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Literature characterized as canonical texts of the United States coexisted far longer with the presence of slavery than without. Avoiding this majority is the lesser of the two evils only when one is a child, when ethics pale besides the intrigue of rockets and castles and everything not laid out as an explicit 'no' by the parent is imbibed as a conditional 'yes'. What concerns is not the dream, but those who still dream it. What concerns is not censorship or the ableism hooked into deriding of trigger warnings go on and ignore the contentions of red means stop and green means go and see how far you get in your physical conception of free will but the historical, sexual, psychological, social, and ideological reckonings that fueled these metaphors, these symbols, this creativity fueled by one of the most literal sorts of Other.

One cannot take heritage piecemeal in the hierarchy that is academia and expect their analysis to bear fruit twenty, ten, a mere year after the publication springs and the beast turns over to a more comfortable side. If a text is to survive the onslaught of the millennia, it is to survive with all its faculties, for one can hardly learn how to avoid using flesh and blood as blank canvas if one avoids the canon of the methodology.

Do you really think you remain without cannibal tendencies by your own will and effort? A power, a sense of freedom, he had not known before. But what had he known before? Fine education, London sophistication, theological and scientific thought. None of these, one gathers, could provide him with the authority and autonomy that Mississippi planter life did. Also this sense is understood to be a force that flows, already present and ready to spill out of his "absolute control over the lives of others.

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Read ableist texts if you are physically whole or sane. Read homophobic texts if you are straight. Read anti-black texts if you're not black, for your gift is to not have a stake in the matter that has direct bearing on your right to self-care and avoidance of mutilation.


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All that matters is that you pay attention , and when you do, say exactly what you attend to. Look at the associations of an entire group of people with all the evils of the world. Break them down. Analyze the histories that enabled such fictional infliction of meaning, and look at the lines those famous writers drew for themselves out of wrestling with self-reflexive agony.

Morality's no excuse when there's critical insight to be had, when the matter is not of guilt or mirrored bigotry but how far this text of humanity can go in succeeding generations, those that walk with books open and minds unafraid of seeing themselves in the void. I've said before that evaluating stereotypes is part and parcel of my toolkit, not a determination of dichotomy.

That, of course, is with regards to the dream. There's nothing subjective about my extinction at the hands of the dreamer. As for the culture, the imaginative and historical terrain upon which early American writers journeyed is in large measure shaped by the presence of the racial other. Statements to the contrary, insisting on the meaninglessness of race to the American identity, are themselves full of meaning. The world does not become raceless or will not become unracialized by assertion.

The act of enforcing racelessness in literary discourse is itself a racial act. Pouring rhetorical acid on the fingers of a black hand may indeed destroy the prints, but not the hand. Besides, what happens in that violent, self-serving act of erasure to the hands, the fingers, the fingerprints of the one who does the pouring? Do they remain acid-free?

The literature itself suggests otherwise. Aug 17, Molly rated it it was amazing. 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 Indispensable. 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 upon whom are inflicted the real agonies , while the sort of enriched experience and wisdom thus derived, as well as victimhood, are somehow transferred to the white characters -- is something that, once read, a reader sees manifest in imperial core narratives everywhere, in movies, tv, and especially pulp fiction.

The show enlarges and dramatizes his heroic grief while it trivilizes and exploits for thrills the actual killings of the show's black stars that are the substance of his 'character'; Morrison's monograph clarifies this for us, placing this so strange and yet so commonplace fictional operation in a long tradtion and at the core of the production of white supremacy. All the pathos of those on screen murders, the danger and the suffering they depict, somehow accrues to the white hero who is safeguarded, by this perpetual reproduction of white supremacy that Morrison exposes in the most elite rank of American lit, the founts and keystones of white American culture.

I read this book years ago, when it was newly released, and I continue to see its insights validated and its method proven indispensable all the time, for the canon, for the pulp of the past, and unfortunately even more often for current culture products. View all 4 comments. Nov 10, Zanna rated it it was amazing Shelves: to-re-read. I do not seem to be in the right mind to review this now.

Re-read required. Aug 07, Christy rated it really liked it Shelves: african-american-lit-and-history , readinglist1 , literary-theory-and-criticism. 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.

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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 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. 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" 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" Race like gender, sexuality, religion, etc.

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" 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" 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" 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" 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" Since the publication of this book in , 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.

View 1 comment. Aug 20, Molly Labenski rated it it was amazing. I gave up on highlighting because everything Toni Morrison says is important. In , Morrison delivered a series of three lectures at Harvard University; she then adapted the texts to a 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 Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination is a work of literary criticism by Toni Morrison. Toni Morrison takes the position that the existing literary criticism in the United States has provided incomplete readings of its canonical literature by refusing to acknowledge and analyse the Africanist persona present in it.

