Wild Seed--The first part of this collection of four of Butler's novels turned out to be interesting, but not great. I liked the ideas she raised thro...moreWild Seed--The first part of this collection of four of Butler's novels turned out to be interesting, but not great. I liked the ideas she raised through the novel, but the development of the characters and the plot was somewhat lacking in the end.
I'm looking forward to reading the other books in this series to see where she goes with the ideas set up in Wild Seed.
Mind of My Mind takes the premise of Wild Seed and creates a much more interesting novel. Taking us from one mind to another, Wild Seed creates interest by developing the abilities set up in the first novel and by introducing us more intimately to a greater range of characters. Read more on my blog: [http://cmt2779.livejournal.com/89269....].
Clay's Ark is by far the best of the set of books collected here. It can work as a standalone novel, only related to the previous two books in that it shares the same world and has the events of those two books in its history. They are not crucial to the development of this novel. More here: [http://cmt2779.livejournal.com/90089....]
Patternmaster, the final novel in this series brings together themes and historical events in an interesting way. Butler doesn't really resolve all the issues she has raised, but that is not a criticism in this context. Instead, this lack of a concrete resolution gives the book more resonance because it, like all good political novels, forces the reader to think about how the issues exist in our own world because the boundary between book and real world isn't entirely clear. It is a real accomplishment that this political element doesn't take over the novel--it is still an interesting story of the characters and the time described--and is able to be effective even in a novel set on a distant and very different future Earth. There's much more about this and the whole series here: [http://cmt2779.livejournal.com/90295....]. (less)
Every time I read this book I love it more. Eventually I'll be able to write about it and feel I'm doing it justice. In the meantime, here are a few tho...moreEvery time I read this book I love it more. Eventually I'll be able to write about it and feel I'm doing it justice. In the meantime, here are a few thoughts, beginning with a favorite scene, one that is at the heart of Beloved--Baby Suggs' sermon in the Clearing:
"She did not tell them to clean up their lives or to go and sin no more. She di dnot tell them they were the blessed of the earth, its inheriting meek or its glorybound pure.
"She told them that the only grace they could have was the grace they could imagine. That if they could not see it, they would not have it.
"'Here,' she said, 'in this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don't love your eyes; they'd just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face 'cause they don't love that either. You got to love it, you! And no, they ain't in love with your mouth. Yonder, out there, they will see it broken and break it again. What you say out of it they will not heed. What you scream from it they do not hear. What you put into it to nourish your body they will snatch away and give you leavins instead. No, they don't love your mouth. You got to love it. This is flesh I'm talking about here. flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that neet to rest and to dance; backs that need support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms I'm telling you. And O my people, out yonder, hear me, they do not love your neck unnoosed and straight. So love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it and hold it up. And all your inside parts that they'd just as soon slop for hogs, you got to love them. The dark, dark liver--love it, love it, and the beat and beating heart, love that too. More than eyes or feet. More than lungs that have yet to draw free air. more than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts, hear me now, love your heart. For this is the prize.' Saying no more, she stood up then and danced with her twisted hip the rest of what her heart had to say while the others opened their mouths and gave her the music. Long notes held until the four-part harmony was perfect enough for their deeply loved flesh." (88-89)
It is this ethic of self-love that makes possible the love for others and the strength of community that permeates Beloved.
"You your own best thing," Paul D tells Sethe. This is a hard lesson to learn, especially for a woman who has never truly known herself or owned herself. Sethe and Denver both have to learn to see themselves as individuals, learn to see themselves and value themselves. Without this, they will disintegrate or be smothered by a too-thick love. After all, "For a used-to-be-slave woman to love anything that much was dangerous, especially if it was her children she had settled on to love. The best thing, [Paul D] knew, was to love just a little bit; everything, just a little bit, so when they broke its back, or shoved it in a croaker sack, well, maybe you'd have a little love left over for the next one" (45).
Free from slavery, however, free from the threat of losing children to beatings and slavers, this dangerous, too-thick love can give them strength to find themselves. Sethe insists, "Love is or it ain't. Thin love ain't no love at all" (165), and Denver draws on her love for her mother to find the courage to venture into the dangerous world outside of their home and get help. A love that puts another's needs before one's own is still dangerous, as the relationship between Sethe and Beloved attests to, however, which is precisely why self-love and love for others must go hand in hand. (less)
The central idea that Henry Louis Gates, Jr., provides in this text is to be found in his analysis of black literature's emphasis on and use of Signif...moreThe central idea that Henry Louis Gates, Jr., provides in this text is to be found in his analysis of black literature's emphasis on and use of Signification. Signifyin(g) is a technique that essentially amounts to repetition with a crucial difference, a way of commenting on other writers and their ideas through various sorts of parody and pastiche. This idea sheds new light on the seeming repetition in some black artists' work and on the literary evolution of black writers. Frequently accused of being merely imitative and not original, Gates echoes Zora Neale Hurston's idea that "what we really mean by originality is in fact masterful revision," that "imitation is the Afro-American's central art form." Furthermore, he continues, "For Hurston, the distinction between originality and imitation is a false distinction, and for the black writer to suffer under the burden of avoiding repetition, revision, or reinterpretation is to succumb to a political argument that reflects a racist subtext" (118).
