Studies in Critical Theory: Blues and Jazz Aesthetic

English 4060/7060
Blues and Jazz Aesthetic
Christopher Okonkwo
A&S 232

In their significations as music, experiences and conditions of existence, and vernacular ways of conceiving and contemplating beauty in works of imagination, blues and jazz have deep and complex roots in African American experience, history, and culture, although their content and form track back (indirectly) to Africa and Europe, and their influences are now global. For decades, especially since the New Negro Movement or Harlem Renaissance, African American artists, thinkers, activists, and literary theorists have recognized and tapped into the stupendous expressivity of the two entwined cultural forms, employing them in astonishing and multilayered fashions in their political, creative and philosophical projects. In this course, then, we will explore blues and jazz, purposely conjoined here, as polysemous conceptual and critical idioms in twentieth through twenty-first century African American literature and culture. In addition to charting the histories of both genres, sampling blues and jazz music proper, and engaging with blues and jazz theories, our main goal is to consider the depth to which this aesthetic can help us illuminate the contexts, themes, and forms of select African American polemics, poetry, short stories, novels, and plays from the Harlem Renaissance to the present.