Cathy C. Waegner

From Faulkner to Morrison: "Jazzing Up" the American Nobel Prize Heritage

Published in Zeitschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Linguistik (LiLi), 27: 107 (September 1997), 68-91; Metzler Publishing House

In 1993 Toni Morrison joined the illustrious ranks of the Nobel Prize for Literature laureates as the ninetieth recipient, twentieth English-language author, eighth American, eighth woman, third black, and first African-American 1. Her mid-century predecessor William Faulkner (1897-1962) had just received the award in 1950 when Morrison (b. 1931) began writing her Master of Arts thesis on his work.2 Aside from both being Nobel laureates, this unlikely pair has, at first glance, little in common: Morrison, the college-educated daughter of a black Ohio shipyard welder, a key figure in the publishing and academic world; Faulkner, Southern son of "aristocratic" background, autodidact, reclusive loner. Yet, in addition to undeniable similarities in their canons such as taboo-breaking themes, complex prose style combining the oral with the written, and polyphonic narrative techniques, for contemporary readers there is an exciting dialectic between the Morrison and Faulkner oeuvres which shows how, among other things, the Nobel Prize heritage exposes the wounds of a society haunted by racial difference and offers at least narrative possibilities for healing them. In a literary version of the African-American folk technique "call and response,"3 William Faulkner, generally recognized as the greatest American modernist author, interacts—through the reader as interface—with Toni Morrison, whose latest novel Jazz "edges literary experimentation into the 21st century."4

Morrison's winning of the Nobel Prize was greeted by encomiums in many circles. Most newspaper reports quoted with approbation the Academy's criteria of literary skill and political commitment: Morrison's novels are "finely wrought and cohesive, yet at the same time rich in variation," written "with the lustre of poetry"; she "delves into the language itself, a language she wants to liberate from the fetters of race." The author "gives life to an essential aspect of American reality" in her novels which are "characterized by visionary force and poetic import." 5 In a spontaneous reaction to the news of Morrison's triumph, the guru of African-American studies at Harvard University, Henry Gates, Jr., praised Morrison's literary achievement, comparing her to literary pioneers from three continents: Morrison is "a masterful craftsperson, which people tend to overlook. She is as great and as innovative as Faulkner and Garcia Marquez and Woolf." He also pointed to the particularity of her achievement as an African-American: "Just two centuries ago the African-American literary tradition was born in slave narratives. Now our greatest writer has won the Nobel Prize."6 No doubt Morrison was particularly pleased by the joy of the African-American women; in her acceptance speech she quotes a message on her answering machine from an artist friend: "My dear sister, the prize that is yours is also ours and could not have been placed in better hands."7 The literary critic Barbara Christian, one of the first academics to write seriously about Morrison's work in the 1970s, extols her "liberating sound": "How fortunate to have lived at a time when we can dwell in, and heal, through her language! [...] to the African-American women, Toni Morrison had long since won a Nobel Prize."8

Toni Morrison's selection as Nobel laureate did not, however, meet with universal acclaim. The surprised international reporters gathered in Stockholm on Oct 7, 1993--even those who later wrote positive commentaries—greeted the announcement of the winner with an embarrassing silence instead of the usual applause and flurry of questions to the Secretary of the Swedish Academy, Sture Allén.9 Back in America, some black writers and intellectuals, who viewed TM as one of several black women writers (like Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, and Gloria Naylor) appropriated by the white literary and academic establishment, saw Morrison's selection as mere "political correctness," the choice of an acceptable minority author to salve the conscience of the dominant culture.10 Earlier negative assessments pointing to Morrison's supposed "trademark excesses" in violence, racist sentiment, and prose style arose anew.11 Some critics simply did not consider that Morrison deserved the rank of "world-class novelist" and regretted that finer novelists remained "unawarded."12

Indeed, in his detailed book commissioned by the Swedish Academy, Kjell Espmark documents the way the post-World War II choices for Nobel laureates tended to favor the universally recognized "experimenters" such as T.S. Eliot, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Samuel Beckett who had brought "vital renewal" to literature, but that by the 70s, "functional and pragmatic viewpoints" took on more importance.13 Now the prize was not meant to be mere decoration, but rather should prove useful, lending support to a developing author, a neglected literary genre, or an "insufficiently recognized linguistic or cultural sphere" (92) as part of the Academy's attempt to address the prize to "the literature of the whole world."14 Despite the risk involved in selecting younger writers, the Academy saw its investment in rising authors, frequently from marginal groups, as part of its attempt to broaden its horizons and influence. The selection of an African-American woman was thus not incidental, but to view Morrison's selection as "patroniz[ing] by race", a mere "gesture of Social Significance" shows deep ignorance of the merits of Morrison's oeuvre. 15

The selection of William Faulkner in 1950 was also accompanied by controversy. Because the Academy could not agree unanimously on his nomination in 1949, no laureate was declared that year. Faulkner was awarded the 1949 prize simultaneously with Bertrand Russell in 1950. Following the publication of the widely read Portable Faulkner (1946) and Faulkner's Collected Stories (August 1950), the Academy's decision to honor Faulkner, although generally praised, met with considerable criticism both in the national press ("he was too grim in a darkening world," he was "unrepresentative of American life, where incest and rape are uncommon"16) and in the regional newspapers, some of which had never forgiven Faulkner for presenting an at times sordid picture of the South: "those who award the Nobel Prize are now laboring under the delusion that a novel, in order to be excellent, must also be nasty [...] he is a propagandist of degradation and properly belongs in the privy [= German: 'Abort'] school of literature." 17 An intensely private person, Faulkner was less than enthusiastic about receiving the award, perhaps especially because he was convinced his best writing was past,18 and only after a joint effort of persuasion on the part of the Swedish Academy, the State Department, and his family would he agree to travel to Stockholm. His trip was endangered by characteristic escape mechanisms: whenever he found himself having to face an unwelcome public appearance or interview, he adopted a folksy "down home" mask and began one of his debilitating drinking binges;19 he wrote a short note to the Swedish Academy (containing 14 typing errors) saying that because he was a farmer, he could not travel to Stockholm in December. He told close friends he would rather be categorized with Theodore Dreiser and Sherwood Anderson (who were not awarded the Nobel Prize) than with the laureates Sinclair Lewis and "Old China Hand Buck" (Blotner, 1342). Actually, the growing recognition and financial security which followed the Nobel Prize enabled Faulkner to take on an increasingly public role, with his even serving as a semi-official cultural ambassador to South America, Japan, and Greece. Most critics agree, though, that his post-1950 novels with their relatively overt optimism and strident rhetoric reminiscent of his widely quoted Nobel speech do not measure up to the often dark, powerfully expressive earlier novels in which the "old verities and truths of the heart" are certainly encoded, but are presented more as "problems of the human heart in conflict with itself [my emphasis]" than as reassurance that man "will not merely endure: he will prevail."20

Like Faulkner, Toni Morrison has a strong sense of privacy, as shown by her refusal to answer public questions in depth about her personal life, particularly the failed marriage, although she readily discusses her works and political issues in the many published interviews. Her refusal to grant interviews in Stockholm was based on a sense of fairness (not saying "yes" to some and "no" to others) and a desire to perfect her brief acceptance speech as well as the longer Nobel lecture, which despite its complexity was extremely well received (Marquardt, 17-20). In his acceptance speech Faulkner addresses his successors in the difficult writing craft: "[...] I might be listened to by the young men and women already dedicated to the same anguish and travail, among whom is already that one who will some day stand here where I am standing." Faulkner calls to young writers to revitalize their history and the universal values of mankind "by reminding [their readers] of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of [their] past." Chloe Anthony Wofford, then majoring in English at Howard University, heard Faulkner's call, perhaps directly, but at least indirectly through his work; later in her life, as the author Toni Morrison, her indirect response through her novels was crowned by her own Nobel acceptance speech in which she acknowledges her debt to the Nobel canon. Among the previous laureates, she says, are names of persons whose work has made whole worlds available to me. The sweep and specificity of their art have sometimes broken my heart with the courage and clarity of its vision. The astonishing brilliance with which they practiced their craft has challenged and nurtured my own.

