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|Title:||Black Urban Modernity of the Harlem Renaissance: A Dialectical Negotiation between Urban Individuality and Community in Toni Morrison’s Jazz|
Toni Morrison;Jazz (1992);the Harlem Renaissance;urban modernity;urban individuality;community
|Issue Date:||2016-05-13 14:45:08 (UTC+8)|
Inspired by a photograph taken by James Van Der Zee in 1926 of a dead black girl lying in a decorated coffin, Morrison sets out to write a revisionist history of the Harlem Renaissance, or the Jazz Age, in the 1920s in her sixth novel and the second of her love trilogy, Jazz (1992). And, without mentioning, let alone celebrating, the cultural, artistic, social, and even political events and accomplishments of the Harlem Renaissance, Morrison offers her own revisionist history of Harlem by depicting the experiences and traumas of migrant blacks from the South. But what is so unique about Morrison’s literary historiography of the life of Harlem in Jazz? What are the unspoken aspects of the urban experiences of African Americans in Harlem? What are the similarities and differences between the social life of the blacks of the rural South and that of migrant blacks from the South in the urban North? How do the urban experiences of the migrant blacks contest and destabilize the popular formulations of urban experiences observed and developed by certain white, male theorists? In other words, how does Morrison represent and conceptualize a distinctive form of urban modernity in the region of Harlem of New York in the context of the Northern Migration and Harlem Renaissance? In light of Jennifer Robinson’s “ordinary-city” approach to urban studies elaborated in her Ordinary Cities: Between Modernity and Development (2006), I argue that Morrison’s vision of urban modernity, derived from her observations of the black migrants of Harlem in the 1920s, differs partially from the understandings of urban modernity of white, middle-class, male theorists, such as Georg Simmel and his followers Robert Park and Louis Wirth. Robinson’s “ordinary city” approach seeks to dislocate understandings of urban modernity from certain western theorizations on such metropolises as Berlin and Paris. Privileging certain western metropolises as the origins and sources of what constitutes the urban modern leads to a hierarchical, ethnocentric evaluation of cities without being able to appreciate and understand the urban phenomena and experiences of diverse social groups in different histories and geographies. The “ordinary city” approach does not dismiss the importance of the observations of the established western, male theorists, but aims to explore the particular form of urban modernity of every city by dislodging the privileged relationship between the West and modernity. Specifically, instead of focusing only on the possibility and development of a unique form of individuality in the urban milieu in the early twentieth century, Morrison in Jazz seeks to demonstrate that, as a racial minority in a white supremacist society, African Americans in Harlem develop a black urban modernity, a dialectical negotiation between individuality and community, which is represented through the narrator’s diverse and contradictory observations of the urban experiences of the blacks and also through the struggles of the protagonists, Violet and Joe, who negotiate not only with the traumatic loss of their own mothers and families in their childhood in the South, but also with the unique kind of urban loneliness as well as their gradual detachment from the black communities both in the South and the City during their urban life in Harlem.
The Wenshan Review of Literature and Culture
|Appears in Collections:||[Wenshan Review of Literature and Culture] Articles|
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