Essay about Hidden Text In Morrison's Jazz

Essay about Hidden Text In Morrison's Jazz

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In an essay that discusses Toni Morrison's authorial voice and her deconstruction of Western realist epistemology Susan Sniader Lanser focuses on the two areas that Morrison highlights in her depiction of human life and behaviour - the inexplicable, and the unknowable. The first revolves around the idea that characters and events cannot be explained with certainty because it is "impossible to assign causes to effects or to delineate clear boundaries of responsibility" (Lanser 131); besides, human behaviour "remains only partially amenable to explanatory forms" (Lanser 132). The unknowable, meanwhile, has to do with the inarticulable or "what realism has designated non-existent or impossible" (Lanser 133). On the one hand the inexplicable conveys a recognition of life's disorder' and of man's robustness and variety; on the other the unknowable evokes a sense of the mystical. As Lanser's reading shows Morrison's approach is in keeping with the postmodern literary concern with reinterpretation and reinvention; her treatment of the human condition exposes the "inadequacy of white European ways of knowing" (Lanser 133). In so doing she constructs an authorial position that connects with the folkloric vision of African-American experience and, I would add, with black female imagination. In terms of culture and epistemology the suppressed or marginalised assumes authority.

Although Lanser's remarks are directed at the writer's earlier works the narrative voice in Morrison's latest novel, Jazz, makes clear that the inexplicable and the unknowable are still central to her portrayal of African-American life. The novel opens with the terse pronouncement by the narrator: "Sth, I know that woman" (3). What follows is a winding nar...


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...'d say it. Say, make me, remake me. You are free to do it and I am free to let you.... (229)

On one level recreation looks to the process by which Violet and Joe Trace reconstruct their life and build anew their relationship by means of a sensible review of their priorities. This seems to be a rational working out of their problems. But recreation is also discovery and involves a full opening out to intimations of mysterious, unrealised rhythms of being within the self.

The novel begins by describing the nature and extent of Black suffering. In particular it focuses on the predicament of one couple - the Traces - whose flight from country to City marks the constant threat of poverty and deprivation. The struggle for freedom, however, is complicated by historical and personal factors. A keen sense of the past and its related traumas invariably surfaces.

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