May 2nd | Andrew Schlager on “Jean Toomer’s Aisles: Pedagogy and Performance.”

Please Join the Affect and the Emotions Workshop

Thursday, May 2nd, on Zoom from 2:00-3:30pm CST


Andrew Schlager

PhD Candidate, Princeton University, Department of English


“Jean Toomer’s Aisles: Performance and Pedagogy

Image: Carma (from Cane by Jean Toomer), Martin Puryear, 2000
Description: For theater makers at varying historical junctures, understanding their medium as especially pedagogical has redeemed or defended the form from charges of political quietism. While a strong reading of the social efficacy of anti-lynching dramas follows from their pedagogical aesthetics, this chapter reads a discrete cluster of cultural works from Black letters at the turn-of-the-twentieth century (by Du Bois, Julia Cooper, Weldon Johnson, and Locke) that flagrantly reverse this familiar relationship between theatricality and pedagogy. This tradition issues instead scenes of supremely disappointing, bad, or failed teaching as disquietingly theatrical. By not disavowing those affects and images of thought that go foreclosed when black classrooms are conscripted into securing the civil optimism of normative political movements, this paper tracks the dramaturgies, most exemplary in Jean Toomer’s Cane (1923), that fray or deflate the twinned mandates of a theater that coherently teaches. Ralph Kabins, the drunken principal fired from the Uplift school he leads, offers in the closet drama that bears his name an experimental counter-drama to the anti-lynching play, I argue. Following Autumn Womack’s call to displace the familiar mediums in lynching’s cultural memory, I theorize Toomer’s theater as estranging the location, calculation, and affects of violation for the early century anti-lynching movement.