April 25th at 4:30 in Willard Smith Library
Abstract: References to the Black aesthetic typically raise worries about invidious essentialism - about a system of norms for producing or evaluating artworks that takes its cues from a troubling racial metaphysics. As it happens, though, careful reflection on the traditions of work that pre-theoretically seem to count as instances of black aesthetics reveal something less essentialist than, as Stuart Hall puts it, 'conjunctural.' Seen in this way, 'black aesthetics' names a diverse and sprawling set of practices, principles, events, and objects that, despite differences in style, political ideology, ethnic origin, and much else, tend to take up similar questions and work through them using similar conceptual resources. Focusing on black aesthetics as a conjunctural enterprise reveals the degree to which a few familiar themes have organized the theory and practice of black expressive culture across time, space, and philosophical orientation.
"Make It Funky: Soul and Style" uses contemporary research on musical experience to explore one of the familiar themes from the black aesthetic tradition. Racialized blackness has typically been bound up with peculiar ideas about rhythm, musical responsiveness, and dance. I will consider this complex of ideas and assumptions by reading the experience of funk music through some contemporary research in neuroscience and musicology. My aim will be to identify the best story about how this music moves us, and to explain how we can think of music that moves us in this way as black music while still avoiding problematic forms of essentialism.