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The Story Must Go On and On: The Fantastic, Narration, and Intertextuality in Toni Morrison's Beloved and Jazz.

A fixed law, an established rule: that is what immobilizes narrative. (Todorov 165)

Rereading [is] an operation contrary to the commercial and ideological habits of our society, which would have us "throw away" the story once it has been consumed ("devoured") .[ldots] [Rereading] is tolerated only in certain marginal categories of readers (children, old people, and professors) .[ldots] (Barthes 15-16)

Narratives, it seems, move toward closure. This is an impulse of both the narrative itself (which must finally come to an end at a certain page number) and of the reader (who must eventually close the book, put it down, and begin something else). Even texts that attempt to keep meaning in motion, to present multiple possible endings for their plots, are subject to this totalizing pressure. In a society which considers rereading to be a kind of marginal activity (as Barthes implies), when confronted with a perplexing ending most readers will simply pick one scenario and consider the case closed. For example, Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon (1977) ends with an extremely ambiguous moment in which the protagonist, Milkman Dead, leaps into the arms of his friend Guitar, who has been pursuing him in order to kill him. Although Morrison crafts this moment so that it is subject to multiple interpretations, many readers feel obligated to take a stand as to how the plot of the novel ends. But Morrison's point in creat ing this ending, and in much of her fiction, is to keep meaning in motion, to keep the story going on and on in the reader's mind and heart. The reader might turn back to the first page of the novel to begin rereading it for clues about what the ending means--but only if the reader has been able to resist the totalizing impulse, the desire to close the book, resolve the story, find an ending that sutures over uncertainties in favor of a unified and unambiguous conclusion.

The search to find narrative methods that resist the totalizing impulse of narrative and of readers themselves is a central aspect of Morrison's fictional technique, and is certainly connected to her investment in an oral, African American tradition of storytelling, of the Griot. Beloved (1987) marks the height of Morrison's achievement, for it is a narrative that resists closure in numerous ways. I have found that for this reason teaching Beloved is always a new experience--no class reacts to it the same way, as it generates multiple ambiguities that cannot easily be sutured over. Yet in teaching this book, I am always surprised by how ready students are to resolve the issue of Beloved's status in this novel, to decide unambiguously that she is a ghost--in fact, the ghost of the child Sethe killed eighteen years earlier. In my mind, however, the text balances between realistic explanations of Beloved's presence (she is an escaped slave woman who has been sexually abused by a white man) and supernatural ones (she is Sethe's dead child come back to haunt her), and is therefore an excellent example of what Tzvetan Todorov has called the fantastic. Why do students ignore the text's balance between the realistic and the marvelous? And even more puzzling, why has this tendency to fix on a particular meaning for Beloved been replicated by literary scholars, most of whom view Beloved as a ghost? [1]

This essay uses structuralist, post-structuralist, and reader-response theories of textuality to argue that the narration in Beloved creates a too close identification between the main characters' points of view and the point of view of the reader; the ultimate result is that many readers finish the text believing, like Sethe and Denver, that Beloved was the ghost of the dead child. From this point of view, the text's meaning is closed, totalized, finalized; and although the narrative voice reasserts itself to raise troubling questions about what Beloved really was, these questions are often ignored. But this essay also argues that Morrison is aware of this tendency, and that she puts the meaning of Beloved back into circulation with her next novel, Jazz (1992). Morrison brings back the character of Beloved as a human being--or seems to--in Jazz, forcing readers to reexamine the previous novel and the previous novel's conclusion. Although this intertexuality between Beloved and Jazz has received little criti cal attention, an examination of it is crucial to an understanding of how Morrison creates narrative designs that avoid irnirnobilization. [2] The interplay between Jazz and Beloved rips open the sutures a reader may have imposed over the ending of Beloved. The structure of narration in Jazz also disallows a too close identification among narrator, character, and reader, forcing the reader to read intertextually and metatextually, even as the overt narrative voice of Jazz criticizes such procedures as faulty and inconclusive. In the end, what Morrison creates through the intertextuality between Jazz and Beloved is a story that resists closure through its very awareness of a reader's need for closure, and its simultaneous insistence that closure itself is a delusion, an impulse that must at all times and in all ways be deconstructed and undermined. For to close a story is, finally, to forget it. To keep stories alive and in memory, they must be told and retold--the story must go on and on to survive.

