November 5 — La Marr Bruce

Interlude in Madtime: Madness, Black Music, and Metaphysical Syncopation

Proceeding from a meditation on the music and lifeworlds of jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden (b. 1877) and hip hop heroine Lauryn Hill (b. 1975)—two African-American musical iconoclasts widely mythologized as “crazy”—this presentation forwards a tentative notion of “madtime.” As I theorize it, madtime is calibrated to psychosocial alterity and concurrent with rhythms and energies of “madness”: the slow time of depression; the quick time of mania; the backward-forward, zigzagging, spiraling time of melancholia; and, via Foucault, the infinite now of schizophrenia. A critical supplement to theories and praxes of “colored people’s time” and “queer time,” madtime contravenes the linear, unidirectional, teleological trajectory of normative Western time and historiography. This presentation imagines an encounter—a jam session, as it were—between Bolden and Hill and yields a phenomenological account of black music, madness, and metaphysical syncopation.

La Marr Jurelle Bruce earned his Ph.D. (2013) in African American Studies and American Studies from Yale University. His budding book project, “‘Inversions of the World’: Black Art Goes Mad,” considers a cohort of twentieth- and twenty-first-century African-American artists who have instrumentalized “madness” for radical art-making, self-making, and world-making. Proposing a theory of madness that addresses its floating signification—and engages its phenomenological, clinical, sociocultural, and political dimensions—he confronts “the mad” in the work of writers Amiri Baraka, Adrienne Kennedy, Gayl Jones, and Ntozake Shange; jazz musicians Buddy Bolden and Charles Mingus; comedians Richard Pryor and Dave Chappelle; legal theorist Patricia J. Williams; and hip hop musician Lauryn Hill.