Linda Krumholz described Morrison's project as "reread[ing] the American literary canon through an analysis of whiteness to propose the ways that black people were used to establish American identity. Playing in the Dark is also about a black intellectual seizing the interpretive space within a racially ordered hierarchy of cultural criticism. Blacks are usually represented through the lens of white perception rather than the other way around With [Playing in the Dark], a substantial change is portended.

I have to admit that I did not fully understand the essay due to its academic nature and my lack of knowledge of Morrison's references. Since the target audience were students familiar with the topic and other professors, this is not surprising. However, I don't think that Morrison did a good job of providing useful and practical analytic tools for dissecting canonical literature. Her approach and her created categories were too abstract for that, nonetheless the food for thought she provided with this essay is invaluable. I have a hard time reviewing this book since I did have comprehension issues , so I think I will just give you a little insight into what I took from it: 1 The construction of white identity Toni Morrison claims that white American fiction has fabricated a black persona that is "reflexive," a means for whites to contemplate their own terror and desire without having to acknowledge these feelings as their own.

Oftentimes, black characters function as surrogates to the white man's identity, thus ensuring that the white author and his characters know that they themselves are not enslaved, but free; not repulsive, but desireable; not helpess, but powerful. It plays very well into the thoughts of James Baldwin and Martin Luther King, that the white man's identity is constructed through his contrast to the black man; and thus the liberation of the black man evokes a bottomless and nameless terror, because it means a reconstruction of white identity and it forces the white man to face himself and what's left of him after he is stripped from his artificial superiority.

Black characters in classic American novels have been just as marginalized as their real-life counterparts. The black "shadow" has, paradoxically, allowed white culture to face its fear of freedom.

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Though colonist, immigrant and refugee embraced America for its promise of freedom, they were nevertheless terrified at the prospect of becoming failures and outcasts, engulfed by a boundless, untamable nature. Africanism, the culture's construction of black slavery, stood, therefore, not only for the "not-free" but also for the "not-me. In order to write, you have to have the capability of imagining first.

Another important factor that shouldn't be ignored is the author's cultural upbringing and social standing. Readers and writers both struggle to interpret and perform within a common language sharing imaginative worlds. Through the author's presence, his intentions and color blindness are inherently part of the imaginative activity. Toni Morrison asks herself the question what happens then if most readers and writers as it has been in American history are white. There seems to be a more or less tacit agreement among literary scholars that because American literature has been clearly the preserve of white male views, genius, and power, those views, genius, and power are without relationship to and removed from the overwhelming presence of black people in the United States.

This is a false assumption.


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The year-old Africanist presence in America has not only influenced the white's sense of 'Americaness' but also the literary canon. For both, black and white American writers, in a wholly racialized society, there is no escape from racially inflected language. The ways in which artists — and the society that bred them — transferred internal conflicts to a black darkness, to conveniently bound and violently silenced black bodies, is a major theme of American literature. Nothing highlighted freedom — if it did not in fact create it — like slavery.

The world does not become raceless or will not become unracialized by assertion: the act of enforcing racelessness in literary discourse is itself a racial act. Eddy is white, and we know he is because nobody says so. Unless otherwise specified, all characters are read and seen as white. The visibility of minority characters is something that needs to be worked on, however, we should preceed with caution. Personally, I think that there are many great ways of including diversity in a more 'organic' way, e. Nonetheless, it's still something that can be easily fucked up, and be turned into insensitive bullshit.

In conclusion Toni Morrison's approach is not only meant to teach a black author about white motivation. It should also teach whites about how they have constructed not only black but white identity, and how they have contemplated their own humanity by observing the dehumanization of others. While I wish that these essays would have been more comprehensible, I still highly appreciate the ideas that Morrison provided, and would recommend Playing in the Dark to anyone interested in the subject matter and anyone willing to put in the needed time and effort.

Apr 26, Jamie rated it liked it Shelves: read-in , lit-crit. 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 I should confess that Morrison will never get a flat-out criticism from this reviewer. I'm particularly intrigued by her notion of the 'invisible presence' of Africanism throughout the history of American literature. As she remarks, even where this presence is seemingly not, it is. I give it three stars, though, perhaps because I feel like I've heard it before; I've heard it after; I've heard it done better, in many ways. This is good because it's Morrison, not because it is a book of race theory.

Her readings of Cather, Melville, and Hemingway are spot-on; nonetheless and perhaps this is by virtue of this being based on a series of lectures Morrison gave , it feels to some extent undercooked. I wanted her to go on and on, to delve further in, to provide more fodder for us to play with. It's an outline--a very beautiful and powerful outline, but nonetheless, it lacks the shading I was hoping to get.

