The Historiographic Metafictionality of Toni Morrison's Trilogy

Master's Thesis, 2021

94 Pages, Grade: 16

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Table of contents:

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Chapter I. Subjectivity / Posmodern Blackness
1. Intersectionality
2. Quest for a self
3. Deconstructing Subjectivity

Chapter II. Palimpsests
1. Paratext
2. Signifyin(g) on Jazzthetics
3. Parody
3.1 Jazz an inverted Gatsby
4. Pastiche
4.1 Beloved vs. Hucklberry Finn
4.2 Paradise vs. On the Road

Chapter III : Magic realism
1. Incredulity towards realism
2. Hauntology
3. Magical realism as a postcolonial counter-discourse


Work cited


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I truly appreciate Dr. Mohamed Rakii for supervising this humble research project. I would like also to thank all the other professors of the SLCE master program for their beneficial wit namely Dr. Cherki Karkaba, Dr. Khalid Chaouch, Dr. Mly. Mustapha Mamaoui and Dr. Farida Mokhtari. The following dissertation is the accumulation of all what we have learned throughout the two years of the master program. Without the lectures and supervision of the abovementioned professors, the dissertation would not fortunately come into existence.

For my family again

The one duty we owe to history is to rewrite it.

Oscar Wilde


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The aim of the following dissertation is to prove the postmodernity of Morrison’s work. It is an attempt to underline the postmodern implications of Morrison’s trilogy including Beloved (1987), Jazz (1992), and Paradise (1998). This is why; the following research finds it useful to rely on Linda Hutcheon’s seminal work of A Poetics of Postmodernism (1988) as a guiding thread in the study of Morrison’s trilogy. The originality of the following dissertation lies in the fact that Hutcheon’s guiding theoretical work has come into being before the writing of Morrison’s trilogy precisely one year after the publication of Morrison’s first novel of the trilogy that is Beloved. The present dissertation is an academic attack on the critics who exclude Morrison while discussing novels under the category of postmodern fiction. Morrison is usually approached from different theoretical frameworks mainly black feminism, narratology, critical race theory, psychoanalysis and so on. However, the postmodern post-colonial Morrison has always been doomed to neglect. Hutcheon’s notion of historiographic metafiction is an umbrella term that describes Morrison’s postmodernity. The main aim of the dissertation is to simplify and thus breaks Hutcheon’s theoretical work into three main chapters namely subjectivity, palimpsests and magic realism with their implication in Morrison’s trilogy. The dissertation is supposed to be made up of four chapters. However, for some academic reasons, it was necessary to omit the first chapter, which is dedicated to Morrison’s use of metafiction. Therefore, the reader will find out that the dissertation rely heavily on the historiographic dimension of Hutcheon’s A Poetics of Postmodernism while neglecting its self-reflexive aspect. Nevertheless, the reader can find some of the implications of metafiction in the introduction. At last but not least, the last chapter of magic realism is attempt to supply the limitations of Hutcheon’s seminal work on postmodern fiction by arguing that magic realism is part and parcel of Morrison’s trilogy and thus of historiographic metafiction.

Keywords: historiographic metafiction, subjectivity, intertextuality, parody, pastiche, postmodernism, post-colonialism, magic realism, intersectionality, hauntology


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As an introductory note, it is worth to investigate Morrison’s special use of language. Yet, language is part and parcel in the construction of what Linda Hutcheon terms metafiction. However, unlike the traditional conception of language, metafiction is more concerned with the Barthesian concept of metalanguage. That is, a language about language. The Nobel Prize committee for literature praises Morrison as a writer “who, in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American life” (Li, p. 90). Morrison’s poetic language is the main reason for receiving prestigious prizes including the Nobel, the Pulitzer and the National Book Award. Morrison’s language is a memory site. It is the language of a whole culture. It even underlines the untranslatability of the African American experience. The musicality of Morrison’s fiction emanates from the music of Jazz and Blues that are inherent in the singing of slaves. The language of Morrison is characterized by the Russian Formalist concept of literariness. This literariness is what makes of Morrison's trilogy a work of literature. Literariness distinguishes Morrison’s poetic language from the standard use of English. The literariness of Morrison’s trilogy is achieved by using black vernacular English and oral storytelling. Morrison invents a literary technique called invisible ink to attract the reader’s attention to the aestheticism of her texts. For instance, Morrison tells her audience that Beloved “is not a story to pass on” (p. 276). Morrison’s coinage of invisible ink is thus an African American contribution to reception theory, which is first enhanced by Hans Robert Jauss and later developed by Stuart Hall in the realm of media. To put it in other words, the audience are no longer seen as passive consumers of fiction. On the contrary, Morrison engages her audience to participate in the construction of meaning.

It is inescapable to tackle Morrison’s question of language without summoning her Nobel Lecture, which has become a manifesto on the philosophy of language. Through the art of storytelling, Morrison likens the practiced writer of fiction to an old blind woman and language to a bird. In brief, the moral of Morrison’s account is to show how language is a living linguistic system for both power and agency. Morrison’s speech is highly post-structuralist, since it is about the discursive nature of language. Morrison famously states,

The systematic looting of language can be recognized by the tendency of its users to forgo its nuanced, complex, mid-wifery properties for menace and subjugation. Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge. Whether it is obscuring state language or the faux-language of the mindless media; whether it is the proud but calcified language of the academy or the commodity driven language of science; whether it is the malign language of law-without-ethics, or language designed for the estrangement of minorities, hiding its racist plunder in its literary cheek - it must be rejected, altered and exposed. It is the language that drinks blood, laps vulnerabilities, tuck its fascist boots under crinolines of respectability and patriotism as it moves relentlessly toward the bottom line and bottom out mind. Sexist language, racist language, theistic language - all the types of the policing languages, and cannot, do not permit new knowledge or encourage the mutual exchange of ideas (Nobel Lecture)

Although she does not explicitly allude to postmodernism and post-structuralism throughout her lecture, Morrison seems to paraphrase Foucault's concept of discourse in an African American context. Language is the medium through which the discourse of alterity finds its way. As Morrison suggests, this includes the discourses of racism, sexism and the language of theism as whole for the reason that it puts an end to the negotiation of diversity. Morrison’s approach to language is similar to Edward Wadie Said’s discourse of orientalism. Like Morrison, Said admits that he finds it useful to employ the Foucauldian concept of discourse in the identification of orientalism. Thus, in such a contemporary world that is marked by Foucauldian panopticism1, Morrison takes refuge in the power of the word. For instance, Morrison has edited a collection of essays under the title of Burn This Book co-written with prominent contemporary writers such as Paul Auster, Nadine Gordimer, Salman Rushdie, Orhan Pamuk, John Updike and others. Burn This Book is about the problematic of surveillance and censorship in the realm of literature. In this regard, Morrison argues that the methods of monitoring literature under authoritarian regimes includes “surveillance, censorship, arrest, even slaughter of those writers informing and the disturbing the public'” (Morrison, p. 1). Morrison’s essay of Peril recalls Lenin's politicization of literature as an instrument of political parties. It is also reminiscent of the act of burning book in Fahrenheit 451. Like Salman Rushdie, Morrison’s work has been removed from the shelves of the American libraries several times. More than that, her novels are even banned from school curricula.

In A Poetics of Postmodernism, Linda Hutcheon dismantles the main characteristics of contemporary fiction. She equates postmodern literature with what she calls historiographic metafiction. The coinage of the term means that postmodern literature is self-reflexive. That is, it refers to itself as an artifact. It also shows how postmodern post-colonial fiction is “engaged in a dialogue with history” (Nicol, p.123). The title of Hutcheon’s book alludes to Aristotle’s Poetics. In this way, A Poetics of Postmodernism is about postmodern narratology. The collocation of ‘postmodern narratology’ may sound paradoxical since narratology is seen as a branch of structuralism. However, the term of narratology that is coined by Tzvetan Todorov is as old as history itself. For instance, Aristotle assumes that a play must include a beginning, a middle and an end. Besides, the leading figures of narratology themselves has turned out to be poststructuralists. Yet, this shift should not be seen as a self-contradiction. For instance, Roland Barthes suggests that writing is not about the establishment of a particular school of thought. For Barthes, writing is like an intransitive verb, which does not need an object to be complete. In other words, writing is about the dissemination of meaning and not about the production of meaning. Toni Morrison’s trilogy which includes Beloved, Jazz and Paradise highly adheres to Hutcheon’s conception of historiographic metafiction. Therefore, it is worth to examine the postmodern narratological aspect of Morrison’s work. As long as the notion of ‘truth’ is concerned, Morrison takes advantage of the three postmodern concepts of metafiction, unreliable narrator and polyphony to rethink the subjectivity of history. Besides, there is not only one singular version of history but rather a plurality of histories. Morrison adopts the relativism of Nietzsche. Furthermore, historiography is linked to the Foucauldian dichotomy of power/knowledge. One should interrogate who writes history first. From a feminist stance, the concept of history itself is doomed to the domination of patriarchy. It is for this reason why feminist thinkers alter the pronoun of his in ‘history’ with the female pronoun of her. HERstory is the counter discourse of the hegemonic narratives written by the patriarchs of history. Morrison does the same in her trilogy by rewriting the African American history from a black feminist point of view. For instance, Beloved aims at rewriting the forgotten story of a female slave named Margaret Garner who has committed infanticide in order to free her daughter from the horrors of slavery. In this way, Morrison’s trilogy is equated with Lyotard’s concept of little narrative or petit recit. As it is the case with the other narratives of Marxism, modernity and the enlightenment, slavery and colonialism can be also seen as metanarratives since these universal truths are about historical and human progress. Morrison counters the metanarratives of the white dominant culture with micro histories that are absent in historical books. The equivalent of Lyotard’s concept of petit recit in post-colonial theory is Bhabha’s concept of hybridity. Both concepts are anti-essential, in the sense that there is no longer one absolute history, but a multiplicity of histories. Morrison is aware of the role of fiction in the construction of the black community. For instance, in Paradise, the character of Patricia becomes an archaeologist in the Foucauldian sense. However, instead of the history of ideas, Pat digs deep in the genealogies of Ruby that is the history of African Americans as a whole encapsulated in Durkheim’s concept of conscience collective2. In other words, Patricia retraces the postmodern concept of the archive in relation to the archaic history of African Americans with the help of oral history. In the end, Pat abandons her archival pursuit for the complexity of Ruby’s genealogy. By doing so, Morrison joins the link between nation and narration that is the title of one of Bhabha’s essays. Postmodernism treats everything as a narrative. Thus, history becomes a sort of discourse. The act of narration gives birth to the postcolonial concept of the nation. In other words, fiction turns into a rhetorical site of performing nationalism. Yet, like history itself, the question of the nation is a myth. For instance, Benedict Anderson usually draws a parallel between the term nation and imagination. By creating these micro histories of a minority group, Morrison questions the very metanarrative of Americaness that is biased in terms race.

