Saturday, June 19, 2010

Poetry, Jazz & Freedom by Rene Menil

It is the existence in itself of jazz, of major importance to us, that has more than any critical thinking caused us to understand the stylistic character and content of a work in its historical context and even its limitations and to grant the value of spontaneity to these works only.

In its essence jazz is improvisation. If one created a theory of esthetics using jazz as a basis, it would mean creating it using as a means the invention of the marvelous as one went along. Because jazz itself is the result of a process using the very contradictions of being and its style consists of forming by means of music or any other means (note this also applies to poetry) - emotions and images in progression, as they occur in the minds eye. Any blockage, any laziness, any rigidification of life threatens the true development of this delicate crystallization.

No rhythm is set before the beginning.

No meaning is conceived before hand.

No rhythm, no meaning except a passion for being - a being dedicated to a desire that demands its realization - or its substitution in the sublimation of "song."

The musician doesn't know, cannot know, what his next note will be, nor will he know his next phrase, or the next possible adventure.

But he leaps like a rope-dancer on the tight rope of chance.

A work of beauty is a work of chance.

However, how many agree with Goethe when he says that the only works of lasting value are works of chance?

At this point our existence is drugged by the poison of eternity. Jazz is one of the best antidotes to that poison, creating in us the feeling of the moment, of transition.

For us, we do not hesitate to view the moment, whatever it is called, as the arena where all the problems that are common to humankind must be resolved from the world of music or any other. In the moment is found all the previous instants to a particular action in the process of becoming - since, in any thing that exists "that which has been superceded is at the same time also preserved, and in losing its immediate and apparent existence, is not destroyed." (Hegel)

The moment of being exists in the present, however, the present itself exists in a particular existence that is the outcome of its extension through duration in time.

Thus, for things that exist, there is no contradiction that cannot be reconciled between the past and the present except the one that exists in the minds of those who attempt to abstract its essence. Likewise in a society there is no contradiction between creations that are contemporary and those that are the past, between new works (not yet accepted) and the existing culture; the new creation although it may not be "valued" or regarded presently as valuable - combines all the resources of that particular social group that is being considered.

A poet is not contemporary because he is familiar with the past or has rejected it, but because he exists as a dialectical outcome of those stages of past existence. Thus at the same time, he is a living negation and a living preservation of all the old cultural forms. His contemporary aspect will be broader and of a greater value because of the fact that it is a totality formed of the past.

Cultural traditions that are reflected by the poet cannot serve as a model, there is no model for what has not yet come into existence. It will exist, however, as a pillar of the past and thus situates the poet in his time inflexibly; it makes him a poet who is modern in a time that is modern.

So much for the freedom of poetry: before us the future unformed.

Tropiques, no. 11 (1944); translated by Juliet Petremont

Taken from the anthology,
Black, Brown & Beige: Surrealist Writings From Africa and the Diaspora
edited by Franklin Rosemont & Robin D.G. Kelley
University of Texas, 2009

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