Jean Toomer’s Cane: The Harlem Renaissance, Modernism, and the Avant-Garde
Shadi Neimneh, Marwan Obeidat

This article examines Jean Toomer’s Cane (1923) as an experimental miscellany written at the intersection of the Harlem Renaissance literary flowering and Anglo-American modernist traditions. This revolutionary work, we intend to argue, is thus subversive of genre classifications and canonical labels. We contend that Cane is both more modernist than has been thought and more “Negro” than has been claimed. We intend to complicate the position of such a text and articulate its “modernist” contradictions and ambivalences, using for argument major debates about the nature and value of black art at the time. Moreover, we highlight the text’s avant-garde, high modernist nature (its structural complexity for its times) and its treatment of modernist yet racialized themes like primitivism andinter-racial sexuality. We conclude that Cane is a subversive text that springs from and yet negotiates the American modernism of its times by reshaping and redefining it from a minoritarian African-American position. After all, influence relations between American forms of modernism and English and European ones were strongly present. It is legitimate, therefore, to read Cane from the global lens of transnational modernism.

Full Text: PDF     DOI: 10.15640/jflcc.v3n1a8