Saturday, November 5, 2005
Wynton Marsalis's jazz politics.
Jazz lovers will be especially interested in Wynton Marsalis's New Republic essay on rebuilding New Orleans, in which he introduces a political philosophy of swing:
Swing is a philosophy of steadfastness. It instructs us to maintain an equilibrium when external forces are conspiring to tear it apart. At the heart of swing, two extremely different instruments—the drum and the bass—must be played with absolutely the same intentions. The cymbal that is struck on every beat by the drummer is in the high high register, and the bass notes, also articulated on every beat, are in the way way low. In order to swing, these extremes must get together, and then they must stay together. If you think getting together is hard, then you probably know that staying together is practically impossible. Anyone can swing for a few measures—but swinging is a matter of endurance. It tests the limits of your ability to work with another person to create a mutual feeling.
That is what is required of the citizens of this country now: sustained engagement with the issues that have been raised by this tragedy.
Can Americans swing together — rather than, you know, at each other?
A lot of people are focused not on coming together or working together, but on driving people apart. Wedge politics, no matter how entertaining and effective in the short term, are morally appalling — and if liberals were even remotely powerful, I'd say something here about the wedge movements on the left. But I find it hard not to notice that the divisive national politics in the United States right now are being driven by the right and amplified by the partisanship of the G.O.P.
Does saying that make me a divider? I don't think so. But acknowledging that fact puts liberals like me in a awkward spot when we are also committed to dialogue, compromise, pragmatism, and the commonweal. If you're tempted to say that I'm a hypocrite for wanting dialogue when I'm also convinced that the conservative movement has deliberately adopted a politics of division in order to consolidate its power, I see what you're getting at — but the even bigger problem is what to do about conservatives who aren't interested in dialogue but are interested in power. Because, friends, dialogue and swing aren't the dominant motifs in America these days. I'm a liberal committed to moderatism, but who's playing that tune anymore?
For more on the political — and theological — implications of jazz, by the way, see my friend and colleague Tom Stites's essay "Improvisational Faith" (UU World, Sept-Oct 2003).
("Strength in Swing," Wynton Marsalis, New Republic 11.7.05)
Copyright © 2005 by Philocrites | Posted 5 November 2005 at 11:18 AM