Jazz … on “The Site of Memory”

Jazz … on “The Site of Memory”

Ryan, Judylyn S


. . . on the basis of some information and a little bit of guesswork you journey to a site to see what remains were left behind and to reconstruct the world that these remains imply. -Toni Morrison 2 In Jazz, Toni Morrison identifies and explores the mechanisms by which Black people have been able to re-make themselves again and again on the site of exile-in the American South, in the American North, and elsewhere in the “New World.” This essay examines the philosophy of form, the improvisation of possibilities, the sounding of transformation, and finally, the re-sounding of purpose, in Jazz. Specifically, it traces Morrison’s exploration of the philosophical and epistemological potential of a diverse range of African diaspora expressive arts, all informed by the principles of improvisation and “truth in timbre” that perhaps achieve their greatest articulation in jazz. It demonstrates that through this exploration Morrison reveals how these expressive arts have functioned as a mode and institution of intervention and, therefore, as a blueprint and resource for re-creating a whole self. I. ART AS AGENCY: THE PHILOSOPHY OF FORM Literature, accordingly, is the verbal organization of experience into beautiful forms, but what is meant by “beautiful” and by ‘ forms” is to a significant degree dependent upon a people’s way of life, their needs, their aspirations, their history-in short, their culture. -Stephen Henderson3 The artistic goals informing Toni Morrison’s fiction have been amply described by her in numerous works. In “Memory, Creation, and Writing,” Morrison explains: If my work is faithfully to reflect the aesthetic tradition of Afro-American culture, it must make conscious use of the characteristics of its art forms and translate them into print: antiphony, the group nature of art, its functionality, its improvisational nature, its relationship to audience performance, the critical voice which upholds tradition and communal values and which also provides occasion for an individual to transcend and/or defy group restriction. (388-389) In “Rootedness: The Ancestor as Foundation,” Morrison identifies the function that these aesthetic characteristics serve in advancing her goal to draft the reader into the role of collaborator in the creation of the text. She explains, “to have the reader work with the author in the construction of the book-is what’s important. What is left out is as important as what is there” (341). According to Morrison, the goal and the aesthetic characteristics which assist it are both native to African diaspora oral traditions which generate a performance dynamic that assigns creative agency to the teller and the listener by deliberately positioning the latter as participant, not outside observer. This performance dynamic is commonly referred to as call-and-response: Call-and-response structures, inherent in spirituals, the blues, sermons, folktales, and so on, anticipate and require a response that may extend, challenge, revise, clarify, or transform any previous utterance; and they outline a generative sequence in which the response becomes the new call. (Ryan, Approaches 154) In making demands on the listener, the performance dynamic prompts her/him to become self-conscious about what and how s/he knows, and how s/he remakes this knowledge. As a writer, Morrison’s objective is to re-construct this opportunity in literature: “having at my disposal only the letters of the alphabet and some punctuation, I have to provide the places and spaces so that the reader can participate” (341). Building on the foundation established by African oral traditions re-made in the American South, Morrison’s primary concern is to transform what she calls the reader’s “traditional comfort” into a mode of engagement whose endpoint is not simply the transfer of knowledge but the disclosure of how the reader herself/himself knows, and how s/he decides what knowledge is important, and for what purposes.