Worthwhile, of course, if you like Morrison or if you'd like to ease in to some critical race theory. It's a seductive and accessible text. As a literary critic which she doesn't proclaim herself to be, though that's the apparent categorization of this book , Morrison does a number of surface readings that I wouldn't get away with in one of my graduate seminars. Her basic project is powerful; beautiful; necessary.

Place one or two glow-in-the-dark bracelets or necklaces inside the bottles and replace the caps. Line up the bottles on a flat surface and use a plastic or rubber ball to try to knock them down. Points can be assigned for each bottle knocked down or different values can be assigned to different colours of bottles for older kids. Shadow puppet shows make for great imaginative theatre under the stars. Using glow-in-the-dark necklaces, have kids stand at a set distance closer for the littler players and have them try to throw their necklaces around filled water bottles or other rigid targets.

The most important moves here are to dodge, duck, dip, and dive … away from the beam of a flashlight. When tagged, players must return to home base. How low can you go? Get your not too loud music playing, light up the area with some flashlights, and use a rope for kids to move under. Players must walk bent over backwards, feet first, without falling, while the others cheer them on. After each player makes it under the rope, the rope holders lower it closer to the ground and players try again and again until they can no longer make it under the rope. Warning, this game comes with a lot of laughter.

For the smallest kids in the crowd, snake-in-the-grass is always a great game. Have two older kids hold the rope on the ground and shake it. For the older set, a double dutch game using two ropes is always fun.

2. Hopscotch

Two kids turn the ropes in opposite directions, while a jumper tries to hop in between them. Even a classic one rope jump is still fun as jumpers see the sparkly rope set against the night sky. This game is perfect as it can only be played in the dark. Players partner up and decide on a signal with their flashlights such as two long flashes, three short, or something similar.

Pairs then scatter to different spots in an area a large space, such as a schoolyard or park would be perfect. Players must find their way to their partners in the dark by identifying their flashlight signal. Your email address will not be published. August 23, , One Comment. The schoolyard is filled with students in grades September 16, , No Comments. August 26, , No Comments. February 22, , One Comment. October 27, , No Comments. May 24, , No Comments. Skip to main content.

You're using an out-of-date version of Internet Explorer. By using our site, you agree to our collection of information through the use of cookies. To learn more, view our Privacy Policy. Log In Sign Up. Playing in the dark: Whiteness and the literary imagination Dewi Nurrosyida.

Toni Morrison

Playing in the dark: Whiteness and the literary imagination. We were nearly over- whelmed by the white ashy shower which settled upon us and upon the canoe, but melted into the water as it fell Many gigantic and pallidly white birds flew con- ' tinuously now from beyond the veil, and their scream was the eternal Tekeli-li'. And the hue of the skin of j, i the figure was of the perfect whiteness of the snow.

Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination

They have been floating, Pym and Peters and the native, Nu-Nu, on a warm, milk-white Sea under a "white ashy shower. After that, there is nothing. Instead there is a scholarly note, explanation, and an anxious, piled-up f bndusion. The images of the white curtain and the ji. The first white image seems related to the expi- t 'Piyf?? Both are figurations I fn? They clamor, it seems, for an attention that would yield the meaning that lies in their positioning, their repetition, and their strong suggestion of paralysis and incoherence; of impasse and non-sequitur.

These images of impenetrable whiteness need contextualizing to explain their extraor- dinary power, pattern, and consistency. Because they appear almost always in conjunction with representations of black or Africanist people who are dead, impotent, or under com- plete 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 pres- ence that moves the hearts and texts of American literature with fear and longing. This haunting, a darkness from which our early literature seemed unable to extricate itself, sug- gests the complex and contradictory situation in which American writers found themselves during the formative years of the nation's literature.

Young America distinguished itself by, and understood itself to be, pressing toward a fu- ture of freedom, a kind of human dignity believed unprecedented in the world. A whole tradition of "universal" yearnings collapsed into that well-fondled phrase, "the American Dream. If the New World fed dreams, what was the Old World reality that whetted the appetite for them? And how did' that reality caress and grip the shaping of a new one? The flight from the Old World to the New is generally seen to be a flight from oppres-. Although, in fact, the escape was sometimes! All the Old World offered these immigrants was poverjv; prison, social ostracism, and, not infrequently, death.

There was of course a clerical, schpj arly group of immigrants who came seeking the adventure possible in founding a colorj or, rather than against, one or another mother country or fatherland. And of course the were the merchants, who came for the cash. The new setting would provide new raiments of self. This second chance could even be fit from the mistakes of the first. The New World offered the vision of a limitlessm' made more gleaming by the constraint, dissatisfaction, and turmoil left behind.