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"Git Way Inside Us, Keep Us Strong":
Toni Morrison And The Art Of Critical Production
Sterling Brown's poem "Ma Rainey" provides an appropriate title-phrase for this book review in its evocation to the popular blues singer. Between the publications of The Bluest Eye (1970) and Love (2003), Toni Morrison seems to have achieved her commitment to finding "a mode to do what the music did" for African Americans "in that civilization that existed underneath the white civilization" (Taylor-Guthrie 121), for she has fulfilled the role of the black musician in clarifying issues, reclaiming subjective experience, and providing ways to make a way out of no way for African Americans living in a "wholly racialized society" (Morrison, Playing 1). Furthermore, Morrison's openness to discussing her art has been part of her cultural work for the last three decades.1 When Professor Morrison indicated in her remarks at the Fourth Biennial Toni Morrison Society Conference in [End Page 179] Cincinnati, Ohio (July 2005), that she can now "get off the dime" because the critical reception to African-American literature is so much better than "it used to be" four decades ago, she gave some indication of both her commitment to the critical enterprise on African-American artists and her assessment of it. Two of the works she may have had in mind, in fact, are Lucille P. Fultz's Toni Morrison: Playing With Difference and Andrea O'Reilly's Toni Morrison and Motherhood: A Politics of the Heart, both of which were recognized at the Conference.
Toni Morrison: Playing With Difference won the best book award at the Fourth Biennial Toni Morrison Society Conference, and deservedly so. Fultz traces the intertextualities among Morrison's novels by examining how the later ones "repeat, revise, and even contradict" narrative motifs in the earlier ones (4), and she examines several reasons why this is so. Like Philip Page's Dangerous Freedom: Fusion and Fragmentation in Toni Morrison's Novels, Fultz's work considers Morrison's characters to be grappling "with the contingencies of a divided and divisive world" (27); additionally, Fultz examines how the author's own divided and divisive world has influenced her writing over the course of more than thirty years.2 Most significantly, Fultz has developed an incisive study of the changes in Morrison's configurations of race and gender from The Bluest Eye to Paradise. Quoting from Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Self-Reliance" ("Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again"). Fultz argues that Morrison has undergone such an "Emersonian political shift" (2).
Fultz also demonstrates that the revisions and contradictions within Morrison's oeuvre serve her interest in involving the readers in the making of her books. Morrison has stated that her "language has to have holes and spaces so the reader can come into it. He or she can feel something visceral, see something striking. Then we (you, the reader, and I, the author) come together to make this book, to feel this experience. It doesn't matter what happens" (Interview 164). And what Playing with Difference takes up in this regard is an analysis of Morrison's fiction in terms of the dialectics it "stages": dialectics of voice, point of view, and sensibility that provide alternate responses to similar situations (Fultz 12–13). Furthermore, in arguing that Morrison stages these dialectics, Fultz's work is sensitive to Morrison's propensity for ambiguity and resistance to closure.3 For example, Morrison remarks in "Behind the Making of The Black Book" that she wanted to put out "a genuine Black history book" that "has no order" but "does have coherence and sinew": "it can be browsed through...