Morrison’s analysis identifies the philosophical concerns that have shaped the design of African diaspora expressive arts.’ While several scholarly studies have named the structural and formal features of Black music, sermons, orature, and literature, little has been said about the philosophical objectives these structures were crafted to accomplish.5 However, as both Morrison’s non-fiction and fiction suggest, African diaspora expressive arts are defined as much by formal/structural elements as they are by a philosophy of form. The primary goal of African oral traditions is to teach the habit of exercising interpretive agency. Several elements contribute to and encode this philosophy. For example, call-and-response structures express the view that art has agency and that the work of art can and must position the participant listener, viewer, reader to claim or increase their own creative, interpretive, and epistemological agency. In the context of oral traditions, the listener’s collaboration with, and response to, the storyteller, musician, or preacher manifests in both simultaneous recognition and expression, and in the subsequent proliferation of variations on the first utterance, the call. Hence the phenomena of collective authorship and of a cultural repertoire of identifiable variants of popular sermons, folktales, blues, folksongs, etc. In the context of literature, the reader’s collaboration with, and responses to, the text can take the form of unity and solidarity” (2). In the performance dynamic of the sermon, the preacher re-mapped an affirming collective identity, and thus enabled the collective to simultaneously resound the passion of an outlawed self-love.’ As such, the antebellum African American sermon tradition which took root in the South represents one of the first attempts to negotiate dispersion by improvising possibilities from traditional African cultural forms While the Southern Black preacher held the social status of priest-cumpolitical leader, and not of performer, the griot was nevertheless his oratory model. First, the griot’s variation of prominent details within the epic established a precedent for the preacher. The existence of several versions of any given epic, as well as the fact that any detail could be varied, illustrate this improvisational trend. (For example, in variants of the Sundiata epic the hero’s gestation in the womb may last eighteen months or eight years; he may take his first steps at age seven or seventeen.) Johnson observes a similar propensity to improvise in the Southern preacher, noting that “A text served mainly as a starting point and often had no relation to the development of the sermon” (4). Second, the griot was the model for the preacher’s characteristically explicit declaration of narrative subjectivity, of his own human interpretive agency shaping the performance. In the version of that epic collected by D.T. Niane and published as Sundiata: an epic of old Mali, for example, the griot repeatedly uses self-identifying pronouns, and readily acknowledges his control of the historical narrative. He opens with the declaration, “I am a griot. It is I, Djeli Mamoudou Kouyate, son of Bintou Kouyate and Djeli Kedian Kouyate, master in the art of eloquence” (1). With each subsequent statement, he emphasizes his own creative and interpretive agency: [W]e teach to the vulgar just as much as we want to teach them, for it is we who keep the keys to the twelve doors of Mali…. I teach kings the history of their ancestors so that the lives of the ancients might serve them as an example, for the world is old, but the future springs from the past…. Listen to my word, you who want to know; by my mouth you will learn the history of Mali. By my mouth you will get to know the story of the ancestor of great Mali. (1) Johnson identifies a similar tendency to emphasize human interpretive agency on the part of the Southern preacher: There is the story of one who after reading a rather cryptic passage took off his spectacles, closed the Bible with a bang and by way of preface said, “Brothers and sisters, this morning-I intend to explain the unexplainablefind out the undefinable-ponder over the imponderable-and unscrew the inscrutable.”(4-5) It is important to note that this self-confessed narrative subjectivity and these improvised variations do not undermine the epic’s historicity or the sermon’s truthfulness. Rather, they attest to a fundamental concern with underscoring and promoting the exercise of human agency-creative, interpretive, and epistemological. The fact that the African epic tradition does not assign history and storytelling to competing epistemological categories, and that the African American sermon tradition combines theology and storytelling in a single epistemological category (by consciously saturating the text with highly imaginative dramatic details) suggests that inventiveness is central to the operation of an epistemology based on “truth in timbre,” not on facts. In “The Site of Memory,” Morrison makes a similar observation in describing the craft that she calls “literary archeology.” This observation points to the connections among the African epic, the African American sermon, and Morrison’s craft: Fiction, by definition, is distinct from fact. Presumably it’s the product of the imagination-invention-and it claims the freedom to dispense with “what really happened,” or where it really happened, or when it really happened, and nothing in it needs to be publicly verifiable, although much in it can be verified…. The work that I do frequently falls, in the minds of most people, into the realm of fiction called fantastic, or mythic, or magical, or unbelievable. I’m not comfortable with these labels. I consider that my single gravest responsibility (in spite of that magic) is not to lie. . . Therefore the crucial distinction for me is not the difference between fact and fiction, but the distinction between fact and truth. Because facts can exist without human intelligence, but truth cannot. ( 112-113) Morrison’s insistence that the epistemological function and value of her fiction are not diminished by the incorporation of “fantastic,” “mythic,” or “magical” details coincides with the philosophy embedded in the epic and sermon traditions. Given Morrison’s commitment to extending the philosophical goals governing the structure and form of African diaspora expressive arts, it is no surprise then that Jazz is more improvisational, has more “places and spaces” than any of Morrison’s previous works, and opens with a prominent declaration of narrative subjectivity: “Sth. I know that woman.” More than words, or tone, the novel directs the reader to measure “truth in timbre,” the character of sound. Logically, therefore, sound is the first character the reader encounters in Jazz. The novel begins with”Sth,” the sound that announces the character, jazz, who is the participant-narrator. Through the construction of this character’s self-revealing presence and self-interrogating consciousness, Morrison remakes the overt narrative subjectivity that typifies both the African epic and the Southern Black sermon. As she describes herself, jazz is “curious, inventive and well-informed” (137). Indeed the opening sound is in part an expression of the extensiveness of her knowledge. Her success, she says, depends on “making sure no one knows all there is to know about me. Second, I watch everything and everyone and try to figure out their plans, their reasonings, long before they do” (8). As the composition develops, however, she is forced to reveal the striving involved in the construction of her knowledge. Reflecting on her version of Golden Gray’s demeanor on discovering his father’s cabin, she confesses: What was I thinking of? How could I have imagined him so poorly? Not noticed the hurt that was not linked to the color of his skin, or the blood that beat beneath it. But to some other thing that longed for authenticity, for a right to be in this place, effortlessly without needing to acquire a false face, a laughless grin, a talking posture. I have been careless and stupid and it infuriates me to discover (again) how unreliable I am. (160) Acknowledging her failure to discern the new pattern into which Violet and Joe were re-making their lives, she declares: I thought I knew them and wasn’t worried that they didn’t really know about me. Now it’s clear why they contradicted me at every turn: they knew me all along. Out of the comer of their eyes they watched me. And when I was feeling most invisible, being tight-lipped, silent and unobservable, they were whispering about me to each other. They knew how little I could be counted on; how poorly, how shabbily my know-it-all self covered helplessness. That when I invented stories about them-and doing it seemed so fine-I was completely in their hands, managed without mercy. I thought I’d hidden myself so well as I watched them through windows and doors, took every opportunity I had to follow them, to gossip about and fill in their lives, and all the while they were watching me…. It never occurred to me that they were thinking other thoughts, feeling other feelings, putting their lives together in ways I never dreamed of. (220-221) The positioning chosen by the narrator to ensure accuracy and authority-not being seen, observed, and known-and her belief in its necessity are both countered by jazz dynamics. As Langston Hughes explains in “Jazz as Communication,” “it’s a circle, and you yourself are the dot in the middle” (492). The narrator’s embarrassment at the discovery of her “helplessness,” and at having Joe and Violet assist the work of invention, marks the trauma and transition from being outside the circle to being the dot in the middle. At the end of the novel, she celebrates the new way of knowing she-like Violet and Joe-finds within the circle: “Something is missing here. Something rogue. Something else you have to figure in before you can figure it out” (228). In Jazz, Morrison achieves the philosophical goals of her tradition by denying the narrator the authority, invisibility, and security of the outside observer, and by prompting the reader to see through and beyond her vision. II. DISPERSION AS NEGOTIATION: THE IMPROVISATION OF POSSIBILIES Jazz is not just music, it’s a way of life, its a way of being, a way of thinking. I think that the Negro in America is jazz. Everything he doesthe slang he uses, the way he talks, his jargon, the new inventive phrases we make up to describe things-all that to me is jazz as much as the music we play. Jazz is not just music. It’s the definition of the AfroAmerican black. -Nina Simone 9 Jazz depicts a series of negotiations-between dispersion and rootedness, dislocation and relocation, trauma and triumph, South and North, village values and urban attitudes, rupture and continuity, independence and interdependence, silence and sounding-which define the experience of diaspora for African Americans. As was true of the South to which enslaved Africans were “commercially deported,”1 the City-Harlem-is initially a site of exile. What defines this as a site of exile is the psychological condition of the arrivantstheir longing for a resting place, their need to release painful memories, and, most importantly, their lack of self recognition. Like their ancestors dispersed by the forces of Slavery, Violet, Joe, Alice Manfred, “the ones who had escaped from Springfield Ohio, Springfield Indiana, Greensburg Indiana, Wilmington Delaware, New Orleans Louisiana, after raving Whites had foamed all over the lanes and yards of home” (33), “the droves and droves of colored people flocking to paychecks and streets full of themselves” (58), the entire “wave of black people running from want and violence” (33), are part of a continuing cycle of dispersion that began-but did not end!-with the Middle Passage. Beginning with the trans-Atlantic slave trade that “commercially deported” millions of Africans from central, west, and south-western Africa to Europe, the Americas, and the Caribbean, this cycle of dispersion includes the flight of refugees via the underground railroad to points “North,” the early nineteenth century deportation of free African Americans to Liberia under the aegis of the American Colonization Society; the “Scramble for Africa” that distributed African peoples and lands among European colonizers and fragmented cultural nationalities among different imperialist administrations; the Great Migration in the post-Reconstruction era that took hundreds of thousands of Africans from Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, the Carolinas and elsewhere, north and west to Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Kansas and Oklahoma; the internal migration of Africans among the various Caribbean countries in the post-Emancipation period, and to Panama and Costa Rica to work on the construction of the Canal and in the U.S. American-owned fruitexporting industries; twentieth-century migrations to European and North American metropolises-Paris, London, Lisbon, New York, Miami, Torontofrom the Caribbean, the Americas and Africa; and the continuing migrations from the village to the city, and from the city to the suburbs in pursuit of an ever more hazardous “ascent.”” The American South functions as “home” for the men and women in the City in the 1920s. The history of its evolution from a site of exile underscores the improvisations being generated in the novel. The patterns of improvisation that developed in the antebellum South, the first site of exile, constitute a motif of transformation that served as a blueprint for subsequent re-constructions of “home” in the diaspora. These improvisations encompassed religion, ethics, folklore, music, dance, games, food, language, naming practices, etc. The development of African diaspora religions-especially Afro-Christianity-provides one of the clearest examples of the pattern of improvisation underlying the many transformations which took place on the first site of exile. In Slave Religion, Albert Raboteau confirms that “African beliefs and customs persisted and were transmitted by slaves to their descendants. Shaped and modified by a new environment, elements of African folklore, music, language, and religion were transplanted in the New World by the African diaspora” (4). Ethicist Peter Paris explains, in The Spirituality of African Peoples, that: Due to the circumstances of their departure from Africa, Africans had no choice but to leave their cultural artifacts on the continent. Yet they did not arrive on these shores as a tabula rasa. Rather, different groups brought their respective cosmological understandings with them and gradually shaped a new world of spiritual and moral meaning by appropriating and interpreting various elements in their new environment in accord with their African cosmologies. (35) Paris emphasizes the improvisational impulse behind the development of new religious systems noting that “The preservation of their spirituality under the conditions of slavery was an astounding accomplishment, due principally to their creative genius in making the Euro-American cultural forms and practices serve as vehicles for the transmission of African cultural elements” (35). Looking specifically at patterns of improvisation among African Americans in the South Carolina Sea Islands, historian Margaret Washington Creel corroborates Paris’s analysis noting that they, . . . converted Christianity to their African world view, using the new religion to justify combating objective forces, to collectively perpetuate communityculture, and as an ideology of freedom. Thus it was less a case of Christianity instilling a sense of resignation because of beliefs in future rewards than of an African philosophical tradition being asserted in the slave quarters. (Creel 74) Two factors influenced the pattern of improvisation informing the preservation of continental African concepts in the antebellum South. First, as Lawrence Levine notes, it coincided with the ideological objectives of White enslavers: Whites had an unconscious vested interest in seeing their slaves maintain much of their cultural distinctiveness, since it was far more difficult to justify the enslavement of a kindred folk than of a people whose behavior patterns were sufficiently different to allow one to apply such commonly used epithets as “primitive,” “barbaric,” “childlike.”( 100) Second, it served the ideological objectives of enslaved Africans. They, however, were not eager to reveal the cultural autonomy of their lives “within the veil.”