Returning to Russian Formalism, as the concept of literariness, Morrison’s use of metafiction revolves around the concept of defamiliarization. Again, Victor Shklovsky invents the term to underline the laying bare of literary language. He also calls it the making strange, in the sense that literary language makes the familiar appears unfamiliar. To better illustrate the relationship between metafiction of and defamiliarization, it is worth to dwell on the literary figure of Bertolt Brecht particularly his dramatic technique of alienation effect. In most of his plays, Brecht breaks the forth wall that separates the audience from the actors on stage. Thus, Brecht crosses the frontiers that delineate fiction from reality. For instance, a character could deliberately get offstage and directly talk to the audience. Like Brecht, by the use of metafiction, Morrison interrogates the problematic of truth in fiction. Postmodernism has always been occupied with the legitimacy of truth especially when it comes to the discipline of history and historiography. For instance, the postmodern thinker of Hayden White has made an upheaval change in the study of history. For White, history is no longer seen as a set of written fact. If there is one thing that history is not, it is the scientific field of writing past events. Like Hutcheon’s concept of metafiction, White coins the concept of metahistory in order to question the fictional dimension of historiography. White argues that historians use a variety of narrative tactics in the writing of history including “Metaphor, Synecdoche, Metonymy, and Irony’’ (White quoted by Sim, p. 237). By doing so, White deconstructs the reliability of history by equating historians with fiction writers. Morrison applies the theory of White in fiction through the narrative techniques of metafiction, unreliable narration and polyphony. Once again, Morrison comes to prove Aristotle’s claim of the superiority of fiction to history. For Aristotle, “the historian could speak only of what has happened, of the particulars of the past; the poet, on the other hand, spoke of what could or might happen and so could deal more with universals’’ (Hutcheon, p. 106). Thus, fiction becomes a sort of a lie through which Morrison tells the truth of African American history. Patricia Waugh defines metafiction as a “term given to fictional writing which self-consciously and systematically draws attention to its status as an artefact in order to pose questions about the relationship between fiction and reality’’ (p. 2). Waugh’s definition of metafiction adheres to Morrison’s trilogy since the three novels destabilize the binary opposition of fiction and truth. For instance, in the ultimate pages of Jazz, the book itself talks to the reader in saying “I can’t say that aloud; I can’t tell anyone that I have been waiting for this all my life and that being chosen to wait is the reason I can. If I were able I’d say it. Say make me, remake me. You are free to do it and I am free to let you because look, look. Look where your hands are now’’ (p. 256). Jazz turns into a flesh and blood narrator talking to the actual reader. By saying, look where your hands are now, Morrison steps from the fictional world of Jazz to the mundane reality of the reader while they are holding the novel of Jazz between their hands. In Paradise, Morrison does not directly allude to the fictionality of her text as in Jazz. On the other hand, metafiction is only achieved through Gerard Genette’s term of extra-diegetic narrator. Since Genette’s concept of diegesis means everything that takes place in the fictional framework of a particular novel, the narrator here seems to tell the story of Ruby from the outside of the novel’s actual setting. In the last line of the novel, Morrison reveals the real identity of the narrator, “now they will rest before shouldering the endless work they were created to do down here in paradise’’ (p. 318). In saying ‘here in paradise’, Morrison shows that the divine narrator is divulging the story of the dead women of the convent from the afterlife particulary from paradise, where the novel takes its title. The self-referentiality of Morrison’s trilogy alludes to its existential identity. Thus, the three novels become a mirror reflecting their own ontology. Morrison employs the technique of mise en abyme, a term made famous by André Gide, to make her trilogy look like a jigsaw puzzle. They are a kind of story within a story. By so doing, Morrison breaks the boundaries between fiction and reality by what is called in cinema as the suspension of disbelief. Hutcheon draws on the Freudian analysis of the Narcissus’ myth to show how metafiction is paradoxically self-reflexive and in the same time, engages the reader to be a co-participant in the construction of meaning. Morrison’s trilogy is not an easy read. It is written with the spirit of postmodern experimentalism. Thus, it is equated with Roland Barthes concept of the writerly3 text. John Barth calls it the literature of exhaustion. Morrison’s trilogy is not set in a linear narrative sequence. Once again, the trilogy is a site of the Russian Formalist concept of the plot as opposed to the story. The plot is the artistic rearrangement of events whereas the story is about the subsequent order of events as in the realist novel. Therefore, the reader of Morrison should consider her work in its totality because there is always something missing. For instance, Morrison employs the technique of the unreliable narrator to question again the notion of truth. Wayne C. Booth coins the concept of the unreliable narrator in relation to the implied author. The unreliable or reliable narrator is about the extent to which the narrator is in accordance with the intentions of the author. One of the greatest uses of the unreliable narration in literature includes the first seventy pages from William Faulkner’s The Sound and The Fury. One may also consider of J.D Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, where Holden Caulfield narrates the story of his teenage hood from a psychiatry. Unlike the omniscient narrator in Beloved, Jazz and Paradise are both narrated by unreliable narrators. The unreliability of Paradise is due to Genette’s narrative component of distance. Paradise is an external narrator. It takes place on the outside of the narrative. External narration is not always as reliable as internal focalization. The narrator has not a full recognition about the characters of Paradise. For instance, when the narrator says, “They are nine, over twice the number of the women they are obliged to stampede or kill’’ (p. 3). As Stephanie Li argues, “this sentence implies that there are four, not five, women in the Convent, which Morrison carefully introduces in separate chapters, titled with their names. This glaring discrepancy reveals that as in Jazz, this narrator is also unreliable’’ (p. 101). Morrison maintains the technique of unreliable narration in Jazz. However, unlike the component of external distance in Paradise, the unreliability of Jazz is mainly about the ambivalence of the narrator. Yet, the reader never knows its identity. This narrative ambivalence springs from the narrator’s confusion and self-interrogation concerning characters and events. At one moment, the narrator declares, “I have been careless and stupid and it infuriates me to discover (again) how unreliable I am’’ (p. 191). By doing so, readers suspect the authenticity of the narrative since they do not know whether they are reading the truth or pure fiction. The third and last narrative technique by which Morrison deconstructs the notion of truth in fiction has its origin Bakthin’s concept of polyphony. Stylistically speaking, Morrison is hugely indebted to Faulkner. Yet, she has written her master thesis on the work of William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf. She thus maintains the modernist tradition of fragmentation. The trilogy is narrated from different point of views. For instance, in Paradise, each chapter bears the name of a character as in Faulkner’s fiction. Fragmentation, like polyphony, is about the multiplicity of truths.

This dissertation adopts a variety of theoretical approaches including post-colonialism, black feminism, Marxism and critical race theory. However, postmodernism remains the main the theoretical background of the dissertation particulary the work of Linda Hutcheon. This eclectic theoretical approach is itself postmodern. In answering the question what is postmodernism, Lyotard shows how eclecticism is one of the major characteristics of modern culture, “eclecticism is the degree zero of contemporary general culture: one listens to reggae, watches a western, eats McDonald’s food for lunch and local for dinner, wears Paris perfume in Tokyo and ‘retro’ clothes in Hong Kong; knowledge is a matter for TV games. It is easy to find a public for eclectic works’’ (p. 76). This eclectic approach aims at examining Morrison’s trilogy from different perspectives. It grants the dissertation a multiplicity of readings. Postmodernism is about diversity in terms of race, class, gender and culture in its complex sense. At any rate, the main thesis of the dissertation is the possibility and impossibility of approaching Toni Morrison as a postmodern writer. Thus, if this dissertation could have another title, it could be the postmodernity of Toni Morrison’s trilogy.

