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Toni Morrison

Birthdate: 18. February 1931
Date of death: 5. August 2019

Toni Morrison is an American novelist, essayist, editor, teacher, and professor emerita at Princeton University.

Morrison won the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award in 1988 for Beloved. The novel was adapted into a film of the same name in 1998. Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993. In 1996, the National Endowment for the Humanities selected her for the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government's highest honor for achievement in the humanities. She was honored with the 1996 National Book Foundation's Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Morrison wrote the libretto for a new opera, Margaret Garner, first performed in 2005. On May 29, 2012, President Barack Obama presented Morrison with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2016 she received the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction.

Works

Beloved
Beloved
Toni Morrison
The Bluest Eye
The Bluest Eye
Toni Morrison
Sula
Sula
Toni Morrison
Jazz
Jazz
Toni Morrison
Paradise
Paradise
Toni Morrison
Song of Solomon
Song of Solomon
Toni Morrison
God Help the Child
God Help the Child
Toni Morrison
A Mercy
A Mercy
Toni Morrison
Tar Baby
Tar Baby
Toni Morrison
Love
Love
Toni Morrison
Home
Home
Toni Morrison

Quotes Toni Morrison

„Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.“

—  Toni Morrison, book Beloved

Source: Beloved (1987)
Context: Bit by bit, at 124 and in the Clearing, along with others, she had claimed herself. Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another. <!-- ~ Ch. 9

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„Anger… it's a paralyzing emotion… you can't get anything done. People sort of think it's an interesting, passionate, and igniting feeling — I don't think it's any of that — it's helpless… it's absence of control — and I need all of my skills, all of the control, all of my powers — and I need clarity, in order to write — and anger doesn't provide any of that — I have no use for it whatsoever.“

—  Toni Morrison

Interview with Don Swaim (1987) http://wiredforbooks.org/tonimorrison/
Context: Anger... it's a paralyzing emotion... you can't get anything done. People sort of think it's an interesting, passionate, and igniting feeling — I don't think it's any of that — it's helpless... it's absence of control — and I need all of my skills, all of the control, all of my powers — and I need clarity, in order to write — and anger doesn't provide any of that — I have no use for it whatsoever. I can feel melancholy, and I can feel full of regret, but anger is something that is useful to the people who watch it... it's not useful to me.

„Tongue-suicide is not only the choice of children. It is common among the infantile heads of state and power merchants whose evacuated language leaves them with no access to what is left of their human instincts for they speak only to those who obey, or in order to force obedience.“

—  Toni Morrison

Nobel Prize Lecture (1993)
Context: Tongue-suicide is not only the choice of children. It is common among the infantile heads of state and power merchants whose evacuated language leaves them with no access to what is left of their human instincts for they speak only to those who obey, or in order to force obedience. The systematic looting of language can be recognized by the tendency of its users to forgo its nuanced, complex, mid-wifery properties for menace and subjugation. Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge. Whether it is obscuring state language or the faux-language of mindless media; whether it is the proud but calcified language of the academy or the commodity driven language of science; whether it is the malign language of law-without-ethics, or language designed for the estrangement of minorities, hiding its racist plunder in its literary cheek — it must be rejected, altered and exposed. It is the language that drinks blood, laps vulnerabilities, tucks its fascist boots under crinolines of respectability and patriotism as it moves relentlessly toward the bottom line and the bottomed-out mind. Sexist language, racist language, theistic language — all are typical of the policing languages of mastery, and cannot, do not permit new knowledge or encourage the mutual exchange of ideas.

„Finally she speaks and her voice is soft but stern. "I don't know", she says. "I don't know whether the bird you are holding is dead or alive, but what I do know is that it is in your hands. It is in your hands."“

