Thinking through sexual difference: Toni Morrison's love trilogy
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In this dissertation I seek to examine Toni Morrison's historiographic trilogy-- Beloved (1987), Jazz (1992), and Paradise (1998)--as her attempt, not only to reconstruct the traumatized history of the African-American people, but also to reconceptualize the notions of race, history, and community by thinking through the idea of sexual difference. Focusing on Morrison's fascination with women's love as the impetus to her creation of the trilogy, the dissertation attempts to clarify how Morrison's project "to speak the unspeakable" of African-American history is related to her ideas of love, feminine subjectivity, and sexual difference. What makes Morrison aware of the mechanism of love is what I think could be called her psychoanalytic insight, especially when this is understood in light of Lacanian feminism as it concerns sexual difference as well as feminine subjectivity. Drawing on the vocabulary and insights of Lacanian feminism, each chapter focuses on the ways in which Morrison foregrounds the maternal space of primary identification not only as a site of resistance to a white supremacist and sexist society, but also as a site of reconstruction of subjectivity for African-Americans. Such readings also attempt to elucidate how Morrison reconstructs African-American history through "love," which is understood as a transference relation, based on the structure of primary identification, that opens up the subject to the unspeakable and the unrepresentable of history. A close reading of each novel leads me to argue that Morrison, in line with psychoanalytic feminism, privileges sexual difference over racial difference in the works that are said to constitute a "love trilogy." Finally, the dissertation explores ways in which Morrison reconceptualizes the notions of race, history, and community from what Lacan calls the feiminine subject position--a position of love that resists any and all totalizing or universalizing gestures. From such a position, Morrison problematizes the notion of race itself and offers a radical notion both of a history that contains everything and of a community that is not based on exclusion.