Jazz and Purgatorio Collaboration (Inversion Vibes)

Sydney Cannioto, Tommy Castronova, Thomas Gillingham, Katie Haefele, Dong Won Oh, Abigail Ritz, and Emily Zandy

At its narrative and literal levels, Toni Morrison’s Jazz reflects Dante’s Purgatorio through her use of space and directionality. Morrison introduces readers to a New York City that feels distinctly alive, with inhabitants that go in every direction, but ultimately compose one City. Morrison emphasizes the inherent liminality of characters through mapping her narrative onto jazz music; through utilizing the apparent, though purposeful, lack of structure of jazz, Morrison creates characters that are constantly making and remaking themselves and one another. Indeed, the characters of Jazz seem to be both lacking direction and going in many opposing directions at once, much like the style of music the book draws its name from. Jazz music itself is structurally unique―it is composed of a basic iteration of a melody that musicians build upon. Since musicians improvise upon a singular melody, the seemingly chaotic iterations and modifications themselves are a direction and destination. The novel Jazz alludes to the initial chaos of jazz music through the seemingly disjointed stories of its characters. This allusion functions to connect the experiences of each character in order to form a singular melody. 

Jazz is an aftermath story that flips the linear spiritual journey of Purgatorio on its head. This structure highlights Joe Trace’s spiritual fulfillment after the crime rather than leading up to the crime. This is shown through the inversion of the seven sins in Purgatory; rather ending with lust, as Purgatory does, Jazz begins with it. Morrison presents Joe as a man whose desires are limited by his relationship with Violet. Similarly, Purgatorio seems to open with a desire for freedom: “May it please you to welcome him- he goes in search of freedom, and how dear that is, the man who gives up his life for it well knows” (70-72). The similarities between Joe’s desire for freedom and the desires for freedom that open Purgatorio are presented in the beginning of Jazz, which demonstrates how Morrison is constructing Joe Trace’s spiritual fulfillment around that of a soul entering purgatory.

Professor McCoy’s comments on utilizing backward design as a pedagogical tool during our unexpected transition to online courses reminded us of the inverted characteristics of Purgatorio and Jazz. In backward design, a class, whether a professor, a student, or anything else in between, must take into account what aspects of the course are most important and rebuild based upon these core aspects. The point is to preserve the thing which everything else is built upon. This thing for our course being collaboration. This too seems to be central to Jazz and Purgatorio. The backward design that we are utilizing in our class is the same as that inversion which is seen in Jazz and Purgatorio. The goal of this inversion is also to consider which aspects of self, of personhood, of community are most important to being, which aspects a person should be rebuilding from in order to reach freedom.

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