—  Toni Morrison

Nobel Prize Lecture (1993)
Context: "Once upon a time there was an old woman. Blind but wise." Or was it an old man? A guru, perhaps. Or a griot soothing restless children. I have heard this story, or one exactly like it, in the lore of several cultures.
"Once upon a time there was an old woman. Blind. Wise."
In the version I know the woman is the daughter of slaves, black, American, and lives alone in a small house outside of town. Her reputation for wisdom is without peer and without question. Among her people she is both the law and its transgression. The honor she is paid and the awe in which she is held reach beyond her neighborhood to places far away; to the city where the intelligence of rural prophets is the source of much amusement.
One day the woman is visited by some young people who seem to be bent on disproving her clairvoyance and showing her up for the fraud they believe she is. Their plan is simple: they enter her house and ask the one question the answer to which rides solely on her difference from them, a difference they regard as a profound disability: her blindness. They stand before her, and one of them says, "Old woman, I hold in my hand a bird. Tell me whether it is living or dead."
She does not answer, and the question is repeated. "Is the bird I am holding living or dead?"
Still she doesn't answer. She is blind and cannot see her visitors, let alone what is in their hands. She does not know their color, gender or homeland. She only knows their motive.
The old woman's silence is so long, the young people have trouble holding their laughter.
Finally she speaks and her voice is soft but stern. "I don't know", she says. "I don't know whether the bird you are holding is dead or alive, but what I do know is that it is in your hands. It is in your hands."

„Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge.“

—  Toni Morrison

Nobel Prize Lecture (1993)
Context: Tongue-suicide is not only the choice of children. It is common among the infantile heads of state and power merchants whose evacuated language leaves them with no access to what is left of their human instincts for they speak only to those who obey, or in order to force obedience. The systematic looting of language can be recognized by the tendency of its users to forgo its nuanced, complex, mid-wifery properties for menace and subjugation. Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge. Whether it is obscuring state language or the faux-language of mindless media; whether it is the proud but calcified language of the academy or the commodity driven language of science; whether it is the malign language of law-without-ethics, or language designed for the estrangement of minorities, hiding its racist plunder in its literary cheek — it must be rejected, altered and exposed. It is the language that drinks blood, laps vulnerabilities, tucks its fascist boots under crinolines of respectability and patriotism as it moves relentlessly toward the bottom line and the bottomed-out mind. Sexist language, racist language, theistic language — all are typical of the policing languages of mastery, and cannot, do not permit new knowledge or encourage the mutual exchange of ideas.

„There is just a little music, each other and the urgency of what is at stake. Which is all they had. For that work, the work of language is to get out of the way.“

—  Toni Morrison

"Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature" in Michigan Quarterly Review 28, no. 1 (Winter 1989)
Context: Beginning Beloved with numerals rather than spelled out numbers, it was my intention to give the house an identity separate from the street or even the city... Numbers here constitute an address, a thrilling enough prospect for slaves who had owned nothing, least of all an address. And although the numbers, unlike words, can have no modifiers, I give these an adjective — spiteful… A few words have to be read before it is clear that 124 refers to a house … and a few more have to be read to discover why it is spiteful, or rather the source of the spite. By then it is clear, if not at once, that something is beyond control, but is not beyond understanding since it is not beyond accommodation by both the "women" and the "children." The fully realized presence of the haunting is both a major incumbent of the narrative and sleight of hand. One of its purposes is to keep the reader preoccupied with the nature of the incredible spirit world while being supplied a controlled diet of the incredible political world. … Here I wanted the compelling confusion of being there as they (the characters) are; suddenly, without comfort or succor from the "author," with only imagination, intelligence, and necessity available for the journey. …. No compound of houses, no neighborhood, no sculpture, no paint, no time, especially no time because memory, pre-historic memory, has no time. There is just a little music, each other and the urgency of what is at stake. Which is all they had. For that work, the work of language is to get out of the way.

„Beloved, you are my sister, you are my daughter, you are my face; you are me.“

—  Toni Morrison, book Beloved

Beloved (1987)
Context: Beloved, you are my sister, you are my daughter, you are my face; you are me. <!-- ~ Ch. 22

„The idea of a wanton woman is something I have inserted into almost all of my books. An outlaw figure who is disallowed in the community because of her imagination or activity or status — that kind of anarchic figure has always fascinated me.“

—  Toni Morrison

O, The Oprah Magazine (November 2003) http://www.oprah.com/omagazine/200311/omag_200311_toni_b.jhtml
Context: The idea of a wanton woman is something I have inserted into almost all of my books. An outlaw figure who is disallowed in the community because of her imagination or activity or status — that kind of anarchic figure has always fascinated me. And the benefits they bring with them, in spite of the fact that they are either dismissed or upbraided — something about their presence is constructive in the long run.

„Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Etiam egestas wisi a erat. Morbi imperdiet, mauris ac auctor dictum.“

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