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Toni Morrison: An Ethical Poetics

An Ethical Poetics

Yvette Christianse

Publication Year: 2012

Toni Morrison: An Ethical Poetics situates Toni Morrison as a writer who writes about writing as much as about racialized, engendered, and sexualized African American, and therefore American, experience. In foregrounding the ethics of fiction writing, the book resists any triumphalist reading of Morrison's achievement in order to allow the meditative, unsettled, and unsettling questions that arise throughout her long labor at the nexus of language and politics, where her fiction interrogates representation itself.Moving between close reading and critical theory, Toni Morrison: An Ethical Poetics reveals the ways in which Morrison's primary engagement with language has been a search for how and what language is made to communicate, and for how and what speaks in and from generation to generation. There is no easy escape fromsuch legacy, no escape into a pure language free of the burdens of racialized agendas. Rather, there is the example of Morrison's commitment to writerly, which is to say readerly, wakefulness.At a time when sustained study devoted to single authors has become rare, this book will be an invaluable resource for readers, scholars, and teachers of Morrison's work.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 1-4


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pp. 5-6

Abbreviations for Works by Toni Morrison

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pp. vii-10

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pp. 1-27

Nevertheless, the movement away from a literature that aims to redeem the individual and the community toward one that explores the “concrete thrill of borderlessness” might well be read as a recapitulation of a history of African American literature that is poised between the reflective, self-present...

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1. From Witnessing to Death Dealing: On Speaking of and for the Dead

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pp. 28-75

In his consideration of the philosophy of witnessing, Giorgio Agamben attempts to map out some of the relationships between injury, survival, witnessing, and testimony. He argues that a twofold impossibility confronts the one who would testify: to bear witness to what one doesn’t know, and...

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2. Burnt Offerings: Law and Sacrifice

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pp. 76-119

At the center of Paradise’s Ruby, deep in Oklahoma, is the Oven. Nails have inscribed into its surface the imperative phrase, “Beware the Furrow of His Brow” (P 7). The descendants of fifteen families, who migrated “from Mississippi and two Louisiana parishes” and the failed Restoration...

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3. Time Out of Joint: The Temporal Logic of Morrison’s Modernist Apocalyptics

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pp. 120-157

In a moment of delirious optimism, the invisible, unnamed narrator of Jazz virtually sings out, “Here comes the new. Look out. There goes the sad stuff. The bad stuff. The things-nobody-could-help-stuff ” (J 7). We are invited to bear witness to the end of a time, not its residue. This end...

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4. Beginnings and Endings, Part One: Old Languages / New Bodies

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pp. 158-187

In the early pages of Jazz, Joe Trace utters these words: “you could say, ‘I was scared to death,’ but you could not retrieve the fear” (J 29). Any scene, no matter how intense, can be replayed, but insofar as it is replayed in narrative, his earlier experiences make him afraid that all memories will...

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5. Beginnings and Endings, Part Two: The Poetics of Similitude and Disavowal at Utopia’s Gates

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pp. 188-215

Morrison has described her project in A Mercy as wanting “to separate race from slavery to see what it was like, what it might have been like, to be a slave but without being raced; where your status was being enslaved but there was no application of racial inferiority,” when what is called America...

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pp. 216-251

This book has treated Morrison as a writer who writes about writing as much as she writes about the condition of African American historical consciousness within the larger America. Over the years, Morrison has increasingly produced writing that cites itself, as well as the canons with...


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pp. 253-284


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pp. 285-299


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pp. 301-307

E-ISBN-13: 9780823246557
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823239153
Print-ISBN-10: 0823239152

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2012