Jazzing the Blues Spirit and the Gospel Truth in James
Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues”
Steven C. Tracy
The webs of musical connection are essential to the harmony and cohesion of James
Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues.” As a result, we must explore the spectrum of musical references
Baldwin makes to unveil their delicate conjunctions. It is vital to probe the traditions
of African-American music—Spirituals, Blues, Jazz, and Pop—to get a more comprehensive
sense of how Baldwin makes use of music from the sacred and secular continuum in the
African-American community. Looking more closely at the variety of African-American
musical genres to which Baldwin refers in the story, we can discern even more the nuances
of unity that Baldwin creates in his story through musical allusions, and shed greater
light on Baldwin’s exploration of the complexities of African-American life and music, all
of which have as their core elements of human isolation, loneliness, and despair
ameliorated by artistic expression, hope, and the search for familial ties. Through
musical intertextuality, Baldwin demonstrates not only how closely related seemingly
disparate (in the Western tradition) musical genres are, but also shows that the elements
of the community that these genres flow from and represent are much more in
synchronization than they sometimes seem or are allowed to be. To realize kinship across
familial (Creole), socio-economic (the brother), and most importantly for this paper
appreciation and meanings of musical genres advances to Sonny the communal cup of
trembling that is both a mode and an instance of envisioning and treating music in its
unifying terms, seeing how they coalesce through a holistic vision.
This article engages with the discourse of food and eating especially as related to the representation of the abject eating-disordered body. I will be particularly interested in the gothic representation of the anorexic and bulimic body in samples of medical advice literature and NHS websites and how they reinforce popular myths about anorexia by imagining the eating disordered body as a fixed object of abjection. Focusing on the use of gothic devices, tropes and narrative structure, these imaginations will be read against alternative representations of anorexic/bulimic bodies in autobiographical illness narratives, fictional accounts and a psychoanalytical case history in order to explore how gothic discourses can help opening up new understandings and conceptions of illness, healing and corporeality in the dialogue between medical staff and patients.
The diabetic body can be mapped as a profoundly Gothic landscape, referencing theories of the monstrous, the uncanny and the abject. Diabetes is revealed under what Foucault has termed the medical gaze, where the body becomes a contested site, its ownership questioned by the repeated invasion of medical procedures. As an invisible chronic illness, diabetic lifestyle is positioned in relation to issues of control, transformation, and the abnormal normal. Translating the Gothic trope of the outsider into medical and social realms, the diabetic body is seen as the Othered body ceaselessly striving to attain perfection through blood purification rituals. This essay examines how diabetes is portrayed in film and fine art practice from the filmic approach to diabetes as dramatic trope to fine art techniques that parallel ethnographic and sociological approaches to chronic illness.
The Gothic, Medical Collections and Victorian Popular Culture
As soon as the corpse became central to medical education, and as a growing number of private medical schools opened throughout Great Britain, involving the rise of the demand for dead bodies, the literary field played a significant part in the popularisation of medical knowledge, offering insights into the debates around medical practice and education. As this paper will show, the literary field dealt with medical practitioners treatment of the corpse through playing upon a Gothic rhetoric, dramatizing the tension between the cutting up, preservation and exhibition of human remains in medical collections and the objectification of the patient on the one hand, and the central part played by anatomy in medical knowledge and the therapeutic applications of dissection, on the other. Through exploring how literary texts capitalizing on the Gothic paraphernalia recorded cultural responses to medical practice in the long nineteenth century, this paper will ultimately underline the role that nineteenth-century literature played, not merely in the dissemination of medical knowledge but also in the public engagement of medicine.
This article argues that American medicine‘s preoccupation with atmospheric etiology shaped the American Gothic as it was instantiated by Charles Brockden Brown and developed by Edgar Allan Poe. Antebellum medical discourse, I suggest, worked in service of a paranoiac hypervigilance or what I call the \miasmatic imagination\. Read in conversation with Gothic fiction, miasma theory offers a way of conceptualizing "atmosphere" as both etiological and rhetorical: a medium for the transmission of disease and a literary technique for the transmission of meaning.
Gothic Fears, Cultural Anxieties and the Discovery of X-rays in the 1890s
In 1895, the world of modern physics was effectively ushered in with the discovery of X-rays by the German physicist, Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen. X-rays rapidly changed the ways in which the human body was perceived, and their discovery was documented and fiercely debated in scientific articles, newspaper reports, literary writings, cartoons and films. This article examines a range of these responses, both scientific and popular, and considers the particular significance of their repeated recourse to the Gothic and the uncanny as a means of expressing both excitement and disquiet at what the new X-ray phenomenon might mean.
The essay interrogates a range of critically neglected nineteenth-century anthologies, periodicals and yellowbacks to reveal the ways in which ephemeral Gothic narratives contributed revealingly and troublingly to the public understanding of medicine across the nineteenth century and not just during the fin de siècle. By addressing how narratives of everyday medical encounters and interventions were immersed in contemporary anxieties about the nature of medicine and the role of the practitioner, the authors draw attention to how the figure of the practitioner is increasingly problematized until he himself becomes a locus of pathological disturbance, creating a set of images associated with medicine, practitioners and the everyday that proved culturally enduring across nineteenth-century culture.
The Ceremony of Organ Harvest in Gothic Science Fiction
In organ transfer, tissue moves through a web of language. Metaphors reclassify the tissue to enable its redeployment, framing the process for practitioners and public. The process of marking off tissue as transferrable in legal and cultural terms parallels many of the processes that typically accompany commodification in late capitalism. This language of economic transformation echoes the language of Gothic ceremony, of purification and demarcation. As in literary Gothic s representations of ceremony, this economic work is anxious and the boundaries it creates unstable. This article identifies dominant metaphors shaping that ceremony of tissue reclassification, and examines how three twenty-first century novels deploy these metaphors to represent the harvest (procurement) process (the metaphor of harvest; is itself highly problematic, as I will discuss). Kazuo Ishiguros Never Let Me Go (2005), Neal Shusterman Unwind (2007), and Ninni Holmqvists Swedish novel Enhet (The Unit) (2006, translated into English in 2010) each depict vulnerable protagonists within societies where extreme tissue procurement protocols have state sanction. The texts invite us to reflect on the kinds of symbolic substitutions that help legitimate tissue transfer and the way that procurement protocols may become influenced by social imperatives. In each text, the Gothic trope of dismemberment becomes charged with new urgency.
In the early gothic literature of the eighteenth century danger lurked in the darkness beneath the pointed arches of gothic buildings. During the nineteenth century, there was a progressive, although never complete, dislocation of gothic literary readings from gothic architecture. This article explores a phase in that development through discussion of a series of dark illustrations produced by Hablot Knight Browne to illustrate novels by Charles Dickens. These show the way in which the rounded arches of neo-classical architecture were depicted in the mid-nineteenth century as locales of oppression and obscurity. Such depictions acted, in an age of political and moral reform, to critique the values of the system of power and authority that such architecture represented.