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Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination Paperback – July 27, 1993

ISBN-13: 978-0679745426 ISBN-10: 0679745424 Edition: Reprint

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 91 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (July 27, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679745424
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679745426
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.3 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #19,033 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Novelist Morrison takes a turn as a literary critic, examining the American literary imagination and finding it obsessed with the white/black polarity.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Morrison ( Jazz , LJ 4/15/92) believes that an African American presence, largely ignored by critics, has always permeated white American literature. She opens by carefully setting her parameters and defining her terms--e.g., Africanism: "the denotative and connotative blackness that African peoples have come to signify, as well as the entire range of views, assumptions, readings, and misreadings that accompany Eurocentric learning about these people." The first few pages feature densely packed language whose meaning becomes clearer when Morrison examines such specific works as Willa Cather's Sapphira and the Slave Girl . This brief, highly provocative book, which considers "the impact of racism on those who perpetuate it," is highly recommended not only for Morrison's many admirers but for all those interested in American literature.
-Louis J. Parascandola, Long Island Univ., Brooklyn Campus , New York
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

Another fantastic book by Toni Morrison!
ThriftyShopper
Morrison's book puts American literary history on permanent and telling reset by identifying the role of slavery, of Jim Crow, and of racism generally at it its core.
Andrew J McKenna
Playing in the Dark is without a doubt, the most informative critique of the use of the African American presence in American literature.
Maurice Williams

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Maurice Williams on October 10, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Playing in the Dark is without a doubt, the most informative critique of the use of the African American presence in American literature. Morrison critiques the work of some of the most famous American novelist and points out how their work is influenced by blackness. Her critique is sharp and forthright. She challenges writers and critics alike to reevaluate their use of language, coding, and imagery as it relates to characters or situations of an "Africanist" nature. The critique identifies specific instances where negative imagery and characterizations are used by writers to help solidify whatever point being made, or image being created. Playing in the Dark should be required reading for any literature curriculum and any critic or writer who dare place pen to paper in an effort to inform or enlighten the reading public.
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22 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Ragan Fox on February 20, 2001
Format: Paperback
When I first read this amazing criticism on American literary history, I finally got it. A huge cloud of misunderstanding and empty justifications lifted from above my head, and I, for the first time, learned how to critically analyze a text. Much more, I learned how to engage with a history of texts. Playing in the Dark effectively chronicles the absence or misconstruction of African-Americans in the fiction of Poe, Melville, Cather, and Hemmingway. Morrison's illuminations on how the presence of black is often conflated with evil and lurking metaphores, while white is typically reduced to all that is pure is truly brought to life through the literary examples she utilizes. Further, her argument concerning how Africanism was/is used as a distancing mechanism to ensure hegemony retains its power is most likely the most well developed argument of its kind.
All of Morrison's thoughts are hopefully (and I stress hopefully with utopian blinders on) already flying through the psyches of Americans, but Playing in the Dark gives concrete words to abstract thoughts. This book is an absolute must read for anyone who plans to critically engage in literature.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By angecan on December 30, 2014
Format: Paperback
The first few pages are tough going, if like me, it's been ages since you picked up critical theory.

Once Morrison fleshes out her key assertions, among them “the parasitic nature of white identity” in American literature, the book begins to enthrall. I can’t speak to how much she adds to this critical lens of race because I’m not well read in this area (though she clearly owes a lot to James Snead whom she quotes at length), but I can speak to the accessibility of her ideas and fascinating discoveries. I would add that a psychoanalytic lens is also in play making for many “arching-of-brow-while-nodding-deliberately” moments.

Morrison wants to establish the “American brand of Africanism” reified in canonical texts, and so relies mostly on giants such as Cather, Poe, Melville, Twain and Hemingway. (Styron is as contemporary as she gets.) The text braids three lectures making for a powerful but not overpowering exposure to her ideas, meant to be understood on the first hearing and now reading. Considering the density of the material, I appreciated this lighter treatment, though I would have welcomed more examples.

The following passage summarizes many of her inquiries:

"How does literary utterance arrange itself when it tries to imagine an Africanist other? What are the signs, the codes, the literary strategies designed to accommodate this encounter? What does the inclusion of Africans or African Americans to do and for the work? As a reader my assumption had always been that nothing “happens”: Africans and their descendants were not, in any sense that matters, *there*; and when they were there, they were decorative—displays of the agile writer’s technical expertise.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Helena on February 21, 2008
Format: Paperback
Short book by Tony Morrison based on her university lectures are three part mediatations on matters of race in americal literature. Morrison explores what is takes to be black. She looks at the literature from two points of view: reader - someone who absorbs what someone else has to say and writer - creator of stories that writes about their observations about the world and has influence over the reader in a manner of perception of truth. In addition to addressing race, she talks about gender too. It is subtly brought to our attention that in today's world it is much harder to be black woman than a black man. Black woman is more vulnerable to the cruelties of the world. Shades of her skin can either include her or exclude her from the black society, while the white society is tenfold more cruel as there is no acceptance of the "colored" folks but only hostility. In the literary world that Morrison critiques, black woman is considered an object with no emotion, attachment, dignity, susceptible to sexual trade or exploitation, as there are no consequences to such treatment. In another words, black woman is considered dispensable by the society. Black ordinary man on the other hand, while treated as a second class citizen -- can manage fine in a society for as long as he can draw a distance between himself and the white society. The detachment is assurance to the white society of freedom of "pollution" of any kind: spiritual, sexual and social. Black man who does not realize a need for such detachment can get beat up, whipped or vebrally abused. Unlike women, they end up short of rape. Finally, the political consequences of race is the last part of the book that inevitably blends into meditation on women and their role in the society as nurses, mothers and comforters of sorts.Read more ›
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More About the Author

Toni Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993. She is the author of several novels, including The Bluest Eye, Beloved (made into a major film), and Love. She has received the National Book Critics Circle Award and a Pulitzer Prize. She is the Robert F. Goheen Professor at Princeton University.

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Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination
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