‘2 In the absence of the living environments of memory on the continentwhat Pierre Nora calls “milieux de memoire”- enslaved Africans used the knowledge they brought into exile to psychologically journey to the “site of memory,” and improvise on it to re-construct a home in the American South.”3 In the essay from which the term is borrowed, Morrison describes the “site of memory” as a tool, mechanism, and mode of analysis employed in her craft, “literary archeology.””4 Before this literary deployment, the “site of memory,” functioned as a vehicle for transforming the site of exile. Successfully improvising on the “remains” from their ancestral homes, enslaved Africans were able to re-make themselves on the site of exile, transforming the antebellum South into what city dwellers would later call “down home.” The configuration of diaspora communities maps a progressive expansion in which sites of exile have been transformed into the new milieux de memoire, the living, interactive environments of memory. The relationships between “home in Africa” and the several “homes in the diaspora” conform to the pattern of call-and-response dynamics in which the response necessarily varies the original call/ home, and itself becomes the new call/home. A call-and-response principle and pattern of transformation propelled the many negotiations which collectively converted the site of exile into the new milieu de memoire. Because of this ubiquitous pattern, Veve Clark insists that the analysis of African diaspora cultures must move beyond the expectation of stasis inherent in the quest for “survivals,” toward an expectation and exploration of variations and transformations.’5 In Jazz, the American South is the milieu de memoire newly jeopardized by the racist backlash of the post-Reconstruction era, and whose “remains” survivors in the North must access through memory in order to re-create themselves in the City. While the standard narrative of the 1920s depicts Black people-painters, writers, musicians-thriving under the liberal patronage of Whites in the “Roaring Twenties,” the “Harlem Renaissance Era,” in Jazz, Morrison explores the twin aspect of the “Jazz Age,” the “Jim Crow Age.” Acutely aware of the many lacunae in the national historical consciousness, Morrison reminded us, in Beloved, that the Age of Enlightenment had a “twin, born at the same time, the Age of Scientific Racism.”‘6 Twinning the lenses again in Jazz, she focuses on both the art that accompanied the living, and the living that required the art. In so doing, Morrison reveals how African diaspora expressive arts conferred the agency necessary for gaining access to the “site of memory,” and thereby, the transformation of the City into a new milieu de memoire, “Harlem, USA.” The background to the novel is saturated with details about the violence prompting a new exile from the South to the City in the second phase of dispersion. Like the violence of slavery, the violence of the post-Reconstruction period was orchestrated, and no less intense. This violence created an unspoken rage and unacknowledged sorrow that knocked the survivors down and out. In Jazz, the Black people flocking into the City in the 1870s through the 1920s have lost their bearing. By and large, they are emotionally depleted by the traumas which triggered their involuntary exile. Their initial instinct as survivors is to bury the past in order to build a new future. Consequently, they do not talk about the loss of parents, spouses, siblings, dolls, home, dignity that preceded their flight. More than anything else, the characters are driven by the need to find a resting place in which to touch, name, express the complex emotions within. While the narrator comments on the characters’ longing for “rest,” she concludes that it would exacerbate rather than resolve the crisis: This notion of rest, it’s attractive to her, but I don’t think she would like it. They are all like that, these women. Waiting for the ease, the space that need not be filled with anything other than the drift of their own thoughts. But they wouldn’t like it…. because what is waiting for them, in a suddenly idle moment, is the seep of rage…. Or else, into a beat of time, and sideways under their breasts, slips a sorrow they don’t know where from. (16) Instead of a state of “rest,” the novel depicts the characters searching forand sometimes finding-a place of rest in which to cope with “the seep of rage . . . and . sorrow.” Like the “site of memory,” this “resting place” functions as a vehicle for transforming trauma into triumph, silence into sound. The most prominent “resting place” depicted in Jazz is music. Like their ancestors who constructed a mode of analysis and articulation first, in the spirituals, and later, in the blues, survivors in the City have created a “resting place” in jazz. Describing the “tide of cold black faces” marching down Fifth Avenue following the Chicago riots in which hundreds of Black people were killed, the narrator states “what they meant to say but did not trust themselves to say the drums said for them, and what they had seen with their own eyes and through the eyes of others the drums described to a T” (54). Like “a rope cast for rescue, the drums spanned the distance, gathering them all up and connected them: Alice, Dorcas, her sister and her brother-in-law, the Boy Scouts and the frozen black faces, the watchers on the pavement and those in the windows above” (58). For Alice Manfred, the drums help to put in focus the connection between her own grief and that of the people with “frozen black faces.” While she is able to decipher in the drums an articulation of “fellowship, discipline and transcendence” (60), she is unable-and perhaps unwilling-to interpret the full complexity of its message. Deciphering the music’s full message would require her to confront the one emotion to which she feels unentitled-anger. Her suppression of this emotion leads to a futile struggle to keep “the Fifth Avenue drums separate from the belt-buckle tunes vibrating from pianos and spinning on every Victrola”: She knew from sermons and editorials that it wasn’t real music-just colored folks’ stuff: harmful, certainly; embarrassing, of course; but not real, not serious. Yet Alice Manfred swore she heard a complicated anger in it; something hostile that disguised itself as flourish and roaring seduction. But the part she hated most was its appetite. Its longing for the bash, the slit; a kind of careless hunger for a fight or a red ruby stickpin for a tie-either would do. It faked happiness, faked welcome, but it did not make her feel generous, this juke joint, barrel hooch, tonk house, music. It made her hold her hand in the pocket of her apron to keep from smashing it through the glass pane to snatch the world in her fist and squeeze the life out of it for doing what it did and did and did to her and everybody else she knew or knew about. Better to close the windows and the shutters, sweat in the summer heat of a silent Clifton Place apartment than to risk a broken window or a yelping that might not know where or how to stop. (59) Unwilling to attend to the other statements in the music, Alice Manfred is unable to move beyond the crisis in her own life and in Dorcas’s life; she is unable as well to help Dorcas to negotiate the destructive and creative potentials in this new environment. Violet’s appearance in her life is a symbolic entry of that mediational and liberating capacity of the music. The narrator notes that “When Violet came to visit (and Alice never knew when that might be) something opened up” (83). The thing was how Alice felt and talked in her company. Not like she did with other people. With Violent she was impolite. Sudden. Frugal. No apology or courtesy seemed required or necessary between them. But something else was–clarity, perhaps. The kind of clarity crazy people demand from the notcrazy. (83) Their conversations function as a “site of memory,” a resting place in which the two women recall and re-make an enabling identity and purpose. In its depiction of Violet’s and Alice’s journeying to the “site of memory,” the novel suggests that the re-construction of home, identity, and purpose are complementary acts. In addition to the crisis of homelessness, this new phase of dispersion also produces the crisis of parentlessness exposed by Dorcas’s death. The retrospective movement of the narrative shows that the immediate “absence” of missing parents has a considerable impact on this flock of orphans. These characters have lost mother and father to the tide of racist violence rising with the abandonment of Reconstruction in the 1870s. Violet loses first her father, then her mother to the backlash that followed. Her father “had been mixed in and up with the Readjuster Party, and when a verbal urging from landowners had not worked, a physical one did the trick and he was persuaded to transfer hisself someplace, anyplace, else” (99-100). Crushed by the burden of caring singlehandedly for their five children, her mother, Rose Dear, suffers a mental breakdown, and eventually commits suicide. In 1888, after her daughter’s breakdown, the grandmother, True Belle, returns to care for the grandchildren and fills their heads with stories of the boy, Golden Gray, whose unmarried and pregnant White mother she had accompanied to Baltimore as a “slave” thirtythree years earlier. Like Violet, Joe is also an orphan. Told that his parents “disappeared without a trace” (124), he gives himself the last name “Trace” because “The way I heard it I understood her to mean the ‘trace’ they disappeared without was me” (124). A generation younger than VIolet and Joe, Dorcas lost her parents in the Chicago riots of 1917: “Both of her parents died in a very bad way and she saw them after they died and before the funeral men fixed them up” (200). Deeply traumatized by her parents’ deaths, “She went to two funerals in five days, and never said a word” (57). Although Felice’s parents are both alive, the absence occasioned by their live-in jobs in Tuxedo Junction leaves her feeling just as orphaned. By her own reckoning, their visits home on days off add up, annually, to “Thirty-four days. I’m seventeen now and that works out to less than six hundred days. Less than two years out of seventeen” (200). Given the prevalence of fatherlessness and motherlessness, the novel asks, in the words of Violet, “Where the grown people? Is it us?” (110). The “grown people” capable of responding to the characters’ need for direction and recognition are the people whom Morrison calls “ancestors.” Extending its theological usage in African religion/culture to designate the community of deceased elders who continue to fulfill sustaining roles in the lives of their descendants, Morrison uses the term “ancestors” to designate living elders with a similar responsibility and capacity. In “City Limits, Village Values: Concepts of Neighborhoods in Black Fiction,” Morrison describes them as “advising, benevolent, protective, wise” (39). In that essay, Morrison observes that “The worst thing that can happen in a city is that the ancestor becomes merely a parent or an adult and is thereby seen as a betrayer-one who had abandoned his traditional role of advisor with a strong connection to the past” (40). Dorcas’s death is a direct result of such “betrayal.” Indeed, Dorcas is implicated in several instances of betrayal. Alice Manfred’s reliance on the newspaper for “information,” and her decision to imprison rather than arm Dorcas. Joe’s attempt to use her to compensate for the “inside nothing he traveled with” since experiencing his mother’s rejection. Violet’s refusal to recognize in her rival a “mishandled child.” Their actions demonstrate that the adults in the novel all lack the knowledge of how to respond to their own need, a knowledge that, the novel suggests, comes from knowing “what the old folks did to keep on going” (137). The narrator says-and his actions indicate-that Joe didn’t know. Neither do Violet and Alice Manfred. Having buried the remains, and wiped out the traces-the resonating memories of True Belle, Hunters Hunter, and other ancestors-they are unable to recall and reclaim this sustaining capacity, including the capacity to make wholesome choices on their own behalf. The various betrayals of Dorcas suggest that the erasure of memory impairs the process of improvisation. This is most convincingly demonstrated by Alice Manfred’s parenting. Reflecting on her own upbringing and her parents”‘ “heated control,” Alice recalls that she “swore she wouldn’t, but she did, pass it on. She passed it on to her baby sister’s only child” (77). Without the “remains” available to them through the “site of memory,” these adults all strike the wrong “key” in their interactions with Dorcas. And while the process of improvisation clearly depends on the deployment of the mechanism of memory, searching for the right “note” requires a willingness to embrace the enabling parts and to dispose of the disabling parts of the uncovered “remains.” Consequently, when Violet recalls and examines the memories of her grandmother’s parenting, her rejection of the parts connected to the transference of the image of whiteness (via the stories of Golden Gray) which had destabilized her self-image is as vital as her recollection of True Belle’s laughter (and the knowledge of its complexity and its transformative capacity). As she explains to Felice, “Now I want to be the woman my mother didn’t stay around long enough to see. That one. The one she would have liked and the one I used to like before…. My grandmother fed me stories about a little blond child. He was a boy, but I thought of him as a girl sometimes, as a brother sometimes, sometimes as a boyfriend. He lived inside my mind. Quiet as a mole. But I didn’t know it till I got here. The two of us. Had to get rid of it.” (208) By confronting their own (experience of) betrayal, Violet and Alice are able to reclaim their creative potential. Violet’s ability to formulate this critical question indicates an already present recognition of missing ancestors and of their own capacity and responsibility for attaining that role and demeanor: “Where the grown people? Is it us?” (110). Their recovery marks the beginning of transformations that extend outward to include Joe, Felice, and others. This pattern of transformation conforms to call-and-response dynamics in which the lead singer or speaker prompts a collective articulation that echoes and extends the direction of the call. So that, after examining the “remains” of her own childhood, Violet “calls” Joe to do the same. The narrator tells us that “Meaning to or not meaning to, she got him to go through it again. . .” ( 119). For Joe, as for Violet and Alice, transformation requires journeying to the “site of memory,” and going through it again. This transformation prepares them for the responsibility of parenting Felice, a resurrected Dorcas. Observing the arrival of “another true-as-life Dorcas, four marcelled waves and all,” the narrator erroneously predicts “What turned out different was who shot whom” (6). As she later explains, “I saw the three of them, Felice, Joe and Violet, and they looked to me like a mirror image of Dorcas, Joe and Violet” (221). This threesome constructs a different dynamic because Violet and Joe have consciously reclaimed the ancestor role with the responsibility and capacity for being “advising, benevolent, protective, wise.” The improvised outcome of them nurturing Felice, and Felice enlivening them, confirms that the three have successfully negotiated another phase of dispersion by reclaiming the capacity for “putting their lives together in ways . . . never dreamed of’ (221). III. MUSIC AS NARRATIVE TECHNIQUE: THE SOUNDING OF TRANSFORMATION You can start anywhere-Jazz as Communication-since it’s a circle, and you yourself are the dot in the middle. You, me. For example, I’ll start with the Blues . . . Now, to wind it all up, with you in the middlejazz is only what you yourself get out of it. -Langston Hughes ” Morrison’s Jazz strikes a liberation chord. This chord contains retentions of, and the basis for, three musical motifs: the spirituals, which express the longing for, and assurance of, a home, a resting place in the wilderness; the blues, which wail through pain and turmoil to a release; and jazz, which echoes familiar themes toward a new re-cognition. In titling the work Jazz, however, Morrison acknowledges that it deliberately follows a jazz motif which, because it is part of a generative sequence, also contains elements of the blues and of the spirituals. The spirituals are referenced in Joe’s “deepdown, spooky” love, a description which defines spirit as both a “deepdown,” intrinsic attribute, and as a “spooky,” otherworldly aspect. The presence of the blues, what Ralph Ellison calls its “tragi-comic lyricism,” is signaled in the narrator’s observation that Joe’s love for Dorcas “made him so sad and happy he shot her just to keep the feeling going” (3). Like Violet[Violent, the blues was thrown “to the floor and out of the church” (3). But jazz is the musical motif at the heart of the first paragraph. It informs the tone, timbre, and technique of the narrative. The references to birds, here and throughout the novel, symbolize that motif. And contrary to Alice Manfred’s fear that this music will unleash “a yelping that might not know where or how to stop” (59), jazz/Jazz has its own internal duration, direction, and destination.