The following dissertation is made up of three major chapters. Although these chapters have different titles, they are closely connected by what Hutcheon terms historiographic metafiction. The first chapter titled subjectivity or postmodern blackness is about the fragmented nature of postmodern selfhood. This identity crisis is the accumulation of a variety of discourses including racism, sexism as well as classism. This is why; it is worth to employ the concept of intersectionality coined by the critical race theorist Crenshaw and the post-colonial critic of Spivak to demonstrate how these various discourses impede the construction of one’s self. The postmodernity of Morrison lies in the fact that she likens the search of selfhood to the postmodern search for meaning. Thus, subjectivity becomes a process of signification. Then, the chapter destabilizes the Manichaeism on which these discourses are built through Derrida’s deconstruction. Yet, Morrison is herself a post-structuralist theorist since she undoes race and gender through the removal of these codes. The second chapter deals with intertextuality. The postmodern concept of intertextuality should not be understood in its traditional sense in terms of what Harold Bloom terms the anxiety of influence. Here, intertextual elements including paratextuality, pastiche and parody mainly bridge the gap of the half presence of the past. Finally yet importantly, the last chapter is an academic attempt to complete the shortcomings of Linda Hutcheon’s A Poetics of Postmodernism. In other words, it is about the magical realist aspect of historiographic metafiction that is absent from Hutcheon work and other postmodern narratologists such as Brian McHale.

Chapter I. Subjectivity / Posmodern Blackness

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1. Intersectionality

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If Allen Ginsberg’s disturbing Howl4 portrays the post-war capitalist America, then Beloved is the howl of the American history of slavery. Through the use of memory, Morrison summons the horrors of the past into the present. Memory in Beloved is like what Hutcheon has written on D. M Thomas’s novel The White Hotel, ‘‘memory defines and gives meaning to the subject. The White Hotel further complicates this relation of the subject to history through memory by inverting the function of the act of remembering’’ (p. 173). The historiographic metafictionality of Beloved condemns Sethe to be the subject of her own memory. Throughout the novel, Sethe is highly affected by the severe conditions of slavery. The critical race theorist, Kimberle Crenshaw has coined the concept of intersectionality in order to show how black women are doubly discriminated based on their race as well as gender. Crenshaw defines intersectionality as the following,

Discrimination, like traffic through an intersection, may flow in one direction, and it may flow in another. If an accident happens in an intersection, it can be caused by cars traveling from any number of directions and, sometimes, from all of them. Similarly, if a black woman is harmed because she is in the intersection, her injury could result from sex discrimination or race discrimination (p.149)

One of the main instances in which race intersects with gender is when the engraver asks Sethe ‘‘ten minutes for nine letters’’ (Beloved, p.5). Sethe is forced to prostitute her body in order to have the epitaph of her dead daughter, Beloved, inscribed on her gravestone. The scene of the epitaph is ‘‘a memory site, a powerful zone of contact between the living and the dead. It performs the complicated function of calling to mind the departed as departed, that is, of foregrounding the present absence of the beloved’’ (Weinstock, p.74). In other words, the epitaph epitomizes Bhabha’s concept of the beyond.

In a foreword to her novel, Morrison writes about the primary motive behind the writing of Beloved, ‘‘in the eighties, the debate was still rolling: equal pay, equal treatment, access to professions, schools … inevitably these thoughts led me to the different history of black women in this country—a history in which marriage was discouraged, impossible or illegal’’ (Beloved, p. xvii). Beloved views and reviews the past from a present perspective. It is a revisionist novel mainly about the condition of black women during slavery. Besides, in one of her interviews, Morrison identifies herself as a ‘‘black woman writer’’ (Morrison quoted by Wagner-Martin, p. 14). Morrison’s fiction is then crucial in the understanding of black feminism. For instance, the problematic of rape keeps reverberating throughout Beloved. Sethe commits infanticide so ‘‘that anybody white could take [her daughter’s] whole self for anything that came to mind. Not just work, kill, or maim you, but dirty you, Dirty you so bad you couldn’t like yourself anymore. Dirty you so bad you forget who you were and couldn’t think it up’’ (Beloved, p. 251). Sethe murders her own Beloved so to escape the post-traumatic events of rape during slavery. Pamela E. Barnett sums up the whole instances of rape in Beloved in the following,

Ella is locked up and repeatedly raped by a father and son she calls ‘the lowest yet’ (119,256), and Stamp Paid’s wife, Vashti, is forced into sex with a straw boss who later breaks his coercive promise not to sell her child (23) and again with an overseer (144). Sethe’s mother is ‘‘taken up many times by the crew’’ during the Middle Passage (62), as are many other enslaved women (180). And three women in the novel—Sethe’s mother, Baby Suggs, and Ella—refuse to nurse babies conceived through rape (p.72)

Rape damages the psyche of black women. Self-loathing is a major theme in Morrison’s debut novel The Bluest Eye.5 The novel tells the story Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl, who has lost her mind because of her eager desire to become white. However, her father’s act of incest remains the main reason of Pecola’s madness. In her manifesto of black feminism, Ain’t I a Woman, particularly in a chapter entitled Sexism and the Black Female Slave Experience, Bell Hooks investigates the problematic of rape in relation to slavery. She argues that the white male patriarch uses rape as a tool to terrorize black female slaves. Rape is a process of dehumanization. It is used as a pretext to interiorize the ideology of slavery. After all, ‘‘rape meant, by definition, rape of white women, for no such crime as rape of black women existed at law’’ (p. 57). By rewriting the story of a runaway pregnant slave, Morrison demonstrates how black women are doubly discriminated by white patriarchy and slavery as well. Thus, Morrison rewrites the American history from a black feminist stance.

The black female slave is not only subjected to the discourses of racism and sexism. Classism also obscures the possibility of her agency. The ideology of slavery is equated with the colonial discourse in terms of the Hegelian master/slave dialectic. Beside being a postmodern black feminist novelist, Morrison is highly postcolonial due to the images of the middle passage she depicts in Beloved. Because of the subhuman labor that the black female slave is engaged in, the black activist of Angela Davis echoes Karl Marx’s Capital, ‘‘in England women are still occasionally used instead of horses for hauling canal boats, because the labor required to produce horses and machines is an accurately known quantity, while that required to maintain the women of the surplus population is below all calculation’’ (Marx quoted by Davis, p. 11). There is the passage where Sethe compares the plantations of Sweet Home to the bottoms of the abyss (p. 6). Besides, Schoolteacher does not pay a cent for Sethe’s hard labor (p. 196). Therefore, one can deduce that slavery is a kind of precapitalist institution. However, instead of class, slavery is based on the struggle of race.

The coming of Jazz foreshadows W.E.B Dubois’ foretelling declaration that ‘‘the problem of the twentieth century is the color-line (DuBois quoted by Lister p. 81). Jazz inherits the racism of Beloved’ s history of slavery. Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of the ‘‘chronotope’’ is what makes Beloved, Jazz and Paradise a trilogy. Morrison sets the three novels in a chronological order. It begins with the Middle Passage of slavery, then the Roaring Twenties and it finishes with the Civil Rights movement (Tally, p. 71). The time/space setting is very significant in the study of Jazz because it coincides with the First World War. Violence is a recurrent theme in Morrison’s fiction. However, Jazz is about what Slavoy Zizek calls subjective violence6. For instance, Alice Manfred reads on the newspaper that ‘‘Man kills wife. Eight accused of rape dismissed. Woman and girl victims of. Women commits suicide. White attackers indicted. Five women caught. Woman says man beat. In jealous rage man’’ (Jazz, p. 95). The City is a site where race, gender and class come together. Racial violence is a driving force that haunts the characters of Jazz. The novel opens with a Hitchcockian scene. Violet is shown ripping the dead corpse of Dorcas in the church (p, 11). Violet’s violent act is not arbitrary. It is her traumatic past, which pushes her to commit such a bloody act. The repression of violence carries out violence in return. Violet’s violence is the result of the post-slavery racist America. Because of much violence, Violet is no longer seen as a unified self. A schism occurs at the level of her subjectivity. Violet incarnates the Freudian psychoanalytic divide of the self. Freud ‘‘divides the individual subject into his well-known instances – superego, ego and id – whose interaction is meant to explain the dynamics and woes of the psyche’’ (Zima, p. 8). After the death of Dorcas, Violet has become a totally other. Yet, she is conscious of this self-alterity. For instance, while she is sitting in the drugstore, Violet wonders ‘‘who on earth that other Violet was’’ (Jazz, p. 111). Violet is a Jekyll and Hyde character. The term alludes to Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The novella is about Dr Jekyll, who takes opium to transform into the evil Mr Hyde. In this way, Violet reaffirms Stevenson’s saying that ‘‘man is not truly one, but truly two’’ (p.68). This Kafkaesque split is enhanced by the symbolism of names. Sometimes, Violet is called Violent. By doing so, Morrison demonstrates that Violent is the alter ego or rather the persona of Violet.

