Jazz and Racial Blackness in German Thought between the Wars

By Mark Christian Thompson

Subjects: Philosophy, German Culture, Cultural Studies, Literary Criticism, Music
Series: SUNY series, Philosophy and Race
Hardcover : 9781438469874, 226 pages, June 2018
Paperback : 9781438469867, 226 pages, January 2019

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Table of contents

List of Figures

Introduction: German Jazz and the Metronome of Race

1. The Jazz Paradox: Race and Totalitarian Politics in German Jazz Reception

2. The Jazz Machine: Brecht and the Politics of Jazz

3. The Monkey’s Trick: Herman Hesse and the Music of Decline

4. The Music of Fascism: Adorno on Jazz

5. Jazz-Heinis: Klaus Mann and Jazz Ontology


Examines how African American jazz music was received in Germany both as a racial and cultural threat and as a partner in promoting the rise of Nazi totalitarian cultural politics.


Anti-Music examines the critical, literary, and political responses to African American jazz music in interwar Germany. During this time, jazz was the subject of overt political debate between left-wing and right-wing interests: for the left, jazz marked the death knell of authoritarian Prussian society; for the right, jazz was complicit as an American import threatening the chaos of modernization and mass politics. This conflict was resolved in the early 1930s as the left abandoned jazz in the face of Nazi victory, having come to see the music in collusion with the totalitarian culture industry. Mark Christian Thompson recounts the story of this intellectual trajectory and describes how jazz came to be associated with repressive, virulently racist fascism in Germany. By examining writings by Hermann Hesse, Bertolt Brecht, T.W. Adorno, and Klaus Mann, and archival photographs and images, Thompson brings together debates in German, African American, and jazz studies, and charts a new path for addressing antiblack racism in cultural criticism and theory.

Mark Christian Thompson is Professor of English at Johns Hopkins University and the author of Black Fascisms: African American Literature and Culture between the Wars and Kafka's Blues: Figurations of Racial Blackness in the Construction of an Aesthetic.


"Anti-Music offers original, even challenging, new insights on jazz in German literary and critical texts in the first half of the twentieth century." — Brecht Yearbook

"…offers a challenging new take on racial and musical imagery in German literature and philosophy of the early twentieth century." — Monatshefte

"…Thompson brings to light important details that in numerous instances would be easy to overlook, subjecting them to scrutiny that yields vital clues about the understanding and experience of jazz in the Weimar and Nazi eras." — Notes

"Anti-Music is an interesting and highly theoretical title that examines not just the definition and reception of jazz in Germany of the interwar years, but also the loosely connected topics and definitions of blackness, racial imagination, primitivism, white superiority, and cultural imperialism." — Jive-Talk

"This book synthesizes the ideological reception of jazz amongst a series of key German thinkers and cultural producers from the interwar era. It offers bold, sophisticated readings of their texts and of how they conceived of racial blackness. It is a major contribution to the field." — Andrew Wright Hurley, author of The Return of Jazz: Joachim-Ernst Berendt and West German Cultural Change