Swinging the Machine: Modernity, Technology, and African American Culture Between the World Wars

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9781558493834: Swinging the Machine: Modernity, Technology, and African American Culture Between the World Wars

"More than any other study I've read, Dinerstein's book gets to the heart of why the1930s and 1940s have been designated as the Swing Era. Yet the author traces concern over 'the tempo of life' well back into the nineteenth century through the writings of Whitman and Melville and mythic figures like John Henry. The depth and breadth of research is impressive and the writing is superb. I don't recall a word of jargon - an unusual distinction for cutting-edge work in cultural studies." - David W. Stowe, author of Swing Changes: Big Band Jazz In New Deal America "The strength of this book is its truly interdisciplinary quality. The breadth of detail, the facility of its application and expression, the suppleness and tact of the argument are all exemplary. It will be useful to everyone interested in racial interaction in the U.S. and it will be on reading lists for courses on U.S. modern culture as well as jazz history." - W. T. Lhamon, Jr., author of Raising Caln: Blackface Performance from Jim Crow to Hip Hop

Vom Verlag:

An innovative study of the influence of black popular culture on modern American life; In any age and any given society, cultural practices reflect the material circumstances of people's everyday lives. According to Joel Dinerstein, it was no different in America between the two World Wars - an era sometimes known as the "machine age" - when innovative forms of music and dance helped a newly urbanized population cope with the increased mechanization of modern life. Grand spectacles such as the Ziegfield Follies and the movies of Busby Berkeley captured the American ethos of mass production, with chorus girls as the cogs of these fast, flowing pleasure vehicles. Yet it was African American culture, Dinerstein argues, that ultimately provided the means of aesthetic adaptation to the accelerated tempo of modernity. Drawing on a legacy of engagement with and resistance to technological change, with deep roots in West African dance and music, black artists developed new cultural forms that sought to humanize machines. In "The Ballad of John Henry," the epic toast "Shine," and countless blues songs, African Americans first addressed the challenge of industrialization. Jazz musicians drew on the symbol of the train within this tradition to create a set of train-derived aural motifs and rhythms, harnessing mechanical power to cultural forms. Tap dance and the lindy hop brought machine aesthetics to the human body, while the new rhythm section of big band swing mimicked the industrial soundscape of northern cities. In Dinerstein's view, the capacity of these artistic innovations to replicate the inherent qualities of the machine - speed, power, repetition, flow, precision - helps explain both their enormous popularity and social function in American life.

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