The Shadow and the ActBlack Intellectual Practice, Jazz Improvisation, and Philosophical Pragmatism

The Shadow and the ActBlack Intellectual Practice, Jazz Improvisation, and Philosophical Pragmatism

Walton M. Muyumba

Print publication date: 2013

ISBN: 9780226554235

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

Though often thought of as rivals, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, and Amiri Baraka shared a range of interests, especially a passion for music. Jazz, in particular, was a decisive influence on their thinking, and, as this book reveals, they drew on their insights into the creative process of improvisation to analyze race and politics in the civil rights era. In this inspired study, the author situates them as a jazz trio, demonstrating how Ellison, Baraka, and Baldwin's individual works form a series of calls and responses with each other. He connects their writings on jazz to the philosophical tradition of pragmatism, particularly its support for more freedom for individuals and more democratic societies. He also examines the way they responded to and elaborated on that lineage, showing how they significantly broadened it by addressing the African American experience, especially its aesthetics. Ultimately, the author contends, the trio enacted pragmatist principles by effectively communicating the social and political benefits of African Americans fully entering society, thereby compelling America to move closer to its democratic ideals.