Extravagant Abjection: Blackness, Power, and Sexuality in the African American Literary Imagination

By Darieck Scott | Go to book overview

Introduction
Blackness, Abjection, and Sexuality

“Yeah. It didn’t work, did it? Did it work?” he asked.

“It worked,” she said.

“How? Your boys gone you don’t know where. One girl dead, the
other won’t leave the yard. How did it work?”

“They ain’t at Sweet Home. Schoolteacher ain’t got em.”

“Maybe there’s worse.”

“It ain’t my job to know what’s worse. It’s my job to know what is
and to keep them away from what I know is terrible. I did that.”

—Toni Morrison, Beloved1

LET US TAKE this dialogue, from a novel which is in many ways the urtext and bible of my project, as an instructive fable, a fragment to expound upon for a sermon. Sethe’s decision to murder her toddler daughter—a decision we should be careful not to name as a choice, at least not without troubling assumptions about individual agency that are commonplace in a liberal democratic society—is of such a final and extreme nature that it begs readers to differ as Paul D does. But the logic by which she reaches the decision, and the declared limits of her survivalist epistemology, are difficult to gainsay. The murder itself to one side, Sethe’s seems a compelling strategy for responding to the demands of the moment, and to the tremendous pressures on her existence and on her very embodiment. As such, the structure of her logic is of a piece with the harsh structures of her social world, where sociality is governed by strict racial hierarchy and property law.

We are not Sethe and we do not live her exigencies, and thus we cannot judge her actions. Her creator, Toni Morrison, does not call us to do so. Sethe of course is not really a slave or ex-slave, even though she is inspired by a historical personage: she is a speculation on history (as well as on psychology and politics) of Morrison’s, and a shifting point of

-1-

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