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Trudier Harris. Fiction and Folklore: The Novels of Toni Morrison. Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 1991. ix + 228 pp.
Marilyn Sanders Mobley. Folk Roots and Mythic Wings in Sarah Orne Jewett and Toni Morrison: The Cultural Function of Narrative. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1991. ix + 193 pp.
Denise Heinze. The Dilemma of "Double-Consciousness": Toni Morrison's Novels. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1993. 209 pp.
Barbara Hill Rigney. The Voices of Toni Morrison. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 1991. 127 pp.
Doreatha Drummond Mbalia. Toni Morrison's Developing Class Consciousness. Selinsgrove: Susquehanna UP, 1991. 142 pp.

One measure of an author's impact is when book-length critical studies of her work begin to appear. Such attention to Toni Morrison began in 1985, with Bessie Jones and Audrey L. Vinson's The World of Toni Morrison: Explorations in Literary Criticism. Since that first book, five other books solely on Morrison have been published,1 almost yearly, until 1991, when four new studies were published, followed by a fifth study in 1993. Several factors may be contributing to this abrupt doubling in Morrison scholarship, not all of them very surprising. First, Morrison won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her [End Page 781] fifth novel, Beloved, in 1988. Allowing approximately three years to complete a book-length critical study, it seems only reasonable that several books on Morrison should appear beginning in 1991. Second, the publication of Beloved in 1987 rounded out Morrison's oeuvre to five novels,2 a full body of work on which to base a critical study. Yet these are very dull, mechanical explanations of how and why five books came to be published on Morrison within the past two years. Much more exciting to consider is the critical politics playing out in these five monographs. Critical essays on Morrison have generally placed her within one of four contexts: race, gender, comparative American/Western literature, or "universal" paradigms. Critics of African American literature have demonstrated Morrison's aesthetic and thematic use of black cultural traditions; feminist critics have focused on how gender shapes Morrison's texts; comparativists have delineated Morrison's debts to—and revisions of—writers such as Faulkner, Joyce, Ellison, Woolf, and Shakespeare; "universalists" (for lack of a better term) have delineated patterns such as Christian myth or archetypal psychology in Morrison's texts. Of course, these approaches are by no means mutually exclusive of one another or exhaustive of all possibilities (consider, for example, black feminist criticism); even when critics have blended these approaches, however, one usually remains primary. The profusion of critical articles on Morrison has made it easy to overlook the critical jockeying of these points of view. Each school claims (and needs) Morrison as a practical exemplar of its contemporary theories; each school wants to shape how Morrison is read and taught. And while the power plays I'm describing may seem part of the "natural" survival of the fittest, or merely a function of the intense interest due any great writer, I would suggest that the critical maneuvering over Morrison reflects the current negotiations over positioning what Henry Louis Gates, Jr., has recently termed the "loose canons" in today's "culture wars" in his collection of essays, Loose Canons: Notes on the Culture Wars.

Morrison herself has commented on the political process of canon building. In "Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature," she writes, "Canon building is Empire building. Canon defense is national defense. Canon debate, whatever the terrain, nature, and range[,] . . . is the clash of cultures. And all of the interests are vested" (8). While it may seem that the different critical approaches toward Morrison's work are simply a reflection of the variety characterizing our profession, I would argue that, actually, much more is at stake. Morrison's fairly rapid assimilation [End Page 782] into the "canon" and university undergraduate curricula places her work at the front lines of this clash of cultures. Whose Empire are we building when we select Morrison as the black woman writer to discuss (as opposed to Alice Walker, for example...


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