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Ethnography, improvisation, and the Archimedean fulcrum:

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Michel Leiris’s ongoing fascination with jazz music is instructive for several reasons. His initial encounters with jazz played an important catalytic role for his ethnographic project, sparking the interest in ‘l’art nègre’ that would eventually lead him to Africa, and setting him on a search for an Archimedean vantage point: one able to gain insight into different forms of cultural production by attempting to place itself outside of all existing cultures. This Archimedean ideal enabled him to apply lessons learned from jazz to his own literary project - not by engaging in merely imitative practices, but by rethinking the surrealist theories of inspiration, subjectivity, and expression in terms of improvisation and vocal performance. Accordingly, this essay attempts to show how jazz influenced Leiris’s literary and anthropological projects by looking below the surface, emphasizing the music’s influence on the semiotic functioning of his autobiographical texts.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of California - Santa Barbara

Publication date: February 1, 2003

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  • The International Journal of Francophone Studies offers a critical preview for a new development in the understanding of 'France outside France', with a thorough insight into the network of disciplinary issues affiliated with this study. The journal complements the thriving area of scholarly interest in the French-speaking regions of the world, bringing a location of linguistic, cultural, historical and social dynamics within a single academic arena.
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