Houston Baker "Blues, Ideology"   
Houston Baker
Blues, Ideology

. . . The risk of situating oneself at the crossing sign is, of course, enormous. But the benefits are beyond price. The relinquishing of a self-certainty that strives to annul "otherness" and to masterfully fix its own place is meetly compensated. The reward, the reimbursement for translation at the crossing, is the magnificent appearance of America’s blues people.

A vastly more inclusive and adequate national picture emerges with the appearance of these dark, ancestral faces. To lose a master desire, one might say, is to see a different America—singing. To locate the crossing where such a vision is possible is not difficult.

The sign is likely to appear anywhere in one’s journeyings: beside defunct roadbeds in southern fields, at the intersection of thoroughfares on midwestern prairies, at town centers in northwest timber country. Like the railroad cars and locomotives that it implies, the sign is without a fixed place or an unchanging proper name. As a signal always already there, a mark signifying motion and meanings yet to be deciphered, it possesses fine blues resonance.

The task of present-day scholars is to situate themselves inventively and daringly at the crossing sign in order to materialize vernacular faces. If scholars are successful, their response to literature, criticism, and culture in the United States will be as wonderfully energetic and engrossing as the response of the bluesman Sonny Terry to the injunction of his guitar-strumming partner Brownie McGhee. Brownie intones: "Let me hear you squall, boy, like you never squalled before!" The answer is a whooping, racing, moaning harmonica stretch that takes one’s breath away, invoking forms, faces, and places whose significance was unknown prior to the song’s formidable inscriptions.

from Baker, Houston. Blues, Ideology, and African-American Literature: A Vernacular Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.