Race, Manhood, and Modernism in America: The Short Story Cycles of Sherwood Anderson and Jean Toomer

Posted in Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, United States on 2017-04-10 16:57Z by Steven

Race, Manhood, and Modernism in America: The Short Story Cycles of Sherwood Anderson and Jean Toomer

University of Tennessee Press
2007-09-30
304 pages
Hardcover ISBN: 978-1572335806

Mark Whalan, Robert D. and Eve E. Horn Professor of English
University of Oregon

Race, Manhood, and Modernism in America offers the first extended comparison between American writers Sherwood Anderson (1876-1941) and Jean Toomer (1894-1967), examining their engagement with the ideas of “Young American” writers and critics such as Van Wyck Brooks, Paul Rosenfeld, and Waldo Frank. This distinctively modernist school was developing unique visions of how race, gender, and region would be transformed as America entered an age of mass consumerism.

Focusing on Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio (1919), and Toomer’s Cane (1923), Race, Manhood, and Modernism in America brings Anderson and Toomer together in a way that allows for a thorough historical and social contextualization that is often missing from assessments of these two literary talents and of modernism as a whole. The book suggests how the gay subcultures of Chicago and the traumatic events of the Great War provoked Anderson’s anxieties over the future of male gender identity, anxieties that are reflected in Winesburg, Ohio. Mark Whalan discusses Anderson’s primitivistic attraction to African American communities and his ambivalent attitudes toward race, attitudes that were embedded in the changing cultural and gendered landscape of mass mechanical production.

The book next examines how Toomer aimed to broaden the racial basis of American cultural nationalism, often inspired by the same cultural critics who had influenced Anderson. He rejected the ethnographically based model of tapping the “buried cultures” of ethnic minorities developed by his mentor, Waldo Frank, and also parted with the “folk” aesthetic endorsed by intellectuals of the Harlem Renaissance. Instead, Toomer’’ monumental Cane turned to discourses of physical culture, machine technology, and illegitimacy as ways of conceiving of a new type of manhood that refashioned commonplace notions of racial identity.

Taken together, these discussions provide a fresh, interdisciplinary appraisal of the importance of race to “Young America,” suggest provocative new directions for scholarship, and give new insight into some of the most crucial texts of U.S. interracial modernism.

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Here, There, and In Between: Travel as Metaphor in Mixed Race Narratives of the Harlem Renaissance

Posted in Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2014-12-11 00:23Z by Steven

Here, There, and In Between: Travel as Metaphor in Mixed Race Narratives of the Harlem Renaissance

University of Massachusetts, Amherst
2014-05-09

Colin Enriquez
English Department

Created to comment on Antebellum and Reconstruction literature, the tragic mulatto concept is habitually applied to eras beyond the 19th century. The tragic mulatto has become an end rather than a means to questioning racist and abolitionist agendas. Rejecting the pathetic and self-destructive traits inscribed by the tragic label, this dissertation uses geographic, cultural, and racial boundary crossing to theorize a rereading of mixed race characters in Harlem Renaissance literature. Focusing on train, automobile, and boat travel, the study analyzes the relationship between the character, transportation, and technology whereby the notion of race is questioned. Furthermore, the dissertation divides travel into departure, interstitial, and arrival phases. With the ability to extend perception and experience, media is also interpreted here as transportation. Using figurative and literal travel, the selected narratives move between localities to allegorize 20th mixed race subjectivity. Socially ambiguous and anonymous, interstitial moments suspend the normative performance of race and enable the selected authors’ investigations of race binarism. After the introduction establishes a theoretical frame composed of transnational and migration studies methods, the ensuing chapters demonstrate the interpretive function of travel in Jean Toomer’s Cane, Nella Larsen’s Quicksand, and Walter White’s Flight. This reading is aided by the connection between modernism and mixed race identity as expounded upon in the works of Robert E. Park, Mark Whalan, Cherene Sherrard-Johnson, Jeanne Scheper. However, it differs from these in its assertion of travel as an interpretive mode for mixed race literature as a tradition.

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Brother Mine: The Correspondence of Jean Toomer and Waldo Frank by Kathleen Pfeiffer (review)

Posted in Articles, Biography, Book/Video Reviews on 2014-08-22 14:54Z by Steven

Brother Mine: The Correspondence of Jean Toomer and Waldo Frank by Kathleen Pfeiffer (review)

Callaloo
Volume 37, Number 3, Summer 2014
pages 735-739
DOI: 10.1353/cal.2014.0094

L. Lamar Wilson

Jean Toomer’s Cane remains one of the most enigmatic works that emerged during the last century. In the past three decades, critics have probed auto/biography, psychoanalysis, sociopolitical and theological discourse, gender studies, and Toomer’s own critical essays for answers to questions raised by his exploration of racial and national identity and dislocation, black male and female sexuality, and the metaphorical topoi of the United States North and South in the text. Nellie McKay, Robert B. Jones, Rudolph P. Byrd, Farah Jasmine Griffin, Karen Jackson Ford, Mark Whalan, and Kathleen Pfeiffer have unearthed insightful details about the circumstances surrounding Toomer’s formation of a complex racial identity, his life in the immediate years preceding Cane’s creation and publication, and the text’s impact on his subsequent writing and the Afro-modern and postmodern canons.

