Forever Beloved: Toni Morrison and Her Literary Genius

1

On a misty Monday morning, when the large wooden benches in my college classroom were still freshly unoccupied and the sun shone softly through the college’s semi-transparent sliding windows, Pecola Breedlove’s voice rang in my mind while I was sifting through The Bluest Eye. Pecola is the main protagonist in Toni Morrison’s first seminal novel, The Bluest Eye. I read the novel when I was nineteen. If I was a few years older or a few years younger, I would like to believe, the shift in perception it suggested through the encapsulating atmosphere of the novel, would still exist but not as poignantly.

Morrison’s writing is much like stepping into an intricately planned museum, where each brick, painting and artefact is cultivated to evoke a particular feeling and highlight social friction that precedes and succeeds it. In a Paris Review article, Morrison was asked ‘Do you write to figure out exactly how you feel about a subject?’ and she replies, “No, I know how I feel. My feelings are the result of my prejudices and convictions like everybody else’s. But I am interested in the complexity, the vulnerability of an idea. It is not “this is what I believe,” because that would not be a book, just a tract. A book is “this may be what I believe, but suppose I am wrong . . . what could it be?” Or, “I don’t know what it is, but I am interested in finding out what it might mean to me, as well as to other people.”

Toni Morrison was born in  Ohio in the 1930s and was brought up with an immersive appreciation of her Black heritage. She was the first African American woman in the history of the world to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993. In Morrison’s words, “The most valuable point of cultural (or racial) distinctions is its language——its unpoliced, seditious, confrontational, manipulative, inventive, disruptive, masked and unmasking language”

Morrison has left us all on this planet with an abundance of emotion to move and mould our souls. After The Bluest Eye, Sula and Song of Solomon followed, along with eight other subsequent novels. Her death at eighty eight years old marks the end of an era for the world of literature. Her legacy lives in her powerful metaphors, structurally idiosyncratic writing, and the lives she has impacted through her influential teaching and emphatic existence. Morrison’s career as a novelist and essayist started when she contributed as a textbook editor in New York in the late 1960s. She quipped, “It wasn’t really writing,” on a PW profile in 1987; outlining the initial journey of her first novel.

In an article from the conversation, Paul Giles writes, ‘Morrison sought, in both her fiction and non-fiction, to expose the “national amnesia” underlying and often unconscious forms of racism.’

Morrison explicitly talks about prejudice, especially racial prejudice towards black women in her novels. Beauty standards and generational trauma is also habitually discussed by her.

On her influences, Morrison stated in a December PW feature, “Gabriel García opened the world for me,” and “When I read One Hundred Years of Solitude, it was a wide-open door. I could put reality and mythology together in a way that was so assumptive and real. I was sneaking up on it in Sula but it was like some road was beckoning, and I wouldn’t take it. It was a risk. Then, after Márquez, it was open to me, and I was totally in control of it.” Morrison’s writing fills in hollow spaces with the sound of a story never told before. It is raw, infused with African American heritage and powerfully embedded in language.

One of my favourite quotes by her is “At some point in life the world’s beauty becomes enough. You don’t need to photograph, paint, or even remember it. It is enough,” and that is why she remains to be one of the greatest writers of all time. Her ability to create between these rigidly cemented walls of writing gives her readers and the nature and structure of literature an endlessly optimistic view. It evolves, the use of any structure——it’s matrix——and what we borrow from it and how we use it as a tool to navigate the socio-political landscape of our world.

Toni Morrison will forever be enshrined in the sands of time, through her works and teachings, as a person of inexhaustible spirit and innovation who still moulds perceptions about the world in its chaotic state of unit and power.

Some of her most recommended works for anyone who wants to start reading her brilliant writing are:-

  1. The Bluest Eye (1970) 
  2. Jazz (1992) 
  3. Beloved (1987)

Manogni T is an Editorial Intern at One Future Collective.

Public spaces of education: The complicated nexus of shame, agency and resistance

16 days of Activism, 2022 at One Future Collective

I want to be free, but patriarchy and capitalism tether me!