The theme of exile/homelessness corresponds with the spirituals in its emphasis on the need for a home, a resting place in the wilderness. The theme of transcendence, of moving through pain and longing to a release, matches the blues impulse that propels the novel in its depiction of human relationships, including the relationship between individuals and their past selves. It is the narrative technique, however, that most deeply expresses a jazz motif. The narrative structure conforms to a jazz ensemble of diverse voices/instruments doing solo variations on the dominant theme(s): orphanhood and exile. Logically, therefore, the novel’s first paragraph gives away (introduces) the plot, which is subsequently retold, but amplified and varied in the re-telling. And like the notes of a jazz composition which create spaces in their becoming, every utterance is full of potential. For example, although the novel reveals that Joe’s mother, Wild, and Golden Gray had some sort of relationship, that story is just another space created in the development of the novel. The key to understanding Morrison’s implementation of jazz techniques in this novel lies in the speaking potential of musical instruments. African cultures readily acknowledge this potential since percussive instruments can “speak” tonal languages, as exemplified by the talking drums. In a parallel vein, African American expressive traditions similarly abridge the gap between musical instruments and human voices. Musical instruments are seen less as accompaniments and more as autonomous voices, and human voices as instruments. The evolution of jazz as a musical form in which even the human voicevis-a-vis Ella Fitzgerald-can articulate without words exemplifies this concept. In fact, jazz legend John Coltrane describes his signature composition, “A Love Supreme,” as “a musical narration.” If jazz instruments do indeed narrate then they evoke and depend on a hearing or interpretive capacity on the part of the listener that is not informed by words, but by timbre. In describing the expressive range of the “old-time Negro preacher,” Johnson observed that, he brought into play the full gamut of his wonderful voice, a voice-what shall I say?-not of an organ or a trumpet, but rather of a trombone, the instrument possessing above all others the power to express the wide and varied range of emotions encompassed by the human voice. (7-8) Like the preacher, the musician and literary artist, strive to extend their instruments to sound a broad range of emotions. Jazz narrates a resurrection ritual of people called to make a home on the site of exile, called to lift themselves from the pain of loss and longing, and called to know themselves again differently. The novel riffs on and reworks the New Testament narrative of a young woman, Dorcas, an early Christian and a seamstress, who dies suddenly and is resurrected by the apostle, Peter. 18 As in Beloved where she depicts a Black female Christ-figure, Baby Suggs, holy, in Jazz, Morrison assigns inspiriting agency to another Black woman, Violet, the primary instrument through whom the novel resurrects Dorcas. The opening description of the dead girl in the casket whose face Violet cuts symbolizes and highlights the many types of remains surviving through the flight from home, and which must be resurrected in order to transform the site of exile. On Violet’s part, the decision to resurrect Dorcas is a last-ditched effort to cope with the crisis precipitated by the news of the murder and the love affair. Violet’s response to the crisis exemplifies the pattern of improvisation in the novel. Only partially successful in her effort to avenge herself by stabbing the dead girl’s corpse, she decides to “punish Joe by getting herself a boyfriend” (4). Lacking the interest to sustain this relationship, she decides next “to fall back in love with her husband” (5). When this too fails, “she decided to lovewell, find out about-the eighteen-year-old” (5). Her “careful investigations” take her to the legally licensed beauticians Dorcas had frequented, the elementary and middle schools she had attended, and eventually to conversations with Dorcas’s aunt, Alice Manfred. Although she goes looking for information about Dorcas, she confesses her own underlying need for a “home,” a resting place in telling Alice Manfred, “I had to sit down somewhere. I thought I could do it here” (82). Through her resurrection of Dorcas, Violet re-makes a home, releases her pain, and re-claims her own creative capacity. In tracing these three movements, she adds a fourth by reviving a livable future for herself, Alice Manfred, her husband, Joe, Dorcas’s friend, Felice, and others. In addition to incorporating elements of the spirituals, the blues, and jazz, the narrative technique in Jazz makes extensive use of sampling. Morrison introduces the trope of sampling in a jazz-like signification on the name “Trace” which riffs on and recalls the remains from which a new whole must be reconstructed, and on Joe’s profession as cosmetics salesman, equipped with a sample case from which the women select. As a call-and-response technique, sampling involves the conscious repetition of the theme, lyrics, beat or any other identifiable segment of a specific prior work in a new composition. Morrison’s sampling of a diverse selection of African diaspora expressive forms-including the slave narratives, photographs, and Black musical forms-invigorates the motifs of resurrection and reconstruction at the heart of the novel. It also underscores the novel’s cultural genealogy. Jazz samples James VanDerZee’s photograph, in The Harlem Book of the Dead, of a young girl lying in a casket and the poem by Owen Dodson that accompanies it. It also samples The Egyptian Book of the Dead, Nina Simone’s “Four Women,” and John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme.” ‘9

