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  • Affirmations of FleshToni Morrison's Gaze into the Human
  • Mina Karavanta (bio)

I prefer to think of a-world-in-which-race-does-not-matter as something other than a theme park, or a failed and always-failing dream or as the father's house of many rooms. I am thinking of it as home. "Home" seems a suitable term because, first, it lets me make a radical distinction between the metaphor of house and the metaphor of home and helps me clarify my thoughts on racial construction. Second, the term domesticates the racial project, moves the job of unmattering race away from pathetic yearning and futile desire; away from an impossible future or an irretrievable and probably nonexistent Eden to a manageable, doable, modern human activity. Third, because eliminating the potency of racist constructs in language is the work I can do. I can't wait for the ultimate liberation theory to imagine its practice and do its work.

Toni Morrison, "Home"

Toni Morrison's writing sculpts a politics of home from the ruins of the house of race so as to rewrite the history of the human against the language and practices of racism that racialize subjects and commodify their ontological and psychic complexity. By attending to the "interior life" of those who were marginalized during and after slavery throughout colonial modernity, Morrison transforms the idea of the human that race thinking and racism have consolidated in modernity, namely, the idea of a being who can be reduced to the organizing table of race (Morrison, "The Site of Memory" 70). She thus attends to a larger project, which is a decentering of the representation of the world modelled on a certain idea of Man that has colonized Being to "a-world-in-which-race-does-not-matter" and is the product of a "manageable, doable, modern human activity" ("Home" 3). This work requires the systematic and persistent deconstruction of "racist constructs in language" that continue to haunt the language of the nation and its community politics while drawing upon a blood narrative of fraternity ties that have expelled the being of the humans who remain unanswerable to the overrepresented "Christian Man" (Wynter, "Unsettling the Coloniality" 303).1 Morrison dismantles the house of race to build the home of the human while reinventing language against the effects and traces of race thinking.2 Without losing sight of the specificity of the history and politics of the African American subject and community as a history and politics in the world and of the world, she develops a poetics of the human made of the fragments and ruins of the multiple histories of the dispossessed. Slaves, orphans, emancipated but not liberated subjects, expropriated and poor people, [End Page 201] indentured laborers, runaway people, and migrant women and men are the "genres of being human" who people her texts, the humanity Morrison's oeuvre represents (Wynter and McKittrick 31).

Attending to such humanity made to the measure of expropriated humans, many still struggling to be recognized as human,3 Morrison's writing is invested in disclosing how the life of black subjects has been ontologically, intellectually, psychically complex. At the same time, she illustrates how such lives remain capable of imagining and creating both individual and communal living drawn on affective relations, despite the biopolitical violence to which this individual and communal life has been subjected.4 By reading Morrison's Paradise as a neo-slave narrative that deconstructs race thinking and its community politics, I propose to demonstrate how Morrison's text engenders a poetics of community and the human attentive to the making of a worldly rather than nationalist and exceptionalist polity against and beyond race thinking. This polity, symbolically represented by the decentering figure of the specter, signifies, importantly, the dispossessed and expropriated humans, and the politics of flesh as a politics that reveals and undoes the construction of the subject made to the measure of Man. Specter and flesh, the concepts through which Morrison performs the "unmattering" of "race" throughout her work are especially evident in Paradise. Moreover, the "unmattering race" contributes to a reinvention of the world as the larger polity that Morrison has in mind...


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pp. 201-216
Launched on MUSE
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