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Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the…
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Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (original 1992; edition 1993)

by Toni Morrison

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7691012,029 (3.88)22
Member:KaylaVO
Title:Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination
Authors:Toni Morrison
Info:Vintage (1993), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 91 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:Litterary critcism, Race in Literature

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Playing in the Dark : Whiteness and the Literary Imagination by Toni Morrison (1992)

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Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
A challenging read, but well worth the time and effort.
  sparemethecensor | Jan 13, 2016 |
80. Playing in the Dark : Whiteness and the Literary Imagination by Toni Morrison
1992, 100 page hardcover
read Dec 9-12

These essays are work but also enlightening if you can manage to fight your way through them. Morrison is so angry and yet she never tells you, never expresses it in any overt way. But she lays it in raw when one compares the balanced tone and the emotion that almost logically is underneath. She writes objectively, ”Black slavery enriched the country's creative possibilities.” - if you aren't cringing, read that again.

From there she just goes on to talk about it. I found myself so uncomfortable reading this, that it became a hard read. If I could have stayed on her tone, it would just been a somewhat interesting, boring and yet very informative read. Yet, that’s not where she is going. She says it, and you think that’s extreme and then eventually you come around to see how much racism plays such a fundamental unconscious and key a roll in American story telling, and how universal it is. It's like the message sinks in and a knife twists in your gut

Think again about Finn in The Force Awakens. Go see any American movie and look at the roll the black characters play - but these servile roles are child’s play. In serious literature blacks play critical roles in balancing main, non-black characters. They provide a critical sense of freedom and independence to those characters. Morrison brings up Henry James, Faulkner, Gertrude Stein, Flannery O’Connor (a bit more respectfully), Mark Twain’s Jim, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Willian Styron, Saul Bellow, Carson McCullers, Edgar Allen Poe, Willa Cather’s Sapphire and the Slave Girl, Melville’s Pip, and she hammers Hemingway. Melville was actually conscious about his racial play, using race in an exploratory and creative manner. Certainly he’s comes across as more modern in his sensibilities in this aspect than all these other authors, and most literature coming out today.

Perhaps I should go back and tone this one down. This reviews seems a bit discouraging. But it is an uncomfortable read, with some uncomfortable revelations that you thought you already knew, but really you only knew a small piece of it.

“As a writer reading, I came to realize the obvious: the subject of the dream is the dreamer. The fabrication of an Africanist persona is reflexive; an extraordinary meditation on the self; a powerful exploration of the fears and desires that reside in the writerly conscious.”
2 vote dchaikin | Dec 27, 2015 |
This little book has been rightly influential out of all proportion to its merits as a book: the basic thesis here is really important (if not entirely original--compare Leslie Fiedler's Love and Death in the American Novel) but the argumentation is unsystematic, even slapdash, with terminology slippery and unrigorous, etc. ( )
  middlemarchhare | Nov 25, 2015 |
In Playing the the Dark, Morrison examines the way in which blackness has been used to define whiteness in classic American literature from its very beginnings, or as she notes, "the way in which a nonwhite, Africanlike (or Africanist) presence or persona was constructed in the United States..." and "What Africanism became for, and how it functioned in, the literary imagination..." and how it 'is of paramount interest because it may be possible to discover, through a close look at literary "blackness," the nature —even the cause—of literary "whiteness." What is it for? What parts do the invention and development of whiteness play in the construction of what is loosely described as "American"?'

Morrison notes the paucity of critical material in this area and clearly hopes to spur interest in this compelling subject that will result in "a deeper reading of American literature". She is not attacking American literature, she delights in it. To explore her thesis points, she discusses Willa Cather's Sapphira and the Slave Girl, some of the works of Poe, Twain's Huckleberry Finn and Hemingway's To Have and Have Not, with mentions of other authors and works from Faulkner to Melville, O'Connor to Styron.

