Can't I Love What I Criticize?

Can't I Love What I Criticize?: The Masculine and Morrison

Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Can't I Love What I Criticize?
    Book Description:

    Taking a close look at all the key male figures in Toni Morrison's eight novels, this book explores Morrison's admitted, but critically neglected, interest in the relationships between African American men and women and the "axes" on which these relationships turn. Most Morrison scholarship deals with her female characters. Can't I Love What I Criticize? offers a response to this imbalance and to Morrison's call for more work on men, who remain, in her words, "outside of that little community value thing." The book also considers the barriers between black men and women thrown up by their participation in a larger, historically racist culture of competition, ownership, sexual repression, and fixed ideals about physical beauty and romantic love. Black women, Morrison says, bear their crosses "extremely well," and black men, although they have been routinely emasculated by "white men, period," have managed to maintain a feisty "magic" that everybody wants but nobody else has. Understanding Morrison's treatment of her male characters, says Susan Mayberry, becomes crucial to grasping her success in "countering the damage done by a spectrum of sometimes misguided isms"--including white American feminism. Morrison's version of masculinity suggests that black men have "successfully retained their special vitality in spite of white male resistance" and that "their connections to black women have saved their lives." To single out her men is not to negate the preeminence of her women; rather, it is to recognize the interconnectedness and balance between them.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-3651-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. CHAPTER 1 Something Other Than a Family Quarrel: Morrison’s Review of the Masculine
    (pp. 1-14)

    Toni Morrison’s delight in flouting traditional as well as fashionable bottoms and tops finds her denounced by some politically stylish scholars for not carrying their latest lines. In a 1971 article, which posits “What the Black Woman Thinks about Women’s Lib,” she has already begun to close down this kind of criticism with her usual comically blunt opener: “Well, she’s suspicious of what she calls ‘Ladies’ Lib.’ It’s not just the question of color, but of the color of experience” (15). The essay explains that attempting to find consensus among African American women on any subject is a doomed prospect...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Black Boys, White Gaze: A Respectful Publication of The Bluest Eye
    (pp. 15-50)

    Twenty-three years after it appeared in 1970, The Bluest Eye was still mislabeled fiction for adolescents. Morrison’s afterword to the 1994 Plume edition describes the initial publication of her book to be “like Pecola’s life: dismissed, trivialized, misread” (216). In fact, The Bluest Eye represents its creator’s masculine manifesto. Morrison deliberately places her black male characters into situations where their behavior becomes virtually unredeemable, yet she simultaneously urges us to forgive them. Because we must “handle why” as we “take refuge in how” they react as they do, we learn that the earth itself resists the seeds of African American...

  6. CHAPTER 3 An Elegy on Black Masculinity: The Beautiful Boys in Sula
    (pp. 51-70)

    Morrison dedicates her second book, praised for its celebration of girls’ intimacy, to boys. She inscribes Sula (1973) to her young sons, whom she “miss[es] although they have not left [her].” Based on Sula’s absence, Morrison’s novel, like her dedication, illustrates that it is “sheer good fortune to miss somebody long before they leave you.” Sula embraces inversion, doubling, opposites, and others, attributes which, together with community and a sense of humor, constitute the secrets of African American endurance captured in its opening “nigger joke.” Despite the community’s collective good humor, however, Sula also reveals that most African Americans are...

  7. CHAPTER 4 Flying without Ever Leaving the Ground: Feminine Masculinity in Song of Solomon
    (pp. 71-115)

    The Bluest Eye is Morrison’s manifesto. It pecks away at those aspects of the “white gaze” abusive to African American masculinity: distorted sexuality, ownership, physical beauty, romantic love. Sula extends Morrison’s outrage at the attempted annihilation of that manhood by rough white hands who “tore the [protectively poisonous] nightshade and [thornily sweet] blackberry patches from their roots” to make room for the paltry sound and fury of a golf course (3). Portraying Sula and Nel as the adult women that Claudia and Frieda grow into, it laments the erosion of the Bottom’s complex androgyny from without and within. While Morrison’s...

