The origin of others

Toni Morrison

Book - 2017

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Review by Booklist Review

Nobel laureate Morrison, long known for her penetrating exploration of race in the U.S., continues that examination with essays derived from a lecture series at Harvard. Morrison draws on personal experiences, diaries of slave masters and the former enslaved, scientific studies, and literature from Hemingway to Conrad to Camara Laye. Morrison explores how cultures, societies, and individuals develop the notion of the Other, the reasons for it, the perceived benefits of distinguishing based on what many insist are racial traits despite the slipperiness of concepts of race. Morrison reviews her own body of work and that of others in her journey as a writer and black woman and her evolution from creating racially identifiable characters to efforts to remove racial identifiers from her fiction. She notes that writing non-colorist literature about black people is a task I have found both liberating and hard. In this slim volume, Morrison shares again her enormous talent for examining the complexity of race and racial identity, the inhumanity that results from othering a fellow human being, the justifications for cruelty that has resulted in romanticized images of slavery and oppression, and how the perversity of racism reverberates through centuries. Ta-Nehisi Coates' foreword provides context for Morrison's analysis of the current political climate.--Bush, Vanessa Copyright 2017 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Based on the 2016 Charles Norton Lecture series at Harvard University, the latest work of nonfiction by Pulitzer- and Nobel Prize-winning novelist Morrison analyzes the language of race and racism and the classification of people into dehumanizing racial categories in American culture. "The necessity of rendering a slave a foreign species appears to be a desperate attempt to confirm one's own self as normal," she writes, and draws on numerous examples from history and literature that expose the psychological work of "othering." Two particularly chilling instances of this dehumanization come from the 19th century: Southern physician Samuel Cartwright's invention of an illness he called "drapetomania" that he used to account for why slaves ran away, and planter Thomas Thistlewood's diary entries describing the callous rape of slaves with the cold detachment of scientific notation. Morrison also shows the ways white authors romanticized slavery in fiction, pointing to the scene from Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin where Tom and Chloe's slave children happily eat under the table. She includes discussions of William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!, Flannery O'Connor's "The Artificial Nigger," and many of her own novels. Lyrically written and intelligently argued, this book is on par with Morrison's Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination and The Black Book. (Sept.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

Essays focused on an overarching question: "What is race (other than genetic imagination), and why does it matter?"Melding memoir, history, and trenchant literary analysis, Nobel Prize laureate Morrison (Emeritus, Humanities/Princeton Univ.; God Help the Child, 2015, etc.) offers perceptive reflections on the configuration of Otherness. Revised from her Norton Lectures at Harvard, the volume consists of six essays that consider how race is conceived, internalized, and culturally transmitted, drawing in part on writers such as Hemingway, Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, Joseph Conrad, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and the African writer Camara Laye, whose novel The Radiance of the King Morrison greatly admires. Laye told the story of a white man, stranded and destitute in Africa, struggling to maintain his assumptions of white privilege. For Morrison, the novel illuminates the pressures that "make us deny the foreigner in ourselves and make us resist to the death the commonness of humanity." She also offers insightful glosses into her own aims as a novelist. "Narrative fiction," she writes, "provides a controlled wilderness, an opportunity to be and to become the Other. The stranger. With sympathy, clarity, and the risk of self-examination." In Beloved, for example, she reimagined the story of Margaret Garner, a slave who had killed her children rather than see them enslaved, as she had been. In A Mercy, she examined "the journey from sympathetic race relations to violent ones fostered by religion." In Paradise, she delved into the issue of hierarchies of blackness by looking at "the contradictory results of devising a purely raced community"; she purposely did not identify her characters' race in order to "simultaneously de-fang and theatricalize race, signaling, I hoped, how moveable and hopelessly meaningless the construct was." In God Help the Child, Morrison considered "the triumphalism and deception that colorism fosters." Her current novel in progress, she discloses, explores "the education of a racisthow does one move from a non-racial womb to the womb of racism"? As sharp and insightful as one would expect from this acclaimed author. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.