Monday, June 15, 2015

On the Jazz Age

On the Jazz Age: Although the term "Jazz Age" can be credited to F. Scott Fitzgerald, who wrote a 1922 book called Tales of the Jazz Age, the birth of jazz music can be attributed to the African-American community in New Orleans, Louisiana, during the early 1900s. Given New Orleans' diverse urban history, jazz can be considered the product of various cultural heritages, especially Creole and French. After World War I, however, when the United States was attempting a "return to normalcy," jazz came to symbolize a laid-back and almost-whimsical attitude toward major events of the period such as prohibition (1919), women's suffrage (1920), and even immigration restriction (1924). But by the mid-1920s, jazz's popularity began to stretch across both ethno-racial and social-class lines, as upper-class whites like Cole Porter and lower-class blacks like Louis Armstrong each produced their own versions of "jazz" music. As a genre of musical fusion (drums, pianos, trumpets, etc.), jazz became particularly popular in underground "speakeasies," which served alcohol during prohibition. These speakeasies were generally patronized by artists, intellectuals, and mobsters alike. Perhaps the greatest congregation of speakeasies occurred in New York City during the 1920s, when alcohol, jazz, poetry, and painting went hand-in-hand to help fashion the Harlem Renaissance.

Monday, June 1, 2015

On Rousseau and His Novel "Emile"

On Rousseau and His Novel "Emile": Perhaps Jean-Jacques Rousseau's writings (along with Voltaire's and Diderot's) were the intellectual underpinnings of the entire French Revolution (particularly for the Jacobin faction). His work is also considered the inspiration behind the phrase "pursuit of happiness" in the American Declaration of Independence. Needless to say, Rousseau's influence on Enlightenment thinking in the late eighteenth century was very trans-Atlantic. But it was his novel Emile, which Rousseau thought of as his finest work, that can be viewed as one of the first educational philosophies in the Western world. And because Rousseau maintained such a cynical view of human nature, he felt that everything mankind built or touched would eventually succumb to degenerative forces like corruption and greed. Thus, schooling and teaching ought to be focused on undoing whatever "evils" society instilled in its members, not helping children to conform to the status quo. At times, Rousseau got very specific when mentioning topics such as "breast-feeding" and "swaddling," but on the whole, he kept his commentary generalized regarding Emile's continuous development. In short, Rousseau's educational philosophy largely downplayed "book-learning" while emphasizing the importance of everyday "experiences" and "interactions" with the physical world.