Journal of Romance Studies

Suspended animation: movement and time in bossa nova

Journal of Romance Studies (2007), 7, (2), 75–97.

Abstract

How do we explain the enduring aesthetic power and attraction of bossa nova, as a compositional and performative style, fifty years since its emergence in Brazil? By way of arguing for a greater articulation, in popular music studies, between aesthetic, musicological concerns and social meaning, this article takes up the concept of movement as a key principle, both of musical experience and social life. Bossa nova is characterized as integrating two conceptions of time and movement, and therefore two civilizational temporalities: the modal and the tonal systems. At the heart of its appeal, it is argued, is bossa nova’s ability to hold these two systems in a balanced state of permanent, dynamic tension, or ‘suspended animation’. As such, more than a simple endorsement of Brazil’s optimistic postwar developmentalist rhetoric, bossa nova was, and remains, instead, a simultaneously utopian and critical response to the experience of modernity in that country since the second half of the twentieth century.

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Author details

Treece, David