Toni Morrison

Students in this course will be encouraged to learn from the ways that Toni Morrison—arguably the most celebrated living U.S. author–grapples with, 1. the singularities of African American experiences over time, from the colonial period to the present, 2. the formal/aesthetic challenges of creating works that are at once “unquestionably political and irrevocably beautiful,” within and against a variety of literary and cultural traditions, 3. defining the role of the artist and public intellectual in developing critical strategies for enlisting the reader to participate in remembering, reconceptualizing, and transforming a society whose formation depended on genocide and slavery. That is, we will read Morrison for what she can teach us, about love, survival, and community, about the ways that the subjects of her fictions inhabit particular locations, and about the ways that a writer shapes language into something maximally responsive to the complexities of human personality and the claims of history. In reading seven of Toni Morrison’s nine novels (THE BLUEST EYE, SULA, SONG OF SOLOMON, TAR BABY, BELOVED, JAZZ, A MERCY)–along with a number of critical statements by and about Morrison on the places where literary aesthetics, history/archive, identity, and cultural politics intersect–we will be led into a range of critical questions about such categories as race/racial formation, gender, class, ethics, and justice within the U.S. national and transnational narratives, as well as into considerations of the nature of literary pleasure and value, and the socio-politics of literary production/reception.

Required work for the course will include weekly postings to a class list on the novels, short reports, and two papers (one 4-5 pages, mid-way through semester, and the other a seminar paper of 10-12 pages). Students should come to class on the first day with the course reader, available from Campus Copy (at Campus Center). All other texts for the course will be available at Revolution Books.