Toni Morrison has been thinking about jazz for a long time. In a 1983 interview, insisting that she had little in common with Joyce, Hardy, Faulkner, and other such novelists, she explained that her aim was to capture something of the specifically black “quality of hunger and disturbance” that had “probably only been fully expressed” by jazz, blues, and spirituals. “For a long time,” she argued, “the art form that was healing for Black people was music. That music is no longer exclusively ours… . So another form has to take its place.” That form, of course, is the black novel, which, she suggested, can capture “an ineffable quality … that is curiously black.” What is astonishing about these remarks is not only Morrison’s desire that the work of black artists should be, in some way, identifiably “black,” but also her notion that when “black” artworks appeal to whites as well as blacks—and are therefore not “exclusively” black—this represents not an achievement but a kind of failure. One can only assume from all this that Morrison has, during her more than two decades as a novelist, been doing precisely what she described in that 1983 interview—namely, writing novels in which she seeks not to be as good a writer as she can be, but to be as good a black writer as she can be, doing her best to heal blacks and not to transcend racial barriers. It cannot be regarded as anything other than a supreme irony, then, that Morrison’s books have won her a huge white reading public—not to mention a Pulitzer Prize, a National Book Critics Circle Award, a chair at Princeton, and high reading fees at campuses across the country. One must say that Morrison has taken her failure well.
Those novels share many of the attributes of jazz, blues, and spirituals. By turns sultry and sassy, blissful and bitter, sweet and lowdown, her narrators tender firework bursts of joy and violence, repeat the word “love” as if it were a mantra, speak of American hamlets with names like Gilead and Jerusalem, and retail stories of estrangement and heartache with all the no-holds-barred melancholy of a Billie Holiday. Morrison’s trademark excesses are those of “black” music: at its weakest, her fiction can be as monotonous as the most pointlessly protracted of modern jazz improvisations, as melodramatic as the most maudlin blues ballad, as mindless as the most hackneyed spiritual. Yet she has risen less and less frequently to the wit and facility of the greatest jazz, the expertly modulated passion of the greatest blues, or the sincere devotional fervor of the greatest spirituals.
Given Morrison’s preoccupation with such music, perhaps it was only a matter of time before she published a novel called Jazz. This novel—her sixth, and her first since the controversial, Pulitzer Prize-winning Beloved—centers on a couple of sensational incidents that take place in Harlem in 1926. In familiar Morrison (and magic-realist) fashion, the opening paragraph provides a lush précis. “I know that woman,” an unidentified voice confides.
She used to live with a flock of birds on Lenox Avenue. Know her husband, too. He fell for an eighteen-year-old girl with one of those deepdown, spooky loves that made him so sad and happy he shot her just to keep the feeling going. When the woman, her name is Violet, went to the funeral to see the girl and to cut her dead face they threw her to the floor and out of the church. She ran, then, through all that snow, and when she got back to her apartment she took the birds from their cages and set them out the windows to freeze or fly, including the parrot that said, “I love you.”
That’s just the first half-dozen sentences, and already you feel you need to step out for some air. Doubtless the narrative voice is meant to be rich in personality and atmosphere—meant to suggest, perhaps, a woman of a certain age sitting at a Harlem window, her voice warm and husky and lilting (rather like Morrison’s—or, perhaps, Sarah Vaughan’s) as she tells her neighbors’ story. But the voice of this never-to-be-named narrator (who describes herself as “curious, inventive, and well-informed,” thereby warning us not to consider her 100 percent reliable) is just a bit too rich, its general effect that of a somewhat too heavy perfume. Its frequent descent from vibrant authenticity into glib detachment muddles one’s image of the narrator, as do its often sophisticated diction and syntax and its intermittent allusion to the dense, colorful style and the improbable-parable qualities of Gabriel García Márquez (to whom the parrot comes off as something of an hommage). The voice is also, as we soon realize, well-nigh omniscient: this woman knows more about the protagonists than they do.
