In today’s final meeting, my group and I spoke about what we have taken away from this semester, and I thought I might share some of the ideas that I took away from the conversation. To begin, I shared some of my own thoughts about the final assignment. I am most interested in exploring Morrison’s storytelling and her “repetition with a difference,” as Linda Krumholz observes. When considering this technique, I am brought back to Saidiya Hartman’s “Venus in Two Acts,” in which Hartman both “mimes the violence of the archive and attempts to redress it by describing as fully as possible the conditions that determine the [historical racial and gender prejudice] and that dictate [the victim’s] silence.” Rehashing the oppression of the slave trade could be dangerous to the black community, but it also has the power to begin redressing the lasting prejudice faced by the black community throughout the last few centuries. Morrison, in her works, is also engaged in this dangerous pursuit, but as Miller seems to imply through analyzing Morrison’s Sula, it appears that Morrison would prefer to take the risk in an effort to create a more active and critical audience.
When considering Morrison and Hartman, I couldn’t help but think about the question that Dr. McCoy prompted the class with after reading Hartman. It went something along the lines of, “Does reading this piece really get you anywhere? Or have you just gone in circles?” Hannah and Rachel helpfully lent their perspectives on this question. Their opinion was that through Morrison’s and Hartman’s technique of asking questions that remain unanswered throughout their works, their audiences are prompted to ruminate about their words long after they finished the works. Simply asking the questions, then, is worth the lack of any satisfying or concrete conclusions, of which sometimes there are none.
Further, we discussed the concepts of interpretation and knowledge production. Emily brought up that she was interested in the “both/and” theme of the semester and how there is no singular interpretation that is either right or wrong. Frank also mentioned the danger, especially in the humanities, of assuming that there is one ruling interpretation of a work. This hierarchy of ideas becomes extremely malevolent if you believe that the works we study in Western Humanities (which are considered shapers of our society today) have one interpretation – usually a white, male interpretation at that. Thus, Dante, working subversively within the Western canon, and Morrison, similarly subversive in her usage of Dante’s works, urge their audiences to be more critical of the way in which the knowledge they consume is constructed and disseminated.
Through exploring all of these techniques, I truly feel as though I am finally “entering the larger conversation,” as Graff and Birkenstein mention in They Say/I Say. Technically, everytime one writes a critical essay, one is entering into the conversation of those who analyze the same work. However, this is the first time I truly feel as though I have engaged in a larger conversation not only about literary techniques and their impact on an audience’s understanding of a novel’s message, but also about real life cultural narratives under which we operate today. Perhaps it’s because Toni Morrison engages with subjects, such as racial and gender discrimination, which are highly visible and relevant today, but I do believe that the techniques she has employed throughout her novels of repetition with a difference, varying, churning narratives, and (affirming, diverging, or both) allusions to Dante’s Divine Comedy have enabled her audience to be more active and critical readers capable of entering into the larger conversation of historical discrimination and its reverberations in society today.
Finally, I just would like to reflect on the collaborative paper that we have all written this semester. I have never authored a paper with others, and going into it, I was not expecting the content that I produced to mesh so well with everyone else’s. I think I can attest this easy weaving of ideas to the safe space of the classroom, as Jay, Hannah, and Thomas mentioned today. Every day, the room became a place to openly communicate and generate ideas with each other, picking up where someone left off and providing others with “the words to say it,” as Brianne pointed out. As emphasized by Emily and Brianne as well, this ease of collaboration just speaks to one of Morrison’s points: no matter how different we assume we are, we are all human, with more in common than we think, and we should begin to recognize this bond and to appreciate it.
And looking forward from all that we’ve read, witnessed, and heard together, I think there is no other fitting way to close this post, but with a quote from Toni Morrison that serves as a particularly apt guide in the coming days:
“Now they will rest before shouldering the endless work they were created to do down here in paradise.”