We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.– Toni Morrison, 1993 Nobel Lecture (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.
I read this epigraph to mean that people and groups of people aren’t necessarily forgotten when they die. The language and the culture that we engage with and contribute to when we’re alive effectively measures our lives and makes us memorable.
Bernice Johnson Reagon spoke, studied and sang about the way in which music can help people to reclaim space. She spoke of music as a way to bond and ground a culture. Music and the language within music effectively grounds a culture and reclaims space taken from African Americans in pre civil war times. In and through black music, black people have been able to live through and past their deaths, reclaiming their spaces, as others have continued to sing and spread their songs.
There is a certain resonance communicated in this epigraph that is similarly found in the African American community. Reagon herself wrote her own music in response to historical events as a way to pay homage to those who came before her. There is a clear recursive element to this epigraph as well as to African American culture and music. The recursion is found in the music in the way in which events seem to be recalled through music. Reagon references history effectively bringing people and events back to the forefront of culture. This style of song writing and historical representation is indicative of the Call and Response theme present in African American culture.