Those protagonists are Joe and Violet Trace, a fiftyish black couple from rural Vesper County, Virginia, who relocated to New York in 1906 and who, at the time of the murder, are both in the beauty business: he’s a “sample-case man” who peddles cosmetics door-to-door, she’s a hairdresser who makes house calls. The third member of the triangle is Dorcas, Joe’s eighteen-year-old mistress, whom he kills in a fit of passion for two-timing him with a younger man. As Beloved moves back and forth through the lives of a group of Kentucky slaves, so Jazz rummages around in the lives of Joe, Violet, Dorcas, and their friends, neighbors, and ancestors, examining the antecedents and consequences of the notorious affair and murder—for which, implausibly, Joe is never arrested, though everyone knows he’s guilty. Or is he? For to Morrison, all her protagonists would appear to be victims, the seeds of whose common tragedy lies in their ancestors’ bondage and their own past misfortunes. Joe, for instance, was raised by a woman who told him that his parents had “disappeared without a trace”; when he first went to school, accordingly, he gave his name as Joe Trace, because “I understood her to mean the ‘trace’ they disappeared without was me.” The half-cracked Violet’s father ran off when she was little, and four years later her mother threw herself down a well; thereafter the girl and her four siblings were raised by their grandmother, True Belle. And Dorcas, orphaned in childhood, was (like Cholly Breedlove in Morrison’s first novel, The Bluest Eye) raised by an aunt.
It is that aunt, Alice Manfred, whom Violet (now known locally as Violent) starts to call upon regularly after Dorcas’s death. The girl’s memory has become “a sickness in the [Traces’] house,” and Violet, who never knew her, is desperate to learn more about the person whom she considers her enemy even in death. Though the two women end up on amicable terms, Violet never apologizes for her attack on Dorcas’s corpse. “Wouldn’t you?” she demands of Alice. “You wouldn’t fight for your man?” There’s no reply, but the narrator tells us that Alice too was once betrayed by a man and dreamed of attacking her rival with an ice pick or a clothesline rope: “Her favorite, however, the dream that plumped her pillow at night, was seeing herself mount a horse, then ride it and find the woman alone on a road and gallop till she ran her down under four iron hooves; then back again, and again until there was nothing left but tormented road dirt signaling where the hussy had been.” Such violent dreams, we are apparently meant to understand, figure in the history of every feeling human heart; to love powerfully is to be capable of extraordinary acts of brutality, which are the harvest not of evil but of love rescinded or refused.
Like Beloved, then, in which a slave mother kills her cherished infant daughter to deliver her from a life of servitude, Jazz contemplates the idea that love can drive one to murder. Of Beloved, Morrison told an interviewer: “I wanted it to be our past, which is haunting, and her past, which is haunting—the way memory never really leaves you unless you have gone through it and confronted it head on.” Jazz, too, is about people haunted by the past who must confront memory. How haunted are they? Here’s how haunted: Violet secures from Alice a photograph of Dorcas which she puts on her mantelpiece, and every night she and Joe, unable to sleep, take turns tiptoeing from the bedroom into the living room to look at it. Violet sees only the girl’s greed and haughtiness; Joe sees only her sweetness and generosity. Far from helping to heal wounds, the picture’s presence keeps the Traces agitated, estranged. Something’s got to give, and eventually it does. In Beloved the murdered baby returns home twenty years later as a mysterious ghost-woman; similarly, Dorcas—whose namesake, in the Book of Acts, was brought back from the dead by Saint Peter—returns to the Traces’ lives in the form of her best friend, Felice. Joe and Violet grow close to Felice, and their bond with her helps them to work out their feelings about Dorcas, and hence to accept, forgive, and reconcile. Or so, at least, we are meant to understand; but though Morrison’s intense, lyrical prose keeps demanding that we believe in and care about these people, they always seem to remain at arm’s length—perhaps because that prose itself suggests passionate involvement on her part less often than it does a valiant attempt to simulate such involvement.
Not surprisingly, music figures often in Jazz, though it tends to remain in the background, part of the atmosphere in which key events occur. An exception occurs relatively early in the novel when we learn that Alice is discombobulated by jazz: it “disturb[s] her peace, making her aware of flesh and something so free she could smell its bloodsmell.” Alice, the narrator tells us,
knew from sermons and editorials that [jazz] wasn’t real music—just colored folks’ stuff: harmful, certainly; embarrassing, of course; but not real, not serious.
