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Playing in the Dark

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  3,338 Ratings  ·  208 Reviews
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Beloved and Jazz now gives us a learned, stylish, and immensely persuasive work of literary criticism that promises to change the way we read American literature even as it opens a new chapter in the American dialogue on race.

Toni Morrison's brilliant discussions of the "Africanist" presence in the fiction of Poe, Melville, Cather, and
ebook, 0 pages
Published July 24th 2007 by Vintage (first published May 1st 1992)
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Jan 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a series of lectures by Toni Morrison focussing on literary criticism and American literature. Morrison discusses the “Africanist” presence in classic American literature. She analyses how the sense of whiteness, freedom, individualism and manhood depends on a black presence and population and also reacts to it; and projects fears and emotions onto it.
Morrison turns her eye onto Poe, Twain, Cather, Melville and Hemingway and does it very effectively. She looks at Jim in Huckleberry Finn
[T]he habit of ignoring race is understood to be a graceful, even generous, liberal gesture. To notice is to recognize an already discredited difference. To enforce its invisibility through silence is to allow the black body a shadowless participation in the dominant cultural body. According to this logic, every well-bred instinct argues against noticing and forecloses adult discourse. It is just this concept of literary and scholarly moeurs (which functions smoothly in literary criticism, but
Ken Moten
Oct 17, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who like literature
Jordan Elgrably: "Do you think that now blacks and whites can write about each other, honestly and convincingly?"

James Baldwin:"...I think of the impact of spokespersons like Toni Morrison and other younger writers. I believe what one has to do as a black American is to take white history, or history as written by whites, and claim it all—including Shakespeare."
- James Baldwin, The Art of Fiction No. 78

This is a short but important book that looks at how White writers in the United States wro
Leggendo le prime pagine di questo straordinario libro mi è venuto in mente altro, sarà per la famosa teoria dei vasi comunicanti che la parola scritta sovente richiama(in realtà non credo, ma non vedevo l'ora di poter scrivere "vasi comunicanti" da qualche parte, è più comodo scriverlo qui che sulla facciata di un palazzo), mi è venuto da pensare alla comune rappresentazione iconografica dei musicisti jazz, la classica foto rigorosamente in bianco e nero che da più di mezzo secolo associamo aut ...more
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 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 expl ...more
Nov 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: to-re-read
I do not seem to be in the right mind to review this now. Re-read required.
Aug 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Indispensable. Morrison's case about the production of whiteness through various operations of othering and exploitation of blackness will remind readers of Said's case about the creation of 'European' in/through the production of otherness as Orientalism. The discussion of surrogacy -- the way (white, white-positioned) readers are stimulated and gratified with tales of suffering and violence and simultaneously protected from them by the author's deployment of black characters as surrogates (upo ...more
I should confess that Morrison will never get a flat-out criticism from this reviewer. I'm a bit of a fanatic, a would-be groupie. Read this one, my first experience with Morrison's non-fiction, for a paper I'm working on--incidentally, on "Beloved" (and tangentially, Faulkner's "Light in August"). Morrison's wry, crisp style is of course on form. The argument is, unsurprisingly, provocative and very astute. I'm particularly intrigued by her notion of the 'invisible presence' of Africanism throu ...more
Nov 04, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2016
A very interesting and much needed approach towards analyzing American Literature. Recommend!
Jun 17, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination is a 1992 work of literary criticism by Toni Morrison.

In 1990, Morrison delivered a series of three lectures at Harvard University; she then adapted the texts to a 91-page book consisting of three essays of metacritical explorations into the operations of whiteness and blackness in the literature of white writers in the United States. Toni Morrison takes the position that the existing literary criticism in the United States has provided
Daniel Chaikin
80. Playing in the Dark : Whiteness and the Literary Imagination by Toni Morrison
1992, 100 page hardcover
read Dec 9-12

These essays are work but also enlightening if you can manage to fight your way through them. Morrison is so angry and yet she never tells you, never expresses it in any overt way. But she lays it in raw when one compares the balanced tone and the emotion that almost logically is underneath. She writes objectively, ”Black slavery enriched the country's creative possibilities.” -
Jan 01, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was great. Clearly articulated, important work interested in a discourse Morrison observes is left out of contemporary American literary theory. I don't have much experience with American lit, but her clear analyses were such that I had no trouble applying her theories to some of the American texts (and even Canadian ones) that I have read that she didn't directly engage with. She takes major themes in American lit to task—"individualism, masculinity, social engagement versus historical iso ...more
Ismael Galvan
Sep 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The more I read, the more seldom my mind gets blown. Toni Morrison's Playing the Dark has changed my perspective on western literature the way Noam Chomsky opened my eyes to western power.

"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."

I thought this was going to be another book on racism and literature. Morrison treads away from that worn out subject
Jun 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great insight into the African American culture, from the point of view of a brilliant, sarcastic, Nobel Prize winner, black writer and also a better understanding of the meaning of "blackness" and "whiteness" in America.
Sep 05, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
OK, what I don't like about Morrison's critical work is that it ignores the reality of First Peoples and our presence in literature.
Christy Lenzi
Feb 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Thought provoking, eye-opening. The look at Africanist properties in Hemingway's work was the most interesting to me.
David Withun
Mar 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature
Morrison's discussion of the role that a "signifying Africanist presence" has played in American literature is a genuinely brilliant and insightful opening for discussion of the ways in which the black/white racial binary has shaped American literature and culture. The black "other" has served as the counterpoint of "whiteness" via racial differance (to use Derrida's term indicating both the differing and deferring of signs) since the inception of the American literary tradition. An "Africanist" ...more
This was a lot more academic than I was hoping it to be. I don't think I fully comprehended all Morrison explained, but I understood the main takeaways and bracketed several passages. Overall, this publication is a call for more literary research and criticism like that which is found in this text. I really loved her in depth analysis of works by Cather and Hemingway and wish there had been more analyses like this. I hope to get more out of Playing in the Dark upon rereading.
Essential reading, elegantly written; a wonderful companion in an American lit class (esp early American). I love reading criticism written by fiction writers -- Morrison is generous and respectful to all writers, *less* generous to critics who have left serious gaps in our body of criticism. “A 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); a study of literary black ...more
Toni Morrison brings an awe inspiring literary criticism in Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. Her raw, yet poetic literary voice lends itself to inspire readers to consider the “Africanist” presence, and the influence it had on several themes embodied by notable characters within early American literature.