Beloved as a Fantastic Novel

Todorov defines the fantastic as a literary genre that makes uncertainty on the part of its readers the very core of its rhetorical and thematic strategies. More specifically, the reader must hesitate between two narrative explanations for unusual events: Either they can be explained by realistic reasons (for example, a character believes s/he saw a ghost, but it turned out to be a chair covered by a white sheet), or they can be explained by marvelous ones (for example, a character believes s/he saw a ghost, and it actually does turn out to be a ghost). When a reader hesitates between marvelous and realistic causes for unusual events, s/he is in the realm of the fantastic (25). Of course, it is difficult for a text to maintain this hesitation throughout its narration, butt Todorov does say that some texts are able to accomplish this, forcing a reread to reread the text in a metatextual way (90).

For my purposes, it is also crucial to consider what Todorov has to say about the way the fantastic as a genre first swallows up, and then ejects, the reader's point of view. Since the fantastic is based essentially on a hesitation of the reader--a reader who identifies with the chief character-there is often a confluence between the main character's and the reader's points of view: "The reader's role is so to speak entrusted to a character" (33). However, although the fantastic begins in an integration of the reader's and the character's perspectives, it does not necessarily end that way. The character cannot, after all, normally exit the world of the text, but the reader can, and once s/he does, the reader may begin searching for the way the effect of the fantastic was produced. Thus, according to Todorov, in a second reading the identification between character and reader "is no longer possible," and so this second reading "inevitably becomes a meta-reading" (90). At the end of a fantastic text the conflu ence between reader's and character's points of view self-destructs, forcing the reader to read metatextually, searching for the mechanisms whereby this identification was created and the ambiguous world of the fantastic was maintained. Although Todorov calls his work on the fantastic "structural," I am suggesting it has numerous features congruent with a post-structuralist and post-modem theory of textuality, in which a text is never closed, but can be read over and over again.

Although Beloved also exhibits a number of other features congruent with Todorov's definition of the fantastic, I do not mean to argue that Morrison conceptualized her novel with Todorov's ideas in mind. [3] Rather, I am suggesting that Todorov's approach helps us to comprehend how certain formal and textual features of narration are interwoven with an oral African American aesthetic agenda to create a work that is, in both its lexical and aural features, infinite, plural, and open. [4] In "Unspeakable Things Unspoken," Morrison states that African American literature should not be judged "solely in terms of its referents to Eurocentric criteria" (22). But Morrison also argues that "finding or imposing Western influences in/on Afro-American literature has value" when a work is not appreciated only because it meets such criteria (23). Employing Todorov's approach to understand Beloved is not to cripple the novel or infantalize it, but rather more fully to appreciate the multiple ways it undermines the totaliz ing impulses of narrative and of readers.

Beyond helping understand textual instability, Todorov's theory is also useful in assessing the reason that the text's unstable elements sometimes become unified by the novel's end. [5] According to Todorov's definition, Beloved is an almost perfect fantastic narrative. However, some of its rhetorical strategies cause it to seem more marvelous than fantastic. More specifically, its narration so closely entangles the characters' points of view with the point of view of the reader that, by the end of the text, it is difficult to separate the two, and many readers are likely to agree with Sethe and Denver that Beloved is the returned ghost of Sethe's deceased, crawling-already? baby. Of course, the text does present several alternative and more realistic explanations for Beloved's presence that often get overlooked. [6] For example, embedded into the text is the possibility that Beloved is an actual survivor of the Middle Passage and/or a woman held hostage in a cabin by a white man who used her for sexual purp oses. Consider, for instance, the textual moment when Denver asks Beloved about the world "over there," and Beloved responds:" 'I'm small in that place. I'm like this here.' She raised her lead off the bed, lay down on her side and curled up[ldots] 'Hot. Nothing to breathe down there and no room to move in[ldots] A lot of people is down here. Some is dead'" (75). This passage, which seems to start as a description of the afterlife (" 'I'm small in that dace'") quickly metamorphosizes into something else ("'No room to move in[ldots] Some is dead'"). Finally, we are left unsure whether Beloved is describing death, the Middle Passage, or both--the interpretations collapse into each other.

