Art and Literature in the Jazz Age: From New York to Paris Instructor: Dr. Marieke Kalkhove
Course Website: jazzagenytoparis.weebly.com
Days: Mondays, May 27 – Jun 24, 2013
Time: 13:30 p.m. – 15:30 p.m.
Location: 12th Floor, Desmarais Hall
The roaring ’20s in New York and Paris can be understood as a contradictory age of both sexual liberation and restricted freedoms: the flapper resisted the post-war desire to return to traditional gender norms, Coco Chanel disrupted accepted notions of beauty and gender, and artists in both cities rejected the increasing industrialization of society after the First World War. During the prohibition in New York, both African-Americans and white Americans increasingly began to visit jazz clubs in Harlem, making jazz and African-American dance popular among the black and white population alike. While New York saw a blossoming of African-American art, music, theatre, and literature called the Harlem Renaissance, artists in Paris similarly began to experiment with new art forms—such as synthetic cubism and surrealism. Attracted to the (artistic) freedoms and the Bohemian lifestyle that Paris had to offer, American authors, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, moved to Paris - becoming part of the so-called “lost generation”. Famous African-American musicians, such as Josephine Baker, also left for Paris, contributing to the growing jazz scene in Montmartre. This five-week activity examines experiments in literary and visual art forms that reflect the changing perspectives on politics, gender, and sexuality. Comparing and contrasting art movements in New York and Paris, we will read excerpts from Harlem-Renaissance writers Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, discuss Gertrude Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, and watch an avant-garde film. To “recreate” the atmosphere of the jazz years in the classroom, we will play music, watch old video clips, and look at early-twentieth century paintings.
Harlem Renaissance Readings, Course Package
Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (Available online: http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks06/0608711.txt)
Gertrude Stein, “If I Told Him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso” (Course Package)
Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí, Un Chien Andalou (film – available on course website)
William A. Shack, Harlem in Montmartre: A Paris Jazz Story Between the Great Wars
Michel Fabre, From Harlem to Paris: Black American Writers in France, 1840-1980
Houston A. Baker, Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance
Christa Schwarz, Gay voices of the Harlem Renaissance Additional Resources:
Schedule of Readings:
Week 1 (May 27): From New York to Paris: Jazz, Harlem, The Great War and the flapper
Week 2 (June 3): The Harlem Renaissance: W.E.B. de Bois, Countée Cullen, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes
Recommended Readings: “The Harlem Renaissance,” “Excerpt from the New Negro,” “How It Feels to Be Colored Me,” “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” “What Happens to a Dream Deferred,” “The Weary Blues,” “Heritage.”
Week 3 (June 10): Harlem in Paris: Louis Mitchell, Ada Bricktop Smith, Josephine Baker
Week 4 (June 17): An Artists’ Circle in Paris: The Lost Generation and the Gertrude Stein and Pablo Picasso Collaboration
Recommended Readings: Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas and “If I Told Him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso”
Week 5 (June 24): A Critical Comparison: Harlem Realism vs. Modernist Experimentation?
Recommended Readings: Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí, Un Chien Andalou (film)
The Harlem Renaissance
The Harlem Renaissance was a flourishing period of artistic and literary creation in African-American culture generally and among the "New Negroes" of Harlem in particular. Most chroniclers of the renaissance—e.g., Anderson, Huggins, Lewis—define the period as beginning with the increased militancy and racial pride symbolized by the 1919 parade of black veterans through Harlem and ending with the economic collapse of the Great Depression. Houston Baker has argued for an expanded view of "renaissancism" as characteristic of the modernist "mastery of form" and "deformation of mastery" in African-American art from the turn of the century to World War II. Participants in the renaissance saw it as a period of realist, non-stereotyped art, which broke with the genteel and didactic Negro writing of the previous century. Despite the contributions of various musicians, painters, actors, and other artists, most critics of the renaissance have focused on the writers who were drawn to Harlem: Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Nella Larsen, Claude McKay, and others. The artists of the period were supported and influenced by black editors—W.E.B. Du Bois, Jessie Fauset, Charles Johnson, Alain Locke—and white patrons—Charlotte Osgood Mason, the Spingarn family, and Carl van Vechten—who have been variously referred to as “midwives” of the renaissance. The period van be seen as a precursor of later movements for African-American cultural autonomy and race consciousness.
