Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Riffing on Troping: A Brief Foray into Michael Jarrett's "Drifting on a Read"

Well, hello again, my imaginary or possibly not-so-imaginary readers! As you may already have inferred from my return, I have over the past evening violently consumed and voraciously consummated about 125 pages of assigned text. Now, with “all them strange idears” roiling around in my noggin, I guess I have no choice but to write, or perhaps I say should riff, about a bit of the mental maelstrom.

Despite the assignment’s short stature (a mere 23 pages, versus 94 in the other text), Drifting on a Read is fascinating to me for its exploration of the Law of Trope (5). Troping, jazz’s creative process of endlessly and constantly reconfiguring set pieces of existing music, is a concept that in Michael Jarrett’s hands slides itself almost seamlessly around the shoulders of composition and reading theory. When a musician is troping, he or she is playing both an instrument and a game, not just reinterpreting but actually reinventing the artistic reality around him or herself through the study and remolding of traditional elements into something new. Jarrett would argue that the same process can benefit writers, readers, critics, and theorists, all of whom can, by rereading and reconfiguring aberrant text, take part in the play of invention (5).

This image of troping, or “drifting on a read,” is a new one for me, at least as far as metaphors are concerned. The basic concepts involved, however, such as the reopening of a text, creative play, collaboration, heteroglossia, and reinvention, already compose a large portion of the vocabulary used in many modern academic conversations on composition theory. By clearly hypothesizing about the parallels (and connecting rods) inherent between the two seemingly separate forms of expression - jazz and writing – Jarrett is making what is in my opinion a very strong and supportable stance for the importance of fluid jazz concepts in reading and composition theory, and, perhaps, vice versa. I particularly appreciate the ways in which Jarrett himself embraces the art of troping, demonstrating his own commitment to play by exploring, rereading, and repeatedly reconfiguring jazz great Louis Armstrong’s famous (or infamous) much-quoted words, “Lady, if you gotta ask what it is, you’ll never know.” Interesting, sir. Quite interesting.

1 comment:

David said...

Another fine "precis" of Jarrett's first chapter. I think we'll assign a reading on "trope," especially in relation to comp teaching (I have an essay in mind), but you do a very good job of finding out the key to Jarrett's intention in "play."