Toni Morrison's New Book Explores Society's Tendency to Construct Otherness - Pacific Standard

Toni Morrison's New Book Explores Society's Tendency to Construct Otherness

Pacific Standard recommends The Origin of Others, which looks to spark discussion about the written word's role in perpetuating and complicating black-and-white binaries.
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Toni Morrison performs on stage at the Lincoln Center in New York City.

Toni Morrison performs on stage at the Lincoln Center in New York City.

Toni Morrison is no stranger to tough subject matter—once called the "voice of America's conscience," the Nobel Laureate has, across 11 novels, scrutinized the black identity in the United States. Still, Morrison's latest work, The Origin of Others, may be her most comprehensive examination of race in America to date. While Morrison has typically steered clear of autobiography, The Origin of Others, based on her 2016 Norton Lectures at Harvard University, interweaves Morrison's memories with analysis of her own novels. And while previous works, like her Pulitzer Prize-winning Beloved, tell stories with contained timelines, The Origin of Others spans centuries of history, politics, and literature to answer questions like, "How does one move from a non-racial womb to the womb of racism?"

Morrison concludes that literature has played a significant role. Analyzing slaveholder diaries, novels by Flannery O'Connor, and written works by Harriet Beecher Stowe and other black Americans, Morrison examines how race and skin color have been used to oppress black people—she analyzes literature's attempt to "romance slavery," for instance—and, in the right hands, to challenge racism. Released last month, The Origin of Others looks to spark discussion about the written word's role in perpetuating and complicating black-and-white binaries.

A version of this story originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of Pacific Standard. Subscribe now and get eight issues/year or purchase a single copy of the magazine.

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