(The Columbia Dictionary of Modern Literary and Cultural Criticism edited by Joseph W. Childers and Gary Hentzi, 130)
Excerpt from “The New Negro”
by Alain Locke (1925)
Here in Manhattan is not merely the largest Negro community in the world, but the first concentration in history of so many diverse elements of Negro life. It has attracted the African, the West Indian, the Negro American; has brought together the Negro of the North and the Negro of the South; the man from the city and the man from the town and village; the peasant, the student, the business man, the professional man, artist, poet, musician, adventurer and worker, preacher and criminal, exploiter and social outcast. Each group has come with its own separate motives and for its own special ends, but their greatest experience has been the finding of one another. Proscription and prejudice have thrown these dissimilar elements into a common area of contact and interaction. Within this area, race sympathy and unity have determined a further fusing of sentiment and experience. So what began in terms of segregation becomes more anymore, as its elements mix and react, the laboratory of a great race-welding. Hitherto, it must be admitted that American Negroes have been a race more in name than in fact, or to be exact, more in sentiment than in experience. The chief bond between them has been that of a common condition rather than a common consciousness; a problem in common rather than a life in common. In Harlem, Negro life is seizing upon its first chances for group expression and self-determination. That is why our comparison is taken with those nascent centers of folk-expression and self-determination which are playing a creative part in the world today. Without pretense to their political significance, Harlem has the same role to play for the New Negro as Dublin has had for the New Ireland or Prague for the New Czechoslovakia.
How It Feels to Be Colored Me
by Zora Neale Hurston (1928)
1 I am colored but I offer nothing in the way of extenuating circumstances except the fact that I am the only Negro in the United States whose grandfather on the mother's side was not an Indian chief.
2 I remember the very day that I became colored. Up to my thirteenth year I lived in the little Negro town of Eatonville, Florida. It is exclusively a colored town. The only white people I knew passed through the town going to or coming from Orlando. The native whites rode dusty horses, the Northern tourists chugged down the sandy village road in automobiles. The town knew the Southerners and never stopped cane chewing when they passed. But the Northerners were something else again. They were peered at cautiously from behind curtains by the timid. The more venturesome would come out on the porch to watch them go past and got just as much pleasure out of the tourists as the tourists got out of the village.
3 The front porch might seem a daring place for the rest of the town, but it was a gallery seat for me. My favorite place was atop the gatepost. Proscenium box for a born first-nighter. Not only did I enjoy the show, but I didn't mind the actors knowing that I liked it. I usually spoke to them in passing. I'd wave at them and when they returned my salute, I would say something like this: "Howdy-do-well-I-thank-you-where-you-goin'?" Usually automobile or the horse paused at this, and after a queer exchange of compliments, I would probably "go a piece of the way" with them, as we say in farthest Florida. If one of my family happened to come to the front in time to see me, of course negotiations would be rudely broken off. But even so, it is clear that I was the first "welcome-to-our-state" Floridian, and I hope the Miami Chamber of Commerce will please take notice.
4 During this period, white people differed from colored to me only in that they rode through town and never lived there. They liked to hear me "speak pieces" and sing and wanted to see me dance the parse-me-la, and gave me generously of their small silver for doing these things, which seemed strange to me for I wanted to do them so much that I needed bribing to stop, only they didn't know it. The colored people gave no dimes. They deplored any joyful tendencies in me, but I was their Zora nevertheless. I belonged to them, to the nearby hotels, to the county--everybody's Zora.
5 But changes came in the family when I was thirteen, and I was sent to school in Jacksonville. I left Eatonville, the town of the oleanders, a Zora. When I disembarked from the river-boat at Jacksonville, she was no more. It seemed that I had suffered a sea change. I was not Zora of Orange County any more, I was now a little colored girl. I found it out in certain ways. In my heart as well as in the mirror, I became a fast brown--warranted not to rub nor run.
6 But I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all. I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are all but about it. Even in the helter-skelter skirmish that is my life, I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more of less. No, I do not weep at the world--I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.
7 Someone is always at my elbow reminding me that I am the granddaughter of slaves. It fails to register depression with me. Slavery is sixty years in the past. The operation was successful and the patient is doing well, thank you. The terrible struggle that made me an American out of a potential slave said "On the line!" The Reconstruction said "Get set!" and the generation before said "Go!" I am off to a flying start and I must not halt in the stretch to look behind and weep. Slavery is the price I paid for civilization, and the choice was not with me. It is a bully adventure and worth all that I have paid through my ancestors for it. No one on earth ever had a greater chance for glory. The world to be won and nothing to be lost. It is thrilling to think--to know that for any act of mine, I shall get twice as much praise or twice as much blame. It is quite exciting to hold the center of the national stage, with the spectators not knowing whether to laugh or to weep.
