Duke Ellington’s feature film debut was in a 1929 film that starred “Amos and Andy,” Charles Correll and Freeman Gosden, two popular white comedians who played black characters on radio and wore blackface in order to play them on screen…In fact, two members of the Ellington band, Juan Tizol and Barney Bigard, had to wear blackface in the film because their skin was so light. It was unacceptable that they should appear in a black band in a film that starred two white men wearing blackface. You can’t make up things like that, and you don’t have to. Truth is always better. Truth is always funnier. Truth is always more telling.
Ethan Iverson interviews Duke biographer Terry Teachout
In somber forest, when the sun was low,
I saw from unseen pools a mist of flies,
In their quadrillions rise,
And animate a ragged patch of glow,
With sudden glittering –as when a crowd,
Of stars appear,
Through a brief gap in black and driven cloud,
One arc of their great round-dance showing clear.
It was no muddled swarm I witnessed, for
In entrechats each fluttering insect there
Rose two steep yards in air,
Then slowly floated down to climb once more,
So that they all composed a manifold
And figured scene,
And seemed the weavers of some cloth of gold,
Or the fine pistons of some bright machine.
Watching those lifelong dancers of a day
As night closed in, I felt myself alone
In a life too much my own,
More mortal in my separateness than they–
Unless, I thought, I had been called to be
Not fly or star
But one whose task is joyfully to see
How fair the fiats of the caller are.
It has been said of Kafka’s work many times that the thing to remember is that it is funny. Kafka was known to laugh uncontrollably when reading his work aloud to friends, and though that sounds more like anxiety than hilarity to me, the funny point endures. But what kind of funny is he? Borges described Hawthorne’s story ‘Wakefield’ as a prefiguration of Kafka, noting ‘the protagonist’s profound triviality, which contrasts with the magnitude of his perdition’. What kind of funny is he?…The comedy of scale is always simultaneously a tragedy of scale, if viewed from the proper angle, and as articulated in the famous words Kafka wrote on a postcard: ‘The outside world is too small, too clear-cut, too truthful, to contain everything that a person has room for inside.’
Rivka Galchen on Kafka in the LRB