In the “Foreword” to the posthumously published collection of James VanDerZee’s photographs, The Harlem Book of the Dead, Morrison writes that the subjects-ne of whom is the inspiration for Dorcas-are “So living, so `undead,’ that the prestigious writer, Owen Dodson, is stirred to poetry in which life trembles in every metaphor.” Looking specifically at the poem that accompanies the photo of a teenage girl lying in a casket, it is easy to recognize the “life trembling” in it. Contrary to the assumption implicit in the poem’s question “Who deathed you who,” (52), the subject announces her continuing lifefulness, “I’m safe in here, Tootsie” (52). In this poem, Dodson articulates the concept derived from the text which The Harlem Book of the Dead invokes-The Egyptian Book of the Dead. This ancient text contains the funerary rites and rituals developed and performed by Egyptians of antiquity in accordance with their understanding of a life beyond the flesh. Among other things, the book describes the ritual cutting of the corpse which must be performed in order to release and begin the new life. This practice confirms the motif of resurrection developing in Jazz, and illuminates the narrative significance of Violet’s cutting of Dorcas’s remains. According to the narrator, the knife “bounced off, making a little dent under her earlobe, like a fold in the skin that was hardly a disfigurement at all” (91). For Alice Manfred, the cutting “ruined the service, changed the whole point and meaning of it” (75). In terms of the narrative design, however, this event is the symbolic act that releases a new life, changes the narrative direction and meaning from burial toward resurrection. This death-as-resurrection accords with the portrait of Dorcas that emerges from the text; her life, we learn, had been a living-death. In addition to its sampling of the two texts, Jazz samples two musical works, Nina Simone’s 1969 ballad “Four Women,” and John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme.” Coltrane’s description of his instrumental work as a “musical narration,” reminds us that, in jazz, narration need not rely on words. Consequently, an analysis of the sampling dynamic between Morrison’s novel and the two musical works must consider structural and thematic, as well as lyrical, elements. For, more than words, the novel samples the structure and consciousness expressed in the lyrics of Simone’s “Four Women.” Through this technique, Morrison accentuates the predicament and potential of the women in Jazz. In the song, each of the “Four Women” describes her physical features, psychological disposition, and then names herself. There’s the first woman, whose “back is strong; strong enough to take the pain inflicted again and again.” Her name is Aunt Sarah. The second woman reveals that her rich White father “forced my mother one night.” Double-conscious, she declares, “Between two worlds do I belong.” Her name is Saphronia. The third woman is the lover whose dark-skinned beauty is self-defining. Her name is Sweet Thing. Then, there’s the fourth woman whose “manner is tough.” She attributes her cleareyed disposition to an informed historical consciousness: “I’m awfully bitter these days because my parents were slaves.” Her name is . . . Peaches. The progression of the “Four Women” from resilience, to the conflict of doubleconsciousness, to a sexualized self-definition, to a full historical consciousness in Simone’s work reflects the stages of character development and consciousness for each of Morrison’s four women. Violet isn’t simply two-dimensional-Violet and Violent. She is “Four Women.” She is the woman-child whose resilience enables her to survive “the pain inflicted again and again” by the loss of home, father, and mother, and who learns from this “The important thing, the biggest thing . . . was to never never have children. Whatever happened, no small dark foot would rest on another while a hungry mouth said, Mama?” (102). She is also the woman whose double-consciousness appears in her double-eyed view of Dorcas as both the “scheming bitch,” “the woman who took the man,” and “the daughter who fled her womb,” “mama’s dumpling girl,” who, “had she braved mammymade poisons and mammy’s urgent fists, she could have had the best-dressed hair in the City” (109). She is the rejected lover determined first, to “punish” Joe, then, to become who “he’d rather me be” (82). And she is the woman who sisters Alice through the months of grief and anger, the woman who reclaims her historical consciousness, and who “got [Joe] to go through it again” (119), assisting him in doing the same. “Four Women” also shapes Alice Manfred’s character. She is the resilient woman who, having been raised under her parents’ “heated control,” “swore she wouldn’t pass it on, but did . . . passed it on to her baby sister’s only child . . . and made Dorcas her own prisoner of war” (77). She is the dignified seamstress whose double-consciousness manifests in her disdain of jazz, “colored folks’ stuff,” and in her simultaneous recognition of the “complicated anger” (59) within it. She is the rejected lover, enraged by her husband’s other choice, whose “favorite” revenge, the dream that plumped her pillow at night, was seeing herself mount a horse, then ride it and find the woman alone on a road and gallop till she ran her down under her four iron hooves; then back again, and again until there was nothing left but tormented dirt signaling where the hussy had been. (86) She is also the woman whose historical consciousness enables her to recognize “a real thing”-“You got anything left to you to love, anything at all, do it” ( 112)-and who reclaims the creative capacity that allows her return to Springfield to “the dedicated care of an old friend,” to provide “cheerful company and the necessary things for the night” (11, 222). Dorcas, too, is “Four Women.” She is the resilient woman-child who survives the pain of losing both parents, who “went to two funerals in five days, and never said a word” (57). She is the woman caught between the hunger for a mother’s/father’s love and a lover’s touch. She is the lover whose orphan-grief surfaces in her relationship with Joe, and who “in her sixteenth year . . . stood in her body and offered it to either of the brothers for a dance” (64). “Dorcas [had] been acknowledged, appraised and dismissed in the time it takes for a needle to finds its opening groove” (67). And she is the woman whose “tough manner” and historical consciousness appear in her closing testimony, “I don’t know who is that woman singing but I know the words by heart” (193). Felice’s development is also modeled after “Four Women.” She is the womanchild whose resilience enables her to survive the loneliness caused by her parents’ absence. Her double-consciousness appears in her confusion over the ring given to her by her mother: “I love it, but there’s a trick in it, and I have to agree to the trick to say it’s mine…. A present taken from whitefolks, given to me when I was too young to say No thank you” (211). She is the self-possessed lover who is “nobody’s alibi or hammer. or toy” (222). Her newly developed historical consciousness gives her the resolve to tell her mother “I know about it, and that it’s what she did, not the ring, that I really love” (215). As it does with Simone’s “Four Women,” Jazz samples the pattern, tone and timbre of Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” so as to illuminate the narrative progression toward transformation. The composition is in four parts titled Acknowledgment, Resolution, Pursuance, and Psalm. These four parts parallel the four stages of plot development in the slave narrative, which Morrison and others have identified as the “the print origins of black literature (as distinguished from oral origins).”2” As defined by Frances Smith Foster, these four stages are the recognition of one’s condition, the determination to be free, escape/flight, and the attainment of a new condition. 21 Superimposing Coltrane’s four parts onto Morrison’s Jazz, Part 1, Acknowledgment, would be the novel’s opening declaration of the crisis in Violet’s and Joe’s lives, the lenses through which the novel provides a more comprehensive view of the collective crisis of motherlessness/fatherlessness and homelessness/homesickness-orphanhood and exile. For the pair, the conviction that Joe’s constant crying “is as bad as jail” (4) is an acknowledgment of the crisis confronting them. Part 2, the Resolution, begins with Violet’s determination to respond to this crisis. The narrator notes that although Violet’s name came up “at the January meeting of the Salem Women’s Club as someone needing assistance,” “The Club mobilized itself to come to the burnt-out family’s aid and left Violet to figure out on her own what the matter was and how to fix it” (4). Part 3, Pursuance, takes up the longest part of the novel-as it does in Coltrane’s composition. It begins with and extends through the months of conversation with Alice Manfred. We learn that “for a long time she pestered the girl’s aunt, a dignified lady who did fine work off and on in the garment district, until the aunt broke down and began to look forward to Violet’s visits” for what the narrator misleadingly calls “a chat about youth and misbehavior” (6). Part 4, Psalm, begins a new season of re-making: “Joe found work at Paydirt, a speakeasy night job that lets him see the City do its unbelievable sky and run around with Violet in afternoon daylight” (222). To name the four parts of this composition strictly in relation to Violet’s transformation is to identify only one instrument. For each of the characters in the ensemble-Violet, Joe, Alice, Dorcas, Felice, the participant-narrator, jazz herself-(and for the ensemble as a whole), Acknowledgment, Resolution, Pursuance, and Psalm have distinct sounds. The recognition of crisis she had fought to deny hearing in the music engulfs Alice Manfred with the death of her niece: “Idle and withdrawn in her grief and shame, she whittled away the days making lace for nothing, reading her newspapers, tossing them on the floor, picking them up again. She read them differently now” (75). Her encounter with Violet gives her the resolution to confront what the narrator calls her “war thoughts.” In Violet’s company, she pursues these thoughts to a point of self-discovery. The clarity demanded of her in her conversations with Violet gradually extends beyond these conversations to illuminate her private meditations. For example, the narrator mentions that “Every week since Dorcas’ death, during the whole of January and February, a paper laid bare the bones of some broken woman” (74). By March, however, the text calls attention to Alice’s new way of reading/knowing, one that is less concerned with facts and more with truth in timbre: Defenseless as ducks, she thought. Or were they? Read carefully the news accounts revealed that most of these women, subdued and broken, had not been defenseless. Or, like Dorcas, easy prey. All over the country, black women were armed.

