Fierce Urgency of Now book cover The Fierce Urgency of Now: Improvisation, Rights, and the Ethics of Cocreation

The second book to launch in the Improvisation, Community, and Social Practice series with Duke University Press is the co-authored volume, The Fierce Urgency of Now: Improvisation, Rights, and the Ethics of Cocreation, by Daniel Fischlin, Ajay Heble, and George Lipsitz. The book proposes the vital argument “not only that improvisation and rights can be connected but also that they must be connected, that improvisation is at its heart a democratic, humane, and emancipatory practice, and that securing rights of all sorts requires people to hone their capacities to act in the world, capacities that flow from improvisation” (Fischlin, Heble, and Lipsitz xi). Employing an “ethics of cocreation” (xi), both in its methodology and in its authorship, the authors explore the challenges of the “global rights emergency” (xiii) of our present and the responses possible by “cultivating the capacity to action” (xiv) through practices of improvisation.

The Fierce Urgency of Now links musical improvisation to struggles for social change, focusing on the connections between the improvisation associated with jazz and the dynamics of human rights struggles and discourses. The authors acknowledge that at first glance improvisation and rights seem to belong to incommensurable areas of human endeavor. Improvisation connotes practices that are spontaneous, personal, local, immediate, expressive, ephemeral, and even accidental, while rights refer to formal standards of acceptable human conduct, rules that are permanent, impersonal, universal, abstract, and inflexible. Yet the authors not only suggest that improvisation and rights can be connected; they insist that they must be connected.

Improvisation is the creation and development of new, unexpected, and productive cocreative relations among people. It cultivates the capacity to discern elements of possibility, potential, hope, and promise where none are readily apparent. Improvisers work with the tools they have in the arenas that are open to them. Proceeding without a written score or script, they collaborate to envision and enact something new, to enrich their experience in the world by acting on it and changing it. By analyzing the dynamics of particular artistic improvisations, mostly by contemporary American jazz musicians, the authors reveal improvisation as a viable and urgently needed model for social change. In the process, they rethink politics, music, and the connections between them.

Daniel Fischlin is Professor and University Research Chair in the School of English and Theatre Studies at the University of Guelph in Ontario. He is coauthor (with Martha Nandorfy) of The Community of Rights – The Rights of Community.

Ajay Heble is Professor in the School of English and Theatre Studies at the University of Guelph and an editor (with Rob Wallace) of People Get Ready: The Future of Jazz Is Now!, also published by Duke University Press. He is the founder and artistic director of the Guelph Jazz Festival.

George Lipsitz is Professor in the Department of Black Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of many books, including How Racism Takes Place and Footsteps in the Dark: The Hidden Histories of Popular Music.

More information on the book is available at Duke University Press, where the book is available for purchase.