyclical/linear distinction, like the distinction between orality and literacy, partakes of the romance of the primitive. As Snead points out, there is no modern culture whose conception of time does not incorporate both the cylical and the linear. A purely cyclical time can exist only in a static, agrarian culture, the kind of culture usually figured as pre-modern. When Johnson was writing, no musics in the world were more modern than jazz and ragtime.
(5.) On the presence of Africanisms in ragtime, jazz, and African American music in general, see Maultsby; Floyd chapters 1-2; Stuckey chapter 1; Schuller chapter 1; and Jones chapters 1-3. For a valuable reminder of the dangers of overemphasis on Africanisms in African American traditions, see Hartman 223n102 and 223n 112. On Euro-American and African American forms and cultural traditions, cf. Wilson's observation that "cultural interaction more than culture isolation has characterized the American experience" (83).
(6.) Foremost of these critics is Washington, whose essay I have read with profit. However, Washington reads the classical aspirations of Johnson's narrator as the expression of a "mulatto-centered, American nationalism"; my reading differs significantly. See also Ruotolo.
(7.) Although the narrator never explicitly names his planned work a "symphony," both the epic scope he envisions for this work and his self-aggrandizing tendencies make it clear that it can be nothing less. His aim is to "voice all the dreams, all the joys and sorrows, the hopes and ambitions, of the American Negro, in classic musical form" (147-48); nothing less than the broad structural and instrumental resources of the symphony will suffice. The symphony is the most prestigious form of the classical tradition with which the narrator becomes enamored, and, as Washington notes, "Johnson's protagonist was not interested in recording an expert musician's neo-spiritual ... but was reaching for the top of the musical hierarchy as both Locke and Johnson understood it" (253). Clearly relevant here is Dvorak's New World Symphony, a work that Johnson knew well. Although Edwards suggests this symphony as a possible influence on Johnson's poem "The Creation" (587), Johnson's aesthetics suggest his interest in a much greater role for African American music than that played by a truncated version of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" in Dvorak's symphony. See Burgett for an analysis of the limited role this spiritual plays in New World Symphony (30-33).
(8.) Like the claimants of modernity that Habermas describes, the patron refuses to take his "orientation from the models supplied by another epoch" (Habermas 7). While the patron stands for a particular version of modernity, this does not mean that either the narrator or his music stands for any pre-or anti-modernity. What Johnson alludes to in his employment of ragtime is another form of modernity: one not based on racial exclusions and suppressions of the past.
(9.) The works of William Grant Still, James P. Johnson, Nathaniel Dett, Scott Joplin, and others illustrate that an entirely other relationship between classical form and African American music is possible. What stops the narrator from practicing what Baker calls "the deformation of mastery" is his assumption that classical form is neutral (Baker 50). Without his susceptibility to the ideological force of his patron's ideals, the narrator could have approached classical form in the same way that Johnson approached novelistic form, with a wariness in service of de-forming and re-forming it so as to make it do an entirely unprecedented and untraditional type of cultural work. Gates observes the similarity between Johnson's use of the novel and his narrator's use of the symphony in a 1989 introduction to The Autobiography (x-xi).
(10.) Johnson implies that the musical "materials" of the South appear to the narrator as commodities, that is, as exhaustible objects that use degrades. Subjected to a commodifying gaze that sees them through the lenses of sublimating time, these practices are divorced from a participatory time in which repetition enhances their vitality, and refigured in accordance with time as a force that can only corrode this vitality. The narrator's excitement over the "freshness" of the music he encounters in the South is roughly analogous to the patron's attempt to preserve the freshness of the narrator's ragtime: the patron prohibits the narrator from playing his music for anyone besides him and his guests (120). Once the narrator adopts the patron's belief in time as sublimation, everything he encounters appears to him only as objects subject to decay.
(11.) The metaphor that Johnson employs shows that the sublimation under consideration is more Paterian than it is Freudian. P. Anderson gives a thorough description of the presence of the rhetoric of sublimation in the writings of Harlem Renaissance intellectuals and of the debt this rhetoric owes to the writings of Walter Pater (47-54, 147-50).
(12.) The narrator's view of the creative process as purification is one shared by Alain Locke. In a 1928 article suggestively entitled "Beauty Instead of Ashes," Locke describes the "full promise" of African American music as lying in the future production of "sublimated and precious things" after which what he calls "the folk temperament" will scarcely be recognizable. The similarity between the narrator's position and Locke's indicates how widespread is the position that Johnson critiques in his novel, even among African American intellectuals. Like the patron, Locke is unable to meet jazz or ragtime on its own terms; in Sterling Brown's words, "For Locke, if Stravinsky liked it, it had to be good. And that's bad" (qtd. in Anderson 195). Cf. Du Bois's assertion that the "art coming from black folk is going to be just as beautiful, and beautiful largely in the same ways, as the art that comes from white folk" ("Criteria" 496). Even Johnson himself was not immune to this position: when he envisioned turning God's Trombones into a kind of oratorio, he turned to the British composer Constant Lambert, despite the fact that he was well aware of the wealth of musical talent in his own city. Johnson actually knew James P. Johnson, William Grant Still, and others more than capable of turning his work into a magnificent oratorio, and yet he turned to a classical composer whom he had never met. Lambert declined Johnson's offer, and God's Trombones has never been set to music (Johnson to Lambert).
