Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance

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and “Mr. Baker perceives the harlem Renaissance as a crucial moment in a movement, predating the 1920’s, when Afro-Americans embraced the task of self-determination and in so doing gave forth a distinctive form of expression that still echoes in a broad spectrum of 20th-century Afro-American arts. . . . Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance may well become Afro-America’s ‘studying manual.’ and “–Tonya Bolden, New York Times Book Review

The Following Text Is From Page 56 Of Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance
In his essay Nature, Ralph Waldo Emerson writes: “Nature is the vehicle of thought.”41 On Caliban’s island, there could be no signifying whatsoever were it not for the indigenous inhabitant’s instruction in the language (veil/vale) of nature. Seeking a new master, Caliban ebulliently promises the island’s semantics to the scurrilous Stephano: “I’ll show you the best springs”; “I prithee, let me bring thee where crabs grow. . . . Show thee a jay’s nest, and instruct thee how / To snare the nimble marmoset” (2.2.160, 167–70). Sycorax’s son is the adept instructor in natural “forms.” “Every appearance in nature,” continues Emerson, “corresponds to some state of the mind, and that state of the mind can only be described by presenting that natural appearance as its picture.”42 The icons or pictures of Caliban’s island reflect the usurpations of the Renaissance West—a social world of displaced knowledge-seekers that mocked (to distraction) honestly salvific people like Gonzalo. A shared nature as language—as a fruitful ecology of communication—was, thus, subjected to usurpation by men who refused to brook difference. Tyranny demanded self-sameness, subjugation, appropriated labor—even from the seemingly suitable suitor. (Ferdinand becomes the “other” in the woodpile to qualify as Miranda’s groom.) The “tempest,” then, is, veritably, a havoc wreaked by mastery; it disrupts “natural” order—blunts “sounds and sweet airs, that give delight, and hurt not” (3.2.134). The Western Renaissance “storm” displaces in fact the witch as worker of sounding magic and releases, in her place, the comprador spirit Ariel who aids Propero’s male manipulations. The tripling of Caliban vis-à-vis writing as supplementarity is implicit in Gonzalo’s vision of difference: “I would by contraries / Execute all things”; “All things in common Nature should produce . . . treason, felony, / Sword, pike, knife, gun, or need of any engine, / Would I not have” (2.1.143–44, 155–58). In brief, the “fool” would have the isle widely pre-Prosperian, revising or deforming the contraries of Western civilization in order to return to a “natural” signification. Such a world would witness Caliban not as student of “culture as a foreign language” (CFL, as it were), but rather as an instructor in a first voice, resonant with “a thousand twangling instruments” in nature. Caliban’s position as metacurser derives from his knowledge that his cursedness is a function of his own largesse as signifier, as a man in tune with first meanings. “Curs’d be I that did so!” is his judgment on his willingness to barter his signs for the white magician’s language.