Events Calendar

04 Mar
Colloquium: "An Unbecoming Story: Toni Morrison and the Black Aesthetic"
Event Type

Lectures, Symposia, Etc.

Topic

Humanities

Target Audience

Faculty, Graduate Students

University Unit
Humanities Center
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Colloquium: "An Unbecoming Story: Toni Morrison and the Black Aesthetic"

Shaun Myers, English

When the New Yorker magazine hired Andrea Lee in 1979 as only its third black regular staff writer, she had to further integrate the magazine’s legendary roster of writers and its signature column, “The Talk of the Town.” In particular, the column’s first-person plural report posed a challenge. Collective and anonymous, this pronoun was also implicitly white and male. When Lee’s earliest New Yorker pieces were republished as part of her first book, the travelogue Russian Journal (1981), reviewers took her to task for what they read as the gap between her self-presentation and her flesh-and-blood identity. To craft Russian Journal, Lee drew on techniques she had honed for “The Talk of the Town”: she declined to mention her racial identity at all, except for one brief, indirect reference to herself as an “American black” more than halfway through the travelogue. Reviewers deemed this an “awkward problem” and a “regrettable omission.” Two years later in 1983, Toni Morrison published her sole short story, “Recitatif,” and in the nearly 40 years since its publication, readers have grappled with the indeterminate blackness at its center. “Recitatif” and Russian Journal form part of an early cluster of what I term black anaesthetics: narratives troubling the racial logic requiring blackness to be always uttered or seen. In this talk, I offer an overview of my current book project and a closer look at how Morrison’s practice of black anaesthetics emerged, in part, from its tense relation to the Black Aesthetic. A copy of Morrison’s short story “Recitatif” is available here for those who wish to read it ahead of the colloquium.

Thursday, March 4 at 12:30 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.

Virtual Event

Colloquium: "An Unbecoming Story: Toni Morrison and the Black Aesthetic"

Shaun Myers, English

When the New Yorker magazine hired Andrea Lee in 1979 as only its third black regular staff writer, she had to further integrate the magazine’s legendary roster of writers and its signature column, “The Talk of the Town.” In particular, the column’s first-person plural report posed a challenge. Collective and anonymous, this pronoun was also implicitly white and male. When Lee’s earliest New Yorker pieces were republished as part of her first book, the travelogue Russian Journal (1981), reviewers took her to task for what they read as the gap between her self-presentation and her flesh-and-blood identity. To craft Russian Journal, Lee drew on techniques she had honed for “The Talk of the Town”: she declined to mention her racial identity at all, except for one brief, indirect reference to herself as an “American black” more than halfway through the travelogue. Reviewers deemed this an “awkward problem” and a “regrettable omission.” Two years later in 1983, Toni Morrison published her sole short story, “Recitatif,” and in the nearly 40 years since its publication, readers have grappled with the indeterminate blackness at its center. “Recitatif” and Russian Journal form part of an early cluster of what I term black anaesthetics: narratives troubling the racial logic requiring blackness to be always uttered or seen. In this talk, I offer an overview of my current book project and a closer look at how Morrison’s practice of black anaesthetics emerged, in part, from its tense relation to the Black Aesthetic. A copy of Morrison’s short story “Recitatif” is available here for those who wish to read it ahead of the colloquium.

Thursday, March 4 at 12:30 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.

Virtual Event

Topic

Humanities

Target Audience

Faculty, Graduate Students

University Unit
Humanities Center