Thursday, October 26th, 2017...8:24 pmNoah Fusco

Consequences of Categorizing CANE

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Where does genre exist in relation to a text? As external social discourse, or as internal textual discourse? Does a text create its genre, or do we? Différance creates genre, and so placing Cane alongside many other books demands that it be considered . . . not a novel? Not entirely a short story collection? Not entirely a poetry collection? The closest its literary literalness resembles is the anthology, and yet that largely commercial or canonical practice does not satisfactorily sum up the simmering questions that Cane demands of us. First, is that the book attempts to avoid hierarchy in much the same way that Finnegans Wake does seventeen years later, by avoiding any indication of a true, or inherent, beginning. This recognition of lack of beginning points to something engendered by the conglomeration of prose and verse pieces, which is the lack of traditional dramatic unities. (Lorraine Hansberry curiously complained that one of the flaws of her A Raisin in the Sun was its lack of a central character; yet this serves also to de-rigidify traditional hierarchies of narrative. In this sense, Cane too rejects a central protagonist.)

The next day . . . I return to my rather intellectually precious writing from the night before and decide that I would like to declare Cane, polemically, a novel, if for no other reason than the repercussions that it engenders for the novel, which is an even wider berth of what a novel may be and may utilize. Aspirationally, it stretches the elasticity of the novel in ways that would be useful for the future vigor of the form.


  • I appreciate how you take so much time to convey each way in which Cane denies any genre or definition. I find your response as to the consequences an interesting take on the prompt. Discussing the repercussions of attempting to classify the text definitely does force Cane into becoming something it is not.

  • I really love the information that you provide in this post. I think the authors you pull from really demonstrate a very strong understanding of modernism. In reference to the second question that you ask in this post, you address genre and ask, “As external social discourse, or as internal textual discourse?” I think the use of the word “or” is really interesting because it separates the two forms of discourse. Can this novel do both at the same time? Does the prose and poetry create this separation?

  • I think that beginning your blog post with a series of questions, such as “Where does genre exist in relation to a text?” is very fitting for the topic of this blog post due to the fact that situating Cane within merely one genre is difficult, if not impossible and undoubtedly involves asking oneself a series of questions about the true purpose of genre itself. I appreciated the fact that this blog post allowed me to follow your train of thought, and I think that your ultimate decision to declare Cane, polemically, as an expansion of the novel is both interesting and convincing. Moving forward, it might be helpful to not only ask “how Cane continues to go beyond the boundaries of the novel,” but to think about why Jean Toomer might have chosen to engage in such a unique form. Great Post!

  •   Professor Seiler
    November 7th, 2017 at 2:03 am

    Noah, I am loving the polemic stance! To think about it further, you might revisit Olivia’s post, on which you commented. I’m with you in your attention to how _Cane_ compels us to think about the rigidity we tend (mistakenly, in my view) to associate with genre…

    Now, who are you reading on the question of genre? Other than JD?

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