Yet Alice Manfred swore she heard a complicated anger in it; something hostile that disguised itself as flourish and roaring seduction. But the part she hated most was its appetite. Its longing for the bash, the slit; a kind of careless hunger for a fight or a red ruby stickpin for a tie—either would do. It faked happiness, faked welcome, but it did not make her feel generous, this juke joint, barrel house, tonk house, music. It made her hold her hand in the pocket of her apron to keep from smashing it through the glass pane to snatch the world in her fist and squeeze the life out of it for doing what it did and did and did to her and everybody else she knew or knew about.
Readers of Beloved will find Jazz familiar in many ways. Once again, “whitepeople” is a single word, implying that caucasians’ humanity is inextricable from their racial identity. There are the usual uncontested bits of racist wisdom, among them an old hunter’s observation that “the secret of kindness from whitepeople” is that “they had to pity a thing before they could like it.” Again one finds an utter lack of humor, an occasional eloquent passage (for instance, a first-rate set piece about the magical impact of sex and music in the metropolis), and intermittent forays into anachronistic pop-psych chitchat (when Felice asks Joe why he killed her, he replies: “Scared. Didn’t know how to love anybody”). Yet Jazz is, on the whole, more restrained than Beloved in almost every way—style, tone, structure, racial anger. Formally, Jazz recalls Morrison’s relatively tidy second novel, Sula; but if its first part weaves elegantly and purposefully among different lives and time frames, its latter part often feels confused and contrived, the narrator’s voice giving way for pages at a time to those of Felice and the late Dorcas. (In one long, oddly bemusing passage, moreover, the narrator presents herself not as recounting actual events but as imagining an episode from the previous century—namely a quest-for-the-father anecdote about Golden Gray, the mulatto son of True Belle’s owner, whose enigmatic connection to the story of Joe and Violet will doubtless, in years to come, provide grist for many a scholarly article.) Presumably this second-act digression can be accounted for in terms of some musical analogy or other (is Morrison trying to out-Coltrane Coltrane?), but lovers of Ella, Billie, Carmen, and Mahalia may find that Jazz doesn’t quite put songs in their hearts.
Readers seeking insight into the mind that created Jazz may want to look into Morrison’s other new book, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. Then again, maybe not. This slim volume consists of three essays—originally delivered as lectures at Harvard University—in which Morrison attempts, as Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, and James Baldwin have done before her, to make a definitive statement about blacks and American fiction. Her focus, however, is not upon black writing but upon the role of blacks in fiction by whites. She has two essential points to make about this subject: (1) that blacks have figured centrally throughout American literature as symbols of the Other by means of which white Americans defined themselves; and (2) that this central role has been utterly ignored by critics. Or, as she puts it, the knowledge generally “accepted by literary historians and critics … holds that traditional, canonical American literature is free of, uninformed, and unshaped by the four-hundred-year-old presence of, first, Africans and then African-Americans in the United States.” She spends most of a page contesting the unattributed view that “white America has considered questions of morality and ethics, the supremacy of mind and the vulnerability of body, the blessings and liability of progress and modernity, without reference to the situation of its black population.” Her angry rejoinder to this straw-man argument:
In what public discourse does the reference to black people not exist? It exists in every one of this nation’s mightiest struggles. The presence of black people is not only a major referent in the framing of the Constitution, it is also in the battle over enfranchising unpropertied citizens, women, the illiterate. It is there in the construction of a free and public school system; the balancing of representation in legislative bodies; jurisprudence and legal definitions of justice. It is there in theological discourse; the memoranda of banking houses; the concept of manifest destiny and the preeminent narrative that accompanies (if it does not precede) the initiation of every immigrant into the community of American citizens.
And so on. Morrison warns of “the wanton, elaborate strategies undertaken” by critics to “erase … from view” the presence of “Africanism” (a term she has coined to describe “the denotative and connotative blackness that African peoples have come to signify, as well as the entire range of views, assumptions, readings, and misreadings that accompany Eurocentric learning about these people”); she condemns unidentified “statements … insisting on the meaninglessness of race to the American identity”; and she charges that “some powerful literary critics in the United States have never read, and are proud to say so, any African-American text… . [T]he arbiters of critical power in American literature seem to take pleasure in, indeed relish, their ignorance of African-American texts.”
