Cross-Rhythms investigates the literary uses and effects of blues and jazz in African-American literature of the twentieth century. Texts by James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Gayl Jones, Toni Morrison and Ishmael Reed variously adopt or are consciously informed by a jazz aesthetic; this aesthetic becomes part of a strategy of ethnic identification and provides a medium with which to consider the legacy of trauma in African-American history. These diverse writers are all thoroughly immersed in a socio-cultural context and a literary aesthetic that embodies shifting conceptions of ethnic identity across the twentieth century. The emergence of blues and jazz is, likewise, a crucial product of, as well as catalyst for, this context, and in their own aesthetic explorations of notions of ethnicity these writers consciously engage with this musical milieu. By examining the highly varied manifestations of a jazz aesthetic as possibly the fundamental common denominator which links these writers, this study attempts to identify an underlying unifying principle.
As the different writers write against essentializing or organic categories of race, the very fact of a shared engagement with jazz sensibilities in their work redefines the basis of African-American communal identity.
Keren Omry teaches Jazz and American Literature at Tel Aviv University and at University of Haifa, Israel.
1. Introduction; 2. Blues Notes: A Discourse of Race in the Poetry of Langston Hughes, in Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston and in Corregidora by Gayl Jones; 3. Bebop Spoken Here: Performativity in Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin and Toni Morrison; 4. Modes of Experience: Modal Jazz and the Authority of Experience in Ishmael Reed's Mumbo Jumbo, Morrison's The Bluest Eye and Song of Solomon; 5. Free Jazz: Postracialism and Collectivity in Morrison's 'Recitatif' and Paradise; Conclusion; Works Cited; Discography; Index.