The Foucauldian conception of discourse7 demarcates the link between language and power. Thus, Morrison’s novels become a discursive space laden with different ideologies. One may wonder how does a black female novelist advocate the ideologies of racism and sexism. In fact, it is a paradox that illustrates the slipperiness of fiction itself. At any rate, the answer lies in what Wayne C. Booth calls the implied author. Booth defines the implied author as ‘‘the author’s ‘second self’. Whether or not the narrator is dramatized, the novel ‘creates an implicit picture of an author who stands behind the scenes’’ (Booth quoted by Rawlings, p. 64). In other words, Morrison uses Booth’s implied author as mode of resistance in order to challenge the white male gaze. For Morrison, language is a battlefield of both oppression and resistance. The double-edged mechanism of language is quite reminiscent of the Foucauldian dichotomy of power/resistance, ‘‘where there is power, there is resistance’’ (Foucault quoted by Mills, p. 40). The character of Wild exemplifies the black clichéd silenced woman. During his search for his father on his carriage, Golden Gray encounters a ‘naked wild black woman’, who belongs to the woods. There is a similarity between Wild and the incarnated Beloved in Beloved. When she is interviewed, Morrison usually draws an analogy between both characters. Wild and Beloved live in the same narrative epoch. Besides, both of them defy the definition of identity since they have no past or future (Brown, p. 380). There is a common link between discourse, stereotype and representation. All of these concepts serve ideological determinations. Every representation is by consequence a misrepresentation. Basing on stereotypes, representation becomes a process of dismemberment for the reason that it is a fraud copy of a given reality. Thus, the racist instance of Wild evokes Frantz Fanon’s experience in France when he is called a ‘‘dirty nigger’’ (Fanon, p. 257). By associating the black race with derogatory connotations, Morrison shows how the colonial discourse or rather; the white American dominant culture interpellates individuals into subjects. The term of ‘‘interpellation’’ is first coined by the French Marxist, Louis Althusser. Ideology, according to Althusser ‘‘hails or interpellates concrete individuals as concrete subjects’’ (p. 173). Being a subject of various ideologies, Wild could not have the agency to represent herself. Thus, she turns out to be invisible, ‘‘she was powerless, invisible, wastefully daft’’ (Jazz, p. 211). The visibility and invisibility of race is an omnipresent theme in African American literature particularly in Invisible Man8 by Ralph Ellison. Furthermore, in Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Pecola Breedlove becomes invisible because of the beauty’s standards based on whiteness (p. 45). By describing her as ‘naked’, Morrison strips Wild of her identity as James Baldwin puts it, ‘‘identity would seem to be the garment with which one covers the nakedness of the self’’ (p. 67). This means that the other is crucial in the construction of the self. I am black because the other is white. Consciousness operates in terms of binarism. Wild’s nakedness triggers off Chantal’s reverberating quote in Kundera’s Identity ‘‘man don’t turn to look at me anymore’’ (p.21). In other words, the invisibility of race negates Wild’s being.

Paradise is a black feminist text par excellence. Like Jazz, Paradise begins with the ending. In most of her work, Morrison sums up the whole story in the first page. By the doing so, Morrison highlights the poetic language of her fiction since the story is secondary. The hook of Paradise is definitely one of the most celebrated openings in American literature. ‘‘They shoot the white girl first. With the rest, they can take their time. No need to hurry out here. They are seventeen miles from a town, which has ninety miles between it and any other. Hiding places will be plentiful in the Convent, but there is time and the day has just began’’ (Paradise, p. 3). The main preoccupation that enthralls Morrison while writing Paradise is the reason why the patriarchs of Ruby have massacred the girls of the Convent. However, ‘‘since why is difficult to handle, one must take refuge in how ’’ (The Bluest Eye my emphasis, p.6). In this regard, Morrison argues in one of her interviews that men are not the enemy in themselves. In fact, ‘‘the enemy is the concept of patriarchy, the concept of patriarchy as the way to run the world or do things is the enemy, patriarchy in medicine, patriarchy in schools, or in literature’’ (Morrison, p.18). By setting Paradise in an all-black patriarchal town, Morrison harshly criticizes the discourse of patriarchy, which is based on androcentrism. Bell Hooks defines patriarchy as, a political-social system that insists that males are inherently dominating, superior to everything and everyone deemed weak, especially females, and endowed with the right to dominate and rule over the weak and maintain that dominance through various forms of psychological terrorism and violence (pp. 38/39).

The discourse of patriarchy does not only affect females. Hooks uses the term ‘imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy’ in order to describe the intersection of different ideologies on the character of Paul D in Beloved under the condition of slavery. The white patriarchal system of slavery manipulates both notions of masculinity and femininity. Paul D is thus regarded as a eunuch, which deprives him from a true sense of manhood. The terrorist invasion led by Steward, Deek and K.D on the women of the convent feeds on male dominance. They inherit the patriarchy of their Old Fathers mainly Zechariah through what Pierre Bourdieu terms ‘‘the habitus’’9. The attack of the clan is thus ‘‘dominated by their domination’’ (Marx quoted by Bourdieu, p. 69). Besides, the female characters of Paradise undergo a post-traumatic experience because of the indoctrination of patriarchy. For instance, Mary Magna saves Consolata from the street garbage, where she is subjected to ‘‘dirty pokings’’ (Paradise, p. 228). K.D messes up the reputation of Arnette at the age of fifteen and Mavis hits the road because of her abusive husband.

2. Quest for a self

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In The Identifying Fictions of Toni Morrison: Modernist Authenticity and Postmodern Blackness, John N. Duvall suggests that the fictional work of Morrison consists of two phases. The first one includes novels such as The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon, whereas the second phase is made up of Beloved, Jazz and Paradise. Unlike the first phase, which sheds light on the existentialist concept of authenticity, the latter is more concerned with postmodern subjectivity. Authenticity is ‘‘to become who you are’’ (Nietzsche quoted by Flynn, p. 64). Drawing on Heidegger, Sartre uses the concept of authenticity as a ‘‘matter of living the truth about ourselves, about our condition as human beings. The inauthentic person, in Sartre’s view, is living a lie’’ (ibid). The concept of authenticity is explicitly mentioned in both Jazz and Paradise. The sixth chapter from Jazz tells the story of the light skinned Golden Gray and his search for his father, Henry LesTroy. During Gray’s quest for his roots, the unnamed narrator of Jazz comments,

How could I have imagined him so poorly? not noticed the hurt that was not linked to the color of his skin, or the blood that beat beneath it. But to some other thing that longed for authenticity, for a right to be in this place, effortlessly without needing to acquire a false face, a laughless grin, a talking posture (my emphasis, p. 190).

Gray’s embarks on a journey of self-discovery. The quest for his unknown father is consequently a search for an authentic self. In Paradise particularly the section entitled Divine, the reader encounters the sixteen year Pallas. After she has been raped by the hunters and left by her boyfriend of Carlos as a substitute of her mother, Pallas finds her way to the Convent where ‘‘the whole house felt permeated with a blessed malelessness, like a protected domain, free of hunters but exciting too. As though she might meet herself here – an unbridled, authentic self, but which she thought of as a ‘cool’ self – in once of this house’s many rooms’’ (my emphasis, p. 177). The unequivocal reference to the concept of ‘authenticity’ shows Morrison’s awareness of the philosophy of existentialism and its role in the construction of her characters’ identity. The opposite of ‘authenticity’ is ‘bad faith’. According to Sartre, living in societies where oppression is overwhelming for instance the regime of Nazism, leads to the alienation of the self. Sartre equates the concept of ‘bad faith’ with ‘being-for-others’. He gives the example of the perfect waiter who is a slave for the image his/her customer wants him/her to be and not being his/her true self (Flynn, pp. 70/73). Returning to Duvall, his main argument is that ‘‘such notions of authenticity are in tension with postmodern conceptions of identity’’ (p. 154). This goes in harmony with the tenets of Hutcheon’s historiographic metafiction in A Poetics of Postmodernism. The two examples of Golden Gray and Pallas incarnate Hutcheon’s notion of the subject in process.

The pursuit of a self in Beloved should be seen a quest for freedom. The institution of slavery impedes the African American freewill. Enslavement deprives slaves from a sense of selfhood. For instance, Babby Suggs has lived ‘‘sixty years a slave and ten years free’’ (p. 104). The implication is that sometimes freedom becomes tasteless. Being free for ten years does not mean a thing since Babby Suggs has spent the majority of her life enslaved. Morrison ironically interrogates ‘‘what does a sixty-odd-year-old slavewoman who walks like a three-legged dog need freedom for?’’ (p. 141). To be a slave is to live a life, which is not yours. Slaves do not celebrate weddings. Funerals are not allowed only burials. Besides, slavewomen have no control over their own bodies, ‘‘slaves not supposed to have pleasurable feelings on their own; their bodies not supposed to be like that, but they have to have as many children as they can to please whoever owned them’’ (p. 209). The ultimate ambition of slaves is a free self. Nevertheless, slavery is legitimized by the law. For instance, the Fugitive Bill grants whites the right to track their runaway slaves all over the States and bring them back under the condition of slavery.