  8. CHAPTER 5 The Nigger in the Woodpile: Sons and Lovers in Tar Baby
    (pp. 116-152)

    The image resonating at the core of Tar Baby (1981) projects a hungry, dirty, dark-skinned young man located on a fantasy island near Haiti in the bedroom closet of a red-haired, pale-skinned, well-heeled older woman. Relayed separately by the various black and white voices reacting to it, the image fluctuates, taking its power from and suggesting positions of power with the nuances of descriptors selected. Dirty could as easily be filthy; hungry also means starving; located becomes crouching, hiding, or sitting on the floor as calm as you please. Combined with white woman, kept or well-kept, terrified or abusive create...

  9. CHAPTER 6 Circles of Sorrow, Sites of Memory, Forms of Flooding: Colored Men’s Time in Beloved
    (pp. 153-192)

    Among the memories that send Son scampering lickety-split at the end of Tar Baby is the site of a smokehouse cot. Wrapped in an Easter-white towel, having watched his personal dirt swirl down somebody else’s shower drain, he stares out the window of a beautifully kept bedroom at the back of an old black man on the ground below “stooping over some cutting or digging chore” (139). The association of the black man’s back with a vacant bed for vagabonds leads Son to imagine a life for Yardman that echoes the essence of his own experience. He has spent his...

  10. CHAPTER 7 Classically Re-training Blues Boys: Morrison’s Jazz Men
    (pp. 193-222)

    Jazz (1992) and its jazzmen merge Beloved’s blues with the tragicomic tradition of the nigger in the woodpile to maintain their compassion yet make a current kind of sound. Though they possess a serious, even sacred dimension, they never consider anything too holy to leave alone. They are the indirect descendants of Beloved’s music man Sixo, who, always off the downbeat, defends his darkly humorous originality as fiercely as his loyalty to his tribe. He dances solitary among trees to keep his bloodlines open. His name suggests the chord formed by a triad in which the fundamental tone is raised...

  11. CHAPTER 8 Putting down Parking Lots out There: Morrison’s Unpaved Male Paradise
    (pp. 223-260)

    Morrison’s seventh novel, Paradise (1997), lives up to its mystical number in her cosmos; it also figures as an inversion of its creator’s original handiwork, The Bluest become blackest Eye. The book represents in more ways than one a culmination. Third in a trilogy on the African American experience, its chronology encompasses the failed Reconstruction of the 1880s as well as the almost as unsuccessful second Reconstruction of the 1960s, marking with savagely ironic sexism and racism the date of the American bicentennial, July 1976. Signifying on Dante’s three-part Divine Comedy, Paradise discounts the American Dream. It insists on the...

  12. CHAPTER 9 Laying down the Law of the Father: Men in Love
    (pp. 261-292)

    “For and with” her beloved maternal grandmother Ardelia Willis, Morrison’s eighth novel explores looking for [L]ove in all the wrong places. It also re-locates [L]acan’s Other.¹ Since Morrison maintains that Old World black women like Willis constitute the essence of love, Love’s Up Beach L could be considered the swamp women of Tar Baby or Ardelia reincarnated—enduring, nurturing females out of the house of Chloe who embrace and transfer their ancient, sacred properties (Moyers). The “sign of [L’s] letter” might also represent the healing language of laughter, in this case a comic inversion of French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan’s singularly...

  13. Coda
    (pp. 293-298)

    Chatting animatedly beside me prior to the opening curtain of the Margaret Garner Opera, libretto by Toni Morrison, sat two women, clearly a couple. When I informed the closest partner that over 250 other members of the Toni Morrison Society from across the globe had accompanied me to this gala Cincinnati premier in July 2005, she perked up even more. “What in the world does a person in the Toni Morrison Society do?” she inquired. A medical doctor, she anticipated similarly innocent sentiments expressed by the Reverend Jean Frable of the predominantly white Richwood Presbyterian Church in Richwood, Kentucky, where...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 299-318)
  15. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 319-330)
  16. Index
    (pp. 331-340)