Natural prey? Easy pickings? “I don’t think so.” Aloud she said it. “I don’t think so…. Black women were armed; black women were dangerous and the less money they had the deadlier the weapon they chose.

Who were the unarmed one? Those who found protection in church and the judging, angry God whose wrath in their behalf was too terrible to bear contemplation…. Who else were the unarmed ones? The ones who thought they did not need folded blades, packets of lye, shards of glass taped to their hands. Those who bought houses and hoarded money as protection and the means to purchase it. Those attached to armed men. Those who did not carry pistols because they became pistols; did not carry switchblades because they were switchblades cutting through gatherings, shooting down statutes and pointing out the blood and abused flesh. Those who swelled their little unarmed strength into the reckoning one of leagues, clubs, societies, sisterhoods designed to hold or withhold, move or stay put, make a way, solicit, comfort or ease. Bail out, dress the dead, pay the rent, find new rooms, start a school, storm an office, take up collections, rout the block and keep their eyes on all the children. Any other kind of unarmed black woman in 1926 was silent or crazy or dead. (77-78) Her new ability to wrest truth out of facts prevents her from dismissing Violet as merely “embarrassing,” “unappealing,” “dangerous.” Instead, the narrator tells us, Alice waited this time, in the month of March, for the woman with the knife . But Alice was not frightened of her now as she had been in January and as she was in February, the first time she let her in” (79). As her ability to interpret her own and other people’s actions increases, Alice begins to map a more complex course for herself and for Violet. Her expanded interpretive capacity increases her moral and creative capacity. She takes responsibility for having “mishandled” Dorcas, and musters the courage to “move away from the tree-lined street back to Springfield” (222). Through their conversations and inner reflections Alice and Violet come to a clear recognition of the what Morrison calls the “buried stimuli” in their childhood and youth that generated the present configuration of their lives. Of their relationship, the narrator says, “By this time, the women had become so easy with each other talk wasn’t always necessary. Alice ironed and Violet watched. From time to time one murmured something-to herself or to the other” (112). The jazz pattern of solo and ensemble variation resonates in the intersecting notes of transformation playing throughout the novel. Morrison uses the language of women’s domestic tasks-sewing, ironing, hairdressing-to announce this call-and-response pattern of assistance. Violet and Alice form a symbolic Dorcas Society committed to the task of restoring and re-clothing their own wounded psyches. While Violet inspires and supports Alice’s self-interrogation and self-discovery, the reciprocal dimension of the exchange between the two women is suggested by the references to Alice’s mending of Violet’s torn sleeve and coat lining. “Her stitches,” the narrator comments, “were invisible to the eye” (111). At the end of the novel, when Felice’s appearance gives Joe and Violet the opportunity to re-make themselves as parents, the novel emphasizes the reciprocal dimension of this re-making when Violet offers, “I want to do your hair for you anyway. Free. Your ends need clipping” (214). Our final glimpse of Felice indicates that she has become very much like Violet, “nobody’s alibi or hammer or toy” (222).

In addition to underscoring this reciprocal pattern of assistance, Morrison points to the world of thought that winds through women’s tasks in acknowledging-here, as in Beloved-the “eternal, private conversations that take place between women and their tasks” (Beloved 172). The routine involved in the performance of the task is often a map for the mind. Figuring in, and figuring out is what’s important; not just finishing. Consistent with her initially simplistic mode of interrogation, Alice Manfred takes the linear route-ironing first one part, then another, without repetition. Violet, by contrast, takes the route that circles back to the beginning, requiring her to re-do the sleeve with which she started. Significantly, the women do not seek access to another realm in which to rest; the work itself provides a context for “rest”-thought and analysis. Morrison suggests that women’s individual “conversations” with their tasks-conversations articulated through motion-are indicators of a world of inquiry, of thoughts being unfolded, re-folded, mended, stitched, pressed.

