Black Asthetics and Toni Morrison
The black arts, or the black aesthetic, movement was born among the black artist as a response to the ideologies of the black power in the 1960’s. The movement was a continuation of the 1920’s and 1930’s Harlem Renaissance that had begun the tradititon of rediscovering the roots os black culture and heritage,dating back to slavery. Some of the major literary figures of the Harlem era included authors James Weldon Johnson, Langston Hughes and Nella Larsen.
The Black arts emerged to promote art that illustrated African-American music, languages, heritage, and beauty. In order to be substantial, art had to have a proudly black subject matter and style; be it sculpture, a piece of music, a novel or a poem. Empowered by the concepts of the black power, the movement inspired the emergence of the black theatre groups, magazines, and printing presses. Literature influenced by the black arts concepts struggled to abandon W. E. B. Du Bois’ idea of double consciousness, which meant blacks were constantly struggling towards the white culture’s ideals, even though the dominant society disabled them for reaching the Eurocentric goals. Mirroring themselves against the value structure of the oppressive white society was depriving the blacks of their empowerment. Black writers wanted to concentrate on solving the problems of the African-American community from the inside, developing awareness of the rich black heritage and gearing the community to realize it worth.
The Black Arts movement brought the time for blacks to stop internalizing the image of being the inferior in the society as a whole. The black population had to find strength, beauty and self esteem within the black community. The black arts, characterized by acute awareness, produced writers like Toni Morrison, Ishmael Reed, and Alice Walker. Toni Morrison undeniably is an author who internalizes the main concerns of the black aesthetic. She writes about black oppression, consciousness and tradition.
Her major characters’ are black and they are in constant search for their ethnic identity. The first African American writer to win the Nobel Prize for literature in 1993, Toni Morrison is a leading voice in current debates about the construction of race and black marginality in literature and culture. As a prominent writer of the age she refuses to allow race to be marginalized in literary discourse. Throughout her writing Morrison uses narrative forms to express African Americans’ dislocated, oral tradition, and culture, and reclaim African American’s historical experiences.
She profoundly uses the fictive narratives to transfigure the old south; the bedrock of black dehumanization, degradation and sorrow into an archetypal black homeland, a cultural womb that lays claim to history’s orphaned, defamed and disclaimed African children. In her novels Morrison humanizes black characters in fictions that strive to overcome and excavate enforced invisibility of African Americans’ social reality.
Morrison critiques the mainstream thinking and acclaims that black writers and black characters are the relative means by which text demonstrates to be human and superior. Imagination is possible in the presence of black characters and black contents. At the same time talking African discourse is inferior and submissive tends to impoverish cultural interpretation of reality. Morrison questions the validity and vulnerability of a set of assumptions conventionally accepted and taken for granted among literary historians and critics.
Africanist presence, in a constitutive part in the entire history has been rejected. Morrison in Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and Literary Imagination proposes, “[t] he contemplating of this black presence in central to any understanding of our national literature and should not be permitted to hover at the margins of the literary imagination” (5). Morrison argues that American culture is built on, and is premised by, and always includes, the presence if blacks’, as slaves, as outsiders.
She likens the unwillingness of academics in a racist society to see the place of Africanism in literature and to the centuries of unwillingness to see a favorite discourse, concerns and identity. She posits whiteness as the ‘Other’ of blackness, a dialectical pair, each term both creates and excludes the other: no freedom without slavery, no white without black. The major themes of Toni Morrison’s writing is to redefine the notion of white American canonical texts and their idea of African American writing as being non-canonical or inferior.
She demonstrates the idea of racial superiority and hegemonic culture in her writings. Morrison, in the preface of her critical work Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and Literary Imagination says she is “struggling with and through a language that can powerfully evoke and enforce hidden signs of racial superiority, cultural hegemony and dismissive ‘Othering’ of people and language which by no means marginal or already and completely known and knowable in my work” (XI). It is clear that Morrison’s writing is different from that of mainstream white discourse, which always bserves that African American literature is subsidiary product. Her intention, thorough her writing , is to reinterpret and redefine the hidden, dislocated and alienated Afro-American presence in American mainstream discourse and claim that Afro-Americans are no more inferior human beings. Toni Morrison’s fiction demonstrates a central interest in the issues of boundary, attachment, and separation. Her characters experience themselves as wounded, or imprisoned by racial and economic divisions within American culture.
The boundaries that circumscribe black people are not only the prejudices and restrictions that bar their entry into the mainstream but the psychological ones they internalize as they develop in a social structure that historically has excluded them. Toni Morrison draws from a rich store of black oral tradition as well as from her own imaginative angle of vision to illuminate the potentialities for both annihilation and transcendence within black experience.
Black lore, black music, black language and all the myths and rituals of black culture are the most prominent elements in Toni Morrison’s writing. She feels a strong connection to ancestors because they were the culture bearers. She thinks that it is the responsibility of African American writers to dig out that annihilated history and secure the importance of it in the making of American civilization. Toni Morrison ranks among the most highly regarded and widely read fiction writers and cultural critics in America.
As a critic she refuses to allow race to be relegated to the margins of literary discourse. She focuses on the importance of African American’s oral and musical culture and to reclaim black historical experiences. Morrison says that African American have rediscovered texts that have long been suppressed or ignored, have sought to make places for African American writing within the canon, and have developed ways of interpreting these works.