Toni Morrison: An Ethical Poetics

By Yvette Christiansë | Go to book overview

Epilogue

This book has treated Morrison as a writer who writes about writing as much as she writes about the condition of African American historical consciousness within the larger America. Over the years, Morrison has increasingly produced writing that cites itself, as well as the canons with which she associates her work. Indeed, the canny practice of self-citation has underscored the relation of her writing to the production or reproduction of canon, and to what being drawn into a canon demands of her writing.

In the figure of the prison house of race, discussed in the Introduction to this book, an unseen presence is heard, not speaking but jingling keys. These, we presume, keep the house locked, but they also open other rooms. Equally important, the key that opens a door is shaped to the lock, and thus the metaphor of the key allows for the recognition that freedom is shaped by slavery. To extend this metaphor, A Mercy can be said to have revisited not only America’s founding moments but also Morrison’s own statement about the unseen logos in which her writing is “housed.” That revisiting is also a revision. A Mercy wonders what other presences might be inscribed and effaced in the canon, even of African American literatures. A “masterful” doorkeeper is not the only occupant in the house of race. It includes others whose presence is foundational despite being invisible and who have always been speaking and writing in ways that, when seen and understood, render the very notion of the “house of race” or the “master’s house” questionable. In A Mercy, Morrison asks her readers to rethink the possible slippage between a metaphor about a house of race and one about the master’s house. After all, Garner’s Sweet Home in Beloved is only possible because the slaves that he owns sustain it. But a slave could not articulate this point of view in public. The effort to make such a claim

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