The importation of slaves to the United States was banned in 1807, yet historical research suggests that violations were prevalent well into the 1850s and 1860s (House 25). Therefore, one possible "realistic" explanation for Beloved's presence in the novel (although, of course, this explanation also functions on the supernatural level) is that she is an actual survivor of the Middle Passage, and Morrison includes details that support such a reading. For example, Beloved's voice is described as having a cadence not like" Denver's and Sethe's (60), possibility indicating an African accent. Her forehead is marked with fine lines that Sethe interprets as "fingernail prints" (202) from when she held the child, but that could also be African tribal marks of identification (or scarification). Furthermore, in her inner monologue (210-13), Beloved describes a number of details congruent with the Middle Passage: crouching in the hold of a ship next to dying bodies (210), bodies thrown overboard (211), starvation and d ehydration (210), sexual abuse (212), and finally the loss of a woman who looks like her own mother (211). If we read Beloved as an actual survivor of the Middle Passage who mistakes Sethe for her long lost mother, then statements like "I don't have nobody" (65) and her accusation that Sethe "never waved goodbye or even looked her way before running away from her" (242) have a certain logic, a certain realism. Throughout the novel, what seems to be commentary on the afterlife could just as plausibly be the vivid recollections of an experience of extreme horror branded onto the consciousness of a real survivor. [7]

A first "realistic" explanation for Beloved's presence, then, is her status as an actual survivor of the Middle Passage. A second (and congruent) explanation is her status as a sexually abused woman kept prisoner all her life by a white man. This possibility is first suggested by Morrison when Beloved dances "a little two-step, two-step, make-a-new step, slide, slide and strut on down" (74). If Beloved is the ghost of Sethe's dead child, when and where did she learn this complicated step? And what are we to make of her statement that "she knew one whiteman"? Sethe interprets this to mean that Beloved "had been locked up by some whiteman for his own purposes, and never let out the door" (119). Did this white man teach Beloved to dance the two-step and call her, as she says to Sethe, "'beloved in the dark and bitch in the light'"? Is this white man the one who is described as laying "on top of her" and sticking his "fingers in her" (241)? When Beloved describes herself as being afraid of waking up and finding herself "in pieces" (133), is this the nightmare of a ghost or of a girl--a child--who has undergone repeated and brutal sexual violation? Beloved seems to describe sexual abuse when she tells Sethe that "one of them [a white man] was in the house I was in. He hurt me'" (215). In these passages the supernatural explanation for Beloved's presence must survive extreme pressure from the realm of the realistic, for the only white man the infant Beloved ever saw was Schoolteacher, who did not touch her or hurt her "where she sleeps." It is also crucial that this pressure toward a realistic explanation for Beloved's presence continues to exert itself throughout the text; even as late as the final section of the novel Stamp Paid adds fuel to this possibility by informing Paul D. that there "was a girl locked up in the house with a whiteman over by Deer Creek. Found him dead last summer and the girl gone. Maybe that's her. Folks say he had her in there since she was a pup" (235). If Beloved is this girl, a number of troubling textual details are explained: her repeated descriptions of what seems to be sexual abuse, her unlined feet, her fear of men like Paul D., her child-like vocabulary, and her emotions of abandonment, bodily fragmentation, and mental instability.

Yet even as the text produces evidence that supports a realistic explanation of Beloved's presence, it also continually draws us back into the realm of the marvelous. Beloved appears to possess information that only Sethe's deceased child could know. For example, she speaks of Sethe's lost earrings, and she sings a song Sethe claims she made up and taught to her own children. These details can be explained away: Perhaps Sethe only thinks she made up the song, but it was actually common among African or African American women, and perhaps Beloved's own mother really did have a pair of diamond earrings. But as the text progresses, the weight of these "coincidences" seems to become greater and greater. Beloved has a scar beneath her chin identical to the one Sethe marked her child with; Beloved has the same name as Sethe's child; Beloved seems to have supernatural powers (to disappear, to move Paul D. from room to room, to choke Sethe from afar, etc.). As readers, we could find realistic explanations for these events (coincidence, hallucination, lust, self-mutilation, etc.), but as the text continues we do not.

