Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination

Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination

by Toni Morrison
     
 

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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

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Overview

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."
—Chicago Tribune

"Toni Morrison is the closest thing the country has to a national writer."
The New York Times Book Review

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A profound redefinition of American cultural identity."—Philadelphia Inquirer
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Novelist Morrison takes a turn as a literary critic, examining the American literary imagination and finding it obsessed with the white/black polarity. (Aug.)
Library Journal
Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Morrison ( Jazz , LJ 4/15/92) believes that an African American presence, largely ignored by critics, has always permeated white American literature. She opens by carefully setting her parameters and defining her terms--e.g., Africanism: ``the denotative and connotative blackness that African peoples have come to signify, as well as the entire range of views, assumptions, readings, and misreadings that accompany Eurocentric learning about these people.'' The first few pages feature densely packed language whose meaning becomes clearer when Morrison examines such specific works as Willa Cather's Sapphira and the Slave Girl . This brief, highly provocative book, which considers ``the impact of racism on those who perpetuate it,'' is highly recommended not only for Morrison's many admirers but for all those interested in American literature.--Louis J. Parascandola, Long Island Univ., Brooklyn Campus , New York
Los Angeles Times

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.
— Diane Middlebrook

Boston Globe

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.
— Gail Caldwell

Voice Literary Supplement

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.
— Jane Mendelsohn

San Francisco Chronicle

A brief and compelling dissection of U.S. fiction.
— Paul Skenazy

Chicago Tribune

In three compact and skillful essays, Morrison explores and illumines the gaggle of literary devices—conceits, tropes, metaphors—that 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

Washington Post Book World

[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.
— Mark Edmundson

Signs

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).
— Linda Krumholz

Los Angeles Times - Diane Middlebrook
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.
Voice Literary Supplement - Jane Mendelsohn
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.
Boston Globe - Gail Caldwell
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.
Chicago Tribune - Michael Eric Dyson
In three compact and skillful essays, Morrison explores and illumines the gaggle of literary devices--conceits, tropes, metaphors--that 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.
San Francisco Chronicle - Paul Skenazy
A brief and compelling dissection of U.S. fiction.
Washington Post Book World - Mark Edmundson
[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.
Signs - Linda Krumholz
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.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780679745426
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
08/01/1993
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
112
Sales rank:
145,035
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.29(d)

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