Weekly Response: Toni Morrison’s “Black Matters”
In “Black Matters,” Toni Morrison addresses the lack of genuine ‘African’ subjectivity among characterizations in American fiction. Morrison emphasizes this false representation of the African Americans by focusing primarily on Willa Cather’s Sapphira and the Slave Girl and its lack of a truly objective portrayal of African American protagonists. In other words, the portrayal of the black men and women is a type of literary artifice, using the African American to underscore some other aspect of the theme or plot, than it is a consummate and realistic representation of human characteristics. Morrison claims that the black persona in fictional representations of this time are “constructed,” a “fabricated presence” (Morrison 6).
-surrogacy (in Morrison’s context of “black surrogacy”)
Morrison uses “American Africanism” to denote the representation of the African through the American lens of the twentieth-century. This term is an integral part of Morrison’s argument, put forth through the simple inversion of the standard ‘African American’ categorizing phrase. The difference highlights the power structure and its linguistic representation. Morrison’s “American Africanism” represents the constructed “blackness” of the primarily white American literary establishment.
Morrison uses the term “verisimilitude” in its traditional sense as it pertains to fictional representations of reality. Alongside her message, the verisimilitude of the work in question falls short of authenticity. This lack of authenticity carries a massive amount of socio-cultural relevance due to its position in twentieth-century America and its relationship to civil rights.
Racialization plays an important part in “Black Matters” and race-related literary theorizing. The idea of race being a construct that saddles the human being or literary character with histories and influences outside of their control can allow for an understanding of the wrongs done in the name of supremacy and the damage done to human society as a whole. Morrison uses literature to emphasize racialization’s status as a construct of this human society and not an inborn trait or difference that some have held ‘race’ to be. Racialization goes deeper than skin color. It categorizes strengths or weaknesses and can therefore be used as a tool for labelling and pre-judgement of the individual. Morrison emphasizes this labelling through the construction of African literary characters and the disparity between it and reality.
“The United States, of course, is not unique in the construction of Africanism. South America, England, France, Germany, Spain—the cultures of these countries have participated in and contributed to some aspect of “invented Africa.” None has been able to persuade itself for long that criteria and knowledge could emerge outside the categories of domination. Among Europeans and the Europeanized, this shared process of exclusion—of assigning designation and value—has led to the popular and academic notion that racism is a “natural,” if irritating, phenomenon.”
This form of invented African characterization-think Conrad or Rudyard Kipling-is prevalent in white societies. The representations of Africans in the respective literatures of these nations always possesses some form of subjugation. While some anomalous works have been produced, the prevalent hegemony of white dominance is the norm, with some even believing, for better or worse, that this is a natural order.
Question 1: Is the intentional liberal blindness to race in literature that Morrison mentions on page twelve a product of the “resolved symbolic?” Can a text exist outside of this human political influence? Was this a goal of postmodernity, to lose this political influence through the reduction of standard form or linear plot development?
Question 2: Does the “black surrogacy” exist in a new form with LGBT characterizations, as in the controversy surrounding Eugenides’ Middlesex?
Weekly Response: Rámon Saldívar’s “Historical Fantasy, Speculative Realism, and Postrace Aesthetics in Contemporary American Fiction”
In “Historical Fantasy, Speculative Realism, and Postrace Aesthetics in Contemporary American Fiction,” Rámon Saldívar defines certain twenty-first-century literature as fitting the historical fantasy genre. Saldívar uses the term “postrace” to describe this mode of theorizing and analyzing these particular narratives. The authors creating these texts, being too young to have been directly involved in the Civil Rights movement, use racial division in a historical manner that reflects this lack of direct experience, while still using race as a primary thematic in their works. The term postrace refers to a subversion of the standard black/white binary and the “significance of this difference for the form of fiction in the contemporary American context” (Saldívar 575).
