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Survey Course Instructor: Mihai Mîndra

American Modernism II

American Modernism II - Experiments in the Novel / Short Story.

John Dos Passos (1896-1970). Jean Toomer (1894– 1967) Anzia Yezierska (c. 1880 – 1970)

Common feature: avant-garde experimentation (thematic & formal)

John Dos Passos as a Sunday Painter. (He was a good amateur painter.) Oil on Canvas.

three volume sequence of novels The 42nd Parallel (1930), 1919 (1932), The Big Money (1936) - published together in 1937 as U.S.A

New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1936.

 Experimented with:  Juxtaposition  rapid cutting  fragmentation. owing a good deal to the cinema techniques of Eisenstein and Griffith.  Other devices:  Simultaneity  pluralized narration  intersection of documentary material with personal stories .

through the crisis year 1919.  tracing the growth of the history of the United States from its optimistic and progressive hopes at the turn into the 20th century. when Woodrow Wilson’s hopes began to fail. “Newsreel” . and so to the crass materialism of the 1920s background material is divided into : “Camera Eye”. “Biography”.

 WALL STREET STUNNED This is not Thirty-eight but it's old Ninety-seven You must put her in Center on time MARKET SURE TO RECOVER FROM SLUMP Decline in Contracts  “NEWSREEL LXVIII POLICE TURN MACHINE GUNS ON COLORADO MINE STRIKERS KILL 5 WOUND 40 sympathizers appeared on the scene just as thousands of office workers were pouring out of the buildings at the lunch hour. they were jeered and hooted not only by the office workers but also by workmen on a building under construction”  . As they raised their placard high and started an indefinite march from one side to the other.

we know what it is like to see a man die) the women will lay him out on the rickety cot the miners will bury him (…)” . “THE CAMERA EYE (51) at the head of the valley in the dark of the hills on the broken floor of a lurched over cabin a man halfsits halflies propped up by an old woman two wrinkled girls that might be young chunks of coal flare in the hearth flicker in his face white and sagging as dough blacken the caved-in mouth the taut throat the belly swelled enormous with the wound he got working on the minetipple the barefoot girl brings him a tincup of water the woman wipes sweat off his streaming face with a dirty denim sleeve the firelight flares in his eyes stretched big with fever in the women's scared eyes and in the blanched faces of the foreigners without help in the valley hemmed by dark strikesilent hills the man will die (my father died.

prestige and power at the expense of political freedom.g. equality of economic opportunity and human dignity Dos Passos did not see the novel as a linear structure. Mary French . moving by progression of character and incident. but as a montage of people and activities: e.    covers 1920-29 chronicle of America’s failure in the post-war period failure is presented through the unabashed pursuit of wealth.

There were no seats left so she stood in the back. Mary used to tell herself. His face had the flushed smile. of a man who had just come from a date with his best girl. So many people were standing in front of her that she couldn't see Don. When a roar of applause answered his last words and the hall filled suddenly with voices and the scrape and shuffle of feet she ran out ahead of the crowd and up the alley to the back door. Without looking at her he swept her along with the men he was talking to and walked them fast towards the corner of the street”. “MARY FRENCH Mary French had to stay late at the office and couldn't get to the hall until the meeting was almost over. she could only hear his ringing harsh voice and feel the tense attention in the silence during his pauses. Don was just coming out of the black sheetiron door talking over his shoulder as he came to two of the miners' delegates. . It was some time before Don saw her in the group that gathered round him in the alley. He stopped a second to hold the door open for them with a long arm. there was the shine in his eye he often had after speaking. the look.

I tried to capture the same effect in words.”  the narrative method and authorial choice in the trilogy must be seen in light of Dos Passos’ aim of creating a new kind of fiction to couple history with fiction.”  . always as seen by some individual’s ears.His comparison between the new novel structure and a tableau clarifies his intention:  “I have paid a good deal of attention to painting. The period of art I was very much interested in at that time was the 13th and the 14th centuries. to “keep up a contemporary commentary on history’s changes. Its tableaux with large figures of saints surrounded by a lot of little people just fascinated me. felt through some individual’s nerves and tissues.

