Jean Toomer and the Prison-House of Thought: A Phenomenology of the Spirit

Jean Toomer and the Prison-House of Thought: A Phenomenology of the Spirit

Jean Toomer and the Prison-House of Thought: A Phenomenology of the Spirit

Jean Toomer and the Prison-House of Thought: A Phenomenology of the Spirit

Synopsis

Offering a critique of the subjective idealism that lies at the centre of Toomer's oeuvre through the lens of Lukac's theory of reification, Robert B. Jones frames his analysis in terms of Kierkegaard's stages of development - the aesthetic, the ethical, and the religious.

Excerpt

This book began as an attempt to find a comprehensive system for understanding one of America's most enigmatic writers, Jean Toomer. After several years of examining the vast network of published and unpublished texts, both in the Fisk University Library and in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale, I was able to assign specific works to periods in Toomer's intellectual development. Soon a literary canon evolved, comprising almost four decades of writings; concomitant with this evolution there emerged a remarkably systematic devotion to the possibilities of idealist philosophy. The present study examines how this perennial devotion to idealism influenced his philosophy and art. While this study constitutes the first comprehensive critical survey of Toomer's literary canon, examining works written between 1918 and 1955, it is also a critique of the subjective idealism that is consistently at the center of these works. In this context, I discuss the problem of idealist reification in his life and works as the basis for perpetual alienation. In formulating a heuristic strategy for examining idealist reification, I employ a dialectical methodology. Thus my purpose is not only to lay bare specific manifestations of reified consciousness in the themes, character types, and formal strategies, but also to discuss Toomer's struggles against reification. This dialectic, between the synchrony of form and the diachrony of history, should then provide an appropriate metacommentary useful in analyzing these works.

While no writer's life can be facilely reduced to discrete stages, Jean Toomer's search for spiritual systems of thought consistent with his idealism produced inflections and oscillations that truly represent moments in a phenomenology of the spirit. The present study develops in three parts, paralleling Toomer's literary and philosophical development with Kierkegaard's stages of spiritual evolution. Part 1, The Aesthetic Sphere, examines the works composed between 1918 and 1923 in the light of Orientalism, Symbolist idealism, and Imagism. In chapter 1 I

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