The utilitarian nature of slavery leads to what is known in postmodernism as the death of the subject. The term is initiated by the Marxist critic, Fredric Jameson, particularly in his seminal essay The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, in which he defines postmodernism as late capitalism. Postmodernism, according to Jameson, is characterized by ‘‘the end of the autonomous bourgeois monad or ego or individual’’ (p. 15). The death of the subject does not literally mean the disappearance of the self. The end of the subject is only possible with other concepts including reification, commodification and alienation of the self. The postmodern condition gives rise to a scattered as opposed to a centered and unified subject. These Marxist concepts are relevant to the experience of Beloved ’s characters as long as slaves are regarded as a commodity. In other words, they are a property that one can own. Through the character of Denver, Morrison introduces the notion of the self that is no self, ‘‘this is worse than when Paul D came to 124 and she cried helplessly into the stove. This is worse. Then it was for herself. Now she is crying because she has no self. Death is a skipped meal compared to thus. She can feel her thickness thinning, dissolving into nothing’’ (p. 123). Denver’s disappearance of the self is due to the emptiness that Halle, Buglar, Howard and Baby Suggs have left her with. Besides, the arrival of Paul D distantiates Denver from her mother Sethe. Therefore, the absence of her family causes Denver a feeling of displacement. However, what troubles Denver the most is the disappearance of Beloved. The ghostly presence of Beloved evokes the Derridean polarity of absence/presence. The interplay of the absent presence of Beloved is realised through light and dark symbolism. For instance, when ‘‘Denver looks where Beloved’s eyes go; there is nothing but darkness there’’ (p. 124). The black American critic, Henry Louis Gates claims that the problematic of the absence and presence of blackness is as old as the Phaedrus written by Plato. According to Gates, the absence of blackness from the Western discourse is explained by the fact that ‘black’ has always been a synonym of ‘blank’ (Pérez-Torres, p. 179). Again, slavery has a huge impact on what Morrison terms the ‘self that is no self’. The character of Baby Suggs is the oldest among the slaves of Sweet Home. Before she gets free from the plantations of Mr. Garner, Baby Suggs has always been treated as a commodity. It is worth to quote the passage at length in order to demonstrate how the institution of slavery has totally consumed the body of Baby Suggs,

Her hip hurt every single day—but she never spoke of it. Only Halle, who had watched her movements closely for the last four years, knew that to get in and out of bed she had to lift her thigh with both hands, which was why he spoke to Mr. Garner about buying her out of there so she could sit down for a change (p. 140)

This scene echoes Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, when the natives walk on four because of the imperial exhausting labor. As colonialism, slavery is marked by utilitarianism and exploitation. Both of the two discourses seek only profit under the pretext of ‘‘mission civilizatrice’’ (Said, p. xvi). The reification of slaves leads Baby Suggs to conclude that ‘there is no bad luck in the world but whitefolks (p. 89). Suggs’s conclusion is the aftermath of treating slaves as mere things.

Naming is a bearer of identity. Morrison’s fiction is a site, where names and naming are laden with symbolism and irony. For instance, In Song of Solomon, when freedom finally comes, Milkman’s used-to-be-slave grandfather has had to register in Freedmen’s Bureau. When they ask him where he is born, the grandfather says Macon. Then, they ask about his father’s name and he replies that he is dead. Thus, in such an ironical stance they have given him the name of Macon Dead (p. 23). In the same line of thought particularly in the preliminary pages of Beloved, Morrison illustrates how the slaves of Sweet Home are named after their owner of Mr. Garner, ‘‘and they were Paul D Garner, Paul F Garner, Paul A Garner, Halle Suggs, Sixo, the wild man’’ (p.11). Names are crucial in the appropriation of slaves. The alphabetic order of Paul A, Paul D and Paul F gives the impression that there is no slight difference among the Pauls. They are considered as the same in the eye of their owner. The only difference occurs only at the level of the succession of alphabets. The overlap between slaves, names and their proprietor shows that ‘‘definition, belonged to the definers—not the defined’’ (Beloved, p.190). Furthermore, Baby Suggs moves to work for the abolitionist family of the Bodwins. When she is finally loose, Mr. Garner tells her that a free negro needs a new name. He suggests to her the name of Jenny Whitlow. However, Baby Suggs sticks to her original name because it remembers her of her husband. In this regard, Fabre argues that,

Names are an essential part of the legacy (of black people), and names have stories which, incongruous, preposterous as they are, must be cared for ... Blacks receive dead patronyms from whites ... names are disguises, jokes or brand names—from yearning, gestures, flaws, events, weaknesses. Names endure lie marks or have secrets they do not easily yield (Fabre quoted by Lyles-Scott, p. 196).

Names and naming cannot be separated from the history of blacks. For instance, the majority of ex-slaves adopt the last name of Freeman. The character of Stamp Paid bridges the gap between naming and memory. Stamp Paid tells Paul D the story of his name. As a slave, he is used to be called Joshua. Yet, Paid changes his name in order to break loose from his traumatic past, ‘‘perhaps there he could find out if, after all these years of clarity he had misnamed himself and there was yet another debt he owed. Born Joshua, he renamed himself when he handed over his wife to his master’s son’’ (Beloved, p.184). The name of Stamp Paid is a traveling metaphor of his identity. While narration, the story of his name goes in parallel with his escape from Mississippi to Memphis and from Memphis to Cumberland on the boat. Stamp could not bear the psychological wounds done to his wife Vashti by their master. Therefore, Joshua alters his name to Stamp Paid in order to efface the past and thus avoids self-shame.

In the same vein but in a different context, naming in Jazz is onomatopoeic. The term onomatopoeia stands for names, which their sound is the same to what they represent. Unlike Beloved, the quest for a self in Jazz is linked to motherlessness. Jazz is a novel about displacement and diaspora. The novel takes place during the Great Migration when whites were ‘‘terrified by the wave of southern Negroes flooding the towns, searching for work and places to live’’ (Jazz, p. 73). The migration of African-Americans from the south to the north highlights the nomadic dimension of postmodern blackness. In a picturesque passage from The Black Atlantic, the postcolonial critic of Paul Gilroy compares the mobility of black’s identity to the images of the ship as well as the vinyl. Both images are omnipresent in Beloved through the ship of the middle passage and the Okeh records in Jazz. The implication of the two images is that they are always on the move. For instance, the uprootdness of Morrison’s characters recalls Gilroy’s statement that the ‘‘modern black political culture has always been more interested in the relationship of identity to roots and rootedness than in seeing identity as a process of movement and mediation that is more appropriately approached via the homonym routes’’ (p. 19). The problematic of roots has always been connected to route. The term route is originally a French word, which stands for road. Therefore, there would be no search of identity and selfhood without the concepts of travel, migration, displacement, home, as well diaspora.

Postmodernism treats everything as a sign. Thus,‘‘people become signs, part of the play of language’’ (Butler, p. 47). Morrison’s play with language makes of subjectivity a process of signification. During his search for his mother, Joe talks in a postmodern jargon. For instance, when he states in a monologue, ‘‘give me a sign, then. You don’t have to say nothing. Let me see your hand. Just stick it out someplace and I’ll go; I promise. A sign’’ (Jazz, p. 210). The character of Joe Trace is Derridean. The last name of Joe ‘Trace’ is a key concept in the philosophy of Jacques Derrida. The concept of trace is aligned the Derrida’s neologism of différance. In Margins of Philosophy, Derrida devotes a whole chapter to the definition of Différance, a concept, which is ironically undefinable. Alan Bass compares Derrida’s différance to Hegel’s concept of Aufhebung. According to Bass, both concepts are untranslatable (p. 20). In other words, différance is non-traceable. Derrida goes on, ‘‘the concept of trace is incompatible with the concept of retention, of the becoming-past of what has been present. One cannot think of the trace—and therefore, différance—on the basis of the present or the presence of the presence... since the trace is not a presence but a simulacrum of a presence’’ (Derrida, pp. 21/24). In her widely praised preface to Derrida’s Of Grammatology, Spivak further illustrates the mechanism of différance by comparing the notion of trace to the search of meaning in a dictionary, The structure of the sign is determined by the trace or track of the other which is forever absent. This is of course never to be found in full being. As even such empirical events as answering a child’s question or consulting the dictionary proclaim, one sign leads you to another (Spivak, p. xvii).

Before he meets Dorcas, Joe has gone through seven changes. Apart from the biblical symbolism of the number seven, the idea of change refutes the fixity of identity. The seven changes are levels of identity’s formation. The first change occurs when Joe has given himself the last name of Trace. Joe is the abbreviation of Joseph. Mrs. Rhoda has named Joe after her father. When Joe asks her about his real parents, Mrs. Rhoda replies ‘‘they disappeared without a trace’’ (Jazz, p. 149). In this way, Joe finally decides to adopt Trace as a last name, ‘‘I am Trace, what they [his parents] went off without (ibid). Joe’s quest for his origin is thus a search for meaning. As Derrida’s concept of ‘jeu’, the identity of Joe becomes a free play universe of signification with neither a beginning nor an end. The second change takes place in Vesper County. Henry LesTroy substitutes Joe’s absent father. He shows Joe how to be man in a white America. Besides, LesTroy teaches Joe to hunt along with Victory. It is for this reason why they call him Hunter’s Hunter. The idea of hunting is quite the same as the name of Trace. The metaphor of hunting highlights this chase for a never to be found identity. Joe leaves Violet for the eighteen years old Dorcas. Joe and Dorcas share the loss of the mother, ‘‘Joe makes her [Dorcas] feel valuable because of his immense hunger for her. His hunger stems from the absences and hollows that formed in him as the result of his status as an orphan like Dorcas’’ (Gillespie, p.84). There is a great deal of similarity between Jazz and Song of Solomon in relation to the quest for identity. For instance, the cave is a recurrent motif in both novels. Despite the fact that he cannot bear the idea of having a wild woman for a mother, Joe decides to look for Wild in the woods. While tracking the traces of his mother, Joe hears music coming from a cave. The moment he gets there, Wild disappears. Philip Page draws the link between Jazz and Song of Solomon by arguing that ‘‘Joe’s fall into this womblike cave recalls Milkman’s journey into the cave near Danville: both are associated with gold, with males’ quests for their ancestors, and with blinding contrasts of light and dark’’ (p. 164). The quest for one’s roots in literature is always associated to a landmark. For instance, Margaret Atwood, the postmodern-postcolonial counterpart of Morrison, associates the search of identity to the wilderness of Canada in Surfacing. In the penultimate pages of the novel, the unnamed protagonist of Surfacing finds rock paintings at the bottom of the lake, where her father has been drowned. As the rock paintings, the cave in Jazz dates back to prehistory.