Saldívar claims that a new racial imaginary, one that replaces the traditional black/white mode of characterization, must emerge from the emigration of Latin Americans into the United States. This black/white ideal, and the scuttling of this idea as outdated and irrelevant to the modern world, is the ‘race’ in postrace theory. Saldívar emphasizes that race as an issue has not devolved or disappeared but changed dramatically from when these clearly draw lines could be used.
Aesthetics is an important term for literature in general due to its varying definitions relating to particular contexts. The word does not always refer to surface representations. I feel Saldivar is using aesthetics-as in article’s title-to refer to what postrace theorizing and fictive construction can be conceived as in these novels and how this abstract idea pertains to literature and theory.
Transnational is used here in conjunction with multicultural and it relates to Saldívar’s positing of race as geographically defined in some cases. Postrace theory questions the devices that marginalize the transnational or multicultural. Transnational removes the stigmatized reaction and history behind the term ‘immigrant.’
“Like parabasis, historical fantasy is a way of describing the “something more” that the literary works I refer to as postrace fictions do in linking fantasy, history, and the imaginary in the mode of speculative realism in order to remain true to ethnic literature’s utopian allegiance to social justice.”
Postrace texts use history and fantasy to create the socially correct worlds envisioned or to clearly emphasize the injustices of reality and historical record. The ‘truth being stranger than fiction’ adage applies to certain unbelievable atrocities and turbulent periods of history, and the use of fantastical elements underscore these aspects of history.
Question 1: Is Saldivar’s historical realism a continuation of postmodernism’s historical parody as employed by Pynchon and Barth?
Question 2: Can certain lines be drawn that delineate the history from the fantasy? Does a ratio for success exist? In other words, can too much history or too much fantasy risk damaging the social message at the texts core? Can a graphic representation of this mixture be created?
Weekly Response: Gloria Anzaldúa’s “How to tame a Wild Tongue”
In “How to Tame a Wild Tongue,” Gloria Anzaldúa reports the transnational blending of not only English and Spanish, but also differing forms of regional and colloquial Spanish. This idea challenges the concept of Latin America as a Spanish-speaking whole that does not withstand scrutiny. Like the many nations that comprise Latin America, many forms of Spanish exist therein. Anzadúa argues that the destruction or repression of language is a tool used by dominating forces to control. Linguistic identity exists alongside ethnic identity, and the acceptance of varied languages and a challenging of the concept of a dominant language is important for the promotion of equality.
Anzaldúa uses the term “internalize” to represent the effect that social and cultural influences can have on the single person. The hegemony of the English language, the belief that Spanish is the language of a lower class, is a phenomenon that has shaped the Anzaldúa’s identity.
Anzaldúa mentions that English is a “neutral language” for chicanos. This relates to the internalization and the inherent nature of one culture dominating another through many other means, as well as the instilled belief that one’s native tongue is undesirable.
Anzaldúa refer to DuBoisian dual identity to refer to the psychological conflict that arises from this forced repression of one’s native tongue. The term acculturation accompanies Anzaldúa’s reference to dual identity. This acculturation is a result of the dominant culture’s refusal to accept the addition’s specific traits and the negative labelling of these characteristics. Dual identity conflicts with human nature when enacted on a public scale, when it is a construct that is not the personal public/private self of the human being.
“There are more subtle ways that we internalize identification, especially in the forms of images and emotions. For me food and certain smell are tied my identity, to my homeland. Woodsmoke curling up to an immense blue sky; woodsmoke perfuming my grandmother’s clothes, her skin.”
Anzaldúa posits this identification with things that humans of all ethnicities can relate to. She uses the quote form Kant to relate experience with identity. This forces the reader to think of how their language is a part of their identity. Those who have learned a second language can understand how it differs in relation to identity with one’s native tongue.
Question 1: Has this form of language absorption or hegemonic repression occurred with earlier American diasporic emigration?
Question 2: Is Anzaldúa speaking of something more than regional dialects when she speaks of the varied forms of Spanish? Is this inconsistency a product of American influence?