The Blend of Aesthetics in “Call and Response”

After reading and reviewing “Call and Response” over the past couple of weeks, I have found that this anthology does not fit one single aesthetic. In my opinion, “Call and Response” falls into three main aesthetic categories: extensive, historical and dynamic. The extensive aesthetic behind this anthology goes to show the visible elements behind the text that work together to form an in-depth book in both the physical and substantial sense. The historical aesthetic supporting this anthology works to emphasize the sequence of time that the book covers. Including works from as long ago as the 1600s, “Call and Response” is able to display the evolution of African American culture as well as the maintenance of traditions and culture. I found that one of the main underlying principles of this anthology is its dynamic aesthetic due to its active nature in offering new ideas and perspectives to a wide range of readers. 

It is clear that just by looking at “Call and Response”, the reader is able to acknowledge the book’s extensive aesthetic. The book’s epitextual elements including its physical weight, the quality of the paper, and the size of the font, all contribute to its overall sense of endlessness. Consisting of over 2,000 pages, the weighty anthology does not care for the time and effort it takes to read “Call and Response” cover to cover, as each page and each selection is important to the book’s final message. In my opinion, the thin and fragile paper living between the covers signify the fragile lives that humans of all races possess, yet risk in order to gain freedom and make meaningful change in their world. In my opinion, the small font size was made that small in order to incorporate a multitude of information from songs, letters, stories, speeches, poems, and journals into the work. Although I do not believe the authors and editors lengthened the book to emphasize the significant messages they wish to convey, I do think that the physical weight and appearance of the book help represent the important ideas mentioned throughout the piece. Paratextual elements, such as the Table of Contents, also support the extensive aesthetic that the book gives off. With a 25-page long Table of Contents, the reader is able to prepare themselves for the immense amount of information they are about to read. I believe this extensive aesthetic I have assigned to “Call and Response” is only a small piece of the larger, more dynamic aesthetic.

The anthology consists of material dating back to the 17th century, which is why I have allocated a historical aesthetic to the book. One of the earlier pieces included in the book that caught my attention was Benjamin Banneker’s Letter to Thomas Jefferson. Banneker was a very intellectual and persistent African American who lived during the 18th century. In 1791, Banneker expresses his disagreement of the statesman’s justifications for racism and slavery to the hypocritcal yet sentimental Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson. Banneker writes in his letter, “he [one universal Father] hath afford us all with the same sensations… and that, however variable we may be in society or religion, however diversified in situation or in colour, we are all of the same family, and stanf in the same relation to Him” (Banneker, pg. 159). I believe that when readers read an authentic document personally written by someone who has reflected on their experiences during a crucial period of time, the reader is better able to gain a sense of understanding and respect for the writer. It is always difficult to take yourself back in time and try to understand the unthinkable challenges that people had to endure. However, with personal accounts and historical evidence of such challenges taking place, it allows the reader to obtain the smallest understanding of what another person or group of people went through. It is so unbelievably interesting yet saddening to read and compare historical works that fight for the same freedom, yet are written hundreds of years apart. Martin Luther King Jr. was a brilliant and motivated African American minister and Civil Rights activist. With the power of his voice, Dr. King led nonviolent protests against segregation and in favor of racial pride. Dr. King remarks in his infamous I Have a Dream speech, “one hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still badly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination (King, pg. 1423). This statement in Dr. King’s speech took me back to Benjamin Banneker, who bravely spoke out for the same, critical freedoms and rights as Dr. King 200 years earlier. “Call and Response” radiates an immense amount of history and calls for the reader to recognize the overwhelming amount of injustice implemented across generations of human beings. 

“Call and Response” has such a dynamic aesthetic as it includes a wide range of different works written by an immense variety of different people. It is comprised of poems, songs, plays, stories, essays, speeches, pamphlets, letters, journals and more. A piece of poetry I appreciated was Sunday Morning Prophecy by Langston Hughes, an respected writer of the 20th century. Hughes recalls an older man who powerfully concluded his sermon with the importance of attending church and beliving in God through both your high and your low moments. A gospel song I valued was Take My Hand, Precious Lord by Thomas Dorsey, who wrote this song after he tragically lost his wife and child from childbirth. This song along with the poem mentioned before both emphasize the importance and reassurance of maintaining faith through hardships. I focused on a short story, Spunk, written by Zora Hurston, a prominent African American female writer of the 1900s. While Spunk tells a story of adultery and vengeance, Hurston also emphasizes Black culture and language. I believe Hurston includes words such as “thass”, “figger”, and “skeered” in place of “that’s”, “figure”, and “scared” in order to reflect her pride and comfortability with this authentic dialogue between her characters. I also reflected on Elizabeth Keckley’s Behind the Scenes as I found her consistent relationship with Mrs. Lincoln, the President’s wife. I found it absorbing yet disheartening that Keckley’s very much earned and deserved literary reputation also caused her to lose central friendships and endure poor memories. Keckley wrote, “I was awakened…with the startling intelligence that the entire Cabinet has been assassinated, and Mr. Lincoln shott, but not mortally wounded. When I heard the words I felt as if the blood had been frozen in my veins, and that my lungs must collapse for the want of air” (Keckley, pg. 505). I found that these short excerpts from Keckley’s memoir provided by “Call and Response” were chosen very carefully by the authors and editors. Although the anthology is packed with different texts and materials, each historical work serves a purpose and must be respected and analyzed critically by the reader. 

To say that “Call and Response” can be attributed to only a few different aesthetics is an understatement, as I feel that one cannot limit this book into only a few categories. However, the three aesthetics that I have chosen throughout this essay are what I signify as three of the main, broader aesthetics of the anthology. It is important to examine such complicated and informative books through both a physical and literary lens. This is why I found the extensive aesthetic along with the historical and dynamic aesthetics to be an agreeable blend of aesthetics within the text. I also found it extremely useful and essential to analyze “Call and Response” with a readiness to connect major movements, ideas, and cultural traditions.

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