Orientations in Time: Music and the Construction of Historical Narrative in 20th and 21st Century African-American Literature
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This dissertation argues that the intersections between African-American literature and music have been influential in both the development of hip-hop aesthetics and, specifically, their communication of historical narrative. Challenging hip-hop historiographers that narrate the movement as the materialization of a “phantom aesthetic”, or a sociological, cultural, technological, and musical innovation of the last forty years, this dissertation asserts that hip-hop artists deploy distinctly literary techniques in their attempts to animate, write, rewrite, rupture, or reclaim the past for the present. Through an analysis of 20th and 21st century African-American literary engagements with black music, musical figures, scenes of musical performance, and what I call ‘musical-oral’, I hope to demonstrate how prose representations of music disrupt the linear narratives of progress that have dominated historicism in the white, western world. By creating a self-reflexive aesthetic that draws the past into immediate conversation with the present, texts such as Langston Hughes’s The Weary Blues (1926) to Richard Wright’s 12 Million Black Voices (1941), Ann Petry’s The Street (1946) and “Solo on the Drums” (1947), Sonia Sanchez’s We a BaddDDD People (1971), Toni Morrison’s Jazz (1992), and Colson Whitehead’s Sag Harbor (2009), offer a new model for understanding slavery and the African past, Marxian class theory, gender politics, intersectionality, political calls for solidarity, and the formation of post-soul aesthetics such as hip-hop.
- English