8 The position of my white neighbor is much more difficult. No brown specter pulls up a chair beside me when I sit down to eat. No dark ghost thrusts its leg against mine in bed. The game of keeping what one has is never so exciting as the game of getting.
9 I do not always feel colored. Even now I often achieve the unconscious Zora of Eatonville before the Hegira. I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.
10 For instance at Barnard. "Beside the waters of the Hudson" I feel my race. Among the thousand white persons, I am a dark rock surged upon, and overswept, but through it all, I remain myself. When covered by the waters, I am; and the ebb but reveals me again.
11 Sometimes it is the other way around. A white person is set down in our midst, but the contrast is just as sharp for me. For instance, when I sit in the drafty basement that is The New World Cabaret with a white person, my color comes. We enter chatting about any little nothing that we have in common and are seated by the jazz waiters. In the abrupt way that jazz orchestras have, this one plunges into a number. It loses no time in circumlocutions, but gets right down to business. It constricts the thorax and splits the heart with its tempo and narcotic harmonies. This orchestra grows rambunctious, rears on its hind legs and attacks the tonal veil with primitive fury, rending it, clawing it until it breaks through to the jungle beyond. I follow those heathen--follow them exultingly. I dance wildly inside myself; I yell within, I whoop; I shake my assegai above my head, I hurl it true to the mark yeeeeooww! I am in the jungle and living in the jungle way. My face is painted red and yellow and my body is painted blue. My pulse is throbbing like a war drum. I want to slaughter something--give pain, give death to what, I do not know. But the piece ends. The men of the orchestra wipe their lips and rest their fingers. I creep back slowly to the veneer we call civilization with the last tone and find the white friend sitting motionless in his seat, smoking calmly.
12 "Good music they have here," he remarks, drumming the table with his fingertips.
13 Music. The great blobs of purple and red emotion have not touched him. He has only heard what I felt. He is far away and I see him but dimly across the ocean and the continent that have fallen between us. He is so pale with his whiteness then and I am so colored.
14 At certain times I have no race, I am me. When I set my hat at a certain angle and saunter down Seventh Avenue, Harlem City, feeling as snooty as the lions in front of the Forty-Second Street Library, for instance. So far as my feelings are concerned, Peggy Hopkins Joyce on the Boule Mich with her gorgeous raiment, stately carriage, knees knocking together in a most aristocratic manner, has nothing on me. The cosmic Zora emerges. I belong to no race nor time. I am the eternal feminine with its string of beads.
15 I have no separate feeling about being an American citizen and colored. I am merely a fragment of the Great Soul that surges within the boundaries. My country, right or wrong.
16 Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It's beyond me.
17 But in the main, I feel like a brown bag of miscellany propped against a wall. Against a wall in company with other bags, white, red and yellow. Pour out the contents, and there is discovered a jumble of small things priceless and worthless. A first-water diamond, an empty spool, bits of broken glass, lengths of string, a key to a door long since crumbled away, a rusty knife-blade, old shoes saved for a road that never was and never will be, a nail bent under the weight of things too heavy for any nail, a dried flower or two still a little fragrant. In your hand is the brown bag. On the ground before you is the jumble it held--so much like the jumble in the bags, could they be emptied, that all might be dumped in a single heap and the bags refilled without altering the content of any greatly. A bit of colored glass more or less would not matter. Perhaps that is how the Great Stuffer of Bags filled them in the first place--who knows?
The Negro Speaks of Rivers
by Langston Hughes
I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human veins.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy
bosom turn all golden in the sunset.
I've known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
What happens to a dream deferred?
by Langston Hughes
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
The Weary Blues
by Langston Hughes (1923)
1 Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,
2 Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,
3 I heard a Negro play.
4 Down on Lenox Avenue the other night
5 By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light
6 He did a lazy sway....
7 He did a lazy sway....
8 To the tune o' those Weary Blues.
9 With his ebony hands on each ivory key
10 He made that poor piano moan with melody.
11 O Blues!
12 Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool
13 He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool.
14 Sweet Blues!
15 Coming from a black man's soul.
16 O Blues!
17 In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone
18 I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan--
19 "Ain't got nobody in all this world,
20 Ain't got nobody but ma self.
21 I's gwine to quit ma frownin'
22 And put ma troubles on the shelf."
23 Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor.
24 He played a few chords then he sang some more--
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