Whalan’s Letters of Jean Toomer: 1919–1924, published in 2006, and Brother Mine: The Correspondence of Jean Toomer and Waldo Frank, Pfeiffer’s 2010 response, have been particularly important. Letters gives scholars access to Toomer’s willingness to emphasize whatever aspects of his racial and cultural identity would appeal to black and white literati alike at any given moment during the years bookending Cane’s 1923 publication. Moreover, through Letters, Toomer’s co-dependency on Waldo Frank, his closest friend and mentor at the time, comes into fuller focus vis-à-vis impassioned declarations of artistic allegiance and filial devotion. With Brother Mine, Pfeiffer complicates critical notions of their relationship, offering a chronological collation of epistles between the two men. From Frank’s first letter to Toomer in October 1920, Pfeiffer implicates Frank in encouraging Toomer, who was initially reserved and professional, to open up to his input and affections and to the possibilities of publication available to him as a modernist “Negro” poet. In her introduction, Pfeiffer links the dissolution of their friendship to Toomer’s affair with Frank’s wife, art therapist Margaret Naumburg, and marks Toomer a turncoat. However, she discounts the betrayal Toomer expressed feeling in his autobiography of having been reduced to “a fraction of Negro blood” when, in fact, he desired to create “a synthesis in the matters of the mind and spirit analogous, perhaps, to the actual fact of at least six blood minglings” (qtd. in Pfeiffer 29). Ultimately, it would seem the strictures of America’s “one-drop rule” on the social status of one marked black was as much to blame.

What makes Brother Mine compelling, then, is that which made the earliest English and American readers fond of Pamela, The Power of Sympathy, and other epistolary novels: an intimate look at a complex love story. Readers see two men finding homosocial solidarity as they manipulate the constructs of race in the poetry that would become one of the New Negro Renaissance’s first critically acclaimed works. They also see Toomer offer Frank critical feedback on Holiday, Frank’s version of their trip to Spartanburg, South Carolina, which their letters often romanticize—while offering scant details. They read some of the most honest confessions in print of a white American man’s obsession with and hunger to embody blackness, and they witness Toomer deftly navigating his multiracial identity. As he and his beloved Jewish brother reach for a raceless identity neither can attain in America, readers watch them commit the ultimate crime: interracial love. Frank’s gleeful interest in the black American experience is palpable as he alludes to the pleasures and challenges he and Toomer encounter as they venture into the US South. Moreover, it is clear that Frank is living vicariously through Toomer’s relationships with his grandmother, best friend Ken, and on-again, off-again girlfriend Mae. What emerges from their dialogue is both men’s problematic conception of a kind of Lacanian jouissance subsumed in blackness, which Toomer calls a “soil [that] is a good rich brown” that “should yield splendidly to our plowing” in an August 3, 1922, letter in which he makes final plans for the pair’s Spartanburg excursion (59).

Central to the poetic re-envisioning of Cane that emerges in Brother Mine is the homo-social desire that permeates every page. As Pfeiffer notes, the almost…

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Cane

Posted in Biography, Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Novels, Passing on 2010-12-30 16:43Z by Steven

Cane

W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
January 2011 (Originally published in 1923)
560 pages
5 Ă— 8 in
Paperback ISBN: 978-0-393-93168-6

Jean Toomer (1894-1967)

Edited by:

Rudolph P. Byrd (1953-2011), Goodrich C. White Professor of American Studies and African American Studies
Emory University

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director, W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research
Harvard University

A masterpiece of the Harlem Renaissance and a canonical work in both the American and the African American literary traditions, Cane is now available in a revised and expanded Norton Critical Edition.

Originally published in 1923, Jean Toomer’s Cane remains an innovative literary work—part drama, party poetry, part fiction. This revised Norton Critical Edition builds upon the First Edition (1988), which was edited by the late Darwin T. Turner, a pioneering scholar in the field of African American studies. The Second Edition begins with the editors’ introduction, a major work of scholarship that places Toomer within the context of American Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance. The introduction provides groundbreaking biographical information on Toomer and examines his complex, contradictory racial position as well as his own pioneering views on race. Illustrative materials include government documents containing contradictory information on Toomer’s race, several photographs of Toomer, and a map of Sparta, Georgia—the inspiration for the first and third parts of Cane. The edition reprints the 1923 foreword to Cane by Toomer’s friend Waldo Frank, which helped introduce Toomer to a small but influential readership. Revised and expanded explanatory annotations are also included.

“Backgrounds and Sources” collects a wealth of autobiographical writing that illuminates important phases in Jean Toomer’s intellectual life, including a central chapter from The Wayward and the Seeking and Toomer’s essay on teaching the philosophy of Russian psychologist and mystic Georges I. Gurdjieff, “Why I Entered the Gurdjieff Work.” The volume also reprints thirty of Toomer’s letters from 1919–30, the height of his literary career, to correspondents including Waldo Frank, Sherwood Anderson, Claude McKay, Horace Liveright, Georgia O’Keeffe, and James Weldon Johnson.

An unusually rich “Criticism” section demonstrates deep and abiding interest in Cane. Five contemporary reviews—including those by Robert Littell and W. E. B. Du Bois and Alain Locke—suggest its initial reception. From the wealth of scholarly commentary on Cane, the editors have chosen twenty-one major interpretations spanning eight decades including those by Langston Hughes, Robert Bone, Darwin T. Turner, Charles T. Davis, Alice Walker, Gayl Jones, Barbara Foley, Mark Whalan, and Nellie Y. McKay.

A Chronology, new to the Second Edition, and an updated Selected Bibliography are also included.

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