What’s going on here? In this age when countless academic critics do nothing except write about American literature in terms of race, class, and gender—and when the reading lists for introductory English courses routinely include works by Malcolm X, Eldridge Cleaver, Maya Angelou, and Alice Walker, not to mention various slave narratives (at the university with which I am most familiar, the most widely assigned book in English and core curriculum classes, to judge by the stacks at the campus bookstore, is The Life of Frederick Douglass)—the reader of this book can only ask whether Morrison’s problem is one of delusion or dishonesty. Certainly if any American literary critic in 1992 declared proudly that he had never read a book by a black American writer, the announcement would cause an uproar throughout the academy.
Morrison goes on to make other, equally bizarre claims—for example, that in America “American means white.” To whom, other than the likes of David Duke? She maintains that “immigrant populations … understood their ‘Americanness’ as an opposition to the resident black population.” One would not deny for a moment the bigotry of many European immigrants toward American blacks, but the idea that these immigrants customarily thought of themselves as Americans and of blacks as something else is, I think, mistaken; on the contrary, blacks were for most of these people a peculiarly American phenomenon. Morrison speaks of the “[e]xcising of the political from the life of the mind”—as if most academic critics today weren’t busy insisting that everything is political. What on earth, a reader of Playing in the Dark keeps asking, can this woman be talking about?
For the most part, the reader never does find out what she’s talking about. Like many of Joe McCarthy’s famous harangues, this book is almost all assertion and no evidence: at times one wonders whether Morrison has confused reiteration with illustration. She doesn’t name a single one of those “powerful literary critics” who are proud to say they’ve never read an “African-American text,” doesn’t name anyone who is engaging in “wanton, elaborate strategies” to “erase” Africanism, doesn’t quote a word from any of those statements “insisting on the meaninglessness of race to the American identity.” The whole book reads not like a work of criticism but like a fundamentalist sermon or a stump speech. In place of logic, Morrison offers emotional appeals to the faithful; in place of evidence, she offers self-righteous victim rhetoric aimed at the conscience of the oppressor. The few examples she does cite are atypical and unconvincing. For instance, after stating in her opening essay, “Black Matters,” that most literary criticism suffers from “polite repression” of race questions—from a disinclination, that is, to address the issue of race for fear of offending blacks—she suggests that when such repression is not in force, the result can be very offensive. To demonstrate this, she quotes a single sentence: “Despite the fact that he grew up largely in the south and spent some of his most fruitful years in Richmond and Baltimore, Poe has little to say about the darky.” This sentence, she explains, appeared in an essay on Poe written by one Killis Campbell and published in a 1936 issue of Studies in English. “If it seems unfair to reach back to the thirties for samples of the kind of lapse that can occur when certain manners of polite repression are waived,” Morrison says, “let me assure you that equally egregious representations of the phenomenon are still common.” But she doesn’t cite any.
Needless to say, the line from Campbell doesn’t do anything to support Morrison’s thesis about the central role of blacks in white fiction. In all of “Black Matters,” in fact, she offers only one example in defense of this thesis. The work she cites is the last (and one of the two weakest) of Willa Cather’s many novels, Sapphira and the Slave Girl (1940), in which a mid-nineteenth-century Virginia slaveowner, resentful of her husband’s attraction to a mulatto slave girl, encourages her randy nephew to seduce the girl, only to be foiled by her abolitionist daughter and the Underground Railroad. Though Morrison agrees with most critics that the book is a failure, she maintains that a ubiquitous “critical blindness” in regard to race has prevented readers from discerning the nature of its flaws. Morrison blames “the breakdown in the logic of [Cather’s] plot construction” on “the powerful impact race has on narrative—and on narrative strategy.” Granted, there may be some truth here: perhaps Cather had difficulty entering the minds of slaves because their lives were too foreign to her, or perhaps she let her desire to make a point about slavery overwhelm her ambition to create art.
But this isn’t enough for Morrison: she’s out to prove her point about white Americans’ obsession with race, and she decides to do so by making a series of categorical pronouncements about Cather’s motives in writing Sapphira. For instance, she states that Cather is meditating “on the moral equivalence of free white women and enslaved black women,” and that her use of “mother-daughter pairings and relationships leads to the inescapable conclusion that Cather was dreaming and redreaming her problematic relationship with her own mother.” This conclusion strikes the present reader as not so much “inescapable” as facile and undemonstrable. Morrison’s approach here is representative of her entire discussion of Sapphira; after the hysterical build-up, one can hardly believe this is all she has to offer by way of payoff. Nor can one help wondering where she would locate the race obsession in Cather’s more famous novels —say, in O Pioneers! and My Antonia, both of which concern immigrant white farm families in Nebraska.
