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In the Break

The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition

2003
Author:

Fred Moten

In the Break

Investigates the connections between jazz, sexual identity, and radical black politics

Fred Moten investigates the provocative connections between jazz, sexual identity, and radical black politics. He focuses in particular on the brilliant improvisatory jazz of John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, Eric Dolphy, Charles Mingus, and others, arguing that all black performance—culture, politics, sexuality, identity, and blackness itself—is improvisation.

An ambitious work, In the Break shows that the classic opposition between singularity and totality is invalidated by black thought, history, life, and culture. In the Break is a truly original and inventive work that needs to be read and heard.

Avery Gordon, author of Ghostly Matters

In his controversial essay on white jazz musician Burton Greene, Amiri Baraka asserted that jazz was exclusively an African American art form and explicitly fused the idea of a black aesthetic with radical political traditions of the African diaspora. In the Break is an extended riff on “The Burton Greene Affair,” exploring the tangled relationship between black avant-garde in music and literature in the 1950s and 1960s, the emergence of a distinct form of black cultural nationalism, and the complex engagement with and disavowal of homoeroticism that bridges the two. Fred Moten focuses in particular on the brilliant improvisatory jazz of John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, Eric Dolphy, Charles Mingus, and others, arguing that all black performance—culture, politics, sexuality, identity, and blackness itself—is improvisation.

For Moten, improvisation provides a unique epistemological standpoint from which to investigate the provocative connections between black aesthetics and Western philosophy. He engages in a strenuous critical analysis of Western philosophy (Heidegger, Kant, Husserl, Wittgenstein, and Derrida) through the prism of radical black thought and culture. As the critical, lyrical, and disruptive performance of the human, Moten’s concept of blackness also brings such figures as Frederick Douglass and Karl Marx, Cecil Taylor and Samuel R. Delany, Billie Holiday and William Shakespeare into conversation with each other.

Stylistically brilliant and challenging, much like the music he writes about, Moten’s wide-ranging discussion embraces a variety of disciplines—semiotics, deconstruction, genre theory, social history, and psychoanalysis—to understand the politicized sexuality, particularly homoeroticism, underpinning black radicalism. In the Break is the inaugural volume in Moten’s ambitious intellectual project-to establish an aesthetic genealogy of the black radical tradition.


In the Break

Fred Moten is associate professor of African American studies and visual studies at the University of California, Irvine.

In the Break

An ambitious work, In the Break shows that the classic opposition between singularity and totality is invalidated by black thought, history, life, and culture. In the Break is a truly original and inventive work that needs to be read and heard.

Avery Gordon, author of Ghostly Matters

Moten makes great sense of the author’s complementary attractions of ‘same’ and ‘change.’

Rough Pages

Fred Moten’s dynamic and ambitious In the Break explores the tension between jazz’s social and aesthetic dimensions as the animating force behind the music, contextualizing the avant-garde work of the 1960s within a narrative arc that encompasses the entire history of the African diaspora.

American Quarterly

The result of Moten’s work is always more than a performance, more than the aggregate of gestures that falls within the valorized space of performative writing: In the Break marks an event according to the terms with which Moten describes it—encounter, ensemble, improvisation, and the invocation of the knowledge of freedom.

MLN

It’s a work that rewards careful study and repeated consultation, and invites extension, development, debate, and sustained intellectual improvisation on its protean themes.

Cross Cultural Poetics

In the Break mounts a poststructuralist assault upon the sovereign subject, disciplined sexuality, and gender training.

American Literary History

In the Break

Contents

Acknowledgments

Resistance of the Object: Aunt Hester’s Scream

1. The Sentimental Avant-Garde Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love
Voices/Forces
Sound in Florescence (Cecil Taylor Floating Garden)
Praying with Eric
2. In the Break Tragedy, Elegy
The Dark Lady and the Sexual Cut
German Inversion
’Round the Five Spot
3. Visible Music
Baldwin’s Baraka, His Mirror Stage, the Sound of His Gaze
Black Mo’nin’ in the Sound of the Photograph
Tonality of Totality
Resistance of the Object: Adrian Piper’s Theatricality

Notes

Index