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Cane [Norton Critical Edition, 2nd ed.] by…
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Cane [Norton Critical Edition, 2nd ed.] (1988)

by Jean Toomer, Rudolph P. Byrd (Editor), Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (Editor)

Other authors: Megan Abbott (Contributor), Bernard Bell (Contributor), Robert Bone (Contributor), Arna Bontemps (Contributor), David Bradley (Contributor)24 more, Sterling A. Brown (Contributor), Charles T. Davis (Contributor), W. E .B. Du Bois (Contributor), Barbara Foley (Contributor), Waldo Frank (Foreword), Montgomery Gregory (Contributor), Langston Hughes (Contributor), George B. Hutchinson (Contributor), Catherine L. Innes (Contributor), Gayl Jones (Contributor), Robert Littell (Contributor), Alain Locke (Contributor), Nellie Y. McKay (Contributor), Gorham B. Munson (Contributor), Gino Michael Pellegrini (Contributor), John M. Reilly (Contributor), Paul Rosenfeld (Contributor), Charles Scruggs (Contributor), Werner Sollors (Contributor), Darwin T. Turner (Editor), Darwin T. Turner (Contributor), Alice Walker (Contributor), Mark Whalan (Contributor), Jennifer D. Williams (Contributor)

Series: Norton Critical Editions

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This book doesn't deserve more than 2** – not in derogation of Jean Toomer's novel but because of the poor editorial quality of this Norton Critical Edition.

This is the first time I have ever seen an NCE that suffers from such egregiously bad proof-reading. On more than one occasion among articles in the supplementary materials, an exclamation point is erroneously shown as a capital I, a lower-case l, or some other such misreading of a punctuation mark that's very important in Toomer's writing. And one article, "The Unity of Jean Toomer's Cane" by Catherine Innes, is rendered completely unreadable by proof-reading errors that include apparent repetition of some strings of text and omission of others. (NOTE that this is meant as a criticism of the NCE editors, not of the article's author.)

It's as if this book was prepared by scanning material from printed sources, then running it through OCR software but not carefully proof-reading the result.

The numerous typographical errors within the supplementary materials make me concerned that there may also be typographical errors within the text of the novel itself – errors that I have failed to notice because Toomer's combination of poetry and stream-of-consciousness prose is not always conventional English grammar and spelling, so that only an expert on Cane (which I am very definitely not) would catch typographical errors.

Get this NCE if you're in desperate need of supplementary critical articles, but as a text I'd rely more comfortably on the Cane in the Library of America's two-volume Harlem Renaissance Novels set.

It's really quite a shame that a collection of supplementary materials that includes excellent critical articles is marred by such sloppiness, especially when Henry Louis Gates is one of the editors. ( )
1 vote CurrerBell | Apr 22, 2015 |
First part is extremely good, especially the poems. Second part is okay. Third part you can take a pass on. ( )
  _________jt_________ | Nov 17, 2010 |
Jean Toomer's Cane is a work of in-betweens, of liminal spaces that resist categorization. And based on its author's biography, it's easy to see why. Toomer, the light-skinned grandson of the first person of African descent to become Governor of a US State, grew up in an upper-crust Washington DC society; he went on to attend first all-black, then all-white, then all-black area schools. In a city halfway between historical North and South, Toomer had the experience of being of mixed racial descent in a segregated country. In later life, he refused to identify with any race other than the new "American" one he saw forming out of the intermingled ethnicities across the United States:


In my body were many bloods, some dark blood, all blended in the fire of six or more generations. I was, then, either a new type of man or the very oldest. In any case I was inescapably myself...If I achieved greatness of human stature, then just to the degree that I did I would justify all the blood in me. If I proved worthless, then I would betray all. In my own mind I could not see the dark blood as something quite different and apart. But if people wanted to say this dark blood was Negro blood and if they then wanted to call me a Negro - this was up to them. Fourteen years of my life I had lived in the white group, four years I had lived in the colored group. In my experience there had been no main difference between the two.

This attitude, in turn, meant that although Cane is regarded as one of the masterpieces of the Harlem Renaissance, Toomer was a bit of an outsider even within that bohemian group; his attempt at a post-racial philosophy didn't jive with the goals of writers and artists who were celebrating Pan-Africanism and making more visible the "New Negro" way of life.

All of these influences are visible in Cane, which is neither a novel, nor a poem, nor a book of short stories, but something more unique altogether. It's divided into three sections: the first two, set in rural Georgia and DC/Chicago respectively, are collections of lyrical character sketches interspersed with poems in a wide variety of forms (sonnet, traditional and modified "In Memoriam" stanzas, rhyming couplets, etc.). The third section is, as Toomer said, a "long, semi-dramatic closing-piece." If this description makes Cane sound like a motley assortment of ingredients thrown together to make up something long enough for a book, that is basically what happened; Toomer wrote the entire middle (Northern) section in order to pad his Southern material. And yet, the whole of the book has an undeniable unity and great beauty. Anyone who has watched and appreciated such Jim Jarmusch films as Mystery Train and Coffee and Cigarettes will understand what Toomer is up to: as we weave in and out of characters' lives, in and out of verse and prose, we recognize repeating motifs that tie it all together: smouldering sawdust piles wreathing Georgia valleys in blue smoke; carriages jolting down the Dixie Pike; sexuality smothered under religion or society; tableaux glimpsed from the windows of speeding trains. In the first section, especially, I felt as though every bit of prose and verse is necessary to, and couldn't belong anywhere other than, Cane as a whole. Toomer creates a blistering love-song to a fading way of life.



