Civic JazzAmerican Music and Kenneth Burke on the Art of Getting Along

Civic JazzAmerican Music and Kenneth Burke on the Art of Getting Along

Gregory Clark

Print publication date: 2015

ISBN: 9780226218182

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


This book weaves three inquiries into an argument about how individuals can preserve and improve civic life in democratic cultures. The term “civic life” refers here to the interaction of citizens rather than to practices of government. The primary inquiry explores what democracy requires of individuals, proceeding through two other inquiries: one into jazz music as a model for democratic interaction, and the other into Kenneth Burke’s rhetorical conception of art as experiential and potentially transformative. Jazz is often described as democratic. Kenneth Burke’s quite American rhetorical and aesthetic theory explains how that is so. For Burke, rhetoric prompts a sense of shared identity, a sense that follows from an experience that is like being taken through a story of a song. Among individuals who are jealous of their freedom, this way of change seems more appropriate, more fitting, than argument. Working with others to address immediate problems they share can align for a time individuals who are otherwise very different. That is what jazz does: it enables people who are different and even in conflict to combine in cooperation toward an end that matters to all of them just now. This is what civic life in democratic cultures demands. The chapters in this book cycle through these inquiries, elaborating and improvising on them on each pass.