Buggy Jiving: Comic Strategies Of The Black Avant-Garde
Dissertation Abstract Buggy Jiving: Comic Strategies of the Black Avant-Garde, examines the radical strategic impulse of African American comedy in literary and cultural texts of the second half of the twentieth century in light of their potential for cultural transformation. "Buggy jiving," a term that Ralph Ellison coins in Invisible Man, refers to a particular form of joking discourse that aims to enact social change by bringing into view the incongruity between appearance and reality, especially with regard to the idea of race in America. In other words, buggy jiving as a form of activism involves making an epistemic intervention into dominant culture that uniquely stems from the double-consciousness born of the experiences of African Americans. The trope of buggy jiving, which inflects much of Ellison's literary and cultural-critical work, provides the theoretical lens through which to interpret black expressive culture from the post-World War II era into the present. In the introduction, Ellison is put retrospectively in conversation with W. E. B. Du Bois to consider how the "betweenness" of doubleconsciousness resembles the formal structure of a joke, and how to be black is, in both degrading and subversive senses, to be "funny." Chapter One turns to the second half of the twentieth century to address the centrality of the comic to Ellison's concept-metaphor of "invisibility" and also to his radical vision of ideal democracy. As an alternative to physical violence, Ellison privileges comic activism as a "more effective strategy" of social action and cultural transformation. For Ellison, the comic is culturally conjoined to black music, specifically jazz, through the corresponding techniques of rhythm, improvisation, antiphony, and repetition. The influence of music on Ellison's understanding of the comic and its "poetics of invisibility" is further explored in Chapter Two, which examines the performances of the pianist, singer, and songwriter Nina Simone. These performances, which comprise a "theatre of invisibility," are considered in light of her engagement in various political and cultural movements of the 1960s and '70s. Through an "economy of laughter," Simone comically repackages the rightful fury and dismay of an "angry black woman" into a political critique, social vision, and call to action that speak across barriers of difference. Such an aesthetic and political countercurrent to dominant civil rights era black movements prefigures the nature of artistic political engagement during what has been called the "post-soul" era. Chapter Three thus concludes with a consideration of the possibilities and limitations of "buggy jiving" in two examples of black post-modernism, Percival Everett's novel Erasure and Spike Lee's film Bamboozled, in light of their Ellisonian themes and differing responses to the intersection of satire, representations of blackness, and the mass media.
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