Sunday, June 17, 2012

Jean Toomer--Cane (1923)

An exemplar of experimental high modernism from the Harlem Renaissance, Cane moves from the South to the North and back again.  In a collection of loosely related sketches and poetry, the text unfolds in three sections: the first section focuses on southern folk culture; the second section focuses on urban life in Washington D.C.; and the third section is about the racial conflicts experienced by a black Northerner living in the South.  As the text is considered to be loosely autobiographical, critics disagree how the fragmented nature should be read: as either a process of self-discovery, or as a fragmentation of self and subsequent failure of discovery in the form.  Cane is important in that it claims a distinctly modernist genealogy for the Harlem Renaissance, while incorporating blues structure—the A A’ B structure is reflected in the three-part structure of the novel, and the blues call and response and repetitive structure can be seen in the repetition of the text.  The second section, in particular, moves the narrative to the periphery as it puts poetry at the center of the text.  Such a fragmentation of the subject demonstrates how no one central vision can be held together. 

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