But Morrison concludes her speech with an allegiance of solidarity with her ethnic/gender "sisters" and her audience which signals one of the new impulses that she has given the Nobel Prize heritage:

mindful of the gifts of my predecessors, [and] the blessing of my sisters [...I] ask you to share what is for me a moment of grace.

* * *

As inspiring as the works of her "predecessors" were, Toni Morrison turned to writing because she did not find her ethnic self reflected in the books she was reading. After teaching at universities in Texas and Washington, she accepted an editorial position in 1964 with a textbook subsidiary of Random House in Syracuse, New York. As an African-American working mother raising her two sons alone she found herself isolated from "village" fellowship there,21 but this very isolation encouraged her to inscribe the fears and longings of the ethnic community of her childhood (Lorain, Ohio) into a text. The result was The Bluest Eye (published in 1970), the shocking account of a young black girl, abused and rejected by her family, who thinks that she can be loved, respected, and considered beautiful only if she has blue eyes and blond hair like other girls' dolls or pictures of Shirley Temple. Pecola succumbs to the "master narrative," a term Morrison uses repeatedly in interviews and essays to describe the ideological concepts of the social 'text' 'written' by the class/gender/race in power. The feisty Claudia, the black girl who narrates most of the novel, is saved from Pecola's fate by her articulateness; in voicing her difference from "old squint-eyed Shirley"22 and verbalizing the community's role in making Pecola the unattractive 'other', Claudia and Morrison place the marginalized, voiceless black child at the center of novelistic—as well as the reader's—concern, offering an alternative to subjugation to the powerful "master narrative."

In Morrison's second novel Sula (1973), the free-spirited protagonist reflects the risks for both a young African-American woman (Sula Peace) and the novelist (Morrison) of pursuing that alternative. The characters of Sula have been judged eccentric, enigmatic, or simply unconvincing by skeptical readers, who find, for instance, Sula's betrayal of Nel, her only friend in the community, inexplicable. Neither neighbors nor casual readers recognize Sula as a potential artist, whose lack of a medium makes her creativity and defiance (self-) destructive. The three-generation, truncated family of women—a motif introduced in Sula and repeated in Song of Solomon, Beloved, Jazz--cannot nurture this home-grown "witch"23 any better than the unresponsive reader can appreciate the narrative. Sula is redeemed, however, by the belated but "loud and long" (174) cry of realization and mourning with which Nel ends the novel; the outpouring of extensive critical works on Morrison has performed a similar, albeit celebratory, function for the author.24

Nel's insight is echoed by that of the at first self-serving protagonist of The Song of Solomon (1977), a young man this time with the unpropitious name of Milkman Dead, who finally comes to realize the importance of Pilate Dead, his aunt who is the matriarch of her distaff family and one of the ancestors whose folk wisdom and liberated spirit Morrison views as part of the basis of African-American strength.25 In an exciting new essay, Marilyn Mobley 26 moves beyond the earlier assessments of Solomon as a bildungsroman in which the hero struggles to come to terms with the history and expectations of his family and community; Mobley delineates how African-American modes of discourse create a dynamic dialogue among Milkman and the multiple voices of the black community, including the traditionally subjugated women's voices: "Milkman's initiation is not merely a matter of acquiring his own voice but one of recognizing that the relationship between the voice of the self and the voices of the community is not either/or but both/and" (Mobley 42). Solomon enjoyed a post-Nobel boost when the popular talk show queen Oprah Winfrey selected it to be her "book club" selection in Dec. 1996; it was introduced to viewers through a studio interview with Morrison as well as moving testimonials to the power of the book by four female readers (two white, two black) gathered with Morrison for a candle-lit dinner at Winfrey's home. In a modern inter-media symbiosis, the African-American Winfrey endorsed Toni Morrison as "the greatest living American author, male or female, black or white," enhancing her own popularity with the coup of having enticed the Nobel laureate Morrison to participate. About 400,000 hardback and paperback copies of Solomon had been sold in the past twenty years, but the publishers rushed to print over 600,000 additional copies to meet the immediate demand of the viewers from all ethnic groups. Milkman Dead's mystical discovery of his African-American roots is certainly not easy reading fare, but Solomon, selected in 1977 by the national Book-of-the-Month Club (the first black choice since Richard Wright's Native Son in 1940) and awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award, has a broad base of appeal resting on more than simply Ms. Winfrey's promotion,27 which nonetheless helped to canonize and popularize this novel and its author.28

Although Tar Baby (1981) remained on the best-seller list for four weeks, critical reception of this novel with its international and contemporary setting was mixed. The tale of the 'tar baby' was mythologized by (white) Joel Chandler Harris' Uncle Remus plantation stories in the 1880s and is well known to all American children, but Morrison deliberately draws on the African myth with its more complex relationship between trickster figure and community.29 This is, however, the only Morrrison novel to give whites major actor roles; Jadine's cultural hybridness is thus emphasized: with some black blood but educated at European schools, she has lost touch with her African roots, and not even the relationship with the ur-black Son can restore them. Relationships in fact are permitted to become sticky tar baby traps of confinement rather than expansion of the individual through personal and racial connection: neither Son nor Jadine is able to admit unfamiliar choices for their self-definition. There is a type of call and response within Morrison's canon as we see Jadine's attempted escape--from her Africanness, complex ties, and the difficult task of integrating new female roles with archetypal ones-- through an airline flight to Paris as a possible (but largely regressive) response to Milkman's leap off the mountain to ride the air "into the arms of his [black] brother" (Solomon 341).

Beloved (1987), which netted Morrison the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, refigures the African-American slave past. The seed of the novel was contained in a 1856 report that Morrison discovered while compiling a "scrapbook" documenting 300 years of African-American life.30 It was a report about the slave Margaret Garner who escaped to Ohio from her Kentucky master in 1851 with her three children. About to be re-captured, she committed infanticide and tried to kill the two other children rather than have them grow up as slaves. In Morrison's novel the murdered baby, named Beloved, returns to haunt her mother (Sethe), and all of the ambivalences and consequences of Sethe's violent deed of love are balanced against the inhumane injustices of the slave system. The chief tactic of the novel is the protagonists' "rememory" of events in their personal and racial pasts. The atrocities are filtered through lyrical prose and magical events, reflecting simultaneously those three aspects of black culture; for instance Beloved anachronistically and surrealistically "rememories" the journey in the holds of the slave ships during the horrific "Middle Passage" between Africa and the New World: "[Sethe] was about to smile at me when the men without skin [i.e. white men] came and took us up into the sunlight with the dead and shoved them into the sea [...] when she saw the dead people pushed into the sea she went also and left me with no face or hers [...] When I went in, I saw her face coming to me and [...] I tried to join, but she went up into the pieces of light at the top of the water."30

Despite the specificity of the slave-trade background, the imagery and the death-in-life experience of this excerpt are strikingly shared with the Nobel Laureate T.S. Eliot's "Burial of the Dead" section of The Waste Land:

...and your hair wet, I could not Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither Living nor dead, and I knew nothing, Looking into the heart of light, the silence. Oed' und leer das Meer.