Morrison's own comments appear to support the idea that there are realistic and supernatural ways of reading this character. In an interview with Marsha Darling, Morrison comments that Beloved should be read as both Sethe's dead child and a survivor/ghost of the Middle Passage (247). In a later interview with Angels Carabi, Morrison posits that Beloved could either be "a ghost who has been exorcised or she's a real person pregnant by Paul D." The point is, as Morrison says, that "when you see Beloved toward the end, you don't know" (43; emphasis added). So why does this narrative so often get read as marvelous when the possibility of reading it as fantastic--as balancing between the realistic and the marvelous--exists? As I have already suggested, it may be precisely the narrative structure of the text that causes readers to overlook these ambiguities. While a number of different voices narrate the text, Sethe's and Denver's points of view most often predominate. The reader's role is, as Todorov would say, e ntrusted to the character. Hearing the notes of Beloved's song, Sethe also hears "the click--the settling of pieces into places designed and made especially for them" (175), and the narrative voice comments that "things were where they ought to be or poised and ready to glide in" (176). "The click" represents the point at which the reader's and the character's points of view coalesce, and although Morrison provides evidence that should disrupt this alliance, the evidence often is ignored.

It is true, as Maggie Sale argues, that the text as a whole values "the articulation of multiple perspectives" (43) and, as Linda KrumhoLz comments, that Beloved is supposed to act as a trickster figure "who defies narrative closure or categorization" (397). Yet here we may need to make a distinction between what Peter Rabinowitz has called the actual audience and the authorial audience (126). While the authorial audience (the ideal reader) can still see the story through multiple points of view, the actual audience (real readers) may reduce the articulation of multiple perspectives to one (Sethe's or Denver's), thereby limiting the text's flexibility and openness. Furthermore, because both of the book's central characters seem hesitant to raise questions about Beloved's status after she has disappeared, the actual audience also may not raise them. Sethe remains convinced that Beloved was her dead child, her "'best thing'" (272), and when Paul D. asks Denver if she believes Beloved was her sister, Denver res ponds, "'At times. At times I think she was--more'" (266). Beloved is the ghost, and more, but she is not less--the woman from the cabin or an actual survivor of the Middle Passage.

About jazz music, Morrison comments, "You have to make something out of a mistake, and if you do it well enough it will take you to another place where you never would have gone had you not made that error" ("Art" 116). In Beloved, Denver's and Sethe's points of view are so compelling that readers are pulled into them, willy-nilly, wanting, needing to believe what they do. Is this a kind of creative "mistake" that Morrison attempts to revise in her next "performance," that allows her to go to another place in her next narrative? But what basis do I have for calling this an "error"? In a narrative in which it is taken for granted that all the houses are packed to the rafters with some sort of ghost, should it surprise us that many readers finally become convinced that Beloved is a ghost? And what leads me to believe that seeing Beloved as a ghost in any way shuts down the storytelling and retelling possibilities of the narrative as a whole?

"A fixed law, an established rule: that is what immobilizes narrative" (Todorov 165). Closure is death. Or, as Morrison states in an interview with Christina Davis, "You don't end a story in the oral tradition--you can have the little message at the end, your little moral, but the ambiguity is deliberate because it doesn't end, it's an ongoing thing and the reader or the listener is in it and you have to THINK" (419). If students and scholars decide finally and irrevocably that Beloved is a ghost, they see only one choice the ending offers, only part of Morrison's complex project. Perhaps the confluence between characters' and readers' points of view is a "flaw" in the narrative structure that Morrison seeks creatively to revise in her next novel, Jazz.

Traces and Stitches: Beloved's Absent Presence in Jazz

Morrison seems to be aware of the tendency among readers to close down the possibilities of meaning in Beloved, and so in her next novel, she reintroduces the character of Beloved. But this time, Beloved's presence seems to be explained by completely natural rationales. At the end of Beloved, although one boy describes seeing "cutting through the woods, a naked woman with fish for hair" (267), the character of Beloved is finally said to disappear without a trace: "By and by all trace is gone" (275; my emphasis). When Beloved departs 124 Bluestone Road it is 1873 or 1874, and she appears to be pregnant. In Jazz, a woman named Wild gives birth in 1873 to a child named Joseph. When Joseph makes inquiries about his own parents he is told: "'O honey, they disappeared without a trace'" (124; my emphasis). Joe believes the "trace" they disappeared without is him; in other words, he believes his last name is "Trace," and he becomes Joe Trace. Joe's name is the trace of Beloved in Jazz, the remainder of a presence tha t could not be contained.

