“Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination” by Toni Morrison

A slim, non-fiction volume based on a series of lectures, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination by Toni Morrison is a dense, thought-provoking read.

From the back cover:

Toni Morrison’s brilliant discussion of the “Africanist” presence in the fiction of Poe, Melville, Cather, and Hemingway leads to a dramatic reappraisal of the essential characteristics of our literary tradition. She shows how much the themes of freedom and individualism, manhood and innocence, depended on the existence of a black population that was manifestly unfree–and that came to serve white authors as embodiments of their own fears and desires.

This was part of the swath of books I read around re-reading Morrison’s Beloved. It’s written in what one of my grad-school professors would have called “high academ-ese” and thus interestingly brings into question the poet Audre Lord’s assertion that one can’t dismantle the master’s house with the master’s tools. Morrison is able to wield ivory tower rhetoric like a weapon, and her argument about the necessity of an other to the American myth is a compelling one. Not a fun read, but a rewarding one.

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