Is it however permissible to view Morrison—the champion of those, generally female, who have been marginalized by the "malestream"—in the context of the "masters" (in both senses of the word!) of the Euro-American literary tradition?

Up to the time of the 1993 Nobel Prize, a focus of debate in Morrison criticism had been the issue of whether or not she was writing "great literature" or "great black literature,"32 whether her literary orientation was more Euro- American or Afrocentric. Her political commitment has always been crystal clear, strengthened by her 1992 collection of essays Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination and the post-Prize commentary on current events in the national scene such as the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings and the O.J. Simpson trial: Morrison's first allegiance is to the African component of her African-American identity. Her literary allegiance, however, was a bone of contention, particularly in the light of the Euro-American background of her literary training, which included a minor in ancient classical studies at Howard University. How could Milkman Dead's mythical (and ambiguous) flight at the conclusion of Song of Solomon, critics asked, be a reactment only of the Flying African? Does it not allow, even invite the reader to draw on his cultural memory of other (attempted) flights to freedom, such as those of Icarus and his father or James Joyce's Stephen Dedalus?33 Morrison strongly disapproves of being measured with the yardstick of the great masters of modern Western literature:

I am not like James Joyce; I am not like Thomas Hardy; I am not like Faulkner. I am not like in that sense. I do not have objections to being compared to such extraordinarily gifted and facile writers, but it does leave me sort of hanging there when I know that my effort is to be like something [ which embodies the African-American culture] that has probably only been fully expressed perhaps in music.34

She objects to the terms of comparison but of course realizes that she shares many themes, techniques, and cultural sources with Joyce and Faulkner. Besides, in any discussion of Faulkner as a representative of Western hegemony or universalism, we must not forget that this Southerner, who was branded as a "nigger lover" by many fellow townsmen in Oxford/Mississippi, did not consider himself or his region as belonging to the "mainstream," that his chief works are not only radically experimental but also culturally subversive. Both of the Nobel laureates Soyinka and Walcott combine their ethnic myths in complex ways with European manifestations in their production of literature as part of their "multicultural self-definition." 35 To use a touchstone term from African-American history and criticism, surely we can see a creative rather than a handicapping double-consciousness at work here.36 Fortunately, by 1994 book-length studies of Morrison's work have adhered to this approach and can proclaim confidently that "[her] consciousness takes in both traditional Western and black traditions," concentrating on the way she intertwines the two cultures at their interface while reinforcing her original community.37

It is thus with literary-critical backing that we can discuss how Morrison responds to and, more importantly, reorientates Faulkner's calls. Morrison's concerns, among many others, of foregrounding and giving a voice to the marginalized within the context of a distinct community, creating grotesque and obsessive characters which challenge the reader's sense of the mimetic, drawing on folk myth and vernacular including folk modes of narration, focusing on the three-generation clan with the "ancestor", dealing with the burden of history are all important in Faulkner's work as well. There has been little extended study of Faulkner and Morrison, no doubt because of Morrison's understandable allergy to being read in terms of a "Western white literary father," as Barbara Christian polemically puts it (484) in an essay addressed to Morrison.38 I certainly do not read Morrison in terms of the white male Faulkner, since I stress their mutual interaction through the participatory reader. By looking more closely at Morrison's latest novel Jazz, the one which cinched the Academy's decision to award her the Nobel Prize, we can see the ways she has both literally and figuratively "jazzed up" the Nobel Prize heritage.
* * *

For critics the most striking technique of Jazz is the merging of linguistic and musical rhythms, specifically those of jazz, an African-American musical form which began to receive international attention during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s39. Jazz does not only influence the linguistic rhythm of this novel, however; it also provides vocabulary, serves as a leitmotif in the historical background of the action, supports the polyglossia, seems to influence the characters, even determines the structure, draws the reader into the open-ended composing of the novel, and—most sensational of all—jazz as a creative process can be viewed as the elusive, carefully androgynous first-person narrator her/him/itself.40 Morrison considers that the novel, particularly when it encodes aurality/orality, is replacing music, which has been largely appropriated by the white culture, in its function of encouraging black communication:

For a long time, the art form that was healing for Black people was 
music. That music is no longer exclusively ours. So another form has 
to take that place, and it seems to me that the novel is needed by 
African-Americans now in a way that it was not needed before...We 
don't live in places where we can hear those stories anymore; parents 
don't sit around and tell their children those classical, mythological 
archetypal stories that we heard years ago" ("Rootedness" 340).

These comments were made in 1984, before Toni Morrison's reading tour through Europe to promote Jazz and her soaring international popularity. Her novels speak to these readers abroad and she cannot exclude them from participation. No doubt the Morrison novel is still "needed" by African-Americans, but as a dialogized network, Jazz can be accessed by white (non-)American readers who add their voices to the jazz jam session; hegemonic domination or appropriation is not possible in an "interplay of voices."41
The narrator begins the book by recounting two love stories: the triangular one with the middle-aged couple Violet and Joe Trace vis-à-vis the young girl Dorcas; and the narrator's infatuation with the New York of the Jazz Age. The novel begins with an oral recapitulation of the passionate and violent events involving the Violet/Joe/Dorcas triangle:

Sth, I know that woman. She used to live with flock of birds on Lenox Avenue. Know her husband, too. He fell for an eighteen-year-old girl with one of those deepdown, spooky loves that made him so sad and happy he shot her just to keep the feeling going. When the woman, her name is Violet, went to the funeral to see the girl and to cut her dead face they threw her to the floor and out of the church. She ran, then, through all that snow, and when she got back to her apartmnent she took the birds from their cages and set them out the windows to freeze or fly, including the parrot that said, "I love you."42

Like varying a musical theme at a jam session, the rest of the book will replay this summary in different ways, seeking more satisfying explanations, allowing the characters to tell us their own versions of the events, and trying out various conclusions to the tale.43

The narrator soon moves to a confession of her love affair with the City, which turns out to be one of the many ambivalent relationships in the novel:

I'm crazy about this City.
Daylight slants like a razor cutting the buildings in half. In the top half I see looking faces and it's not easy to tell which are people, which the work of stonemasons. Below is shadow where any blasé thing takes place: clarinets and love-making, fists and the voices of sorrowful women. A city like this one makes me dream tall and feel in on things. Hep. It's the bright steel rocking above the shade below that does it. When I look over strips of green grass lining the river, at church steeples and into the cream-and-copper halls of apartment buildings, I'm strong. Alone, yes, but top-notch and indestructible—like the City in 1926 when all the wars are over and there will never be another one. The people down there in the shadow are happy about that. At last, at last, everything's ahead. The smart ones say so and people listening to them and reading what they write down agree: Here comes the new. Look out. There goes the sad stuff. The bad stuff. The things-nobody-could-help stuff. The way everybody was then and there. Forget that. History is over, you all, and everything's ahead at last (15-16).

