Eroticizing the Other in William Faulkner and Toni Morrison
- Author(s): Schreiber, Evelyn Jaffe
- Imprint: Univ Tennessee Press
- Publication Date: 2002-02-15
- Status: Active
- Available in Hardcover - Cloth: Price $25.00 | Buy Now
In Subversive Voices, Evelyn Jaffe Schreiber investigates the intersection of identity and culture as manifested in the novels of William Faulkner and Toni Morrison. Drawing on the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan as well as on various cultural studies theories, Schreiber offers provocative new insights into these two writers and what their work reveals about the possibilities of social change.
Schreiber considers how blacks and women, through their “subversive voices” and articulation of difference, produce change despite the psychic and cultural structures that would determine identity. The author begins her examination of these marginalized voices by analyzing the patriarchal structure depicted in Faulkner’s Go Down, Moses. She goes on to trace the subversive voices of women in the Snopes trilogy before considering the emergent voices of blacks in Faulkner’s work generally, as well as specifically in Intruder in the Dust. In the second half of the book, Schreiber analyzes the articulation of difference that Morrison presents through the black and female characters of The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, Beloved, and Paradise.
In Faulkner’s work, Schreiber argues, nostalgia provides a screen that preserves the power of patriarchal structures and serves to “eroticize the other” for the dominant culture by using marginalized others to fulfill the desire for an imagined wholeness. Yet, in spite of this screen, agency—or empowerment—does emerge for these marginalized voices in Faulkner. In Morrison’s novels, the absence of a nostalgic screen highlights these subversive voices: the dominant culture’s eroticized, imagined other becomes a threatening entity and gains agency.
Schreiber suggests that meaningful action and change can occur through encounters with what Lacan calls the “real,” an awareness of the nothingness at the core of identity. Recognition of this “nothingness” allows the reality of the other to manifest itself and have agency in the social world. The works of both Faulkner and Morrison reveal—whether obliquely or directly—how subversive voices emerge to expose this lack. Such exposure then creates a form of self-awareness that can lead to cultural transformation.
The Author: Evelyn Jaffe Schreiber is an assistant professor of English at George Washington University. Her articles have appeared in the Faulkner Journal, Style, Mississippi Quarterly, and other publications.