One turns to Morrison’s second essay, “Romancing the Shadow,” desperate for something concrete. Morrison obliges by beginning with a quotation from Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym that is riddled with white and black images. The terror embodied in American romance, she suggests, was a terror “of human freedom,” and that authors’ transferral of internal conflicts about this subject “to conveniently bound and violently silenced black bodies … is a major theme of American literature.” Rather than support this claim, however, she goes on to quote three pages from Bernard Bailyn’s historical study Voyagers to the West. The excerpt quoted is a thumbnail portrait of William Dunbar, a learned young eighteenth-century Scotsman who became a Mississippi planter notable for his brutal treatment of slaves. Outrageously, Morrison proceeds to employ Dunbar as a paradigm of “the American as new, white, and male,” taking for granted that Dunbar, whose psychology she confidently extrapolates from Bailyn’s brief account, was typical of the white male American of his day.
For Dunbar, Morrison argues, his slaves were creatures against whose servitude he could measure his own freedom, upon whom he could project his own savagery, etc.; as she puts it, “Africanism is the vehicle by which the American self knows itself as not enslaved, but free; not repulsive, but desirable; not helpless, but licensed and powerful; not history-less but historical; not damned, but innocent; not a blind accident of evolution, but a progressive fulfillment of destiny.” But Morrison doesn’t connect Bailyn’s account of Dunbar with any literary text; nor does she explain why she has chosen Dunbar, of all eighteenth-century Americans, as an archetype. To read her, one might never suspect that antebellum Mississippi planters were far from typical of white Southerners (most of whom were not slaveholders) or, in fact, of plantation owners as a whole. As with her quotation from Campbell, Morrison’s main purpose here would seem to be to invoke belligerently the authority of her own victimhood.
After making a few breathless observations about Huckleberry Finn that don’t add much to what has been written about that novel, Morrison names a few American works that close with images of whiteness: the white mountaintop in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”; the white boat in To Have and Have Not; the “white frozen wastes” of ice in Henderson the Rain King. (Yes, one wants to add, and The Great Gatsby ends with a green light.) Morrison’s conclusion: “If we follow through on the self-reflexive nature of these encounters with Africanism, it falls clear: images of blackness can be evil and protective, rebellious and forgiving, fearful and desirable—all of the self-contradictory features of the self. Whiteness, alone, is mute, meaningless, unfathomable, pointless, frozen, veiled, curtained, dreaded, senseless, implacable. Or so our writers seem to say.” All that this reader can say, in response to such a conclusion, is: which writers? Falls clear to whom? Morrison hasn’t even begun to demonstrate any ofthis.
Which brings us to the book’s third essay, “Disturbing Nurses and the Kindness of Sharks,” wherein Morrison’s argument revolves largely around a single line in Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not. After making a point of Hemingway’s depersonalization of Wesley, the mate on Harry Morgan’s boat, she quotes a sentence from Morgan’s narrative: “I saw he [Wesley] had seen a patch of flying fish burst out ahead.” Morrison finds this sentence “strangely awkward, oddly constructed,” and says:
A better, certainly more graceful choice would be to have the black man cry out at the sighting. But the logic of the narrative’s discrimination prevents a verbal initiative of importance to Harry’s business to come from this nameless, sexless, nationless Africanist presence. It is the powerful one, the authoritative one, who sees. The power of looking is Harry’s; the passive powerlessness is the black man’s, though he himself does not speak of it. Silencing him, refusing him the opportunity of one important word, forces the author to abandon his search for transparency in the narrative act and to set up a curiously silent mate-captain relationship.
First, is any silence in Hemingway “curious”? Second, is Hemingway’s sentence so awkward? (This reader doesn’t find it so.) Third, doesn’t Hemingway accord Wesley an important role in the scene just by having him, and not Harry, spot the fish first? To judge by the attention Morrison accords it, this line from To Have and Have Not would appear to be the central example in American literature of how “[a]ll of us, readers and writers, are bereft when criticism remains too polite or too fearful to notice a disrupting darkness before its eyes.” Yet she doesn’t persuade us that the line contains anything “disrupting.”