We hear the varying rhythms and moods of a jazz song: slow, melancholy and blues-like ("clarinets and love-making, fists and the voices of sorrowful women"); snappier, syncopated, short syntactic units, more upbeat ("Here comes the new. Look out"). The lexis of the Jazz Age is laced into the passage ("hep," "top- notch," "sad stuff," even "blasé"), as well as song lyrics ("I'm crazy about...", "at last everything's ahead"). The repetition so important in jazz improvisation plays an important role here too (the repeating of "stuff," particularly with the rhyme "sad"/"bad"). The characteristic riff or repeated phrase which supports a solo is found in this excerpt ("At last, at last, everything's ahead...everything's ahead at last"). Even the break is encoded; the break signals that another instrument is to pick up the thread of music or signals a return to the leitmotif, which will be revised (the dash after "indestructible—"). The call and response already mentioned as an oral African-American technique in story-telling and sermons is also central to jazz, as one instrument answers another, commenting on and revising the first player's musical phrase; this is tied in with the much-written about black vernacular habit of specifying or responding to a boast, challenge or threat by a ritual insult.44 Here, the 'instrument' which picks up the thread after the dash has a more ironic interpretation of the Harlem optimism than the first instrument, who 'sings' that "a city like this one makes me dream tall and feel in on things"; the second 'instrument' responds and specifies by placing the first 'player' among the short-sighted ones who believe whatever they read, in this case that "there will never be another [war]" and even that "history is over."

One response to this Harlem duo is the cheerful description of Violet and Joe traveling to New York City, representative of millions of other poor Southern blacks migrating north to the "Promised Land" of all-black Harlem. They create their own anticipatory ragtime rhythms:

The trembling [of the train] became the dancing under their feet. Joe stood up, his fingers clutching the baggage rack above his head [...] They were hanging there, a young country couple, laughing and tapping back at the tracks [...] (43).

A second response is the admission that the City not only has its downbeat sides ("fists" and "sorrowful women"), but even more than that it can take control of an individual, propel him to do its will: "It pulls him like a needle through the groove of a Bluebird record. Round and round about the town. That's the way the City spins you. Makes you do what it wants, go where the laid-out roads say to" (144). In fact, the City is consonant with jazz music itself in having this power over its inhabitants/ listeners:

It was the music. The dirty, get-on-down music the women sang and the men played and both danced to, close and shameless or apart and wild [...] It made you do unwise disorderly things. Just hearing it was like violating the law" (74). 45

Of course, as we have seen, the flipside of both Harlem and jazz is the ability they have to animate and empower their black adherents, offering them at last African-American 'space' in which to make choices, whom to love, even the choice to "do wrong" (86).46

A third response to the Harlem duo above is the second setting of the book, antebellum Virginia, and Violet's and Joe's early experiences there which very clearly show that "history" is never "over," since those experiences are the underlying reasons for their present problems and longings. In fact, all of the jazzy means just illustrated are also employed on the structural level in Morrison's novel. The narrative monologues, for instance, function as instrumental solos, linked by the riffs of the narrative voice. The breaks between chapters (often a blank page) punctuate the structure, pushing the narrative in a slightly different direction. The first chapter concludes with a reference to Violet's failure to communicate with her husband: "He is married to a woman who speaks mainly to her birds. One of whom answers back: 'I love you'" (37). The second chapter begins with the response "Or used to..." (39), reminding us not only that Violet forced all her birds outside in the wintry weather to "freeze or fly", but also preparing us for the unanticipated account of Violet and Joe as "the young country couple" happily starting a new life together in Harlem.The revising involved in jazz improvisation is reflected in the structural revision of the narrator's presentation of events. The most overt revision involves the nineteenth-century story of Golden Gray in Baltimore and Virginia, which initially seems extraneous to the major plotlines. The spoiled dandy with flowing golden hair and unfathomable gray eyes, raised by his Southern aristocratic mother and her black servant True Belle, is finally told at age 18 that his father is a "black-skinned nigger" (170). His quest for his father is obviously improvised by the narrator. Golden Gray finds an injured young black woman, pregnant and naked, whom he awkwardly takes to the nearest cabin. The narrator does not approve of her creation's values, although she adds details to make him more palatable:

This is what makes me worry about him: How he thinks first of his clothes, and not the woman [...] It's hard to get past that, but then he scrapes the mud from his Baltimore soles before he enters a cabin with a dirt floor and I don't hate him much anymore (180).

Still she is not satisfied with her rendition of him: "Not hating him is not enough; liking, loving him is not useful. I have to alter things" (191).

Golden Gray's story-in-process belongs to the rural bass-line of the urban treble-line in the structural jazz improvisation. One focus of the interchange between these two lines is Violet, whose grandmother was Golden Gray's mammy and raised her on stories of the beautiful mulatto. Along with Joe as well as Dorcas, who was orphaned in the 1917 St. Louis race riots, Violet is one of the many motherless figures in the novel: her mother committed suicide after being dispossessed by white debt-collectors in Virginia. She is also childless, even briefly kidnapping a baby in an attempt to fill the void in her marriage. It is finally her connection with other women in the novel—the photo of Dorcas, the visits with Dorcas' guardian Alice Manfred, the rapport with Dorcas' friend Felice—which helps her implement a central insight: Violet comes to the realization that she has sought in her marriage to Joe a substitute for her love for "the golden-haired boy", just as she was a substitute for "a girl [Joe] was yet to see, but his heart knew all about" (120). This realization not only equalizes Joe and Violet and makes their reconciliation possible, but also harmonizes the rural and urban lines of Jazz, just as the city music can blend with a rural Violet-image:

You would have thought everything had been forgiven the way [the young cornet players on the rooftops] played [...] the brass was cut [...] high and fine like a young girl singing by the side of a creek, passing the time, her ankles cold in the water" (228).

Violet's insight prepares the listener/reader for the most striking structural "call and response" sequence in the novel in which we (but not Violet or even the narrator) see the double identity of Joe's "substitute" for Violet: Joe's search for Dorcas (whom he fears is betraying him) on the night he murders her is dramatically counterpointed by his earlier quest for his mother, whom he believes to be "Wild," the untamed, legendary black woman of the Golden Gray story who lives in the woods among the animals. Joe was raised by a woodsman called Hunters Hunter (Gray's father) to be an excellent tracker, but the young man is never able to track down his mother, although he does locate her unexpectedly domestic cave abode. He wants merely a sign of recognition, wants her to reach out her hand to him to fill his psychological void:

"Give me a sign, then. You don't have to say nothing. Let me see your hand. Just stick it out someplace and I'll go; I promise. A sign." He begged, pleaded for her hand until the light grew even smaller. "You my mother?" Yes. No. Both. Either. But not this nothing (210).47

In his contrapuntal search for "wild" (216) Dorcas, he imagines her "hold[ing] out her hand" (217) in a gesture of reconciliation. We already know, however, that in the city he will reject his foster father's advice to "never kill the tender and nothing female if you can help it. [Wild] ain't prey" (207), when he shoots the girl dancing at a jazz party, where superficial "partners cling or exchange at the urging of a heartbreaking vocal" (219).The reader has made the connection between Joe's two quests before the narrator does. In the final chapter of the book the narrator/author performs her own virtuoso solo, confessing that she has misjudged the characters she has created:

It was loving the City that distracted me and gave me ideas. Made me think I could speak its loud voice and make that sound sound human. I missed the people altogether [...] I was so sure, and they danced and walked all over me [...] I got so aroused while meddling, while finger-shaping, I overreached and missed the obvious. I was watching the streets, thrilled by the buildings pressing and pressed by stone; so glad to be looking out and in on things I dismissed what went on in heart-pockets closed to me (253-5).

