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“IT DON’T ‘MEAN’ A THING”: TIME AND THE READER IN JAZZ FICTIONAL NARRATIVE

Abstract
The central aim of this project is to theorize a more rigorous and nuanced conception of “jazz fiction.” By this, I mean novels and short stories that are not merely about jazz, but those which strive to “be jazz” in their attempts to imitate, evoke, or “metaphorically suggest” the music on a formal level. This becomes partially a study of temporality. If the most distinguishing feature of jazz music is its unique use of rhythm, and rhythm is essentially the arrangement of musical units within the temporal dimension, then the manner by which jazz texts deal with time on a formal level constitutes a crucial aspect of inquiry—one which has received remarkably little scholarly attention. “Swing,” in Joachim Berendt’s words, “postulates a regularity of rhythmic time in order to disrupt it.” Western fictional narrative, too, postulates a regularity of time by various means—the Aristotelian dramatic arc, the teleological progression from a text’s beginning toward its “a narrative destiny” in the final lines, and the actual order of events within a story’s fabula versus the order in which they are narrated. These can be manipulated by the jazz writer, “played against,” as it were, through such maneuvers as irregular chronological sequencing, shifting perspective, and sudden, seemingly-improvised turns of plot to effect an impression of poly-rhythmicality and what Jurgen Grandt calls “narrative swing time.” This, in addition to narratological theories such as Gérard Genette’s “order, duration, and frequency,” underscore the yet untapped musico-literary insights still offered by formalist and structuralist approaches. Such approaches get us only so far, however, because time and rhythm are both understood as experiential phenomena, i.e., matters of perception. Indeed, it is only by the initial establishing of rhythmic expectations within the ear of the listener that rhythmic aberrations can be appreciated at all. Moreover, jazz performance is an inherently interactive practice, a transaction not just among players within an ensemble, but also between the ensemble and the audience. Thus, my approach also borrows heavily from reader reception-based theory, which implicates the reader as a co-agent of the text’s rhythm, and ultimately its “meaning.”
Type
campusfive
article
dissertation
Date
2022-05-13
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http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
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