Cover image for To make a new race : Gurdjieff, Toomer, and the Harlem Renaissance
Title:
To make a new race : Gurdjieff, Toomer, and the Harlem Renaissance
Author:
Woodson, Jon.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Jackson : University Press of Mississippi, [1999]

©1999
Physical Description:
x, 202 pages ; 24 cm
Language:
English
Contents:
Jean Toomer: beside you will stand a strange man -- Wallace Thurman: beyond race and color -- Rudolf Fisher: minds of another order -- Nella Larsen: the anatomy of "sleep" -- George Schuyler: new races and new worlds -- Zora Neale Hurston: the self and the nation.
Reading Level:
1350 Lexile.
ISBN:
9781578061303

9781578061310
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

Jean Toomer's adamant stance against racism and his call for a raceless society were far more complex than the average reader of works from the Harlem Renaissance might believe. In To Make a New Race Jon Woodson explores the intense influence of Greek-born mystic G. I. Gurdjieff on the thinking of Toomer and his coterie--Zora Neale Hurston, Nella Larson, George Schuyler, Wallace Thurman--and, through them, the mystic's influence on many of the notables in African American literature.

Gurdjieff, born of poor Greco-Armenian parents on the Russo-Turkish frontier, espoused the theory that man is asleep and in prison unless he strains against the major burdens of life, especially those of identification, like race. Toomer, whose novel Cane became an inspiration to many later Harlem Renaissance writers, traveled to France and labored at Gurdjieff's Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man. Later, the writer became one of the primary followers approved to teach Gurdjieff's philosophy in the United States.

Woodson's is the first study of Gurdjieff, Toomer, and the Harlem Renaissance to look beyond contemporary portrayals of the mystic in order to judge his influence. Scouring correspondence, manuscripts, and published texts, Woodson finds the direct links in which Gurdjieff through Toomer played a major role in the development of "objective literature." He discovers both coded and explicit ways in which Gurdjieff's philosophy shaped the world views of writers well into the 1960s. Moreover Woodson reinforces the extensive contribution Toomer and other African-American writers with all their international influences made to the American cultural scene.


Summary

Jean Toomer's adamant stance against racism and his call for a raceless society were far more complex than the average reader of works from the Harlem Renaissance might believe. In To Make a New Race Jon Woodson explores the intense influence of Greek-born mystic G. I. Gurdjieff on the thinking of Toomer and his coterie--Zora Neale Hurston, Nella Larson, George Schuyler, Wallace Thurman--and, through them, the mystic's influence on many of the notables in African American literature.
Gurdjieff, born of poor Greco-Armenian parents on the Russo-Turkish frontier, espoused the theory that man is asleep and in prison unless he strains against the major burdens of life, especially those of identification, like race. Toomer, whose novel Cane became an inspiration to many later Harlem Renaissance writers, traveled to France and labored at Gurdjieff's Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man. Later, the writer became one of the primary followers approved to teach Gurdjieff's philosophy in the United States.
Woodson's is the first study of Gurdjieff, Toomer, and the Harlem Renaissance to look beyond contemporary portrayals of the mystic in order to judge his influence. Scouring correspondence, manuscripts, and published texts, Woodson finds the direct links in which Gurdjieff through Toomer played a major role in the development of "objective literature." He discovers both coded and explicit ways in which Gurdjieff's philosophy shaped the world views of writers well into the 1960s. Moreover Woodson reinforces the extensive contribution Toomer and other African-American writers with all their international influences made to the American cultural scene.

Jon Woodson, an associate professor of English at Howard University in Washington, D.C., is a contributor to the collection, Black American Poets Between Worlds, 1940-1960 . He has published articles in African American Review and other journals.


Author Notes

Jon Woodson is an associate professor of English at Howard University.


Jon Woodson is an associate professor of English at Howard University.


Reviews 2

Choice Review

Woodson (Howard Univ.) presents a new theory about the philosophical underpinnings of the Harlem Renaissance that--if accepted--would require reinterpreting at least 13 prominent Harlem Renaissance novels--including works by Jean Toomer, Wallace Thurman, Rudolph Fisher, Nella Larsen, George Schuyler, and Zora Neale Hurston--in light of the teachings of Greek-born mystic G.I. Gurdjieff. The Harlem Renaissance would also need to be reconsidered not as a spontaneous outpouring of original African American art with roots in folk culture and the modernist movement, but rather as a highly prescribed, if creative, illustration of Gurdjieff's doctrine. Woodson takes pains to establish the proximity of the writers to one another and to teachers of Gurdjieff's thought; however, he fails to prove intellectual collaboration among them: some evidence appears to be taken out of context and some appears suspiciously subjective. Although this argument risks being too circumscribed, several themes generated in Gurdjieff's lectures do seem to bear some connection to Harlem Renaissance writing--the notion of sleep (going through life asleep), the mask (false personality), the deconstruction of race as a determinant in human potential. Although Woodson's thesis is provocative and the prose well written, course syllabi are not likely to be revised soon on the basis of this argument. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. J. Tharp; University of Wisconsin Colleges


Choice Review

Woodson (Howard Univ.) presents a new theory about the philosophical underpinnings of the Harlem Renaissance that--if accepted--would require reinterpreting at least 13 prominent Harlem Renaissance novels--including works by Jean Toomer, Wallace Thurman, Rudolph Fisher, Nella Larsen, George Schuyler, and Zora Neale Hurston--in light of the teachings of Greek-born mystic G.I. Gurdjieff. The Harlem Renaissance would also need to be reconsidered not as a spontaneous outpouring of original African American art with roots in folk culture and the modernist movement, but rather as a highly prescribed, if creative, illustration of Gurdjieff's doctrine. Woodson takes pains to establish the proximity of the writers to one another and to teachers of Gurdjieff's thought; however, he fails to prove intellectual collaboration among them: some evidence appears to be taken out of context and some appears suspiciously subjective. Although this argument risks being too circumscribed, several themes generated in Gurdjieff's lectures do seem to bear some connection to Harlem Renaissance writing--the notion of sleep (going through life asleep), the mask (false personality), the deconstruction of race as a determinant in human potential. Although Woodson's thesis is provocative and the prose well written, course syllabi are not likely to be revised soon on the basis of this argument. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. J. Tharp; University of Wisconsin Colleges


Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
Acknowledgmentsp. xi
Abbreviationsp. xii
Introductionp. 1
1 Jean Toomer: Beside You Will Stand a Strange Manp. 29
2 Wallace Thurman: Beyond Race and Colorp. 47
3 Rudolph Fisher: Minds of Another Orderp. 75
4 Nella Larsen: The Anatomy of "Sleep"p. 97
5 George Schuyler: New Races and New Worldsp. 123
6 Zora Neale Hurston: The Self and the Nationp. 147
Conclusionp. 171
Notesp. 179
Bibliographyp. 183
Indexp. 191
Prefacep. ix
Acknowledgmentsp. xi
Abbreviationsp. xii
Introductionp. 1
1 Jean Toomer: Beside You Will Stand a Strange Manp. 29
2 Wallace Thurman: Beyond Race and Colorp. 47
3 Rudolph Fisher: Minds of Another Orderp. 75
4 Nella Larsen: The Anatomy of "Sleep"p. 97
5 George Schuyler: New Races and New Worldsp. 123
6 Zora Neale Hurston: The Self and the Nationp. 147
Conclusionp. 171
Notesp. 179
Bibliographyp. 183
Indexp. 191