November Cotton Flower



Boll-weevil's coming, and the winter's cold,

Made cotton-stalks look rusty, seasons old,

And cotton, scarce as any southern snow,

Was vanishing; the branch, so pinched and slow,

Failed in its function as the autumn rake;

Drouth fighting soil had caused the soil to take

All water from the streams; dead birds were found

In wells a hundred feet below the ground--

Such was the season when the flower bloomed.

Old folks were startled, and it soon assumed

Significance. Superstition saw

Something it had never seen before:

Brown eyes that loved without a trace of fear,

Beauty so sudden for that time of year.

Toomer's style strikes me as more "High Modernist" than that of other Harlem Renaissance luminaries like Zora Neale Hurston or Langston Hughes: edgy, experimental, sometimes obscure, with more emphasis on atmosphere and character than action. (I wouldn't recommend Cane to those Woolf in Winter readers who felt Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse lacked plot.) Although he is obviously deeply moved by visiting and observing rural Georgia life, Toomer remains an outsider; he never takes on, as Hurston does, the country or city dialect as his own. Instead he writes in a skittish in-between voice: lightly inflected with the cadences of Georgia spirituals and back-fence gossip sessions, but never escaping an erudite, Northern (even British-sounding) tone. When he does depict characters speaking in Southern dialect, he inserts a Northern outsider character, a stand-in for himself. One gets the sense he wishes to approach closer, but he can never quite manage it: his awkwardness, what he would probably term his Northern over-civilization, gets in the way. I think, though, that it's this yearning of an outsider to find belonging, that gives Cane its energy and beauty, as well as its melancholy tone. It's audible even from the opening lines:


                               ​Her skin is like dusk on the eastern horizon,

                               ​O cant you see it, O cant you see it,

                               ​Her skin is like dusk on the eastern horizon,

                               .​ . .When the sun goes down.



Men had always wanted her, this Karintha, even as a child, Karintha carrying beauty, perfect as dusk when the sun goes down. Old men rode her hobby-horse upon their knees. Young men danced with her at frolics when they should have been dancing with their grown-up girls. God grant us youth, secretly prayed the old men. The young fellows counted the time to pass before she would be old enough to mate with them. This interest of the male, who wishes to ripen a growing thing too soon, could mean no good to her.

I love Toomer's skill at shading poetry into prose and prose back out into poetry; it might be my favorite manifestation of the way Cane balances on border-lines and leaps across spectrums. So too, he blurs racial lines: the people of Cane are every color imaginable, from Karintha's eastern-horizon blue-black, to Fern's "cream-colored" and Dorris's "lemon-colored" complexions, to Muriel's "flushed ginger," Esther's "chalk-white," and young Louisa, "the color of oak leaves on young trees in fall." Are all these women "black"? Such an idea, we can hear Toomer argue, is ridiculous: and yet, as the lynching, estrangement, and heartbreak of this book attest, it still has a terrible power.
3 vote emily_morine | Feb 2, 2010 |
I'm still not entirely convinced of Cane's literary value as a single unified text, but there is interesting and worthwhile material here, at least in parts. As a whole, each reader will have to decide separately. Modernism aside, I'm not particularly convinced that all of this is edited, purposeful, or together. ( )
  whitewavedarling | Jun 7, 2007 |
Poetic, beautiful, ugly, great. ( )
  the_terrible_trivium | Apr 12, 2007 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jean Toomerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Byrd, Rudolph P.Editormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Gates, Henry Louis, Jr.Editormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Abbott, MeganContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bell, BernardContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bone, RobertContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bontemps, ArnaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bradley, DavidContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Brown, Sterling A.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Davis, Charles T.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Du Bois, W. E .B.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Foley, BarbaraContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Frank, WaldoForewordsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gregory, MontgomeryContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hughes, LangstonContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hutchinson, George B.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Innes, Catherine L.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Jones, GaylContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Littell, RobertContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Locke, AlainContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
McKay, Nellie Y.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Munson, Gorham B.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Pellegrini, Gino MichaelContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Reilly, John M.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Rosenfeld, PaulContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Scruggs, CharlesContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Sollors, WernerContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Turner, Darwin T.Editorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Turner, Darwin T.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Walker, AliceContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Whalan, MarkContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Williams, Jennifer D.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed

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Do Not Combine: This is a "Norton Critical Edition", it is a unique work with significant added material, including essays and background materials. Do not combine with other editions of the work. Please maintain the phrase "Norton Critical Edition" in the Canonical Title and Series fields.
Do Not Combine: This is a "Norton Critical Edition", it is a unique work with significant added material, including essays and background materials. Do not combine with other editions of the work. Please maintain the phrase "Norton Critical Edition" in the Canonical Title and Series fields. In addition, the second edition of the NCE has significantly different contents from the first edition. Please do not combine.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0393956008, Paperback)

Originally published in 1923, Cane is a literary masterpiece of the Harlem Renaissance. The growing interest in African-American literature that began in the 1960's led to the rediscovery of earlier African-American writers, one of whom is Jean Toomer, author of Cane. It is an innovative literary work—part drama, part poetry, part fiction.

"Backgrounds" contains generous excerpts from Jean Toomer's correspondence with fellow writers Sherwood Anderson, Waldo Frank, and Allen Tate, and with his publisher, Horace Liveright.

Darwin T. Turner's "Introduction" (to the 1975 Liveright edition of Cane), reprinted here, presents the historical and literary backgrounds of the work, as well as additional biographical information on Toomer.

"Criticism", both contemporary and recent, on Cane and Toomer is wide-ranging and includes essays by W. E. B. Du Bois, Gorham B. Munson, Robert Bone, Patricia Watkins, Lucinda H. MacKethan, Nellie Y. McKay, and Darwin T. Turner.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:10 -0400)

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