Queerscope | Being Queer in Ancient India

1

Queerscope  is a bi-monthly column that aims to look at queerness and its aspects, in concern with modern culture as well as lessons from queer movements across the world.

Continue reading “Queerscope | Being Queer in Ancient India”

Public spaces of education: The complicated nexus of shame, agency and resistance

16 days of Activism, 2022 at One Future Collective

I want to be free, but patriarchy and capitalism tether me!

The Social Cut | Spider-Man: Into the New Reboot

1

The Social Cut is a monthly column by Rishika Aggarwal that critically analyses various media shows, movies and documentaries, from an intersectionalist feminist standpoint.

If there’s one superhero that has almost been overdone when it comes to depiction on the movie screen, it is undeniably Spider-Man.

The web-slinging superhero and his civilian identity, student Peter Parker, has been the protagonist for a number of films. In the span of 12 years, there were 5 feature films and 2 iterations of the character on movie screen – Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire’s original trilogy, and the two films in the Amazing Spider-Man reboot in 2012, starring Andrew Garfield. Then came the Marvel movies, with Tom Holland taking over the role as a younger Spider-Man – and with it came clear indications of Spider-Man fatigue.

The Spider-Man that had first been introduced by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in 1962 had been a breath of fresh air in the superhero landscape – he didn’t have access to expensive and high tech gear, was human and not alien or mutant (a la Superman or the X-Men), and dealt not only with super-villains, but also mundane problems like bullying and talking to girls. His powers affected his ability to hold down a job, forcing him to work for an employer who hated his masked identity, and he struggled with keeping Spider-Man a secret from the most meaningful people in his life.

Spider-Man, when first introduced, was proof that anyone could be a superhero. And while it’s true that there are parts of Peter Parker that people can relate to, it is increasingly clear that being fully represented by a superhero is difficult when the superhero in question is young white man.

This is why Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a breath of fresh air, especially on screen. This Spider-Man is no longer the young white man Peter Parker, but Afro-Latino teenager Miles Morales. He embraces his cultural background instead of being modified to appeal to white audiences – his school essays come doodled with graffiti and his form of relaxation is a combination of hip-hop and R&B (creating one of the most hilarious moments in the film when his need to hum music in order to control a part of his new powers conflicts with his need to stay silent).

Miles is a young, black boy in a city and country that has a racial profiling problem, a scholarship recipient who is an outsider in his rich (and visibly majority white) new school, a boy who yearns to return to the neighbourhood where his fits in while his parents dream of something else for him.

Yes, there is a Peter Parker in this film, but he is not the protagonist, and not the main universe’s Spider-Man – that’s Miles’ purview.

And then there are the other Spider-People that appear in the movie. Yes, Spider-Ham is played for the laughs, but the other important Peni Parker is the young Japanese-American girl who is the pilot of the SP//dr suit, Gwen Stacey is Spider-Gwen, and the Aunt May who was once nothing more than a motivation for Peter is now a technological force to be reckoned with. Even the villains get in on this – Dr. Octopus is no longer Otto Octavius, but Olivia Octavius.

Even background characters in the film are no longer majority white, but noticeably diverse, reflecting modern New York – and the world – better than older films have managed to do. Minor characters reflect this too – the momentary appearances of Miles’ Korean-American (future) best friend Ganke Lee and Spider-Man 2099, Miguel O’Hara who is of Mexican descent, help reinforce the naturalness of the diversity the film embraces.

One of the funniest – and most reflective – moments in the film is when Miles points out the head of the Kingpin’s labs to the alternate universe Peter Parker – when he points out that it’s a woman (the aforementioned Olivia Octavius) he mutters “I guess I have to reassess my preconceptions.” It’s a line that’s perhaps more reflective of the film’s effect on audiences than any other in the movie.

Into the Spider-Verse’s success is promising – a sequel has already been green-lit, and an all-female spin-off (likely starring Spider-Gwen) is in the works. At the end of the movie, Miles says that anyone can wear the mask – and it seems that the Spider-Man universe is finally catching up.

Image credit: DenofGeek

Public spaces of education: The complicated nexus of shame, agency and resistance

16 days of Activism, 2022 at One Future Collective

I want to be free, but patriarchy and capitalism tether me!