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The origin of others
2017
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  Publishers Weekly Review

Based on the 2016 Charles Norton Lecture series at Harvard University, the latest work of nonfiction by Pulitzer- and Nobel Prize-winning novelist Morrison analyzes the language of race and racism and the classification of people into dehumanizing racial categories in American culture. "The necessity of rendering a slave a foreign species appears to be a desperate attempt to confirm one's own self as normal," she writes, and draws on numerous examples from history and literature that expose the psychological work of "othering." Two particularly chilling instances of this dehumanization come from the 19th century: Southern physician Samuel Cartwright's invention of an illness he called "drapetomania" that he used to account for why slaves ran away, and planter Thomas Thistlewood's diary entries describing the callous rape of slaves with the cold detachment of scientific notation. Morrison also shows the ways white authors romanticized slavery in fiction, pointing to the scene from Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin where Tom and Chloe's slave children happily eat under the table. She includes discussions of William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!, Flannery O'Connor's "The Artificial Nigger," and many of her own novels. Lyrically written and intelligently argued, this book is on par with Morrison's Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination and The Black Book. (Sept.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Summary
<p>America's foremost novelist reflects on the themes that preoccupy her work and increasingly dominate national and world politics: race, fear, borders, the mass movement of peoples, the desire for belonging. What is race and why does it matter? What motivates the human tendency to construct Others? Why does the presence of Others make us so afraid?</p> <p>Drawing on her Norton Lectures, Toni Morrison takes up these and other vital questions bearing on identity in The Origin of Others . In her search for answers, the novelist considers her own memories as well as history, politics, and especially literature. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, and Camara Laye are among the authors she examines. Readers of Morrison's fiction will welcome her discussions of some of her most celebrated books-- Beloved , Paradise , and A Mercy .</p> <p>If we learn racism by example, then literature plays an important part in the history of race in America, both negatively and positively. Morrison writes about nineteenth-century literary efforts to romance slavery, contrasting them with the scientific racism of Samuel Cartwright and the banal diaries of the plantation overseer and slaveholder Thomas Thistlewood. She looks at configurations of blackness, notions of racial purity, and the ways in which literature employs skin color to reveal character or drive narrative. Expanding the scope of her concern, she also addresses globalization and the mass movement of peoples in this century. National Book Award winner Ta-Nehisi Coates provides a foreword to Morrison's most personal work of nonfiction to date.</p>
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