The prospective reader might at first be dissuaded from reading The Source of Self-Regard when she notices that none of the essays are sourced at their start. Even more so, when one looks at the index containing the year and medium where they were originally published it looks like a mere hodgepodge. Has Knopf simply collected scattered ephemera for the sake of profiting off the name of Tony Morrison?
Thankfully, nothing could be farther from the truth. I believe the lack of explicit sourcing is intentional. It emphasizes that Morrison is not primarily addressing, say, a Faulkner convention in 1986 but speaking directly to the contemporary reader.
And the book has a lot to say to the questions of today. It is divided into three parts. The first of these deals with the importance of the humanities, the second on the black experience and the third on the art of writing.
What becomes clear is that the essays have been chosen in any but a haphazard manner. For example, there is an extended discussion of a Gertrude Stein novel that sandwiches a section about a supposedly dissolute black woman between two sympathetic portraits of white women. Is it pure coincidence that Morrison has placed her meditations on being black in America squarely in the middle of these essays? Could there be any stronger rebuke of literary stereotypes?
Beyond the literary aplomb, the message Morrison has to tell is consistent, relevant and powerful. She believes that the English language, as spoken in the twenty-first century, is inherently racist in its depiction of black America. Her project is to help reclaim the meaning of being black through the power of creatively imagining the unexplored depths of the African-American history.
Some might demure about whether implicit racism truly permeates American culture in
mediums like the press, politics and literature. Morrison is, however, arguably the most articulate spokeswoman for this perspective. Her project of reclaiming the narrative by imaginatively and creatively depicting the reality around slavery, discrimination and black stereotypes is without doubt a noble and important one.
I only wish I could convey the depth and breadth of these essays but there’s really no substitute for reading them for oneself. If one is interested in understanding the black experience, and Morrison argues that one cannot understand what it is to be white or even American without it, then I highly recommend these collected essays.
Not merely a scattering of different thoughts but a cohesive commentary on the vocation of writing, the power of language to shape inchoate reality and what it has meant and now means to be black in America. Intellectually profound as well as delightful in the artistry which stitches these essays together. Easily a five star rating.
- Hardcover: 354 pages
- Publisher: KNOPF US (12 February 2019)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0525521038
- ISBN-13: 978-0525521037
- Product Dimensions: 16.8 x 3.6 x 24.3 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 735 g
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 21,693 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)