Toni Morrison: A Teaching and Learning Resource Collection

Morrison Criticism: African American Musical Traditions; Blues; Jazz

Alternatives to the “Talking Cure”: Black Music as Traumatic Testimony in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon
Author(s): Vicki Visvis
Source: African American Review, Vol. 42, No. 2 (Summer, 2008), pp. 255-268
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press on behalf of African American Review (St. Louis University)
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Keywords: Psychoanalysis, Freud, Talking cure, Black music, Blues, Traumatic therapy

Main Claim: “Music and song in Song of Solomon are situated as akin to the ‘talking cure.’ This link is based on the ways in which expression, in both paradigms of testimony, has a performative function. As in conventional models of testimony like the ‘talking cure,’ black music is a speech act that engenders emotional catharsis and brings latent memories to the fore” (255). 

Key Quotation(s): 

“In this essay, I consider the ways in which black music is situated as an alternative to the ‘talking cure’ in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, and explore how its status as a narrative paradigm and cultural artifact encourages a reconsideration of the central place of both language and Western culture in current theories of testimony” (256). 

Song of Solomon, however, does not simply establish parallels between these two paradigms of testimony; ultimately, the novel inherently explores the ways in which they differ. Song of Solomon suggests that black music serves the same purpose as talk therapy, but its configuration as a model of testimony distinctly varies. So although the two paradigms may have the same emotional and psychological function—that is, what they do is similar—the ways in which they accomplish these underlying functions fundamentally differ” (255). 

“Our understanding of traumatic testimony, particularly as ‘talking cure,’ implicitly privileges two coefficients: language and Western culture…similarly, theories of trauma and testimony are grounded in Western assumptions and traditions” (255). 

Key Citations in Works Cited:

Branch, Eleanor. “Through the Maze of the Oedipal: Milkman’s Search for Self in Song of Solomon.” Literature and Psychology 41.1-2 (1995): 52-84. 
Davis, Angela. Blues Legacies and Black Feminism. New York: Vintage, 1998. 
Du Bois, W.E.B. The Souls of Black Folk. 1903. New York: Penguin, 1996. 
Freud, Sigmund, and Josef Breuer. Studies on Hysteria. 1895. Trans. James Strachey and Alix Strachey. The Penguin Freud Library. Ed. Angela Richards. Vol. 3. London: Penguin, 1991. 
Rubenstein, Roberta. “Singing the Blues/Reclaiming Jazz: Toni Morrison and Cultural Mourning.” Mosaic 31.2 (June 1998): 147.63.  

The Blues Aesthetic in Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye
Author(s): Cat Moses
Source: African American Review , Winter, 1999, Vol. 33, No. 4 (Winter, 1999), pp. 623- 637
Published by: Indiana State University
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Keywords: Blues, African American Folk culture, African American oral traditions, Cultural Transmission, Music, Colorism

Main Claim: "The catharsis and the transmission of cultural knowledge and values that have always been central to the blues form the thematic and rhetorical underpinnings of The Bluest Eye. The narrative's structure follows a pattern common to traditional blues lyrics: a movement from an initial emphasis on loss to a concluding suggestion of resolution of grief through motion. In between its initial statement of loss and its final emphasis on movin' on, The Bluest Eye contains an abundance of cultural wisdom. The blues lyrics that punctuate the narrative at critical points suggest a system of folk knowledge and values that is crucial to a young black woman's survival in the 1930s and '40s and which supports Claudia's cathartic role as storyteller. The lyrics also illustrate the folk knowledge and values that are not transmitted to Pecola-information without which she cannot survive as a whole and healthy human being."

Key Citations in Works Cited: 

Baker, Houston A., Jr. Blues, Ideology, and Afro-American Literature: A Vernacular Theory. Chicago: U Chicago P, 1984.
Bell, Bernard. The Afro-American Novel and Its Tradition. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 1987.
Cataliotti, Robert H. The Music in African American Fiction. New York: Garland, 1995.
Davis, Angela Y. "Black Women and Music: A Historical Legacy of Struggle." Wild Women in the Whirlwind: Afra-American Culture and the Contemporary Literary Renaissance. Ed. Joanne M. Braxton and Andr6e Nicola McLaughlin. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1990. 3-21.
Gates, Henry Louis, Jr., and K. A. Appiah, eds. Toni Morrison: Critical Perspectives Past and Present. New York: Amistad, 1993.
Miner, Madonne. "Lady No Longer Sings the Blues: Rape, Madness, and Silence in The Bluest Eye." Conjuring: Black Women, Fiction, and Literary Tradition. Ed. Marjorie Pryse and Hortense J. Spillers. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1985. 176-91.
Morrison, Toni. "Afterword." Bluest Eye, 209-16. 
--"An Interview with Toni Morrison." With Nellie McKay. Gates and Appiah 396-411.
--"'Intimate Things in Place': A Conversation with Toni Morrison." With Robert B. Stepto. Gates and Appiah 378-95. .
--"That Language Must Not Sweat: A Conversation with Toni Morrison." With Thomas LeClair. Gates and Appiah 369-77.
Oakley, Giles. The Devil's Music: A History of the Blues. New York: DaCapo, 1997.
Southern, Eileen. The Music of Black Americans: A History. 3rd ed. New York: Norton, 1997.

Traces and Cracks: Identity and Narrative in Toni Morrison's Jazz
Author: Carolyn M. Jones
Source: African American Review , Autumn, 1997, Vol. 31, No. 3 (Autumn, 1997), pp. 481-495
Published by: Indiana State University

Keywords: Jazz, Music, Poststructuralism, Narrative theory

Main claim: In [...] Jazz, Morrison creates a narrative strategy that combines the movement of music and the structure of tragedy; more specifically, she uses the improvisational quality of music to deconstruct the form of tragedy, allowing a reconstruction of identity to emerge that is not determined, but fluid and improvisational. In Jazz, Toni Morrison retells the story of Beloved, which Morrison regards as the essential story of the black experience in America. The story begins with the fracturing of human psyches, souls, and bodies in slavery. This fracture causes one to devalue the self, to displace the self and to locate the best of the self in an "other": the beloved. In Jazz, Morrison symbolizes this fracture through Violet's cracks and Joe's traces. The narrator of Jazz brings these cracks and traces together in the centerpiece of the novel-the story of Golden Gray and the Wild."

Key Citations in Works Cited:

Appiah, K. A., and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., eds. Toni Morrison: Critical Perspectives Past and Present. New York: Amistad, 1993.
Davis, Christina. "Interview with Toni Morrison." Appiah and Gates 412-20.
Derrida, Jacques. Of Grammatology. Trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1976.
Fish, Stanley. Is There A Text In This Class?: The Authority of Interpretative Communities. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1980.
Hardack, Richard. "'A Music Seeking Its Words': Double-Timing and Double Consciousness in Toni Morrison's Jazz." Black Warrior Review 19.2 (1993): 151-71. Hartmann, Charles  Jazz Text: Voice and Improvisation in Poetry, Jazz and Song. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1991.
Holloway, Karla F. "Beloved: A Spiritual." Callaloo 13 (1990): 516-25.
hooks, bell. Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston: South End, 1992.

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