 These topics – modernist. Ethnic versions of modernism – one major concern of the late 20th century Americanists (e. the terms: “(ethnic) modernisms” (plural instead of singular). which have not been influenced by European developments. Hemingway.  Konzett Caparoso. Jean Rhys. albeit similar. and the Aesthetics of Dislocation. migrancy. Delia. as well as in the poems written by Ezra Pound.  Ethnic version of ‘high’ & ‘low’ modernism. and Faulkner. may also be encountered in the fictions of American modernism – only one of the developments of the time.  There were various indigenous factors. 2002. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. and which have played an important role in the constitution and dissemination of various discourses which evince a modernist sensibility. Zora Neale Hurston.  Research undertaken showed that the Europe-centered / -modelled version of  Ethnicity at the end of 19th – beginning of 20th century: defined by displacement.  Hence. Werner Sollors). to those encountered in the canonical writers listed above. 2002)  Topics that permeate the fiction written by ethnic writers. Ethnic Modernisms: Anzia Yezierks.  The reasons and nuances which may be found in the texts written by ethnic Americans – different.. and homelessness (Caparoso Konzett. Fitzgerald.g. .

alienation. various other forms of dislocation appear ‘raceneutral’ in canonical (white) American writers of the period. has also been triggered by the changes in American urban social structure brought about by 1890s – 1910s large number of immigrants to the U. Henry James in American Scene.)  Such ethnic writers take issue with the discourse of high modernism (race / gender / ethnicity – blind)  hybrid narrative / poetic forms. etc.  .g.  Caparoso Konzett argues that the experience of dislocation described by most of the canonical writers of the period. as well as by movements of African-American population from the rural areas of the South to the large cities of the North (e. for instance. Chicago.S.One of the major differences: while the experiences of exile. such as. the same topics are infused with concerns about ethnic / national identity in texts written by hyphenated authors. New York.

g. .g. etc. E. E. urban North / rural South. ▪ Jean Toomer – African-American vernacular & jazz-modelled patterns + novel interrogation of the meaning of ‘black’ / ‘negro’.: Yezierska – Yinglish (deliberate mixture of Yiddish and English). Eliot’s recourse to classical models)   ethnic modernist writers – situate themselves beyond any collective constraints (ethnic group / mainstream nationalism)  they are transnational in perspective.)  modernist narrative of (teleological) progress is questioned. Pound’s and T. deliberately literary + new definition given to the experience of immigration / national body.  Overall topic: non-synchronicity of cultures (Old / New World.  Without the subsequent creation of ‘new’ traditions (e.S.

 In Caparoso Konzett’s terms: these writers' modernism = “a provisional search for community and identity in a radically mobile and migratory reality.” (12) .

novel) Children of Loneliness: Stories of Immigrant Life in America (1923) Bread Givers (1925. . Hungry Hearts (1920. memoir). novel) Red Ribbon on a White Horse (1950. short stories) Salome of the Tenements (1923. novel) Arrogant Beggar (1927.

. Dewey’s modernist approach to American social realities of the time & his emphasis on the need for reforms  removal of all cultural / economic barriers  America as a democratic whole. reworking of slum melodrama or any other high / low literary generic conventions).g.  Experiments in language and fictional / narrative patterns (e. Modernist no so much in formal technique as in the way she questions and redefines the meaning(s) of cultural identity (as defined at the time).  Yezierska’s modernism: redefinition of (American) democracy in relation to ethnic / immigrant experience and identity.  Further details regarding ethnic issues – in the chapter uploaded on the Her modernism – better understood in relation to J.  yahoo group.

Jean Toomer. Ethel Waters. centered in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City  Alternative names: the New Negro movement. and Duke Ellington.A. Bessie Smith. Bill Robinson. Roland Hayes..P. Marcus Garvey’s “Back to Africa” movement  Examples: Claude McKay.C. Josephine Baker. theater. Aaron Douglass. the Negro renaissance. Florence Mills. Countee Cullen. the New Negro renaissance  Primarily a literary movement + music. Paul Robeson. Louis Armstrong. art and politics (Du Bois and N.  .1920s – early 1930s.A. Langston Hughes.

majority – black. Multiethnic neighbourhood.1935 Harlem map. .

 poverty. . which marched from the docks. 25 race riots in all sections of the country. led every step of the way by James Europe's jazz band. Factors involved:  1919 – return of highly‐ decorated Black 369th Infantry.  the "Red Summer" of 1919 – approx. and through Harlem. particularly in the South. down Broadway.