In Paradise, the concept of home enacts as the primary motive that sets the search for selfhood in motion. It also stands as a major theme in Morrison’s fiction. Still, Home is the title of one of Morrison’s novels. Paradise is a site of what James Clifford term the ‘‘trans-local’’ (Clifford quoted by Wagner-Martin, p. 123). The convent is a crossroad, where the female characters of Paradise come together. Thus, the convent becomes a ‘‘contact-zone’’10. As the title of the novel indicates, the convent is a haven for the lost female characters descending from different cultural and social backgrounds. In other words, it is a home for the homeless. Besides, the prefix of ‘trans’ in Clifford’s concept of the ‘‘trans-local’’ dismantles the postmodern and post-colonial transgress of borders from within the American soil. The female characters in Paradise including Mavis, Grace, Consolata as well as Seneca literally leave home to find ‘home’. The character of Consolata is the vehicle through which the girls of convent could have a sense of belonging. Besides, her name connotes consolation and solace. However, the irony is that the Christ-like Consolata is herself drown in alcoholism that she cannot escape from her past. When she states ‘‘they always come back to stay on’’ (p.222), Morrison shows how the convent has become an origin. It turns out to be a site of maternal healing. For instance, every time Mavis comes back to the convent on her Cadillac, she finds a newcomer seeking solace from Consolata. The convent is a microcosmic example of home. On a larger scale, home for African Americans, belongs to Africa. Reverned Richard explains to Patricia, ‘‘Africa is our home, Pat, whether you like it or not’ (p.210). Richard carries on preaching, ‘‘home is not a little thing. I’m not saying it is. But can’t you even imagine what it must feel like to have a true home? I don’t mean heaven. I mean a real earthly home. Not some fortress you bought and built up and have to keep everybody locked it in or out. A real home’’ (p.213). By alluding to Africa, Morrison joins the diasporic novelists of Salman Rushdie, Hanif Kureishi, V.S Naipul and others. Home, then, ‘‘becomes a mythic place of desire in the diasporic imagination ... it is a place of no-return, even if it is possible to visit the geographical territory that is seen as the place of origin’’ (Brah quoted by McLeod, p.142). Moreover, Morrison’s definition demarcates the link between place and ‘home’. Place is something that one can own but the feeling of being ‘home’ occurs at an abstract level. In other words, ‘home’ becomes an imagined community as Benedict Anderson puts it.

3. Deconstructing Subjectivity

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Before the coming of postmodernism and post-colonialism, subjectivity has always been seen as unified, centered and essential. The traditional conception of subjectivity as unity starts with the Enlightenment particularly with Descartes, Kant and Rousseau. For instance, the Cartesian cogito ‘I think, therefore I am’ implies that ‘‘the self thinks. What it thinks of at this primal stage is itself, which it conceives to be a unity’’ (Mansfield, p. 19). Before investigating the mechanism of deconstructing subjectivity, it is worth to linger at the term deconstruction itself. Generally speaking, the minimalist label of deconstruction is used to describe the corpus of Jacques Derrida. In this regard, Derrida admits that ‘‘deconstruction is a word I have never liked and whose fortune has disagreeably surprised me’’ (Derrida quoted by Royle, p. 23). The proliferation of the term deconstruction has made of it a method. In fact, deconstruction ‘‘is not a school or an ‘ism’. There is no such thing as ‘deconstructionism’ (McQuillan quoted by Royle, p. 23). The Marxist critic, Terry Eagleton defines deconstruction as ‘‘reading against the grain’ or ‘reading the text against itself, with the purpose of ‘knowing the text as it cannot know itself’’ (Eagleton quoted by Barry, p. 68). However, the use of the term deconstruction here in ‘deconstructing subjectivity’ is about the Derridean apocalyptic endism of the subject ‘I’. It is identical to the instance when Derrida declares the death of metaphysics,

That philosophy died yesterday, since Hegel or Marx, Nietzsche, or Heidegger—and philosophy should still wander toward the meaning of its death—or that it has always lived knowing itself to be dying (as is silently confessed in the shadow of the very discourse which declared philosophia perennis) ; that philosophy died one day, within history, or that it has always fed on its own agony, on the violent way it opens history by opposing itself to nonphilosophy (Derrida, p. 97)

The deconstruction of metaphysics or what Foucault terms the‘‘episteme’’11 aligns with the prevalent discourse of alterity in Morrison’s trilogy. Throughout history, Derrida suggests that Western philosophy has always favored speech over writing. Derrida’s deconstruction of the episteme corroborates with Morrison’s destabilization of race and gender. For instance, throughout Morrison’s work whiteness is always seen as superior to blackness. The black female is also inferior to both the white and black male. One may consider the example of slavery in Beloved, racism and classism in Jazz and patriarchy in Paradise. The discourse of alterity feeds on stereotypes in order to demonize the other. In a colonial context, Abdul R. Janmohamed argues that ‘‘colonialist fiction is generated predominantly by the ideological machinery of the Manichean allegory’’ (p.22). The texts of Joseph Conrad, E.M Forster as well as Rudyard Kipling always associate the colonized other with inferiority and the colonizer self with superiority. In Morrison’s fiction for instance, the logic of Manichaeism privileges whiteness as divine while regarding blackness as satanic.

In one of the racist instances in Beloved, Sethe hears Schoolteacher telling his pupils to put her human features on the left and the animal ones on the right,

He [schoolteacher] was talking to his pupils and I heard him say ‘which one are you doing? And one of the boys said, ‘Sethe.’ That’s when I stopped because I heard my name ? and then I took a few steps to where I could see what they was doing ... Slow. I was about to turn around and keep on my way to where the muslin was, when I heard him say, ‘No, no. That’s not the way. I told you to put her human characteristics on the left ; her animal ones on the right. And don’t forget to line them up’ (p. 193)

As his name indicates, Schoolteacher teaches his young pupils the ideology of racism and white supremacy. The indoctrination of this white megalomania is inherited from one generation to another. This means that one is not born, but becomes racist. Ideology is constructed. Besides, Sethe does not even know what does the term ‘characteristic’ means. Not until Mrs. Garner tells her, ‘‘a characteristic is a feature. A thing that’s natural to a thing’’ (p.195). Morrison traces back the history of white supremacy throughout the American literary canon. For instance, Morrison’s reading of ‘‘Moby-Dick’ in which Ahab’s manic obsessiveness with the whiteness of the whale becomes a synecdoche for white America’s compulsive relation to the African-American aspects of its culture, past and present’’ (Bloom, p. 1). The hidden truth of such ideologies in fiction becomes explicit in Morrison’s non-fictional work particularly literary criticism. In Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, Morrison examines the literary work of Poe, Hemingway, Melville, Cather and Twain in order to show to what extent the African presence of the black other is crucial in the construction of the American imagination. American identity has always been linked to the problematic of race. To be American is to be white (p. 47). Thus, Americans from African descents including Morrison struggle a crisis at the level of subjectivity. The post-coloniality of Playing in the Dark makes of it a simulacrum of Said’s Orientalism as Tessa Roynon argues, ‘‘Morrison pays tribute to scholars whose (then-recent) work challenged and unsettled Western cultural imperialism, such as Edward Said (to whose theory of ‘Orientalism’ her own theory of ‘Africanism’ in Playing in the Dark is clearly indebted)’’ (p. 94). Morrison’s discourse of Africanism, which reduces blacks to a Lacanian radical Other recalls Said’s conception of Orientalism as a ‘‘style of thought based on an ontological and epistemological distinction made between ‘the Orient’ and (most of the time) ‘the Occident.’’ (p.2). The existential and cartographical schism of the world into two unequal parts renders the Orient the other of the Occident as is black is the other of white. The cruelty of schoolteacher and his ill-treatment to his slaves is a concrete example of Hegel’s concept of the master-slave dialectic that is introduced in his Phenomenology of Spirit. According to Hegel, the other is essential in the realization of self-consciousness. The individual subject identifies itself to something that is external to the self. However, sometimes, the dialectic of self/other can be a threat because of existential fear. Thus, the self comes as the hegemonic master while the other negates itself to the position of a slave (Tidd, pp.16/17). Beloved is a neo-slave narrative, in the sense that it does not follow the same sequence of the outdated literary form of slave narrative such Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Usually, slave narratives marks the passage from the state of slavery to freedom. However, neo-slave narratives including Beloved are more experimental. Morrison deconstructs the American history of slavery in order to reconstruct a black postmodern subjectivity.

