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For many of Harlem’s New Negro writers, friendships with whites provided invaluable access to publishers, patrons, financial opportunities, and social power. Yet these interracial relationships also required artists to navigate whites’ racially limited expectations about black identity, expression, and behavior. Jean Toomer’s friendship with Waldo Frank, for example, led to an aesthetically productive but racially problematic collaboration. Frank and Toomer provided each other with practical and emotional support as they developed their 1923 novels, Toomer’s Cane and Frank’s Holiday, and the creative implications of their racial difference are complex, particularly because Frank delivered Cane’s manuscript to Horace Liveright, and he advocated for its publication. Likewise, Carl Van Vechten’s friendship with Nella Larsen offered the latter a sense of community and practical support as she wrote Quicksand and Passing, novels whose publication Van Vechten also encouraged with his friend Alfred A. Knopf. New Negro writers navigated the power dynamics of these friendships with skill, nuance, and resilience.
This chapter focuses on the relationship between Decadence and cinema through a study of the novels of Carl Van Vechten. As neo-Decadence emerged in America in the 1920s writers responded to a range of new technologies largely unknown to earlier writers such as Wilde. Van Vechten embraced the new media of cinema, writing novels about and treatments for Hollywood and the cinema industry. He saw Hollywood through the eyes of a Decadent and Decadence through the lens of a movie camera. From Van Vechten’s second novel, The Blind Bow-Boy (1923), through Spider Boy: A Scenario for a Moving Picture (1928), to his final novel Parties: Scenes from Contemporary New York Life (1930) his Decadent style depicted the excesses of Hollywood while being formally shaped by the visual and narrative modes of cinema.
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