In composing this ensemble of multiple and intersecting self-explorations, Morrison critiques the assumption that a single agent can make, un-make, or re-make any circumstance. While Joe is clearly responsible for the murder of Dorcas, the novel reveals that many more people were responsible for her death. If several agents contribute to a particular crisis, how then can or does one resolve it? The acknowledgment and simultaneous dismissal of the “resolution” authorized by the dominant culture provides the opportunity for a larger interrogation of blame/causality, punishment/responsibility, and resolution/forgiveness: “the dead girl’s aunt didn’t want to throw money to helpless lawyers or laughing cops when she knew the expense wouldn’t improve anything. Besides she found out that the man who killed her niece cried all day and for him and for Violet that is as bad as jail” (4). While the aunt and the author both reject “helpless lawyers,” and “laughing cops,” neither abandons the pursuit of justice. Instead of jail, he (Joe) and they (Violet and Alice) all get what Albert Murray calls “the blues as such.”22 While Joe, Violet, Alice, and Felice all have “the blues as such,” it is the blues as release that propels the characters toward a liberating recognition. Here, Morrison summons the institution to which African American traditionally have resorted. According to Murray, acknowledgment through confrontation is a key aspect of the strategy by which the blues dispels “the blues as such”: Sometimes, since it is assumed that to know a name is also to be onto the game, the merest threat of revealing their diabolical identities and intentions through full-scale description is even more effective. Nor is bold and blatant misdefinition any less. Moreover when descriptions and definitions involve numbers of any kind nothing less than instant terror is the most likely response, even when the numbers are patently phony (perhaps because the inevitable effect of enumeration and measurement is to reduce the infinity of the invisible to the finite and hence to modality, which after all is not only discernible but also controllable, and thus to mortality!). (9) The novel identifies the blues as not simply an art form, but as a mode/institution of intervention. Consistent with this “blues ideology,” Violet, Alice, Joe, and Felice assist each other in naming essential areas of their lives in order to regain control and resound a new purpose. The completion of the pattern of transformation is announced with the arrival of a new season of re-making: Sweetheart. That’s what that weather was called. Sweetheart weather, the prettiest day of the year. And that’s when it started…. Young men on the rooftops changed their tune; spit and fiddled with the mouthpiece for a while and when they put it back in and blew out their cheeks it was just like the light of that day, pure and steady and kind of kind. You would have thought everything had been forgiven the way they played. (195-196) IV LOVE AS DISSONANCE: THE RE-SOUNDING OF PURPOSE All about love . . . people do all sorts of things, under its name, under its guise. The violence is a distortion of what, perhaps, we want to do. -Toni Morrison 23 According to Morrison, Jazz is the second component of a trilogy that begins with Beloved and ends with Paradise. Among other things, a common narrative focus holds the three works together. In each, Morrison explores the burden and blessing of what-in the words of John Coltrane-might be called “A Love Supreme.” A mother’s “too thick” love for her child in Beloved, a grown man’s “deepdown, spooky” love for an eighteen-year old girl in Jazz, and a community’s love “that passeth all understanding” for God in Paradise. In discussing Paradise, Morrison explained, “I wanted to show how that kind of love can also go awry. Can be like the others.” 24 Long before this trilogy, however, Morrison had intimated-in each of her prior works-that love can go awry. Its capacity to make both the lover and the beloved run amuck forces Porter to cry out, in Song of Solomon, I’ll take hate any day. But don’t give me love. I can’t take no more love, Lord. I can’t carry it…. It’s too heavy. Jesus, you know. You know all about it. Ain’t it heavy? Jesus? Ain’t love heavy? Don’t you see, Lord? You own son couldn’t carry it. If it killed Him, what You think it’s gonna do to me? (26) While love ostensibly goes awry in this and other novels, these texts all reveal a complex network of circumstances and psychological motivations which curtail more wholesome choices, or else inhibit consciousness of those choices. Morrison’s suggestion that the “violence is a distortion of what, perhaps, we want to do” prompts much different responses to events that would otherwise be dismissed as “crime.” Given that there was perhaps some sound purpose preceding the violence, how-the novel asks-might we re-sound that purpose, unmake and remake the act? The narrative goal, therefore, usually involves a careful interrogation of how, if not why, loves goes awry, so as to disclose what Morrison calls “buried stimuli.” 25 In re-tracing the path leading to this “choice,” Morrison uncovers “both the stimulus and its galaxy” so that other options become available to both the characters and the reader. While Joe’s off-key love for Dorcas is the most blatant example of love that goes awry, it is not the only sign of dissonance in Jazz. Dissonance rings through True Belle’s parenting of her grandchildren, whose heads she filled with “stories about a little blond child” (208), overwhelming, undermining, almost erasing their self-image. It echoes through the story of the ring given to Felice by her mother, “A present taken from whitefolks, given to me when I was too young to say No thank you” (211). It reverberates as well in Alice’s determination to maintain “heated control” of Dorcas in order to prevent “unmarried and unmarriageable pregnancy. . . the end and close of livable life” (76-77). Alice Manfred’s effort to comprehend her dissonant parenting of Dorcas exemplifies the ways in which the discovery of “both the buried stimulus and its galaxy” enables the characters to imagine and re-make new possibilities, and re-sound a wholesome purpose. For Alice, the process begins with a focussed examination of the “remains”: At fifty-eight with no children of her own, and the one she had access to and responsibility for dead, she wondered about the hysteria, the violence, the damnation of pregnancy without marriageability. It had occupied her own parents’ mind completely for as long as she could remember them. They spoke to her firmly but carefully about her body . . . The moment she got breasts they were bound and resented, a resentment that increased to outright hatred of her pregnant possibilities and never stopped until she married Louis Manfred, when suddenly it was the opposite. (76) Like her parents before her, Alice’s primary concern was to protect her niece from predatory White males, and from Black folklife symbolized for her in the “dirty, get-in-down music the women sang and the men played and both danced to, close and shameless or apart and wild” (58). “Alice had been reraising her, correcting her, since the summer of 1917” (60). Convinced of her own “defenseless” because of “salesmen [who] touched her and only her as though she were part of the goods they had condescended to sell her,” “she hid [Dorcas’] hair in braids tucked under, lest whitemen see it raining round her shoulders and push dollar-wrapped fingers toward her” (54). Instead of “arming” Dorcas with the knowledge of her right to self-possession and self-defense as a way of negotiating this hostile environment, She instructed her about deafness and blindness . . . Taught her how to crawl along the walls of buildings, disappear into doorways, cut across corners in choked traffic-how to do anything, move anywhere to avoid a whiteboy over the age of eleven. Much of this she could effect with her dress, but as the girl grew older, more elaborate specifications had to be put in place. High-heeled shoes with the graceful straps across the arch, the vampy hats closed on the head with saucy brims framing the face, makeup of any kindall of that was outlawed in Alice Manfred’s house. (54-55) This dissonant expression of love take its toll: “By the time she was seventeen [Dorcas’s] whole life was unbearable” (63). In exploring the galaxy of buried stimuli shaping her treatment of Dorcas, Alice recalls her earlier consciousness of the suffocating effect of parental love consumed by fear: Growing up under that heated control, Alice swore she wouldn’t, but she did, pass it on. She passed it on to her baby sister’s only child. And wondered now would she have done so had her husband lived or stayed or if she had had children of her own. If he had been there, by her side, helping her make decisions, maybe she would not be sitting there waiting for a woman called Violent and thinking war thoughts. Although war was what it was. Which is why she had chosen surrender and made Dorcas her own prisoner of war. (77) Alice’s reflections lead to the recognition that Black women were not, as she had assumed, powerless. “Other women, however, had not surrendered. All over the country they were armed” (77). She recognizes that in failing to instill an awareness of her right to an inviolate self-possession, she had unwittingly allied herself with those forces opposed to her own and Dorcas’s survival. Alice’s decision to return to Springfield-the place in which she lost her husband, baby sister, brother-in-law, and much more-indicates the degree to which the exposure of “buried stimuli” provides access to other choices and generates new possibilities. Her new recognition-“You got anything left to you to love, anything at all, do it” (112)-matches her determination not to surrender, but to reclaim her own life.