(13.) Here we are in the realm of the sharpest incompatibility between the sublimating time of the patron and the rhythms of ragtime. Ragtime temporality is not reducible to African time, but the opposition between what Adorno describes and Mbiti's description of African time-conceptions is illustrative of the divergence between the impetus of the narrator's ragtime and the ideas about time that the narrator adopts from his patron. Mbiti asserts, "When Africans reckon time, it is for a concrete and specific purpose, in connection with events but not just for the sake of mathematics" (17). The African heritage in the narrator's style of improvisatory ragtime resides in its construction of time out of a specific purpose and in negotiation with the events and the participants it interacts with. This time is not distilled from experience but is a coefficient of experience that revises itself in accordance with its conditions of performance. Benston identifies this "insistently revisionary impulse" in jazz performance (115-16). See also Schuller's comments on the more precise time-sense required in what he calls "socially-functioning music," a term he applies to both jazz and traditional African music (7n8, 15-27).
(14.) This aversion to the new is supported by the pronounced tendency of Western philosophy to focus on time's corrosive force: Locke calls time "a perpetual perishing," Schopenhauer defines it as "that by the power of which everything at every instant turns to nothing in our hands," and Aristotle states that it "is in itself above all cause of corruption" (Zuckerkandl 223, Negri 164). Cf. Mbiti's description of a time that "has to be created or produced." Kept alive in the tradition that informs the narrator's ragtime is a construction of time in which "Man is not a slave of time; instead, he 'makes' as much time as he wants" (Mbiti 19).
(15.) Washington argues convincingly that Johnson's naming of Singing Johnson and John Brown, actual practitioners of Johnson's day, is an attempt to rectify the kind of unacknowledged borrowing that the narrator seems to have in mind and that is even criticized in The Autobiography. "Several of these improvisations were taken down by white men, the words slightly altered, and published under the names of the arrangers. They sprang into immediate popularity and earned small fortunes, of which the Negro originators got only a few dollars" (qtd. in Washington 251). Johnson names Singing Johnson in his preface to The Book of American Negro Spirituals (22-23).
(16.) In the preface to the Book of American Negro Spirituals, Johnson is very direct about the inability of musical notation to capture the "peculiarities" of African American performance: "I doubt that it is possible with our present system of notation to make a fixed transcription of these peculiarities that would be absolutely true; for in their very nature they are not susceptible to fixation" (30).
(17.) In recent years, the validity of Adorno's critical writings on music has been seriously challenged. Critics like Rosen have taken Adorno to task for, among other things, his lack of attention to preclassical music and for his sometimes savage, and, in Rosen's view, baseless, denunciation of music from outside the central European classical tradition Cf. Baumeister and Powell's response to Rosen. However, to my knowledge, no critics have taken issue with Adorno's characterization of the way that the sonata form of the classical symphony treats development and shapes time. My use of Adorno in this essay is a limited one. I do not embrace the entirety, or even the majority, of his critical oeuvre; I merely utilize his description of the time-consciousness of the symphony to highlight the complicity between the treatment of time in classical development and the temporality assumed by certain forms of racial subordination.
(18.) Although the symphony in its canonical form militates for a progressive and unidirectional time, it is not without its own polyvalence. For a treatment of some of the other ways in which the symphony works on listeners, see Said chapter 2, "On the Transgressive Elements in Music."
(19.) In Mackey's words, "Every concept, no matter how figural or sublime, had its literal, dead letter aspect" (Bedouin Hornbook 201-02).
(20.) Floyd contrasts this emphasis on surprise with a "European musical orientation," pointing out that in improvised African American musical forms like ragtime, "the how of a performance is more important than the what." Eschewing "nostalgia" and a "preference" for the familiar, the "musical experience of ragtime orients itself around the expectation that an unprecedented "something will happen in the playing of the music" (96-97).
(21.) The patron's appreciation of the music as something novel and exotic shows his participation in the primitivism that characterizes many responses to jazz and ragtime. For accounts of this primitivism and its distorted vision of the music, see Paul Allen Anderson (especially chapter 2), Ogren, and Maureen Anderson.
(22.) This pessimism is shared by many of the major Anglo-American modernists. Eliot refers to "the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history" (177) while Pound writes that "a tawdry cheapness shall outlast our days" (186).
(23.) The patron's refusal to dance is, of course, only a figure for his nonparticipation in the time of the narrator's music. There are ways of dancing that uphold this nonparticipation and sublimated mastery as well as the patron's blunt immobility.
Baraka suggests as much in the distinction he makes between dance as performed in the "black aesthetic" and in "Arthur Murray footsteps" ("The 'Blues Aesthetic'" 107). Hughes makes a similar distinction between hearing and listening at the end of "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain." At stake in both cases is not any specific physical action, but whether or not the listener or dancer opens himself to the time and rhythm performed in jazz or ragtime.
(24.) Mackey: "Music wants us to know that truths are variable" ("Statement" 717).
Bruce Barnhart is Visting Assistant Professor of 20th-century American literature and culture at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. His current book project examines the exchanges between jazz and the modernist novel and the role that these exchanges play in the reconfiguration of early 20th-century American culture.
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|Publication:||African American Review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2006|
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