Some longtime readers of Morrison might consider her stultifying academic manner in Playing in the Dark uncharacteristic. To this reader, however, the Morrison of these essays seems perfectly consistent with the Morrison of her less fastidious fiction: the tone here is just as portentous, the style equally gushy and imprecise, the theme no less sensational. Morrison doesn’t flinch from employing the dreariest academic jargon of the day, going in for such locutions as “contestatory,” “inscribe,” and “reification,” and describing contemporary blacks as “the bound and unfree, the economically oppressed, the marginalized, the silenced.” “Here in that nexus,” reads a representative passage,
with its particular formulations, and in the absence of real knowledge or open-minded inquiry about Africans and African-Americans, under the pressures of ideological and imperialistic rationales for subjugation, an American brand of Africanism emerged: strongly urged, thoroughly serviceable, companionably ego-reinforcing, and pervasive. For excellent reasons of state—because European sources of cultural hegemony were dispersed but not yet valorized in the new country—the process of organizing American coherence through a distancing Africanism became the operative mode of a new cultural hegemony.
By employing such tired language, Morrison makes one thing clear: she has absolutely nothing original to say. She would have one believe that she is firing the first shot in a critical revolution, but the war was over long before she started, and all she’s doing here is pledging allegiance to the New Order. Her book regurgitates the most extreme race-centered arguments that have already been made (or—as she might put it —“made and made and made again”) by hundreds of Black Studies professors in thousands of books, articles, and monographs. Like her novels, Playing in the Dark reminds us time and again that Morrison’s cardinal weakness as an artist resides in her insistence upon seeing self and other not in individual but in racial—and, secondarily, in sexual—terms: blacks (or, sometimes, black women) are us, whites (or, sometimes, white men) are them. Morrison’s characters are not necessarily conventional stereotypes, but they are, more often than not, projections of her long-settled ideas about the demographic categories to which they belong. Her treatment of Dunbar shows that, for her, what’s true of the individual must in some way be true of the group (a fact which may well help to explain why she so often provides only one example to demonstrate a thesis). That blacks have figured importantly in American literature is undeniable; but that’s not enough for Morrison. She won’t have anything less than race as the theme of American literature, of blacks as the secret obsession of white America, of racism as the ultimate truth of every white American soul.
Yet the realities of race relations are extraordinarily complex; and universal human truths (notwithstanding the scorn Morrison expresses in these pages for the idea of “universal truth”) do transcend local and racial ones. The categories so dear to a writer like Morrison have a funny way of refusing to be reconciled with certain historical facts—for instance, that many African tribesmen sold fellow blacks into slavery, that many white American men gave their lives in the Civil War to free black slaves, and that race is only one of many excuses people have used over the years to abuse one another or to claim victim status. Morrison never quite faces up to the fact that homo sapiens, of whatever skin color, can be a pretty odious creature, and that race, while far from a meaningless component of human identity, is not absolutely determining either, and, while not irrelevant to literary art, should not be allowed by any author to obscure his or her sense of the uniqueness of the human individual—a concept, by the way, for which Morrison expresses nothing but contempt.
In Morrison’s view, of course, even to say such things about race and literature is racist. “The act of enforcing racelessness in literary discourse,” she says—by which one can only assume she means the act of appraising literary works without regard to the race of their authors or characters—“is itself a racial act. Pouring rhetorical acid on the fingers of a black hand may indeed destroy the prints, but not the hand.” Where in heaven’s name did this image come from? To what might it conceivably be referring? And what does it accomplish, except to summon up an ugly image of white-on-black violence—an image that, promulgated by a woman of color, comes off as black-on-white aggression? To read these words is to have one’s breath taken away by the chilling enmity behind them. Talk about rhetorical acid! One cannot help thinking of the National Book Award judges whose failure, in 1988, to vote a prize to Beloved was condemned by a number of Morrison’s prominent black partisans as racist. Some weeks later, the Pulitzer went to Beloved. How, one wonders, would Morrison characterize that incident? Was the NBA jury truly racist? Were her supporters agitating unfairly? Who, in her view, was pouring rhetorical acid?
- Jazz, by Toni Morrison; Knopf, 229 pages, $21.
- Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, by Toni Morrison; Harvard University Press,91 pages,$14.95.
NEW CRITERION, May 1992