Anti-Music: Jazz and Racial Blackness in German Thought between the Wars

SUNY Press
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 Examines how African American jazz music was received in Germany both as a racial and cultural threat and as a partner in promoting the rise of Nazi totalitarian cultural politics.
Anti-Music examines the critical, literary, and political responses to African American jazz music in interwar Germany. During this time, jazz was the subject of overt political debate between left-wing and right-wing interests: for the left, jazz marked the death knell of authoritarian Prussian society; for the right, jazz was complicit as an American import threatening the chaos of modernization and mass politics. This conflict was resolved in the early 1930s as the left abandoned jazz in the face of Nazi victory, having come to see the music in collusion with the totalitarian culture industry. Mark Christian Thompson recounts the story of this intellectual trajectory and describes how jazz came to be associated with repressive, virulently racist fascism in Germany. By examining writings by Hermann Hesse, Bertolt Brecht, T.W. Adorno, and Klaus Mann, and archival photographs and images, Thompson brings together debates in German, African American, and jazz studies, and charts a new path for addressing antiblack racism in cultural criticism and theory.

“This book synthesizes the ideological reception of jazz amongst a series of key German thinkers and cultural producers from the interwar era. It offers bold, sophisticated readings of their texts and of how they conceived of racial blackness. It is a major contribution to the field.” — Andrew Wright Hurley, author of The Return of Jazz: Joachim-Ernst Berendt and West German Cultural Change
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About the author

 Mark Christian Thompson is Professor of English at Johns Hopkins University and the author of  Black Fascisms: African American Literature and Culture between the Wars and Kafka’s Blues: Figurations of Racial Blackness in the Construction of an Aesthetic.

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Additional Information

Publisher
SUNY Press
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Published on
May 23, 2018
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Pages
226
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ISBN
9781438469881
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Language
English
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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The Jazz Republic examines jazz music and the jazz artists who shaped Germany’s exposure to this African American art form from 1919 through 1933. Jonathan O. Wipplinger explores the history of jazz in Germany as well as the roles that music, race (especially Blackness), and America played in German culture and follows the debate over jazz through the fourteen years of Germany’s first democracy. He explores visiting jazz musicians including the African American Sam Wooding and the white American Paul Whiteman and how their performances were received by German critics and artists. The Jazz Republic also engages with the meaning of jazz in debates over changing gender norms and jazz’s status between paradigms of high and low culture. By looking at German translations of Langston Hughes’s poetry, as well as Theodor W. Adorno’s controversial rejection of jazz in light of racial persecution, Wipplinger examines how jazz came to be part of German cultural production more broadly in both the US and Germany, in the early 1930s.
Using a wide array of sources from newspapers, modernist and popular journals, as well as items from the music press, this work intervenes in the debate over the German encounter with jazz by arguing that the music was no mere “symbol” of Weimar’s modernism and modernity. Rather than reflecting intra-German and/or European debates, it suggests that jazz and its practitioners, African American, white American, Afro-European, German and otherwise, shaped Weimar culture in a central way.
When the African-American dancer Josephine Baker visited Berlin in 1925, she found it dazzling. "The city had a jewel-like sparkle," she said, "the vast cafés reminded me of ocean liners powered by the rhythms of their orchestras. There was music everywhere." Eager to look ahead after the crushing defeat of World War I, Weimar Germany embraced the modernism that swept through Europe and was crazy over jazz. But with the rise of National Socialism came censorship and proscription: an art form born on foreign soil and presided over by Negroes and Jews could have no place in the culture of a "master race." In Different Drummers, Michael Kater--a distinguished historian and himself a jazz musician--explores the underground history of jazz in Hitler's Germany. He offers a frightening and fascinating look at life and popular culture during the Third Reich, showing that for the Nazis, jazz was an especially threatening form of expression. Not only were its creators at the very bottom of the Nazi racial hierarchy, but the very essence of jazz--spontaneity, improvisation, and, above all, individuality--represented a direct challenge to the repetitive, simple, uniform pulse of German march music and indeed everyday life. The fact that many of the most talented European jazz artists were Jewish only made the music more objectionable. In tracing the growth of what would become a bold and eloquent form of social protest, Kater mines a trove of previously untapped archival records and assembles interviews with surviving witnesses as he brings to life a little-known aspect of wartime Germany. He introduces us to groups such as the Weintraub Syncopators, Germany's best indigenous jazz band; the Harlem Club of Frankfurt, whose male members wore their hair long in defiance of Nazi conventions; and the Hamburg Swings--the most daring radicals of all--who openly challenged the Gestapo with a series of mass dance rallies. More than once these demonstrations turned violent, with the Swings and the Hitler Youth fighting it out in the streets. In the end we come to realize that jazz not only survived persecution, but became a powerful symbol of political disobedience--and even resistance--in wartime Germany. And as we witness the vacillations of the Nazi regime (while they worked toward its ultimate extinction, they used jazz for their own propaganda purposes), we see that the myth of Nazi social control was, to a large degree, just that--Hitler's dictatorship never became as pure and effective a form of totalitarianism as we are sometimes led to believe. With its vivid portraits of all the key figures, Different Drummers provides a unique glimpse of a counter-culture virtually unexamined until now. It is a provocative account that reminds us that, even in the face of the most unspeakable oppression, the human spirit endures.
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