Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imaginationby Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison's brilliant discussions of the "Africanist" presence in the fiction of/i>/i>
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Beloved and Jazz now gives us a learned, stylish, and immensely persuasive work of literary criticism that promises to change the way we read American literature even as it opens a new chapter in the American dialogue on race.
Toni Morrison's brilliant discussions of the "Africanist" presence in the fiction of Poe, Melville, Cather, and Hemingway leads to a dramatic reappraisal of the essential characteristics of our literary tradition. She shows how much the themes of freedom and individualism, manhood and innocence, depended on the existence of a black population that was manifestly unfree--and that came to serve white authors as embodiments of their own fears and desires.
Written with the artistic vision that has earned Toni Morrison a pre-eminent place in modern letters, Playing in the Dark will be avidly read by Morrison admirers as well as by students, critics, and scholars of American literature.
"By going for the American literary jugular...she places her arguments...at the very heart of contemporary public conversation about what it is to be authentically and originally American. [She] boldly...reimagines and remaps the possibility of America."
"Toni Morrison is the closest thing the country has to a national writer."
The New York Times Book Review
From the Trade Paperback edition.
This is a major work by a major American author...It is an exuberant exercise, conducted by a writer in her prime who knows that her own work makes steady inroads on the unspeakable.
Morrison's delivery of the distinguished Massey lectures at Harvard in 1990 showed off her prowess as critic, for she brings the indomitable spirit of her fiction to her feelings about literature. In Playing in the Dark, the published lectures, Morrison argues that a black, or Africanist, presence exists throughout the history of American literature, and its understanding is essential to any body of criticism. Identifying what she calls "the rhetoric of dread and desire," then tracing its manifestations through works by Poe, Cather and Hemingway, Morrison believes that to ignore the presence of race in literature is to rob fiction of its power...But the most telling test of any critical argument, at least for those of us who prefer passion to theory, is whether such speculation will send you back to primary sources. By the time I'd finished Playing in the Dark, the floor around me was littered with Huck Finn and James Baldwin and Faulkner.
In Playing in the Dark, Morrison explores how the temptation to enslave others instead of embracing freedom has shaded our national literature, and how an acceptance of this truth will enable us to see that literature's struggles and fears, and so better understand its exuberance...Her wisdom is to locate strength in what appears to be weakness.
A brief and compelling dissection of U.S. fiction.
In three compact and skillful essays, Morrison explores and illumines the gaggle of literary devicesconceits, tropes, metaphorsthat have been mostly unconsciously deployed by white writers to refract the rays of blackness through the prism of literary silence, repression or avoidance. Morrison ably applies her therapeutic textual intervention to make these rays visible and to imaginatively envision how an Africanist presence was essential in forming and extending an American national literature...[This is her] impressive debut as a critical intellectual.
Michael Eric Dyson
[Her] thesis is an engaging one, and it becomes more so in a sequence of a few compressed but inspired readings of American works, Cather's Sapphira and the Slave Girl, Poe's Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Hemingway's To Have and Have Not and Twain's Huckleberry Finn.
In this beautifully written, immensely quotable study, Morrison attempts to overturn pervasive critical agendas that ignore racial representations in white texts and thus impoverish literary studies
Morrison's interest is not to designate texts as "racist" but to read the ways that the "racial" operates (xii).
- Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
- Publication date:
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- Random House
- NOOK Book
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- File size:
- 172 KB
Meet the Author
Toni Morrison was born in Lorain, Ohio. She is Robert E. Goheen Professor, Council of the Humanities, Princeton University. She is the author of six novels: The Bluest Eye; Sula; Song of Solomon, which won the 1978 National Book Critics Award for fiction; Tar Baby; Beloved, which won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for fiction; and Jazz. Her most recent novel since winning the Nobel Prize 1993 is Paradise (1998).
From the Trade Paperback edition.
- Princeton, New Jersey, and Manhattan
- Date of Birth:
- February 18, 1931
- Place of Birth:
- Lorain, Ohio
- Howard University, B.A. in English, 1953; Cornell, M.A., 1955
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