More than that, she realizes that she has been manipulated by the characters: "That when I invented stories about them—and doing it seemed to me so fine—I was completely in their hands, managed without mercy [...] all the while they were watching me" (254). These insights about her powerlessness and the realization that Joe's quest was a double one ("All the while he was running through the streets in bad weather I thought he was looking for [Dorcas], not Wild's chamber of gold," 255) vault the narrator into the narrative events themselves, and in the crescendo-like climax she becomes the one to find Wild and receive her touch of recognition, of sister/brotherhood:

She has seen me and is not afraid of me. She hugs me. Understands me. Has given me her hand. I am touched by her. Released in secret (256).

After this experience the narrator can wholeheartedly accept Violet and Joe's unexpected recovery from their grief accompanied by their tender reconciliation. Yet the characters, who had taken on a life of their own, dissolve again, this time not into words but into sound: "do they know they are the sound of snapping fingers under the sycamores lining the street?" (261). The calls and responses, which reverberate on all levels of the narrative, climax in the jazz-song call to the reader to take center stage: (s)he must answer the narrator's necessarily silent ("I can't say that out loud") call to the reader, who is literally holding the book Jazz, to figuratively put his own hand to the narrative and join in the creative process: "If I were able I'd say it. Say make me, remake me. You are free to do it and I am free to let you because look, look. Look where your hands are. Now" (265, my italics). Through responding to the jazz narrator, to the book "imagining itself," only the reader and the critic can finally give voice and continued meanings to the text. In a grand answer to the skepticism of the post-modernists who resign themselves to a lack of truth in history or narrative, who see texts as de(con)structed, the author/narrator Morrison can find her meta- fictional, meta-musical text truer than her rational knowledge and preconceptions, can trust the reader through his interaction to 'perform' a version as true as her own. Meaning is not infinitely deferred but constantly created.

WAIT A MINUTE, the Faulkner specialist might say: Isn't this almost exactly what happens in Faulkner's masterpiece Absalom, Absalom! when Quentin and Shreve reshape the Sutpen story through their connection of love and imagination to the characters, when the tale emerges only through the reader's filtering and connection of the various narratives and voices of the novel? In fact, most of the features described here in connection with Jazz appear in Faulkner's prose, although other paradigms and vocabulary are used to describe them. Faulkner's writing contains various rhythms and polyphonic voices, including the language of the Bible and vernacular tale-tellers; his partially mythical characters often seem moved by forces outside themselves; the community and its memory are the nexus of the positive and destructive forces producing and affecting the individual; the structures of his novels are usually fragmented, with radical disparateness of plotlines, setting, and chronology, although the fragments can be linked during the reading process; his readers certainly take part in the construction of meaning in his works;48 his narrative voice can be extremely complex, as the revisions of the numerous narrators in combination with the "Faulknerian overvoice" in Absalom, Absalom! attest. His use of the tall tale as a mode of folk humor in, for example The Hamlet, on the levels of language, theme, and structure is in many ways like Morrison's implementation of the call-and-response trope. Faulker's belief in the authenticity of intuition and other kinds of knowing than the rational is paralleled in Morrison's emphasis on superstition, lore, and intuitive insight as legitimate forms of epistemology. Self and family history can only be grasped in Faulkner when they are viewed as part of the region's (for Morrison "racial") history.Yet we now read back to Faulkner's grand imaginative masterpieces with different tunes. No reader of Jazz can become acquainted with Golden Grey without recalling that other dandified mulatto Charles Bon whose inexorable quest for his white father's acknowledgement and touch causes the downfall of the House of Sutpen; Bon longs for the words "my son" and "the living touch of that flesh" 49 (319) that Joe Trace also seeks from his elusive mother—Charles and Joe are met only with tragic silence. In Golden Gray's confrontation with his down-to-earth father Hunters Hunter, however, Morrison's narrator 'specifies' on the Charles Bon/Sutpen stand-off; the black father firmly puts his egoistic and prejudiced mulatto son in his place (in both senses of the idiom) by energetically responding in vernacular to the son's aggressiveness:

'Look here. What you want? I mean, now; what you want now? Want to stay here? You welcome. Want to chastise me? Throw it out your mind. I won't take a contrary word. You come in here, drink my liquor, rummage in my stuff and think you can cross-talk me just cause you call me Daddy? If she told you I was your daddy, then she told you more than she told me. Get a hold of yourself. A son ain't what a woman say. A son is what a man do. You want to act like you mine, then do it, else get the devil out of my house!'
'I didn't come down here to court you, get your approval.'
'I know what you came for. To see how black I was. You thought you was white, didn't you? She probably let you think it. Hoped you'd think it. And I swear I'd think it too.' 'She protected me! If she'd announced I was a nigger, I could have been a slave!' 'They got free niggers. Always did have some free niggers. You could be one of them.' 'I don't want to be a free nigger; I want to be a free man.' 'Don't we all. Look. Be what you want—white or black. Choose. But if you choose black, you got to act black, meaning draw your manhood up— quicklike, and don't bring me no whiteboy sass' (203-4).

As so often in Morrison, the ancestor's advice proves salutary, opening the way for a relationship between Golden Gray and Wild, who has "touched" (178) him despite his initial repulsion at her blackness. The patriarch Sutpen's silence, his succumbing to the racial inequalities of his adopted society built on a "black foundation" of slavery and guilt (Absalom 78) are thus contrasted with Hunter's plain words bequeathing his son the freedom to "act black." The accomplished "touching" of hands on so many levels in Jazz strengthens the black sense of community and, for the white reader, opens up the possibility of intercultural connection.

Also, no reader of Jazz can miss the echoes of Faulkner's hybrid novel of hunting stories, Go Down, Moses, in which the hunt for the legendary bear is paralleled by, among others, a hunt for a missing slave, the mulatto Lucas Beauchamp's hunt for gold, Ike McCaslin's search for the secret guilt (miscegenation) of his patrimony, Molly Beauchamp's search for her lost grandson who has headed North, most of the hunts interlaced with the motif of grief. As a hunter in Harlem Joe Trace has violated not only the advice of his foster father but also that of the childless white hunter Ike McCaslin who had taught the sons of his hunting companions how to "distinguish between the prints left by a buck or a doe" and to "protect does and fawns."50 When one of these sons Roth not only kills a doe but also rejects his mulatta lover and child in absentia by leaving money for them, we see Roth's gesture as particularly cowardly because of its racial basis in comparison to Joe's and Violet's crimes of passion. The mulatta could be speaking for the Traces to their uncomprehending neighbors and readers when, in the "grieving rain" (365), she makes a stinging response to Ike, who has just advised her to "'Go back North. Marry: a man in your own race'":

'Old man...have you lived so long and forgotten so much that you dont remember anything you ever knew or felt or even heard about love?' (363).51

Go Down, Moses ends with a short story of the same name, in which we witness a classic presentation of the African-American call and response as Molly, her brother Hamp, and his wife mourn the grandson's death; he has been executed as a murderer in the urban North, which has proved to be a hostile "Egypt" rather than the Harlem "Promised Land" Joe and Violet train-danced into:

a true constant soprano [...] ran without words beneath the strophe and
antistrophe of the brother and sister:
'Sold him in Egypt and now he dead.'
'Oh yes, Lord. Sold him in Egypt.' 
'Sold him in Egypt.'
'And now he dead.' 
'Sold him to Pharaoh.'
'And now he dead.' (381).