(the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. for instance. Chestnutt – national recognition. Emergence of a black middle class > increased education and job opportunities following the Civil War (Du Bois.A. + Claude MacKay & James Weldon Johnson (The Autobigraphy of an [Ex-] Colored Man) . The Souls of Black Folk). Marcus Garvey’s “Back to Africa” movement  Jazz and blues /the poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar and fiction of Charles W. was a Harvard graduate)  New political agenda advocating racial equality – Du Bois and N.C.A. 1909) as opposed to Booker T. Washington’s viewpoint with respect to the role & position of the African Americans in the U.S. (see “The Atlanta Exposition Address” v.P.

Brace & Company)  Jean Toomer’s Cane (1923)  Jessie Fauset’s There is Confusion (1924). Milestones for the new movement:  MacKay’s Harlem Shadows (1922) [the first black writer to be published by a mainstream. . national publisher – Harcourt.

March 1924 – the National Urban League – dinner meant to celebrate the new black literary talents & to introduce them to the white audience. 2. 1926 – the publication of Carl Van Vechten’s Nigger Heaven [white novelist] – Harlem’s exotic nightlife + a “return to the primitive” promise. Three events: 1. exotic/jazzed abandon: . special issue of the Survey Graphic dedicated to Harlem – edited by Alan Locke & featured black writers.

this primitive birthright which was so valuable and important an asset. tropical climes-this warm. Mary asked herself. This love of drums. With Olive these qualities were instinctive. all these were hers only through a mental understanding. Why. is this denied me? (Carl Van Vechten 113) . . this naive delight in glowing colour--the colour that exists only in cloudless. of exciting rhythms. . she. a birthright that all the civilized races were struggling to get back to-this fact explained the art of a Picasso or a Stravinsky. too. Savages! Savages at heart! And she had lost or forfeited her birthright. To be sure. sexual emotion. . felt this African beat-it completely aroused her emotionally--but she was conscious of feeling it.

.3.  Autumn 1926 – a group of young black writers produced Fire! Aim: disseminate artistic representations of African American experience.

singing. New Yorkers and people visiting New York from the world over go to the night-clubs of Harlem and dance to such jazz music as can be heard nowhere else. 1930. 1968. the subway kiosks swallowing and disgorging crowds all night long—gives the impression that Harlem never sleeps and that the inhabitants thereof jazz through existence. and it is talked about by natives in the interior of Africa. gay crowds skipping from one place of amusement to another. Black Manhattan (New York: Atheneum. in addition to being spread by ordinary agencies. James Weldon Johnson's description of reactions to Harlem:  It is known in Europe and the Orient. . colourful. And certainly this is Harlem's most striking and fascinating aspect. Johnson. a place of laughing. 160-161). (…) A visit to Harlem at night—the principal streets never deserted. lines of taxicabs and limousines standing under the sparkling lights of the entrances to the famous night‐ clubs. originally published. This phase of Harlem's fame is most widely known because. It is farthest known as being exotic. (James W. it has been proclaimed in story and song. and dancing. a place where life wakes up at night. pp. and sensuous. and they get an exhilaration impossible to duplicate.

 The exotic image comes from Blacks themselves and from white sympathizers:  Shuffle Along (1921) . written and     directed by four Blacks—Flournoy Miller. Noble Sissle. Miller. Sherwood Anderson . who also produced Liza (1923) Chorus girls such as Florence Mills and Josephine Baker Primitivism & dancing – Langston Hughes & Z.N. Hurston’s How It Feels to Be Colored Me.popular musical. Eubie Blake. . and Aubrey Lyles Put and Take (1921) – Irving C.Dark Laughter (1925): joyful laugh at the unhappy whites who repress their sexual drives / desires.

