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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eye Opening
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...
Published on October 10, 2000 by Maurice Williams

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36 of 87 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars More Heat than Light
Playing in the Dark is a revelation, but not the one intended by its author. What is revealed mainly is just how close to hopeless race relations in this country have come to be. Here we have a writer of nearly undisputed stature, the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, who yet cannot summon objectivity on the subject of race, and who offers what seems essentially...
Published on May 12, 2002


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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eye Opening, October 10, 2000
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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20 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Importance of Seeing in the Dark, February 20, 2001
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This review is from: Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (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 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Black characters in American Literature, February 21, 2008
This review is from: Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (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. Although the preface to the book is written in 1992, this book gives very interesting insight to the state of the racial tension that is so obvious in the election year where race, gender, class and social standing are fearlessly fighting for power. This book, considered literary criticism is very relevant to our world of today. Morrison wisely teaches us to recognise what black is vs. what others want you to think, thru literary fiction, what black is.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Morrison's insights on race are sharp, undeniable, May 25, 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (Paperback)
In a language that yields great insight after struggle, Morrison does a terrific job of providing scholars a reason to discuss race, color, and nationality as central factors in "American" literature. The fact that nonwhite characters (not to mention nonwhite writers) have been so ignored is because questions of personal and national identity have been considered too particular, too political for discussions based upon (solipsistic) universality. The implication, then, is that black people have no personhood, because their very individuality particularizes them out of academic, though not physical, existence. Morrison shows how crucial the acceptance and reproduction of pathological reactions to racial difference are to the formation of American literature and the attainment of American citizenship. She shows that figures and symbols of racial difference affect internal textual issues of plot, setting, theme, character, and point of view and attendant issues of a character's authority and the appearance of a text's "realism." From her springboard, one may also look for configurations of racial difference in everything from philosophy to crimonology. Her account seeks not to censor but to enlarge the debate about America's "great" texts.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finding light in the darkest of regions., January 19, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (Paperback)
The vital importance of "Africanism" to the construction of "whiteness" in America has for too long gone ackowledged. Fortunately, Toni Morrison has taken the first step towards the erasure of this disgusting continuation of "sidelining" a black presence that, as Morrison clearly points out in in this illuminating monograph, has served as the building block in the long self-definition process of Americas and its literature. A brilliantly titled, written, and executed ninety pages, "Playing in the dark" demands reading from anyone remotely interested in the formation of America's founding literature and cultural ideologies. If anyone can tackle this subject, it is Toni Morrison, and she does so with a lucidity neccesassy when "playing in the dark."
Daniel A. Jacome Tufts University
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6 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating Book That Needs to Follow Through, April 20, 1998
Toni Morrison is one of my favorite authors; her blend of style, fierce intelligence, ambition, daring, and tenderness is rare to find in American authors today. More than anything, Morrison wants to write books that /matter/, that challenge our preconceptions and prejudices and force us to acknowledge our complicity in social problems.
/Playing in the Dark/ is a book that matters. In it, Morrison engages in a fascinating critical project: to trace an "Africanist" presence through American literature and see how people of African descent have been used in literature as ways to talk about freedom, bondage, passion, discipline, class, sex, power... (By "Africanist," Morrison is referring to 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." (p.6-7) ) It's an intriguing, important idea, and one well worth looking into. Morrison offers some generalized thoughts about the matter and also talks about looking at how the Africanist presence in American literature can be seen as a way to, by contrast, construct a portrait of what "whiteness" is supposed to be. She then moves on to some inspired readings of Cather's /Sapphira and the Slave Girl/, Poe's /The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym/, Twain's /Huckleberry Finn/ (perhaps the best of the intrepretations offered), and Hemingway's /To Have and Have Not/ and /The Garden of Eden/.
Unfortunately, this book is simply too short - it's a scant ninety pages. Morrison's ideas entice and seduce us, but it is over all too soon. More case studies ranging over a wider time period in American literature would be helpful. Too, Morrison makes claims that need to be corroborated but aren't in the book. For example, she makes the claim that images of whiteness and paleness usually appear to close a narrative in which there is a strong Africanist presence, saying "They {the images} appear so often and in such particular circumstance that they give pause." (p.33)" All well and good, but she gives us no more than the solitary example of /The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym./
This book is still definitely worth looking into for anyone interested in race and American fiction. It's just too bad that Morrison could not have delineated her ideas more fully.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Enlightening, May 25, 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (Paperback)
An excellent monograph discussing the African presence in pieces of liturature, particularly early American literature, that were previously thought to be void of such refrerences. She also offers some very interesting insights on the true motives of slavery and race relations.
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20 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Morrison offers "food" for the thought processes!, December 30, 2001
This review is from: Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (Paperback)
I always felt that to truly say that one is literate is to be able to state equivocally that one has read a book by Toni Morrison or Stephen Hawking. Sure, Aristotle and Shakespeare are giants, but they were from ages ago. Morrison and Hawking are contemporary thinkers.
Instead of dealing with Morrison the storyteller, I chose to read Morrison the academic analyst in the form of "Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination". And, boy, could I not have chosen a more challenging book.
Morrison skillfully directs the reader's attention to how American literature abounds with overt and/or covert attempts to perpetuate the white male's superiority and the black man's inferiority. She shows how the "Africanist" influence can be found in the respective characters, their dialogues, and their interaction with their white counterparts. By citing examples from Hemingway, Poe, and Cather, the author makes a reader contemplate the author's symbolism and intent. I know that I will look at "great" American works with increased scrutiny.
I wish that she had tackled Mitchell's "Gone with the Wind".
As one of America's most respected writers and a proponent of civil and women's rights, Miss Morrison uses her talent wisely here in this riveting exposé.
Mind you, there are a few words that not even the context will reveal their meanings; therefore, a dictionary would be handy to have around. But, the "research" is well worth it for the book is a feast for the mind.
Bring on Stephen now!
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Provocative Ideas, May 29, 2012
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This review is from: Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (Paperback)
The essays present food for thought and thoughtful argument. As a teacher of demanding literature, I see this work as presenting an intriguing counterweight to Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own, another example of this genre, essays based on a series of lectures. Both works epitomize the power of a strong arguable thesis. Toni Morrison's ideas also provide valuable points for discussion of many the works of literature that real American literary literacy demands that we discuss, including Huck Finn. Playing in the Dark provides a vigorous intellectual experience for the reader, teacher, and student.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars eye opening, July 1, 2009
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This review is from: Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (Paperback)
Playing in the Dark: whiteness and the Literay Imagination is an eye opneing experience. it allows the reader to understand that those who call themselves Literary scholars, do not understand or see the importance of black,African or African American Literature. It is a dismissal, either intentionally or unintentionally, of writing that is, to those who do reviews, foreign.
Playing in the Dark also examines the use of blacks in literay works. it explores how black characters are somewhat a non entity. They are used somewhat as a prop, a filler, though, the story and/or the story line, in many cases could not exist without these characters.
the book explores how the authors do not know how to develop these characters because the authors themselves have a preconceived opinion of blacks, therefore it would be almost impossible for them to understand how to utilize these characters in a way that enriches their story.
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Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination
Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination by Toni Morrison (Paperback - July 27, 1993)
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