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Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination Reprint Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0679745426
ISBN-10: 0679745424
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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.
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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 (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #13,574 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
An academic treatise. The purposely dense prose coupled with the writer's ability to plumb the depths of the American social-psychological muck, egotism and imagery is both fascinating and tiresome. One hopes for a path toward change in the writing and finds it. Then one looks up and away from her words and finds her apt description [in the world] not as fluid but as monolith, like describing a dull rock. Having such knowledge delivered may be freeing but certainly is depressing.
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Format: Paperback
In reading all of Toni Morrison's books, I struggle to find words that can capture her essence. There is a beauty to her writing that is unmatched. I have given it long and intense thought, pondering how to express my opinion of the greatness of her writing. In doing this, not only have I read her books, I have read many of the things that others have said about her. In this effort, the best description of her writing that I can find, is found on pages 99 through 102 of Thomas D. Rush's “Reality's Pen: Reflections On Family, History & Culture.” The book can be found right here on Amazon. The description is contained within a piece called “You Never Know Who God Wants You To Meet.” There are also several apt quotations from Ms. Morrison sprinkled throughout the book. In doing this review, it is only fair to point out the thorough description of Morrison's work contained within Rush's book. It says all that needs to be said about the writing of Toni Morrison.
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