Although this book consists of less than 100 pages, it is truly a profound read. I found myself taking on a studious manner and re-reading sentences several times, to
Bogi Takács
This was a short but very incisive read. Hard to believe it's from 1992, it still comes across as current. Very important points, very well put. I am sad that her argument about how oppression is investigated heavily asymmetrically, focusing on the oppressed and not the oppressor, still does not read as dated. I mean now there are whiteness studies, etc. but I personally feel there's not as much investigation as there should be, and also the results often do not make it into public consciousness ...more
Jul 31, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An insightful and important look at whiteness and the representation of the "Africanist" in literature. I only have two minor criticisms:

1. Morrison assures us early on that the examples she is discussing still exist (and I agree with her), but her discussion is limited to classic literature, most of which is over a century old. It would have been nice to see some more contemporary examples in the mix (even something from the 70s, for example).

2. It's a very short book, and I think there was roo
Susie Finkbeiner
An eyeopening read. I'm not sure that I'll be the same reader I was before picking up this book. Morrison expertly points at American literature and says, "See that there?", training the reader's eye to see the way in which black characters are portrayed in novels.

As a writer, I value the education I was afforded by this book. It's one I'll find myself reading again.
Sian Lile-Pastore
possibly a bit too academic for bed time reading (which was when I read it) so may need to re-read this short book that packs such a punch. Particularly liked the bits on Hemingway. Nice one Toni.
Ron Nie
Jul 07, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
American Lit's answer to Said's Orientalism. Super interesting, important, clearly written stuff.
Only criticism: gets a bit repetitive in the 2nd chapter.
Oct 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I finished this book nearly a month ago and since then I've been intending to review it, preferably with something more respectable than "This book is badass. Read it." I should preface my review by saying that I am not "one of those people" who love and admire anything and everything written by Ms. Morrison. At times I find her style irritatingly grandiose (Love) and frustratingly obscure (Beloved). This book right here, however, is neither of those things. At her best, as in Song of Solomon, J ...more
Nov 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I rarely read literary criticism, but I've been eyeing this one for over a decade, though it was published over 20 years ago. Two words: Still true. When I saw the movie and later read, "Revolutionary Road", what struck me more than the pure quality of the storyline and the issues it successfully touched and tackled, was just how "white" it all was. How it had the feel of being universal but was really anything but. It was not the kind of movie/story - due to the time period - that could have be ...more
Oct 21, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first few pages are tough going, if like me, it's been ages since you picked up critical theory.

Once Morrison fleshes out her key assertions, among them “the parasitic nature of white identity” in American literature, the book begins to enthrall. I can’t speak to how much she adds to this critical lens of race because I’m not well read in this area (though she clearly owes a lot to James Snead whom she quotes at length), but I can speak to the accessibility of her ideas and fascinating disco
May 11, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lit-crit
Toni Morrison's three lectures in this book deal with the polarity between white and black characters in American literature, racial insights and constructs a definition of what "whiteness" means.

What happens is Morrison spends considerable amount of space discussing how each mention of the word "white" in a novel is intentional, and how Jim in Huckleberry Finn is treated so poorly. She tries to take an interesting approach showing the white/black balance in literature, but winds up discussing s
I will definitely be writing a longer review of this. Suffice it for now to say that it's a masterful and paradigm-changing exploration of what it means for literature to be "American." Specifically, what does it mean that the vast majority of literary criticism has ignored or overlooked the centrality of Blackness - Black characters, the imagery and vocabulary of Blackness in texts, and silences and erasures around Blackness - in American literature, from its earliest examples. Morrison convinc ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
  • Black Looks: Race and Representation
  • Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America
  • Alchemy of Race and Rights
  • The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism
  • Conversations with Toni Morrison
  • Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination
  • Black, White, and in Color: Essays on American Literature and Culture
  • Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition
  • Shadow and Act
  • Words of Fire: An Anthology of African-American Feminist Thought
  • Incognegro: A Memoir of Exile and Apartheid
  • Collected Essays: Notes of a Native Son / Nobody Knows My Name / The Fire Next Time / No Name in the Street / The Devil Finds Work / Other
  • Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest
  • Corregidora (Bluestreak)
  • Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics
  • How to Rent a Negro
  • The Grey Album: Music, Shadows, Lies
  • Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism
Toni Morrison (born Chloe Anthony Wofford), is an American author, editor, and professor who won the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature for being an author "who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality."

Her novels are known for their epic themes, vivid dialogue, and richly detailed African American characters; among the best k
More about Toni Morrison...

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“Der Afrikanismus ist das Vehikel, durch das sich das amerikanische Ich als nicht versklavt, sondern frei erfährt, als nicht abstoßend, sondern begehrenswert, nicht hilflos, sondern priviligiert und mächtig, nicht geschichtslos sondern geschichtlich, nicht verdammt, sondern unschuldig, nicht ein blinder Zufall der Evolution, sondern fortschrittliche Erfüllung eines Schicksal.” 1 likes
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