Faulkner's main spokesman in his post-Nobel Prize works, the lawyer Gavin Stevens, who has organized the return of the corpse to the community, witnesses this mourning but cannot take part in it. As close as he is to the black community, like Faulkner himself he is finally an "outside reader" of the black experience.
We know, however, from Absalom, that without the Canadian Shreve as "outside reader" of the Sutpen tale, the Southerner Quentin would not have been able to recreate the past events and understand his heritage of racial guilt. This is a comfort and a challenge for the many of us who are "outside readers" of Toni Morrison's novels of black culture: The interaction of the reader's repertoire of Western literary traditions with that which Morrison draws on in imagining her novels enables us to have access to the "sweep and specificity"—to use Morrison's phrase referring to the Nobel predecessors—of her outstanding art, which doubtless meets the aim she set for her works: to be "unquestionably political and irrevocably beautiful at the same time" ("Rootedness" 345).

In creating a body of literature which permits us to share not only the "lowdown music" (Jazz 73) of the black-on-black abuse and violence but also the "high and fine" notes of the love and solidarity of the black community, Morrison allows us to now read Faulkner's works with a different repertoire of fictive experience. Faulkner was part of Morrison's repertoire; we contemporary readers are in the ideal position of being able to draw on the interaction between the two canons as we, in all modesty, "(re)make" the Nobel Prize heritage.


Von Faulkner zu Morrison.

"Jazzing up" des amerikanischen Nobelpreis-Erbe<

Die literarische Anwendung der afro-amerikanischen Mundart-Technik "call and response" vernetzt die Werke der Nobelpreisträger Toni Morrison (1993) und William Faulkner (1949) miteinander, wobei der Leser als "interface" agiert; dieser dialektische Prozeß verdeutlicht, wie das Vermächtnis des Nobelpreises die Wunden einer unter Rassendifferenzen leidenden Gesellschaft offenlegt und eröffnet zumindest narrative Möglichkeiten, diese Wunden zu heilen. Der erste Teil dieses Aufsatzes beschreibt die Gründe für und Reaktionen auf die Auszeichnung dieser beiden Autoren sowie den virtuellen Dialog in ihren Reden bei der Preisverleihung. Der zweite Abschnitt geht auf Morrisons Gesamtwerk ein und auf Gemeinsamkeiten mit Faulkners Kanon, wenngleich ihr kreatives "double consciousness" es ihr ermöglicht, die euro-amerikanische und schwarze Tradition miteinander zu verflechten, wobei sie ihre vielschichtige, "multi-voiced community" und deren Kultur kontinuierlich verstärkt. Morrisons innovativer Roman Jazz wird analysiert, um die unterschiedlichen Methoden aufzuzeigen, mit Hilfe derer es ihr gelingt, Faulkners "calls" aufzugreifen und zu revidieren und um uns zugleich zu befähigen, Faulkners Romane auf der Grundlage eines um neue Erzählerfahrungen erweiterten Repertoires zu lesen.

1English-language authors: Rudyard Kipling, 1907; William Butler Yeats, 1923; George Bernard Shaw, for 1925; Sinclair Lewis, 1930; John Galsworthy, 1932; Eugene O'Neill, 1936; Pearl Buck, 1938; T.S. Eliot, 1948; William Faulkner, for 1949; Winston Churchill, 1953; Ernest Hemingway, 1954; John Steinbeck, 1962; Samuel Beckett, 1969; Patrick White, 1973; Saul Bellow, 1976; William Golding, 1983; Wole Soyinka, 1986; Nadine Gordimer, 1991; Derek Walcott, 1992; after Morrison in 1993, Seamus Heaney in 1995.

2Her Master's studies took place at Cornell University from 1953-55; the topic of her thesis: "Virginia Woolf's and William Faulkner's Treatment of the Alienated."

3The best discussion of "call and response," which originated in the African(-American) oral tradition, is found in John F. Callahan, In the American Grain: Call-and-Response in Twentieth-Century Black Literature. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan UP, 1988 (2nd ed.), cf. 14-17. Storytelling in Africa was an open-ended dialogue between storyteller and listeners; during the storytelling performance, the audience voiced both assent and dissent which was ritually integrated into the story. Call and response became a feature of African-American discourse in speech, stories, sermons, songs, blues, and jazz. This participatory quality of oral recounting has been adapted to black fiction in experimental ways.

4Barbara Christian, the well-known Morrison critic, in the essay "Toni Morrison: Our Saving Grace" on the Internet.

5These excerpts from the Academy's text were widely quoted; see for example London Times or International Herald Tribune, both from 8 Oct. 1993.

6Quoted in New York Times, 8 Oct. 1993, and on the Internet.

7The acceptance speech is available on the Internet.

8Christian, op cit.

9In the German edition of Jazz for the "Sammlung Nobelpreis für Literature 1993" Daniela Marquardt gives a detailed description of the announcement and Ms. Morrison's sojourn in Stockholm.

10Peach has the best discussion of the political objections by black writers such as Charles Johnson, p. 10.

11Always one of her fiercest critics, Stanley Crouch wrote in the Independent (Oct. 10, 1993): "I hope the prize inspires her to write better books. She has a certain skill, but no serious artistic integrity." In an earlier article in The New Republic (Oct 1987, 38-43) he attacked Beloved for its "purple haze of overstatement, of false voices, of strained homilies. "Bruce Bawer (see bibliography) wrote a damning review of Jazz and Morrison's essay collection Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (Harvard UP, 1992) in which he accuses Morrison of "trademark excesses" (10) in the novel and "pouring rhetorical acid" (17) in the essayvolume.

12Edwin M. Yoder, Jr., "An Eccentric Selection from the Nobel Folks," International Herald Tribune (Oct. 13, 1993), p. 9. Yoder criticizes the Swedish Academy for its tendency to make a "grand gesture," as in awarding the prize to Faulkner and Hemingway well after they had written their "imperishable works" and in recognizing authors of marginal cultures. He does not understand the Academy's "stubborn refusal" to give the prize to Henry James, and its passing over of Thomas Wolfe, Edith Wharton, Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, as well as such African-Americans as Richard Wright and James Baldwin. For him Toni Morrison is a "gifted writer whose earlier novels showed promise," but she has remained merely a "journeyman novelist." On the other hand, William Pratt, in an article entitled "Missing the Masters," predicted as early as 1988 that Toni Morrison (or another woman such as Margaret Atwood, Nadine Gordimer, or Eudora Welty) would win the next Nobel prize (World Literature Today 62 (1988): 225-228).

