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Behind the Masks of ModernismGlobal and Transnational Perspectives$
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Andrew Reynolds and Bonnie Roos

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780813061641

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813061641.001.0001

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The “Colder Artifice”

The “Colder Artifice”

Paul Laurence Dunbar, Countee Cullen, and the Mask of Blackness

(p.115) 5 The “Colder Artifice”
Behind the Masks of Modernism

Steven A. Nardi

University Press of Florida

This chapter uses Derrida’s “White Mythology” to examine how border zones between the “real” inner-face and “false” outer-face, common to a number of Harlem Renaissance modernist writers and to a tradition of the trickster figure in African-American folktales, create a metaphorical mask in Countee Cullen’s 1925 book, Color. As Nardi asserts, though Cullen’s metaphorical poetry works by “catachresis,” it also breaks down the distinctions between surface and depth, drawing attention to the instability of the very layers of reflection that give the mask its power; it emphasizes the existence of the mask and then exposes its limitations. As Nardi represents it, Cullen’s African-American modernist cultural deconstruction of the mask and poem offer sites of multiplicity that ultimately draw on what African-American artists understood as an almost postmodern “African” origin and identity.

Keywords:   Harlem Renaissance, African American modernism, Countee Cullen

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