I found myself re-reading paragraphs and pages over and over again, and dog-earring numerous pages (which is something I never do), while reading this brilliant and fascinating 97-page book of literary criticism. My reading of this will certainly change the way I read classic American literature in the future --moving into a "wider landscape," as Morrison suggests. I can't recommend this book enough to readers, particularly those who consider themselves fans of American lit, and who might feel up to some scholarly discussion of literature.

Note: It's interesting to note that Morrison rarely uses the word "other," which is so much used in literary discussion. I'm sure the term was being used in the early 90s, but I think she made a deliberate choice not to use it. I think she is doing something different, something more here, but I can't yet articulate what it is. ( )
3 vote avaland | Aug 7, 2015 |
Sometimes I wish that all literary critics were obligated to first serve an apprenticeship as great writers of fiction. Surely, like Toni Morrison, they would then be better able to appreciate the practical challenges and choices writers face. And that might make them more sensitive to what those choices reveal. Although she was well taught as a reader, Morrison says that, “books revealed themselves rather differently to me as a writer.” In Playing in the Dark, Morrison turns that writerly attention on the canon of American literature and asks what effect the largely unspoken Africanist presence in America has had on the choices that writers make. The answer is fascinating.

The writing here sometimes explodes in flourishes of enthusiasm, almost poetic. And at times it seems that Morrison is presenting a prolegomena to a future body of criticism, or a platform of work for future students of American literature, rather than critical analysis itself. But when she does turn to specific texts, such as Cather’s Sapphira and the Slave Girl or Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not, her insights are piercing. Her scrutiny of Hemingway’s syntactically awkward locution “saw he had seen” in order to enforce the narrative silence of his black shipmate is a case in point. Morrison’s concern is with the choice made by the writer just there. Perhaps only a serious writer can appreciate the import of such choices.

Morrison says that, “thinking about these matters has challenged me as a writer and as a reader.” It’s the kind of thinking that we could each use more of as readers. ( )
  RandyMetcalfe | Feb 15, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
In Playing in the Dark, Toni Morrison argues that the "africanist" or black presence is inextricable from American history and therefore American literature, and in order to understand and interpret American literature one should not ignore this crucial presence of the oppressed souls of "sixty million and more" africana people who have died to give birth to America. Further she discusses that " the contemplation of this black presence is central to any understanding of our [American] national literature and should not be permitted to over at the margins of the literary imagination" (Playing 5).
Although slavery has an important role in the history of socio-economic structure of all society for many years and slavery of in the New World was not a new phenomenon, but being enslaved due to skin color and race was a new thing altogether. Over centuries it has had a great impact on both oppressed and oppressor that being ignorant to it is almost impossible.
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These chapters put forth an argument for extending the study of American literature into what I hope will be a wider landscape.
Preface: Some years ago in 1983 I believe, I read Marie Cardinal's The Words to Say It.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679745424, Paperback)

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Beloved and Jazz now gives us a learned, stylish, and immensely persuasive work of literary criticism that promises to change the way we read American literature even as it opens a new chapter in the American dialogue on race.

Toni Morrison's brilliant discussions 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.

Written with the artistic vision that has earned Toni Morrison a pre-eminent place in modern letters, Playing in the Dark will be avidly read by Morrison admirers as well as by students, critics, and scholars of American literature.

"By going for the American literary jugular...she places her arguments...at the very heart of contemporary public conversation about what it is to be authentically and originally American. [She] boldly...reimagines and remaps the possibility of America."
--Chicago Tribune

"Toni Morrison is the closest thing the country has to a national writer."
The New York Times Book Review

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:03 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Beloved and Jazz now gives us a learned, stylish, and immensely persuasive work of literary criticism that promises to change the way we read American literature even as it opens a new chapter in the American dialogue on race. Toni Morrison's brilliant discussions 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. Written with the artistic vision that has earned Toni Morrison a pre-eminent place in modern letters, Playing in the Dark will be avidly read by Morrison admirers as well as by students, critics, and scholars of American literature. "By going for the American literary jugular...she places her arguments...at the very heart of contemporary public conversation about what it is to be authentically and originally American. [She] boldly...reimagines and remaps the possibility of America."… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 2 descriptions

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