. DuBois (in The Crisis) questioned these representations of blackness since.  W. Home to Harlem (1928) Claude McKay. to him.B. .  Rudolph Fisher in The Walls of Jericho (1928) and Wallace Thurman in The Blacker the Berry (1929): night club scenes as clichés of Black life. they seemed to have incorporated whites’ stereotypes about blacks.E.

 The 1935 Harlem riot.  COMMON FEATURES to all the writers and artists involved:  the attempt to find an artistic expression for the African – American experience  some common themes as follows: . Factors contributing to the Harlem Renaissance decline:  The Great Depression NAACP & the Urban League focused on economic and social matters.

1.: L. ▪ identification is not by all means problematic: European / American / African heritage? ▪ the assertion of African past posed several problems since African-Americans were generally associated in the imaginary of the mainstream with a continent rather than specific African tribes / nations (as historically was the case). identity through identification with an ancestral past:  Jean Toomer – Cane.g. "Natalie Mann"  Countée Cullen -"Heritage"  Langston Hughes . e. Hughes ."The Negro Speaks of Rivers“. .“Afro-American Fragment”.

g. sense of alienation = impossibility to achieve a sense of belonging <– difficulty in relating oneself at a personal level to the Black heritage + exclusion & marginalization from the European heritage:  E.: McKay's "Outcast" & "The White House“ 3. ALL ABOVE – modernist themes.middle-class Negroes have to liberate themselves from restrictive morality of Anglo‐ Saxons (Protestants).“ ▪ Toomer's "Blood-Burning Moon" and "Kabnis" (Cane)  Sometimes indirectly by showing how it causes Blacks to turn against themselves: Jean Toomer’s "Natalie Mann” . .2. protests against oppression: ▪ Walter White's novel The Fire in the Flint (1924) ▪ Claude McKay's "The Lynching.

  VARIETY OF EXPRESSION: black vernacular/ African-American experience + modernist experimentation. folk romance. genteel realism. historical romance. and satire. folk realism. .  wide range of narrative forms and techniques  (re)writing traditional / new forms of: ▪ poetic realism.

▪ experimental in form. POETIC REALISM AND HISTORICAL ROMANCE  Search for identity and usable past – two literary forms: ▪ Poetic realism – Jean Toomer’s Cane: ▪ psychological approach to the modern black artist. .

1989.▪ Freudian themes – preoccupied with the theme of the repressed self). MA: University of Massachusetts Press. of mysticism and Afro-American spirituality” (Bernard W. of psychoanalytic technique and Afro-American music. Bell .96) ▪ Historical romance .The AfroAmerican Novel and Its Tradition. Amherst. . p. ▪ “represents a synthesis of the concerns of writers of the Lost Generation and the Harlem Renaissance. and his work embodies the tensions of modern science and folk tradition.Arna Bontemps's Black Thunder (retelling of a heroic legend in a traditional form).

 GENTEEL REALISM: ASSIMILATIONISM.  focus on the morals and manners of well-educated members of black high society  introduced the novel of manners & genteel realism. NATIONALISM. Jessie Fauset. and Nella Larsen .more emphasis on class than color.  > family background and education: secondgeneration members of the middle-class black intelligentsia. . OR BICULTURALISM  Walter White.

AND ANCESTRALISM   E. elevated social outcasts and plain folk to heroic stature. of continuity of the folk tradition.: Festus Claudius Mc Kay (1899-1948). and popularized in 1948 by Léopold Senghor in New Anthology of Black and Malagasian Poetry. and sexual drives behind the violence of black male-female relationships. celebrated urban as well as rural settings. coined in 1939 by Aimé Césaire in Journal of a Return to My Native Country (long narrative poem). and emphasis on the color and caste problems of black lovers.  unaffected language.g.  primitivism & ancestralism: romantic longing for a freer. spiritual. . more innocent time and place was born: a time and place where the rhythms of life were closely linked to nature and one's essential humanity was unquestioned. FOLK ROMANCE: PASTORALISM. PRIMITIVISM.g. and attacked the repressive forces of Western civilization (e.  international scope of the concept of ancestralism : the Négritude movement of Caribbean and Francophone West African writers.: social conformity and racism.  a more intense personal search for modern forms of ancestralism. bold explorations of the economic. Zora Neale Hurston (18911960) the Afro-American pastoral focused on the near rather than remote past .

