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Signifyin(g), Sanctifyin', & Slam Dunking: A Reader in African American Expressive Culture.

Signifyin(g), Sanctifyin', & Slam Dunking: A Reader in African American Expressive Culture

edited by Gena Dagel Caponi University of Massachusetts Press August 1999, $60.00, ISBN 1-558-49182-1

"What is this `black' in black culture?" asks Gena Dagel Caponi in her new collection of works, Signifyin(g), Sanctifyin, & Slam Dunking: A Reader in African American Expressive Culture. The question is not new. It has been the topic of rigorous argument since the Harlem Renaissance when Zora Neale Hurston collected folklore, James Weldon Johnson collected black sermons as poetry, and the Cotton Club became a household word in New York, causing George Schuyler to blast the entire black art project in an essay, "The Negro Art Hokum." Poor Mr. Schuyler had not anticipated the marvelous complexities in the development of jazz, breakdancing, hip hop, or the rise of gospel; he did not have the foresight to anticipate our Hank Aarons, Michael Jordans, or Flo Jos.

What is impressive about Signifyin(g) is its revelation of the depth and breadth of the speculation and research that this question of the "blackness of black" has generated. Though the collection leans toward the study of black music forms, it acknowledges everything from graffiti art to religious worship styles to hip hop and breakdancing. Thankfully, the essays do more than argue for the "contribution" of the black artist, or point out the obvious ways that white America has become indelibly "black." The writers reveal underlying principles that inform the black creative gesture. These artists and critics bring our attention to the art in the art.

Caponi's collection of essays will perhaps be criticized as essentialist (the writers seem to argue for a codification of blackness). Some of the studies may be accused of romanticizing the notion of an African aesthetic, as the writers seem to locate the thumb print of Africa in everything. Despite such reservations, readers will find these essays fascinating as artists and scholars re-negotiate the Middle Passage in a methodical search for the origins of "cool."

Opal Moore is an author residing in Lithonia, GA.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Moore, Opal
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 2000
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