Critical Essays on Alice Walker

By Ikenna Dieke | Go to book overview

Walker's The Temple of My Familiar:
Womanist as Monistic Idealist

Ikenna Dieke

It seems to me that even art is utterly dependent on philosophy: or if you prefer it, on a metaphysic. The metaphysic or philosophy may not be anywhere very accurately stated and may be quite unconscious, in the artist, yet it is a metaphysic that governs men at the time, and is by all men more or less comprehended, and lived. -- D. H. Lawrence, Fantasia of the Unconscious

In his groundbreaking study The Signifying Monkey. A Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism, Henry Louis Gates suggests that part of the foundational essence of African American intertextual aesthetics lies in its exponential revisionism, involving two distinct but parallel processes. The first process comprises those African American texts that "Signify" (i.e., revise) on other African American texts that preceded them. The second involves those texts by African American authors whose primary goal is to revision either a given text or set of texts canonized within the Western tradition, or an idea or set of ideas that has been accepted as axiomatic truth or universal postulate. Of the latter process, Gates argues that when "black writers revise texts in the Western tradition, they do so 'authentically,' with a black difference, a compelling sense of difference based on the black vernacular" (xxii). Using Gates's assertion as a point of departure, I would posit that in her fourth novel The Temple of My Familiar, Alice Walker makes a conscious effort to signify on a worldview that has become the benchmark of traditional Western metaphysics--dualism.

Dualism, essentially, is a theory of knowing that represents reality in terms of an irreconcilable dyad--of two mutually irreducible elements or classes of elements. It manifests itself in such intellectual movements or epochs as the ancient Stoics' immanent cosmography, the Enlightenment Age, the theory of the Great Chain of Being, the medieval cosmological system--the basis of which was Ptolemaic astronomy, the Newtonian paradigm of rationalist empiriology, and finally, the Cartesian postulate of the mind/matter (res extensa) dichotomy. Dualistc philosophy (otherwise stylized as the "mechanistic worldview") postulates a world in which there is (and always will be) perpetual dissociation between rational intelligence and the affective domain of consciousness, between reason, on the one hand, and questions of faith and moral values, on the other--the former being

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