13Kjell Espmark, The Nobel Prize in Literature: A Study of the Criteria behind the Choices. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1986, chapters 5 and 6. He also calls the experimenters "pioneers," "pathfinders," "innovators," in contrast to the "solitary masters" such as Winston Churchill and Bertrand Russell. Espmark considers that Hemingway fits into both categories; surely the distinction is difficult to maintain, since Faulkner would also seem to deserve both labels. Beckett's award was controversial because his unremitting "pessimism" (81) seemed to disqualify him on the basis of the "idealistic tendency" clause in Nobel's will. In an older book, Warren French and Walter Kidd (American Winners of the Nobel Literary Prize. Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1968) compare the American winners with the runners-up such as Mark Twain, Theodore Dreiser, Willa Cather, Robert Frost, Ezra Pound, John Dos Passos.

14Espmark, 144; quoted from Lars Gyllensten's speech awarding the prize to Wole Soyinka from Nigeria in 1986.

15Yoder, op cit.

16The quotations are from the recent biography by Frederick R. Karl, William Faulkner: American Writer (London/Boston: Faber & Faber, 1989), 808.

17Frederick Sullens in the Jackson (Mississippi) Daily News, quoted in Joseph Blotner, Faulkner: A Biography, Vol. 2. NY: Random House, 1974, 1344.

18Karl (op cit) advances the theory that the chief reason for Faulkner's negative response to the Stockholm trip was "that he felt ashamed to accept in person a grand award for work he could no longer do," 807.

19Donald W. Goodwin in Alcohol and the Writer (Kansas City: Andrews and McMeel, 1988) asks why 70% of the (pre-Morrison) American Nobel laureates were alcoholics (only Pearl Buck and Saul Bellow are exceptions). His book has recently been translated into German as Alkohol und Autor. Zürich: Edition Epoca, 1995.

20The quotations are taken from Faulkner's widely reprinted "Address upon Receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature." The standard source is James B. Meriwether, ed. William Faulkner: Essays, Speeches and Public Letters. London: Chatto & Windus, 1967: 119-20

21In her essay entitled "City Limits, Village Values: Concepts of the Neighborhood in Black Fiction," Morrison uses the word "village" to describe the sense of black community which can be found in an urban setting such as Harlem or a rural neighborhood (in Michael C. Jaye and Ann Chalmers Watts, eds. Literature and the American Urban Experience. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1981: 35-43).

22Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye. NY: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston, 1970; p. 19 in the readily available Washington Square Press edition (1972).

23Toni Morrison, Sula. NY: Knopf, 1973; p. 150 in the Chatto & Windus edition (1991) common in Europe.

24Some of the best recent books (in inverse chronological order) are those by Braß & Kley, Weinstein, Furman, H.W. Rice, Peach, Smith (ed.), Harding & Martin, Mobley, Taylor-Guthrie (ed.), Carmean, Harris, Heinze, Bjork, Rigney. The Morrison chapters in Griffin and Birch are excellent. Peach is representative of the active British critics who are bringing their own orientation to academic writing on Morrison. Braß & Kley's exquisitely well documented study (1997) reflects the burgeoning German interest in Morrison's work, especially among young women scholars. An inviting new title not yet available to me in Germany is Philip Page, Dangerous Freedom: Fusion and Fragmentation in Toni Morrison's Novels. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1996.

25Morrison's fullest statements of her African-American poetics appear in two key interview-essays: "Rootedness: The Ancestor as Foundation" in Mari Evans, ed., Black Women Writers. London/Sydney: Pluto Press, 1985: 339-345 [originally published in 1984 as Black Women Writers (1950-1980) by Anchor Press] and "Toni Morrison: The Art of Fiction" in Paris Review, Schappell and Lacour (see bibliography). Morrison considers the presence of the 'ancestor', which is responded to in different ways by different writers, a feature of African-American writing: "There is always an elder there. And these ancestors are not just parents, they are sort of timeless people whose relationships to the characters are benevolent, instructive, and protective, and they provide a certain kind of [folk] wisdom," Evans, ed. 343. The other chief features of black writing listed by Morrison are "the ability to be both print and oral literature," the "real presence of the chorus" or community, and the "participation of the reader," 341-3. I will discuss Morrison's comments about the importance of jazz later in this article.

26Marilyn Sanders Mobley, "Call and Response: Voice, Community, and Dialogic Structures in Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon" in Smith, ed.: 41-68.

27An article in The Independent of 22 Nov. 1996, p. 14, with the headline "Oprah's Recommended Reading Becomes the Talk of All America" contains the statistics in this paragraph. The Oprah Winfrey show has 9 million regular viewers and presumably more watched the Morrison book club program. It was also broadcast in Germany in January 1997; a tape of the program is archived in Universität Siegen's video library. In his attractive introductory book on Morrison, Century mentions a different figure regarding pre-Winfrey sales of Solomon: 570,000 copies in print in 1978 (60).

28Another indication of this canonization and broad interest in this author is the fact that there are over 25,000 documents on Morrison stored on the Internet!

29Trudier Harris has the most complete discussion of the two versions of the tale and their relevance for Morrison's novel.

30The scrapbook was edited by Morrison as The Black Book, NY: Random House, 1974.

31Toni Morrison, Beloved. NY: Knopf, 1987; p. 264 in the Signet international edition (1991).

32Bawer polemicizes this on p. 10 of his article by accusing Morrison of hypocrisy: she wants to write within the black culture but she reaps the professional, literary-critical, and monetary benefits of appreciation within (white) Euro-American establishment.

33See, for example, Cowart.

34Nellie McKay, "An Interview with Toni Morrison," Contemporary Literature 24.4 (1983), 413-29: 426.

35The quotation is from Gordon Collier, "Multicultural Self-Definition and Textual Strategy in the 'Poetic' Prose of Derek Walcott: The Nobel Prize Speech." Kunapipi 15.2 (1993): 86-103. Wole Soyinka points out how he grew up on the fare of European literature which necessarily influenced his creative writing although he still conceives of writing about his African world ("An Evening with Wole Soyinka: Anthony Appiah, Moderator" in Black American Literature Forum 22.4 (1988); the whole issue is devoted to Soyinka). See Pamela Dube's article in this volume for an extended discussion of Soyinka's interculturality.

36The term originates in W.E.B. Du Bois' 1903 revolutionary and influential tract The Souls of Black Folk in which he points out the (in his context) debilitating twoness of the Negro with his American and African identities that creates the black's sense of always looking at himself through the eyes of the other race. Heinze is one of the main Morrison critics to apply "double consciousness" in various ways to Morrison's work.

37The quotation is from Harding and Martin (171), who advocate using a hybrid structure (e.g. vine image) to describe the interlinking of the two cultures rather than a dualistic model (10).

38In the same essay Christian criticizes Harold Bloom's comparison of Morrison to Faulkner: "What is the purpose of securing a link between you and William Faulkner, as Harold Bloom did in his introduction to an edition of collected essays on your work?" (Christian is referring to the Chelsea House Toni Morrison, 1990). Cowart's 1990 article on thematic links among Morrison, Joyce, and Faulkner includes an apology: "I am aware that Morrison might disapprove of the discussion undertaken here" (88). Philip Weinstein's brilliant new study of Faulkner and Morrison (What Else But Love?: The Ordeal of Race in Faulkner and Morrison. NY: Columbia UP, 1996) surely legitimizes the "pairing" (xix) of these authors of "racial turmoil" (ibid). His book, which was not available to me until after I had completed this article, undertakes to "identify ways in which race and gender 'speak' in Faulkner and Morrison without reducing or deforming the specificity of their achievement" (xx). His project reflects exemplary self-awareness of the positioning of the critic--in this case white Southern male.