Subjectivity in Morrison’s trilogy is restricted to the structuralist anti-humanist binarism of the signifier and the signified. Derrida’s essay of Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences puts the fixed relationship between the signifier and signified under erasure. He declares the demise of structuralism. By doing so, Derrida enlarges the scope of subjectivity that has always been enchained by the dialectic Manichaeism. Structure, which is a basic unit in structuralism ‘‘has always been neutralized and reduced by the process of giving it a center or of referring it to a point of presence, a fixed point’’ (p.352). The notion of center effaces the free play of difference. Therefore, Derrida limits sign to the signifier and gets rid of the signified. The submission of the mental image of the signifier puts the process of signification at a dead-end. Poststructuralism highlights the limitations and shortcomings of structuralism. However, it is not a break with structuralism. For instance, the poststructuralists of Derrida, Barthes and Foucault build on De Saussure’s theories in order to come up with their own. In Mythologies, Barthes goes beyond the Saussurean first level of signification that is a signifier and a signified. He thus coins the term metalanguage in order to generate a second level of signification. The notion of metalanguage implies that there is always a surplus of meaning. Besides, the Foucauldian concept of discourse also deconstructs the unity and stability of subjectivity because of the power relations between slave/master, man/woman, black/white and so on.

The inclusion of hybrid characters in Morrison’s fiction obscures the difference between blackness and whiteness. The presence of multi-racial characters in Morrison’s novels dates back to The Bluest Eye. For instance, the half-white half-black character of Soaphead Church is obsessed with what Morrison calls ‘‘anglophilia’’. The latter advocates the racist ideologies of De Gobineau particularly his theory that ‘‘all civilizations derive from the white race’’ (p. 186). In Jazz, through the art of storytelling exemplified by True Belle, the reader learns about the mixed-race character of Golden Gray. True Belle works as a slave for her white lady Vera Louise. Gray is the last name of his mother Vera and Golden because his hair is as blond as Vera’s. It takes eighteen years for Vera to tell Golden about his black-skinned father. In this, Golden enters into a transition of in-betweeness. He thus leaves his white mother in search of his black origin. This stance of liminality recalls Bhabha’s concept of the ‘beyond’,

The ‘beyond’ is neither a new horizon, nor a leaving behind of the past ... we find ourselves in the moment of transit where space and time cross to produce complex figures of difference and identity, past and present, inside and outside, inclusion and exclusion. For there is a sense of disorientation, a disturbance of direction, in the ‘beyond’: an exploratory, restless movement caught so well in the French rendition of the words au-déla – here and there, on all sides, fort/da, hither and thither, back and forth (Bhabha, p. 1)

The concept of the ‘beyond’ is a sphere of hybridity. It is neither blackness nor whiteness but something in middle. Before he finds Henry LesTroy, Golden Gray ‘‘had always thought there was only one kind—True Belle’s kind. Black and nothing. Like Henry LesTroy. Like the filthy woman [Wild] snoring on the cot. But there was another kind—like himself’’ (Jazz, p.177). Golden Gray’s hybrid origin challenges the idea of an essential subject and embrace Bhabha’s conception of subjectivity as a discursive space.

The push and pull factors of The Great Migration in Jazz are mainly economical. The City, the fictional Harlem, is marked by capitalism. Morrison’s fiction has always been occupied by the question of class. For instance, in Sula, a black community inhabits a place called the ‘bottom’. In The Bluest Eye, Morrison shows how capitalism gives rise to racism. Because of such a capitalist economical system, Joe and Violet move north to the City for a better life. The north is always associated with prosperity. For instance, the narrator in Jazz famously admits ‘‘I’m crazy about this City’’ (p.15). In his seminal essay Cultural Identity and Diaspora, Stuart Hall takes advantage of the poststructuralist non-concept of ‘différance’ in order to debunk the doubleness of the center/periphery as well as south/el northe. Hall makes a shift from the repeatability and alterity of différance to the postmodern nomadism of the diaspora. For Hall, diasopra and cultural identity are ‘‘a matter of ‘becoming’ as well of ‘being’ (Hall, 225). The idea of diaspora as a matter of becoming is purely Deleuzian. The concept of becoming ‘‘explodes the ideas about what we are and what we can be beyond the categories that seem contain us: beyond the boundaries separating human beings from animal, man for woman, child from adult, micro from macro and even perceptible and understandable from imperceptible and incomprehensible’’ (Stivale, p. 99). The scene where waves of black people migrate up north on the train leads to the ‘‘emergence of the interstices’’ (Bhabha, p.2). The train acts like the ship of the middle passage. It is the embodiment of the liminal passage between the phantasm of the City and the left-behind past of Virginia.

Like Sula, Paradise is constructed in terms of binary thinking. From the very beginning of the novel, Morrison sets the setting into two halves. On the one hand, there is the purely patriarchal town of Ruby. On the other, there is the Convent, which is marked by matriarchy. The sixteen miles of distance between the two makes of the Convent as the other side of Ruby. However, they are not clear and cut from each other. The interaction of the two is what bestow tension to the novel. Morrison usually constructs a point of conflict in order to deconstruct essentialist thinking. Linden Peach draws an analogy between Derrida and Morrison in relation to the philosophical theme of good and evil in Sula, ‘‘Western thought, as the European literary theorist and philosopher Derrida recognized, is also characterized by a tendency to construct a hierarchy of values ... In Sula, this hierarchy, like the traditional binary opposition of good and evil, is resisted by the nature of the novel itself (p.45) . Due to its narrative deconstruction of binarism, Sula is considered as Morrison’s first postmodern novel. Morrison continues this postmodern tradition in Paradise mainly through the dichotomies of patriarchy/matriarchy, male/female as well as white/black. Despite the fact that black/postcolonial feminism is against the Eurocentric attitude of French feminism, theorists such as Helene Cixous has also contributed to the disruption of female subjectivity. For example, Cixous interrogates,

Everywhere (where) ordering intervenes, where a law organizes what is thinkable by oppositions (dual, irreconcilable; or sublatable, dialectical). And all these pairs of oppositions are couples. Does this mean something? Is the fact that Logocentrism subjects thought – all system, related to ‘the’ couple, man/woman? (Cixous quoted by Malpas, pp. 71/72).

In Spurs: Nietzsche’s Styles, Derrida investigates the fragmented style of Nietzsche. The anti-feminist style of Nietzsche introduces the problematic of ‘‘truth’’ as a woman. He presents ‘truth’ as a veiled woman. Thus, one should unveil it in order to reach the ‘truth’. In other words, ‘‘it could be said that if style were a man (much as the penis, according to Freud is the ‘normal prototype of fetishes’), then, writing would be a woman’’ (Derrida, p. 57). Morrison dismantles phallogocentrism in Paradise through her experimental style of writing. Derrida coins the term ‘phallogocentrism’ in order to ‘‘deconstruct the Lacanian reference to the phallus as master signifier within the symbolic order’’ (Worthamn, p. 89). For instance, when they have established Ruby, the Old Fathers engrave the motto of ‘‘Beware The Furrow of His Brow’’ (p. 86) on the Oven. The saying could be interpreted as a divine warning against hatred and racism. At a later stage, Morrison alters the motto in saying, ‘‘be the Furrow of Her Brow’’ (p. 159). By providing a feminine version of the saying, Morrison challenges the phallogocentric history of Ruby. Like the 123 Bluestone Road in Beloved, the oven is a site of collective memory. Morrison deconstructs the patriarchal dogma of Ruby through fiction itself. Language is a discursive medium. Thus, Morrison engenders the phallogocentric language of the Old Fathers that is based on masculine domination.

Morrison deconstructs race through the removal of racial codes as she does in Recitatif. In this regard, Morrison states, ‘‘the only short story I have ever written, ‘Recitatif,’ was an experiment in the removal of all racial codes from a narrative about two characters of diffrent races for whom racial identity is crucial’’ (Morrison, p. xi). Recitatif is about two young characters who have met each other in the orphanage of St. Bonny. What is interesting about Recitatif is the fact that the reader never knows who is black and who is white. At one stage, Twyla admits that ‘‘it was something else to be stuck in a strong place with a girl from a whole other race ’’ (my emphasis, p. 203). The experimentation of Recitatif refutes the process labeling, in the sense that it should be read with no preconceived ideas neither about Twyla nor about Roberta. The coming of Recitatif and Paradise proves Foucault’s prediction when he has said that ‘‘perhaps one day, this century will be known as Deleuzian’’ (Foucault, p. 343). Deleuze is mainly distinguished as a philosopher of difference along with Derrida and Morrison as well. Thanks to her textual deconstruction of race, Morrison practices and thus celebrates the philosophy of difference. As in Recitatif, Morrison’s Paradise begins and finishes with a mystery that is never solved throughout the whole novel. Morrison exposes Paradise with the following catchphrase, ‘‘they shoot the white girl first’’ (p.3). However, she never reveals who is who and which is which. It is up to the reader to figure out the disclosure of Paradise. This instance recalls Deleuze conception of difference in itself, in the sense that Paradise as well as Recitatif should be read with no point of departure in terms of race, gender as well as class. The concept of difference is no longer seen as the distinction between two species. The Deleuzian radical conception of difference emanates from the self as opposed to any external difference. Deleuze borrows Nietzsche’s concept of the ‘eternal return’ in order to show how,

Difference is an event that is joyful; it is not the difference of this being or for this end. With each event of difference life is transformed; life becomes other than itself because life is difference. Consequently, the only ‘thing’ that ‘is’ is difference, with each repetition of difference being different. Only difference returns, and it returns eternally (Spinks, pp.85/86).

