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Faculty Sponsor

Joe Lesson-Schatz

Abstract

The publications of Hortense Spillers’ Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book and Toni Morrison’s Beloved marks 1987 as an important year in the history of black textual production. Without planning, Morrison teaches us how to read Spillers and Spillers to read Morrison, despite differences in form. Spillers articulates a “praxis of ungendered flesh,” to theorize the relegation of the slave’s body to commodity that sutures slavery to blackness (Spillers 1987). Morrison takes up this same task through the experiences of life, time, and memory for Sethe, an escaped slave who kills her daughter when at risk of being returned to slavery. Through powerful literary fiction, Morrison transforms Spillers’ sophisticated parlance into hauntingly beautiful prose, demonstrating a common strand of thinking about slavery and its afterlife. Through an analysis of critical themes in Beloved, this paper seeks to articulate a reading of ‘Beloved in the flesh,’ engaging with an ongoing academic conversation about black subjectivity and the replication of slavery as such; taking to heart the implications of the distinct literary forms to demonstrate and enact through writing the impossibility of limiting the discourse of blackness (and anti-blackness as the structural phenomenon that’s positioned by and positions blackness) to one discipline or mode of thought.

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