39During the Harlem Renaissance such writers as Jean Toomer and Langston Hughes wrote original poetry and prose incorporating jazz rhythms, but did not produce a work in which jazz takes on as many functions as in Morrison's novel.

40The critics' wildly varying relationship to and interpretation of the narrative voice show how large the "spaces" are that Morrison leaves for the "ruminations of the reader" (Morrison, "Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature," Michigan Quarterly Review 28 (Winter 1989), 1-34: 29): The narrator is seen as "he" by some critics, as the Thunder goddess of Jazz's epigraph by Rodrigues, as androgynous by Eckard, as the personification of the impersonal authorial voice (Furman). Kley's awkward label sounds like a Politically Correct epithet: she calls the narrator the "novel's self-conscious interpretive presence" (155; Kley's description does not include the participatory aspect) and consistently refers to it as ""s/he. "Most critics assume the narrator is female because (a) of such phrases as "I haven't got any muscles" (Jazz 16) (b) the gossipy tone at the beginning of the novel suggests a neighbor of Violet's such as Malvonne or Alice (c) the type and amount of detail noted by the 'I' seems 'feminine' (d) there is ostensibly a close identification between narrator and author (e) the initiated reader is used to the sisterhood slant of most of her writing (f) the narrator "shows the distinct feminine desire for connectedness and shared knowing" (Heinze, 182). Actually, Morrison is careful to eliminate all markers for gender, as with the relatively unusual usage in English of "partner" ("if you have been left standing, as I have, when your partner overstays at another appointment," 18) instead of the African-American "man" in this context. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., implies the conflation of gender roles in the narrative voice when he says "Jazz is a truly post-modern book. Imagine combining Ellington, Faulkner and Maria Callas. That's the voice that emerges" (NY Times, 8 Oct. 1996). In all honesty, I must confess that I strongly experience the narrative voice as female (even though I see the purposes of omission of gender markers) and will for the sake of convenience refer to the narrator as "she" in my paper. Heinze insists that the narrative consciousness is African-American, which the intimacy with jazz and Harlem implies; Griffin sees the narrator more specifically as the urban "migrant" (195). The only interpretation of this fluid narrative consciousness which seems comprehensive enough is to see it as the creative process itself, jazz composing itself or, as Morrison says, the "book writing itself. Imagining itself. Talking" in a grand jazz "performance" based on both "artifice and improvisation" (quotes from Schappell and Lacour, 116; my emphasis).

41The much-used term in literary theory is of course from Mikhail Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M.M. Bakhtin, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist, ed. Michael Holquist (Austin: U of Texas P, 1981), my italics. Bakhtin's theory of the novel as a multiplicity of voices which echo and challenge each other is especially attractive for analysis of black women's fiction because of the call and response interchange in black vernacular and because according to current theory (black) women, kept silent by patriarchal power structures for so long, privilege voice over vision. Cf. for example Dale Bauer, Feminist Dialogics: A Theory of Failed Community. Albany: State University of NY P, 1988.

42Toni Morrison, Jazz. NY: Signet, 1992, p. 11. At a reading in the Amerika-Haus Köln in June 1993, Toni Morrison told her audience that the opening word of the book, "Sth," is the sound made when the tongue creates a sucking noise at the back of a side tooth. This sound is often a(n African-American) prelude to a long vernacular story, similar to "Once upon a time" for fairy tales, but with a note of disparagement. It is translated well in the Nobel Prize edition of Jazz as "Pfh" (67).

43In the Schappell and Lacour interview, Morrison stresses that the controlling concept of Jazz as she composed it was that of the artful jazz improvisation, "willing to fail, to be wrong" like a jazz performance. "The characters talk back [to the book] the way jazz musicians do. It has to listen to the characters it has invented and then learn something from them" (116-117). Similarly, Bigsby reports that Morrison says her book is a "jazz's really a book about the processes of its own construction." In his otherwise outstanding study, Peach downplays the role of jazz in the novel (preferring to emphasize its "radical content," 127) by drawing on Bigsby's sentence that "jazz features more as an image, a metaphor" (29); this is, however, not a direct quote from Morrison . Peach seems to be making an unnecessarily sharp split between form and content rather than underlining Morrison's achievement of such an astonishing mutual reinforcement of the two.

44Henry Louis Gates, Jr., views the trope of signifying as key to the African-American oral tradition, literature, and literary criticism in his influential study The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism. NY: Oxford UP, 1988. See also Susan Willis, Specifying: Black Women Writing the American Experience. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1987.

45Weinstein convincingly discusses the "public atmosphere of calls and responses" in the Harlem Jazz Age, as reflected, for example, in Dorcas' openness to the beckoning of music: "'Come,' it said. 'Come and do wrong'" (Jazz 86).

46Morrison: "At that time, when the ex-slaves were moving into the city, running away from something that was constricting and killing them and dispossessing them over and over and over again, they were in a very limiting environment [...]Exercising choice in who you love was a major, major thing. And the music reinforced the idea of love as a space where one could negotiate freedom" (Schappell and Lacour 112-13).

47Weinstein fascinatingly reads Wild as the "priceless African mother" which Morrison has recreated from the "black gargoyle [...] ape-like" (209, 205) wife chosen by Bon's son in Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! to defy his society's racial prejudices: this "cipher in Absalom's patriarchal drama of miscegenated descent [...] beckons to [Morrison] in Jazz as a throwaway she can maternally recuperate" (155).

48For a discussion of the reading process in Faulkner, see my Recollection and Discovery: The Rhetoric of Character in William Faulkner's Novels. Frankfurt/Bern/NY: Peter Lang, 1983.

49William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom!, 1936, pp. 353 and 319 in the Random House Modern Library edition.

50William Faulkner, Go Down, Moses, 1942; 336 and 339 in the Random House Vintage Books edition.

51There is no space here to discuss in depth points of interaction between Jazz and other Faulkner novels. Further points of interface could be the desperate suicide of Violet's mother vs. the "endurance" of the mammy Dilsey in The Sound and the Fury (1929), Joe Trace's and Joe Christmas' (in Light in August, 1932) sense of being propelled to the deed of murdering their respective lovers, and Gavin Stevens' views on the need for the South to free its blacks itself (Intruder in the Dust, 1948) vs. their self-empowerment in important ways in Jazz.

Selected Recent References: Articles and Books on Morrison and Jazz

Nobelpreis für Literatur 1993: Toni Morrison, Jazz. Lachen am Zürichsee: Coron Verlag, 1994 (Nr. 88 in der Coron-Reihe für den Kreis der Nobelpreisfreunde); includes essays by Daniela Marquardt, 11-23, and Paul Ingendaay, 45-60.

Bawer, Bruce. "All That Jazz." New Criterion (May 1992): 10-17.

Bigsby, Christopher. "Jazz Queen." The Independent 26 April 1992: 28-29.

Birch, Eva Lennox. Black American Women's Writing: Quilt of Many Colors. NY: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1994.

Bjork, Patrick Bryce. The Novels of Toni Morrison: The Search for Self and Place within the Community (American University Studies). NY/Bern: Peter Lang, 1992.

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