[W14] The Sounds of James Baldwin

The Sounds of James Baldwin
Tuesday/Thursday, 3:40-5:00pm




Professor Ashon Crawley
Office Hours: Tuesdays 2:00-3:30pm or by appointment

The purpose of this course is to think about the relationship of sound – both organized in forms like music and speech as well as voice, noise and silence – is utilized in Black literature and cultural production as a means to enliven and quicken. Ours is an “ocularcentric” world, a world that utilizes the sense of sight as a primary marker for producing knowledge. However, it seems that Black literature utilizes other sensual experiences in order to disrupt the primacy of the sense of sight in order to create other modes for social existence. The sense of sight was privileged in both modern philosophy and theology, and this sense was utilized as primary marker for identifying race. Thus attention to other senses will allow us to disrupt normative modes of racialization that end up marginalizing people based on appearance.

Race is normally thought as a looking at practice: what we see – how we visualize – is part and parcel of how we “think” about race.  If looking is a social practice in which we all engage, in our course we will displace modes of seeing with modes of listening to think about the relationship between blackness and sound.  We will explore what it means to listen – to music and to ambient sound – as a social practice, engaging how music and sound also construct notions of various identities.  We sit around our dorm rooms and in cars, listening to music.  We hear it in the elevator and at the mall.  We share music files with others.  We remix.  We review.  When we listen and share the things we hear with others, we create social connections.

Our course will give particular attention to music and sounds that are created or used by Black communities in popular culture and how sounds are imagined and experienced by audiences as well as those who produce it.  We will also explore sound itself, instrumentation, and noise. We will investigate uses of ambient sound and silence. We will listen and respond to voices.  Utilizing a variety of writing styles will allow us to consider what it means to write as a listener and what it means to listen as a writer.  We will engage questions specifically about race, gender, class and sexuality and how music and sound analyses are important for understanding as well as deconstructing these social categories.  By the end of the course, you will have a vocabulary of musical/sonic terms to assist in analyzing any piece of music or sound you hear.  As well, you will be able to think about the complex relationship between social practices such as listening and social constructions such as race.

James Baldwin, of course, will provide most of our case studies. From his novels, plays and journalistic opinion pieces to his speeches and singing voice, we will listen to black literature and cultural performance. What does listening augment in literature and cultural production.


January 7: Course Introduction – “The Price of the Ticket” (pt. 1)

January 9: Go Tell it On the Mountain

January 14: Go Tell it On the Mountain

January 16: Go Tell it On the Mountain

January 21: Go Tell it On the Mountain

January 23: Wiki Group Presentations

January 28: “The Price of the Ticket” (pt. 2); Read Ch. 4 (p.32), Ch. 8 (p.95), Ch. 10 (p.142) in Blues People

January 30: The Amen Corner (first half)

February 4: The Amen Corner (second half)

February 6: Blues for Mister Charlie (first half)

February 11: Blues for Mister Charlie (second half)

February 13: Audiobiography presentation

February 18: Audiobiography presentation

February 20: Bedouin Hornbook (excerpts)

February 25: Just Above My Head

February 27: Just Above My Head

March 4: Final Project Presentation

March 6: Final Project Presentation

March 11: Course Summary

March 13: Research/Writing day

Final Projects Due: March 19, 5:00pm



Readings:  The required books for this course are available at the bookstore:

The Amen Corner (Baldwin)
Blues for Mister Charlie (Baldwin)
Blues People: Negro Music in White America (LeRoi Jones [Amiri Baraka])
Go Tell it On the Mountain (Baldwin)
Just Above My Head (Baldwin)

All other required readings will be made available via iLearn (http://ilearn.ucr.edu).  Please let me know if you do not have access to the site yet.  If you print the readings, save a tree and use double-sided printing!

You should always bring class readings with you, as we will discuss them.

iLearn: All writing assignments will be submitted via iLearn.

Writing: There are a number of excellent resources at UCR to assist with the researching, referencing, revising and editing processes.  Do explore the library website (http://library.ucr.edu) for both research and writing assistance.  Also, check out the Academic Resource Center website (http://arc.ucr.edu), particularly for writing resources.

Grading:  Your final grade for this course will be composed as follows:

Blog Entries:                                       5%

In-Class Responses/Reflections        5%

Audiobiography Response:               10%

Group Wiki Entries:                            10%

Audiobiography:                                10%

Final Project Presentation:                10%

Final Project:                                      40%

All assignments must be handed in on time.  Late responses, comments and reflections will automatically receive a 0.  For all other assignments, work handed in 15 minutes past the deadline (electronically or by late arrival to class) will be considered one day late; assignment grades will be lowered by half of a letter grade (e.g., from an A- to a B+) for each day late.  Additionally, your work should be complete – careless or incomplete work will not be accepted; you will be notified in these instances and be requested to resubmit.  Your grade for resubmitted assignments will be lowered by half of a letter grade.

Participation: is a crucial element of this class.  Thus, you must attend class and arrive on time. Arriving more than 20 minutes late qualifies as an absence.  Further, participation also includes interacting with your classmates and fulfilling your duties to submit your drafts on time and share your comments.  Participation will affect your final grade as follows:

Attendance:                           1 point deducted per missed class

Lateness:                               ½ point deducted for each late arrival

Late drafts/comments:         1 point for each day late

As ‘stuff happens’ that might be out of your control, all of you will begin with a pool of 3 points.  I encourage you not to ‘plan’ to use your points!  Your points should account for situations such as family emergencies, illness, etc.  At the end of the semester I will compute your deductions and your final grade will only be lowered by any points beyond 3.  For example, if you end up with a total of 5 points, 2 points will be subtracted from your final percentage (e.g., a 95 would be lowered to a 93). In addition, I reserve the right to lower final grades by half a grade for low participation in class and revision activities, or for not meeting the guidelines outlined.

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