Like Alice, Joe has a galaxy of buried stimuli that triggers his dissonant love for Dorcas. The primary stimulus underlying Joe’s “deepdown, spooky love” is “the inside nothing he traveled with” (36) ever since the woman he believed was his mother completed his unbelonging by failing to give him a sign. The importance of this world of longing and nothing within him is signaled by the fact that he shares it with Dorcas, “who knew better than people his own age what that inside nothing was like. And who filled it for him, just as he filled it for her, because she had it too” (37-38). With Dorcas he re-enacts the pattern of self-invention that epitomizes his orphan identity: I couldn’t talk to anybody but Dorcas and I told her things I hadn’t told myself. With her I was fresh, new again. Before I met her I’d changed into new seven times. The first time was when I named my own self, since nobody did it for me, since nobody knew what it could or should have been. (123) Although he traces the origin of his “inside nothing” to the moment when his mother failed to give him a sign of acknowledgment, Joe’s habit of self-invention suggests a much earlier beginning to this psychological condition. In fact, his admission, “I’ve been a new Negro all my life” (129), indicates that he never possessed a conscious core personality or a conscious past. While he views the habit of self-invention as a survival strategy fashioned to cope with the many crises in his life, it is both an incomplete strategy and a sign of his incomplete maturity-what Hunters Hunter calls his “unmothering” (167). Since he has no core personality and no conscious past, he is “free” to become whatever/whomever opportunity or necessity dictates. Even his marriage, we learn, reflects this lack of a core personality: “Like me saying, `All right, Violet, I’ll marry you,’ just because I couldn’t see whether a wildwoman put out her hand or not” (181). In re-living and examining his past, Joe realizes that for the “old people,” the ancestors, the key to survival was not change but improvisation-the duality of newness and sameness. As he recalls, “if you was or claimed to be colored, you had to be new and stay the same every day the sun rose and every night it dropped” (135). This understanding facilitates a necessary and healing engagement with his own past: “A lot of the time, they stay home figuring things out, telling each other those little personal stories they like to hear again and again” (223). In the configuration of patterns of repetition and resolution in the novel, Morrison demonstrates that within the blues is a commitment to affirming and increasing the human capacity for transformation through self-analysis, selfunderstanding, and self-correction. Governing the blues is an ethic that insists on a declaration (sounding) of wrongdoing. In composition after composition, the stance is unfailingly one of boldly acknowledging the “weakness” that drove the person to the particular wrong. The singer admits his/her responsibility for a variety of wrongful actions ranging from infidelity to extravagant spending. In other compositions, the singer describes a state of passivity or depression, but counters with the declaration of a plan of action soon to be implemented. Blame or responsibility is never displaced. Instead, the singer takes responsibility for what has happened and for what must happen. In Morrison’s earlier novel, Tar Baby, the protagonist, Son, invokes this ethic in explaining his flight from a prison sentence: “I didn’t want their punishment. I wanted my own” (147). Consistent with this blues ethic, Joe is unaffected by the possibility of prosecution, and unwilling to deny his own culpability. He is devastated by what he has done and bewildered by his inability to figure out what he must do: “All of it’s mine. All of it. I’ll never get over what I did to that girl. Never” (129). While the patterns of betrayal in the novel are quite conventional, the concept of social ethics in Jazz is striking. Morrison takes great pains to imagine and depict the re-fashioned social relationship resulting from the characters’ expanded interpretive capacity. For Violet, Alice, Joe, and Felice moral agency increases with interpretive agency. As the characters learn to interpret their own motivations and actions, they are able to construct more wholesome patterns of interacting. For example, instead of the limited view of her rival as a “hussy,” Alice comes to a new understanding of this woman’s life and challenges Violet, Or maybe you want to stomp somebody with three kids and one pair of shoes. Somebody in a raggedy dress, the hem dragging in the mud. Somebody wanting arms just like you do and you want to go over there and hold her but her dress is muddy at the hem and the people standing around wouldn’t understand how could anybody’s eyes go so flat, how could they? (113) Morrison’s objective in Jazz is not simply to uncover the galaxy of buried stimuli motivating the actions of a handful of Black people or to reveal the means by which this “handful” reclaims and re-sounds a wholesome purpose. Rather, the novel’s most important contribution is in providing a mechanism for uncovering the many galaxies that constitute our entire social universe, and, thereby, a blueprint for constructing more fully human relationships. Indeed, Jazz re-sounds the purpose identified by James Baldwin fully three decades earlier, in 1962: One is not attempting to save twenty million people. One is attempting to save an entire country and that means an entire civilization, and the price for that is high. The price for that is to understand one’s self. 26


‘ For the students in my Spring 1998 senior seminar, African Epic and the Diaspora Novel, at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. (JSR) And for the students in my Fall 1997 Multicultural American Literature and Spring 1998 Black Narrative courses at Hunter College-CUNY. (ECM) 2 Toni Morrison, “The Site of Memory,” p. 112.

3 Stephen Henderson, Understanding the New Black Poetry: Black Speech & Black Music as Poetic References (4).

I In her folklore writings collected in The Sanctified Church, Zora Neale Hurston began a preliminary exploration of these aspects. Hurston’s discussion of the “Characteristics of Negro Expression” (circa 1930s) is particularly noteworthy.

‘ Among the works which have addressed this philosophical content are Houston Baker’s Blues, Ideology, and Afro-American Literature, Henry Louis Gates’s The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism, LeRoi Jones’s Blues People, Geneva Smitherman’s Talkin and Testifyin, Isidore Okpewho’s African Oral Narratives, and James Cone’s The Spirituals and the Blues, in which he writes “there is a complex world of thought underlying the slave songs that has so far escaped analysis” (19).

6 For further discussion of epistemology in Black women’s writing, see Judylyn S. Ryan, “Spirituality and/as Ideology in Black Women’s Literature: The Preaching of Maria W. Stewart and Baby Suggs, Holy” in Women Preachers and Prophets through Two Millennia of Christianity (267-287). 7 For an analysis of the structural components of African epic, see John William Johnson, “Yes, Virginia, There is an Epic in Africa,” and Isidore Okpewho, The Epic in Africa. s In its psychological, spiritual, and physical violence, the institution of Slavery demanded that Black people acquiesce to a death-wish. Every opposing act necessarily constituted an expression of self-love.

9 See Arthur Taylor (Ed.), Notes and Tones: Musician-to-Musician Interviews (156). ‘o As defined by Houston Baker, “commercial deportation” “signifies an involuntary transport of human beings as opposed to the export and import of will-less merchandise.” See Blues, Ideology, and Afro-American Literature 24.

” See Robert Stepto’s From Behind the Veil: A Study of Afro-American Narrative for a discussion of what Stepto calls the journey of “ascent,” prompted by “confining social structures” (67-68). 12 By way of explaining this continuing reticence, Zora Neale Hurston wrote, in the 1935 “Introduction” to Mules and Men, that Black people “are most reluctant at times to reveal that which the soul lives by” (2). In a social environment demonstrably hostile to their well-being, a healthy survival instinct would-naturally-have generated a “reluctance” to disclose information about such a vital resource.

“3 Pierre Nora, “Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Memoire,” 284. 14 This term is borrowed from the title of Toni Morrison’s essay, “The Site of Memory,” in which the writer describes her fiction as “literary archeology” designed to “reconstruct the world that these remains[-t memories-limply” ( 112).

” In his essay “African Culture and Slavery in the United States,” Lawrence Levine cites Clark’s observations at a”public lecture, Berkeley, Calif., Fall 1973″ (107). In the essay, Levine underscores the importance of Clark’s observation for scholarly methodology. Levine notes that the “preoccupation with the problem of origins” is based on a “methodological fallacy” (103). “The question, as Veve Clark has put it so well, is not one of survivals but of transformations” (104). 16 “The Site of Memory,” (108).

17 Langston Hughes, “Jazz as Communication” in The Langston Hughes Reader (492494). Ia See Acts 10:36-41 NRSV.

19 The novel also “samples” The Black Book (1974), a project conceptualized as the “scrapbook” of an imagined “three-hundred-year-old black man” for which Morrison served as editor. 20 See Frances Smith Foster, Witnessing Slavery: The Development of the Antebellum Slave Narrative, 85.

2′ Albert Murray, Stomping the Blues (3-6).

22 “The Seams Can’t Show: An Interview with Toni Morrison,” Jane Bakennan, Black American

LiteratureForum 12 (1978) (59).

Interview with Toni Morrison, on “Charlie Rose,” January 19, 1998. ‘ “Memory, Creation, and Writing,” 385. 1 James Baldwin, “The Artist’s Struggle for Integrity.”


Baker, Houston. Blues, Ideology, and Afro-American Literarture: A Vernacular Theory. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1984.

Baldwin, James. “The Artist’s Struggle for Integrity.” 1962. Jeffrey Norton Publishers Tape Library. Billops, Camille. Ed. The Harlem Book of the Dead. New York: Morgan & Morgan, Inc., 1978. Budge, E. A Wallis. Trans. The Egyptian Book of the Dead: The Papyrus of Ani. 18?? New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1967.

Coltrane, John. “A Love Supreme.” 1966. California: MCA Records. Cone, James H. The Spirituals and the Blues: An Interpretation. 1972. New York: Orbis, 1992. Creel, Margaret Washington. “Gullah Attitudes Toward Life and Death.” Africanism in American Culture. Ed. Joseph E. Holloway. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1990. 69-97. DuBois, W. E. B. The Souls ofBlack Folk. 1903. New York: Penguin, 1989. Fabre, Genevieve, and O’Meally, Robert. Eds. History & Memory in African-American Culture. NewYork Oxford, 1994.

Foster, Frances Smith. Witnessing Slavery: The Developement of the Antebellum Slave Narrative. 1979. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1994.

Garland, David Punishment and Modern Society:A Study in Social Theory. New York: Oxford UP, 1990.

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism. NewYork: Oxford UP, 1988.

Harris, Joseph E. Ed Global Dimensions of the African Diaspora. Washington, D. C.: Howard UP, 1993.

Henderson, Stephen. Understanding the New Black Poetry: Black Speech and Black Music as Poetic References.

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