In each novel of Morrison’s trilogy, the reader encounters a mysterious character who is beyond definition. One may think of Beloved in Beloved, the unreliable narrator in Jazz as well as the white woman in Paradise. Thanks to her experimental style, Morrison turns the discourse of otherness upside down. The other in Morrison’s fiction is no longer seen as a subaltern. She challenges totalitarianism as it is depicted in Orwell’s 1984 as well as The Handmaid’s Tale written by Margaret Atwood. Totality effaces difference and shapes individual subjects in terms of sameness. The dialogic nature of Morrison’s characters evokes the multiplicity of selves. As in the ethics of Emmanuel Levinas, the face of the other in Morrison’s fiction is a ‘‘moment of infinity that goes beyond any idea which I can produce of the other’’ (Hand, p.36). Infinity replaces the reductive totalitarian perception of the other. To put in Segalen terminology, the self becomes an exot. Segalen coins the concept of ‘exot’ referring to those ‘‘persons possessing a great capacity for experiencing diversity and hence exoticism’’ (Segalen, p. 74). Furthermore, Segalen draws from Flaubert the term ‘‘bovarysm’’ to describe how ‘‘diversity lies at the very core of the individual, who imagines himself/herself as an other’’ (ibid). Morrison blurs the distinction between the self and the other. Thus, the removal the racial codes makes of Morrison a signifier with no ultimate signified. To conclude this chapter, it is worth to note again that Linda Hutcheon’s A Poetics of Postmodernism forms a guiding thread in the study of Morrison’s trilogy. By making a dialogue with history, historiographic metafiction hinders the construction of one’s identity through what Morrison calls ‘rememory’. Peter V. Zima argues that the ‘‘word ‘identity’ raises questions concerning the definition of this frequently used and abused concept. Theorists of identity such as Heiner Keupp tends to use ‘identity’ and ‘subjectivity’ as synonyms’’ (p. 16). Subjectivity is a nomadic concept, in the sense that it is sometimes used interchangeably with identity. As we have seen, in the philosophy of postmodernism, it is illegitimate to deal with identity. Instead, ‘‘the term preferred by postmodernists to apply to individuals is not so much ‘self’ as subject’’ (Butler, p. 50). Morrison’s black female characters are depicted as subjects for the reason that they are subjected to a variety of discourses particularly racism, sexism as well as classism. Therefore, the first chapter of this research paper finds useful to examine Morrison’s trilogy under the eyes of intersectionality. Its main concern is the quest for a self. The search for an authentic self highlights the postmodern fragmentation of subjectivity. Besides, the names of Morrison’s characters are onomatopoeic. For instance, In Jazz, Joe’s last name of Trace triggers off the Derridean concept of ‘trace’. In this way, subjectivity becomes a process of signification. In other words, Joe’s search for selfhood resembles Derrida’s deferral of meaning. The discourse of alterity is based on the binary opposition of the self and the other in terms of race, gender as well as class. Homi K. Bhabha’s concepts of the ‘‘beyond’’, ‘‘in-between’’ and ‘‘liminality’’ play a major role in the deconstruction of what Abdul Jan Mohamed terms Manichean Allegory. These concepts wage war on totality and embrace the Levinasian conception of infinity. In the same vein, Morrison uses the technique of ‘‘removal of all the racial codes’’ (Morrison, p. xi). By doing so, the identity of Beloved in Beloved, the narrator in Jazz and the white woman in Paradise remains an enigma. It is for this reason why Morrison is regarded as a postmodern novelist. She does the same as the post-structuralists of Jacques Derrida and Gilles Deleuze. To put it simply, Morrison practices the philosophy of difference.

Despite her writings about racial difference, Morrison has been harshly criticized for being an essentialist. Postmodernism and post-colonialism are anti-essentialist. For instance, Edward Said has dealt with the Eurocentrism of the colonial discourse. To put it in Matthew Arnold’s terminology, European culture is conceived as ‘‘the best that has been thought and said’’ (Arnold quoted by Ashcroft and Ahluwalia p. 86). Ironically speaking, Morrison falls in trap of essentialism that she is trying to deconstruct. Paradise is steeped in an intense afrocentrism. Ruby is an all-black patriarchal town. Therefore, it is based on the exclusion of both whites and women. This is made obvious when people of Ruby repeat the refrain of their Old Fathers, ‘‘Oklahoma is Indians, Negroes and God mixed. All the rest is fodder’’ (p.56). This ‘‘against white’’ (p. 104) attitude destabilizes the meaning of Americaness. Morrison usually associates the experience of African Americans to Native Americans in order to reconstruct American identity. In the utopian like town of Ruby ‘‘there were no whites (moral or malevolent) around to agitate or incense them, make them ugly up the Oven and defy the adults’’ (p.102). The afrocentrism of Paradise recalls Jean Paul Sartre description of Negritude as an anti-racist racism. According to Sartre, ‘‘this antiracist racism is the only road that will lead the abolition of racial differences’’ (p. 296). The only way to erase essentialism is by another counter essentialist discourse. Thus, Morrison employs afrocentrism as a kind of Spivakian strategic essentialism.


1 Pertaining to panopticon, a term that is first initiated by the philosopher of Jeremy Bentham. In fiction, the concept of panopticon is used as a metaphor for surveillance as in Orwell’s 1984. Foucault fully describes the panopticon as “a perimeter building in the form of a ring. At the centre of this a tower, pierced by large windows opening on the inner face of the ring. The outer building is divided into cells each of which traverses the whole thickness of the building. These cells have two windows, one opening onto the inside, facing the windows of the central tower, the other, outer one allowing daylight to pass through the whole cell. All that is then needed is to put an overseer in the tower and place in each of the cells a lunatic, a patient, a convict, a worker or a schoolboy. The back lighting enables one to pick out from the central tower the little captive silhouettes in the ring of cells. In short the principle of the dungeon is reversed; daylight and the overseer’s gaze captures the inmate more effectively than darkness, which afforded after all a sort of protection’’ (Foucault quoted by Mills, p. 45).

2 “Term in Durkheim’s sociology, indicating the reality of society over and above that of the individual. Individual consciousness and moral conscience is derived from a normative order which coerces social members into thinking, judging and acting according to certain, socially desirable, norms’’ (Edgar and Sedgwick, p. 59)

3 What Roland Barthes calls writerly text has first emerged in S/Z while analyzing the short story of Sarrasine written by Balzac. The opposite of writerly text (scriptible) is the readerly text (lisible). The former is used to describe modern and postmodern novels such as those of Philippe Sollers whereas readerly texts are more concerned with the realist novel including the work of Balzac (Allen, p. 88). Barthes further develops the concept of the readerly text in The Pleasure of the Text, which marks Barthes’ shift from structuralism to post-structuralism. In The Pleasure of the Text, Barthes reintroduces writerly texts as the text of bliss unlike the work of realism that revolve around the concept of jouissance. Therefore, the avant-garde novels of Morrison, “like those by Bataille—or by others—, are written against neurosis, from the center of madness’’ (Barthes, p. 5)

4 Howl is a long poem written in free verse by the beatnik poet of Allen Ginsberg. The poem conveys what Evard Munch fails to say in words in his expressionist painting of The Scream. To put it simply, like Beloved, Howl is about the rage of a whole minority movement against the status quo of the United States of America during the post-war era.

5 Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. Vintage. 2007

6 In Violence, Zizek differentiates between subjective and objective violence ‘‘subjective violence is experienced as such against the background of a non-violent zero level. It is seen as a perturbation of the ‘normal’, peaceful state of things. However, objective violence is precisely the violence inherent to this ‘normal’ sate of things. Objective violence is invisible since it sustains the very zero-level standard against which we perceive something as subjectively violent’’ (p. 2). To put simply, subjective violence is mainly ideological. It is the ‘‘violence which is enacted by social agents, evil individuals, disciplined repressive apparatuses and fanatical crowds’’ (p. 10).

7 In The Archaeology of Knowledge, Foucault defines discourse as ‘‘the general domain of all statements, sometimes as an individualizable group of statements, and sometimes as a regulated practice that accounts for a certain number of statements’’ (p. 90). Foucault’s concept of discourse is relevant to Morrison’s novels in terms of racism, sexism as well as classism. These discourses feed on language in order to demonize the other be it a black, a female, a slave or rather a proletariat

8 In the prologue of Ellison’s Invisible Man, the reader encounters an unnamed protagonist, who goes invisible. The narrator is not one of Poe’s specters as he confesses, but the idea of his invisibility is explained by the simple reason that he is black.

9 Throughout Bourdieu’s Masculine Domination, there is no explicit definition of the habitus. However, from the outset of the book, the concept of the habitus can be seen as the unconscious interiorization of masculine domination through the act of socialization, which affects the external behavior of a particular individual at a later stage (Bourdieu, p. 79).

10 The concept of ‘‘contact-zone’’ is first coined by Pratt describing the spaces where ‘‘disparate cultures meet, clash and grapple with each other often in highly asymmetrical relations of dominance and subordination like colonialism, slavery, or their aftermaths as they are lived out across the globe today’’ (Pratt quoted by Ashcroft et al, p. 48). However, the concept is generally used to describe the interaction of identity and difference

11 In The Archaeology of Knowledge, Foucault defines the episteme as ‘‘a slice of history common to all branches of knowledge, which imposes on each one the same norms and postulates, a general stage of reason, a certain structure of thought that the men of a particular period cannot escape—a great body of legislation written once and for all by some anonymous hand’’ (p. 211).

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The Historiographic Metafictionality of Toni Morrison's Trilogy
Sultan Moulay Sliman University
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historiographic, metafictionality, toni, morrison, trilogy
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Issam El Masmodi (Author), 2021, The Historiographic Metafictionality of Toni Morrison's Trilogy, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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