Countee Porter Cullen (1903-46)   the novels of Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen focus on the everyday life of ordinary churchgoing black folk  representative rather than marginal or allegorical types. AND LANGUAGE  James Langston Hughes (1902-67). and their plots less melodramatic.  Aim: the truth of a particular environment and the social rituals of common folk rather than for the truth of the world at large and the life-style of street people and migrants.  their characters are less idealized.FOLK REALISM: RELIGION. their settings less exotic. . MUSIC. HUMOR.

Wallace Thurman (190234) . George Samuel Schuyler (1895-1977). SATIRIC REALISM: THE VICES AND FOLLIES OF THE FOLK AND BLACK BOURGEOISIE  several black writers of the Harlem Renaissance turned to comedy and satire for models to depict the ordinary experience of blacks.  Rudolph Fisher (1897-1934).

to clothe and give body to potentialities.transcendence of the soul and the attainment of spiritual truth through intuition. .he tried "to lift facts. things. and significance. early draft of his autobiography). in Bell 97) .Jean Toomer (1894– 1967) - - Mixed ethnic and racial background. Or. I am not a classicist or a realist. happenings to the planes of rhythm. . . a poetic realist. in the usual sense of these terms. . to put it in other words. I am a spiritualizer." (Toomer." (Toomer qtd. High middle class family. feeling. "I am not a romanticist. I am an essentialist. .

shifting rhythm of syntax and diction  Fragments of spirituals and work songs  Aspiration to a higher level of consciousness that went beyond conditioning social circumstances.  Images and symbols. .a synthesis of the earlier sections with Kabnis representing the black writer who finds it difficult to resolve the tension between the two.emphasis on the centers of commerce and the superego/the urban antithesis ▪ Part 3 .focus on the Southern past and the libido /the rural thesis ▪ Part 2 . Cane  three major parts – from a highly poetic to a heavily dramatic form. ▪ Part 1 .

and each sketch reveals a contrast between personal desires and social conventions unity of life and imminence of spiritual rebirth (see “Fern”)  its seven sketches and five poems continue the poet-narrator's quest  Part 3 . that symbolize his ethnic and national identities. In Part 1 .  Spirituals. the mind and body function as a spiritual unit. and dance are Toomer's symbols for the attainment of this goal. to reconcile himself to his heritage as a black American artist. poetry. folk songs.third-person omniscient narrative voice. by a divine sexual impulse.  focus on the perversion of the will and emotions when they are enslaved by the genteel mores of society.Gothic imagery of ten poems and six impressionistic sketches of Southern women (Georgian countryside). jazz. each is dominated  Part 2 . When freely and fully realized.  Each of the women is involved in a bizarre incident.  the inability of Ralph Kabnis to reconcile himself to the blood and soil .District of Columbia and Chicago. dramatic form.

the tools for my own creation. he confesses being strongly influenced by two approaches to literature:  Euro-American writers and works that used regional matter in a poetic manner. Ohio. "Their insistence on fresh vision and on the perfect clean economical line was just what I had been looking for. especially Robert Frost's poems and Sherwood Anderson 's Winesburg. I began feeling that I had in my hands.  impressed by the self-conscious art of the Imagists." (Toomer qtd. in Bell 101) .

And this was the feeling I put into Cane. I belong to no one of them and I belong to all. ("Crock of Problems" 58-59)  . now divided into hostile races. to the human race. (404)  “I am at once no one of the races and I am all of them.. Its death was so tragic. to one unified race. Just this seemed to sum up life for me. I may be the turning point for the return of mankind.. The folk spirit was walking in to die on the modern desert.“With Negroes also the trend was towards the small town and then towards the city--and industry and commerce and machines.. Heredity and environment will combine to produce a race which will be at once interracial and unique. That spirit was so beautiful. namely.

strident. modern. In its healthy freedom.. which however avoids binary oppositions & essentialized ethnic factors  ethnic modernism. American. Seventh Street is the song of crude new life. Of a new people.. . “When I come up to Seventh Street and Theatre. Negro? Only in the boldness of expression. a wholly new life confronts me. For it is jazzed.”  New definition for African American identity..