Toni Morrison: An Ethical Poetics

Toni Morrison: An Ethical Poetics

Toni Morrison: An Ethical Poetics

Toni Morrison: An Ethical Poetics


Toni Morrison: An Ethical Poetics situates Toni Morrison as a writer who writes about writing as much as about racialized, engendered, and sexualized African American, and therefore American, experience. In foregrounding the ethics of fiction writing, the book resists any triumphalist reading of Morrison's achievement in order to allow the meditative, unsettled, and unsettling questions that arise throughout her long labour at the nexus of language and politics, where her fiction interrogates representation itself. Moving between close reading and critical theory, Toni Morrison: An Ethical Poetics reveals the ways in which Morrison's primary engagement with language has been a search for how and what language is made to communicate, and for how and what speaks in and from generation to generation. There is no easy escape from such legacy, no escape into a pure language free of the burdens of racialized agendas. Rather, there is the example of Morrison's commitment to writerly, which is to say readerly, wakefulness. At a time when sustained study devoted to single authors has become rare, this book will be an invaluable resource for readers, scholars, and teachers of Morrison's work.


These were choice documents to me. I read them over and over
again with unabated interest. They gave tongue to interesting
thoughts of my own soul, which had frequently flashed through my
mind, and died away for want of utterance.
—Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

It is a widely held belief that modern literature is characterized by a
doubling-back that enables it to designate itself; this self-reference
supposedly allows it both to interiorize to the extreme (to state
nothing but itself) and to manifest itself in the shimmering sign of
its distant existence. in fact, the event that gave rise to what we call
“literature” in the strict sense is only superficially an interioriza
tion; it is far more a question of a passage to the “outside.”
—Michel Foucault, “The Thought of the Outside”

In Jazz the dynamite fuse to be lit was under narrative voice—the
voice that could begin with claims of knowledge, inside knowl
edge, and indisputable authority… and end with the blissful
epiphany of its vulnerable humanity and its own needs.… I want
to imagine… the concrete thrill of borderlessness.

In her reflections on the writing of Beloved, Toni Morrison laments the decision to end her novel with the word kiss, remarking that her substitution of that word for a still-unnamed “wrong word” transformed an “assertion of agency” into “genuflection” (“H,” 7–8) the original word, though . . .

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