Stefan L. Brandt
December 5, 2017
My essay interprets Toni Morrison’s works as ‘timeless,’ not so much from the perspective of their presumable universal appeal, but from that of their narrative composition, which denies established forms of temporal arrangement and facilitates new ways of textual experience. Focusing on Morrison’s Trilogy ( Beloved , Jazz , and Paradise ), I will argue that the three novels challenge conventional ideas of history and time to create a narrative space situated in the living present. While filled with numerous references to concrete timelines, Morrison’s writings also insist on a quasi-universal ‘truth’ that takes the reader beyond the boundaries of objective history. Beloved first limits the narrative perspective to the year 1873, but then invites its readers to embark on a virtual ‘time travel’ through various periods of the protagonist’s life. Memories and subjective lapses back into the past dominate the narration, thus focusing on experience and imaginary time. Jazz and Paradise both situate literary ‘truth’ in the sentient dynamic of the reading experience. Following the claim of phenomenological theory that perception is always a kind of action in which the world appears “afresh from the perspective of […] ‘lived’ experience” (Chaplin, A.D. . “Phenomenology: Merleau-Ponty and Sartre.” B. Gaut and D.M. Lopes, eds. The Routledge Companion to Aesthetics . London and New York, NY: Routledge, 159), I will examine Morrison’s novels as ‘living events’ that reconstruct the narrated occurrences as haptic experiences. Through mnemonic elements within the esthetics of her texts, Morrison transforms the novels’ story time into a very subjective discourse time that engages readers immediately. In the phenomenological sense, these strategies enable us to lose ourselves in Morrison’s novels and, instead of perceiving them as mere textual constructions, indulge in the illusion of “re-achieving a direct and primitive contact with the world” (Merleau-Ponty, Maurice (1996 ). Phenomenology of Perception . Trans. Colin Smith. London and New York, NY: Routledge, vii).