Reading Albert Murray in the Age of Trump

75bbc78f9a93405ca6e967a8b4b960f3378f9e1dGreg Thomas at The New Republic:

Murray’s blues idiom worldview, which he described as a secular form of existential improvisation, is summed up by his phrase “elegant resilience,” a synonym for “swinging” in jazz and “flow” in hip hop. “A definitive characteristic of the descendants of American slaves is an orientation to elegance,” he writes in From the Briarpatch File,

…the disposition (in the face of all of the misery and uncertainty in the universe) to refine all of human action in a direction of dance-beat elegance. I submit that there is nothing that anybody in the world has ever done that is more civilized or sophisticated than to dance elegantly, which is to state with your total physical being an affirmative attitude toward the sheer fact of existence.

Philosophers Kwame Anthony Appiah and Danielle Allen have described a worldview they call “rooted cosmopolitanism,” which I think describes Murray and the blues idiom to a tee. Rooted cosmopolitanism counters the insular nationalism exemplified by the conservative Prime Minister Theresa May, who recently said: “If you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere.” Murray, unequivocal about his local Southern roots and nationality as a black American, believed that Americans are heir to the best of culture from all times and places—a global, cosmopolitan conception. Likewise, the blues is a vernacular music rooted in the black South of the United States that’s connected to Western church music harmonically as well as to music globally. The blues idiom is America at her best because it synthesizes “everything in the world as a matter of course, and feed[s] it back to the world at large as a matter of course.”

more here.