Gates' idea of Signifyin(g) on literary precursors is not entirely unlike Harold Bloom's idea of the "anxiety of influence"; however, where Bloom sees primarily pressure and anxiety in the relation between a poet and his/her precursors, born from the need to distinguish him/herself and do something new and original, Gates sees creativity and possibilities for connections in the relation between a writer and his/her precursors. Whether the writer wishes to counter or affirm the ideas and style of a writer who has had an influence on him/her, in Gates' world of literary Signifyin(g), the countering or affirming will be a creative process in itself. Achieving striking originality and separating oneself from the pack is less important than is finding one's place--through Signification's playful, shifting processes--in the world of literary ancestors and relatives. These literary ancestors and relatives may or may not be other black writers. Gates is careful to avoid essentialism here, instead arguing that "shared experience of black people vis-a-vis white racism is not sufficient evidence upon which to argue that black writers have shared patterns of representation of their common subject for two centuries--unless one wishes to argue for a genetic theory of literature, which the biological sciences do not support. Rather, shared modes of figuration result only when writers read each other's texts and seize upon topoi and tropes to revise in their own texts" (128). Signification thus is a part of the creation of literary traditions, as Signifyin(g) revision "alters fundamentally the way we read the tradition, by defining the relation of the text at hand to the tradition" (124). Traditions are not static, neither are they handed down in a neat package to the next generation of writers; instead, each writer creates his/her own traditions and his/her own place in those traditions by reading and then by Signifyin(g) upon meaningful texts. (less)
If only all literary criticism and theory were as well-written, clear, and concise as Toni Morrison's Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary...moreIf only all literary criticism and theory were as well-written, clear, and concise as Toni Morrison's Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. Morrison's central argument in this book is a fairly simple one, that "the contemplation of this black presence [in American history and literature:] is central to any understanding of our national literature and should not be permitted to hover at the margins of the literary imagination" (5). She dedicates herself in this book to exploring the ways in which blackness is used within traditional, canonical (in other words, white) American literature, the ways in which it is always present, even when it is not acknowledged.
She names the set of relations and representations that she studies here American Africanism and describes it as "an investigation into the ways in which a nonwhite, Africanlike (or Africanist) presence or persona was constructed in the United States, and the imaginative uses this fabricated presence served" (6).
In the first essay in this book, "Black Matters," she focuses on exploring the reasons behind the omission of American Africanism in literary discourse and, in doing so, presents arguments for the necessity of repairing this omission. One such argument is that "the pattern of thinking about racialism in terms of its consequences on the victim--of always defining it assymetrically [sic:] from the perspective of its impact on the object of racist policy and attitudes"--does not address the complete range of problems that accompany racism (or racialism). In addition to studying the impact of racism on the victims, we must also study "the impact of racism on those who perpetuate it" (11). Looking at the place of blackness in white literature will help with this project.
She also addresses the idea that art is human, universal, and, ideally, apolitical, contending that " criticism that needs to insist that literature is not only 'universal' but also 'race-free' risks lobotomizing that literature, and diminishes both the art and the artist" (12). Race (like gender, sexuality, religion, etc.) will always be a part of a living literature. Sometimes it will be at the heart of a work of literature and sometimes it won't, but as long as we humans think in terms of racial categories, it will be present in some way. So to pretend that it is not present, that it does not color our representations and modes of storytelling, is to rob literature of some of its meaning.
In the second essay of the book, "Romancing the Shadow," Morrison discusses Edgar Allan Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym in order to examine the use of whiteness in conjunction with blackness (as occurs, for instance, at the end of Poe's novel, as well as in Melville, Faulkner, and Hemingway, all acknowledged giants of American literature). She writes, "These images of impenetrable whiteness need contextualizing to explain their extraordinary power, pattern, and consistency. Because they appear almost always in conjunction with representations of black or Africanist people who are dead, impotent, or under complete control, these images of blinding whiteness seem to function as both antidote for and meditation on the shadow that is companion to this whiteness--a dark and abiding presence that moves the hearts and texts of American literature with fear and longing" (33). If the American dream is to be free and the immigrant's dream of American is to have a clean slate on which to begin again, Morrison argues that the black bodies of slaves provided a counterpoint to these dreams, something against which to more clearly define those dreams. It is something that cannot be explicitly acknowledged, but it is something that permeates American literature and ideology. She writes, "It was this Africanism, deployed as rawness and savagery, that provided the staging ground and arena for the elaboration of the quintessential American identity" (44). She concludes this essay by writing, "If we follow through on the self-reflexive nature of these encounters with Africanism, it falls clear: images of blackness can be evil and protective, rebellious and forgiving, fearful and desirable--all of the self-contradictory features of the self. Whiteness, alone, is mute, meaningless, unfathomable, pointless, frozen, veiled, curtained, dreaded, senseless, implacable. Or so our writers seem to say" (59).
In the third and final essay, "Disturbing Nurses and the Kindness of Sharks," Morrison attempts "to observe and trace the transformation of American Africanism from its simplistic, though menacing, purposes of establishing hierarchic difference [as described in "Romancing the Shadow":] to its surrogate properties as self-reflexive meditations on the loss of difference, to its lush and fully blossomed existence in the rhetoric of dread and desire" (63-4). She also re-states her purpose in writing this book: "Studies in American Africanism, in my view, should be investigations of the ways in which a nonwhite, Africanist presence and personae have been constructed--invented--in the United States, and of the literary uses this fabricated presence has served. . . . My project is an effort to avert the critical gaze from the racial object to the racial subject; from the described and imagined to the describers and imaginers; from the serving to the served" (90).
Since the publication of this book in 1992, the field of literary studies has actually opened up in this direction. Critical studies of whiteness and its construction have flourished, which prevents the racial subject, the describers and imaginers, from remaining invisible and unmarked and which also thereby makes it possible to imagine and create a world (both fictional and real) in which people of color are not limited to being the Other and are not the only people imagined to be affected by racism.(less)