Other textual details incorporated into Jazz also suggest that Beloved and Joe Trace's mother (called simply "Wild") may be the same character. When Wild is first seen by the character Golden Gray, he describes her as "'a naked berry-black woman. She is covered with mud and leaves are in her hair. Her eyes are large and terrible'" (144). The pregnancy, the color of her skin ("coal black" [171]), her nakedness, and her haunting eyes all connect Wild with Beloved, as do her extreme fear of individuals and her minimalistic language skills. After giving birth to a son, Wild escapes to the woods, where she lives in a cave and is seen only occasionally, but always characterized by her "babygirl laugh" (166, 167) and the four redwing birds, "those blue-black birds with the bolt of red on their wings" (176; see also 178) that mark, or we might say trace, her presence. These symbols clearly connect Wild and Beloved: the child-woman laugh; the blackness of the birds interrupted by a streak of redness, of bloodiness, l ike the red slash of Sethe's saw over the black skin of her crawling-already? babygirl child. [8]

These traces of Beloved in the character of Wild may seem coincidental, and not weighty enough to convince us that Beloved and Wild are the same character. But Morrison's point is not to convince us of this "fact"; rather, her point is to play a sophisticated literary game of "what if?": "What if Beloved was not a ghost, but an actual pregnant woman?" and "What if she appears in my next novel as a physical being, gives birth to a child, and then disappears?" and "What if this child and other characters then spend the rest of the novel seeking, but never finding this woman, this wild/beloved fleshly-yet-ghostly character?" How does such a series of questions destabilize our prior reading of the novel Beloved? How does it destabilize our reading of Jazz? How does it force us to read intertextually and metatextually, and to reread and recreate the two textual worlds?

That Morrison wants us to play this "what if" game is clear from her linguistic wordplay (i.e., Joe Trace, the babygirl laugh, etc.) and from her own comments about the two novels. In a 1985 conversation with Gloria Naylor, Morrison describes how she creates Beloved in the first novel and then "extend[sl her life, you know, her search, her quest, all the way through as long as a I care to go, into the twenties where it switches to this other girl. Therefore [in Jazz] I have a New York uptown-Harlem milieu in which to put this love story, but Beloved will be there also" (585). Beloved is present in Jazz not simply as a metaphor, but as an actual physical presence that Morrison has been rescuing, bit by bit, "from the grave of time and inattention" (593). In a recent interview, Morrison stresses the intertextual connection between Beloved and Wild even more emphatically: "The woman they call Wild [ldots] could be Sethe's daughter, Beloved [ldots] who runs away, ending up in Virginia, which is right next to Ohi o" (Carabi 43). In Jazz, Beloved becomes a physical presence (rather than only a ghost), but she also becomes an intertexual prompt to the attentive reader to trace and retrace her footsteps, her remainder--to read and reread.

Stitches and seams, traces and tracks--these are the "signs" of Beloved's presence in Jazz that should create rereading. The trace itself is not so much a mark of presence, but a mark of an "irreducible absence" (Derrida 47), what Rodolphe Gasche explains as the sign "which always stands for an absent presence" (46). In a Derridean reading of Jazz, Philip Page argues that textual traces of Wild mean she exists "not in presence, but [ldots] in the interaction of absence and presence" (57). [9] I would suggest that the trace also functions as a metaphor for the way Morrison knits together these two novels. In Jazz, the character Alice Manfred (Dorcas's aunt) sews "stitches [which] were invisible to the eye" (111). These stitches knit together the fabric, but are unseen. Like Alice, Morrison intermeshes Jazz with Beloved through traces that cannot fully be seen, that are an absent presence, but that are nonetheless binding despite their existence below the surface of the narrative fabric.

One of these traces has to do with the corporeality of Wild, about which the text is insistent. Wild is a woman who may be "crazy" but still "got reasons" for her behavior (175), a woman who could have learned to talk, to dress, and to nurse her child, but does not (167). Hunters Hunter (or Henry Lestory or Les Troy) has spoken to her at least twice, and it saddens him to know that "instead of resting she was hungry still" (167). Wild leaves a "trail" that might be followed (175), "traces" like "ruined honeycombs, [or] the bits and leaving of stolen victuals" (176). Although these traces are illusive, Morrison's text insists that they are not the signs of a supernatural presence, of "a witch" (179), but of a woman who is "still out there--and real" (167). Wild also gives birth to a boy--Joe Trace--and in this sense the narrative insists on a very real, physical presence for her.

So Wild is real, and physical. Yet the narrative also insists that Wild is, in some sense, Beloved. Like Beloved, Wild drives men to distraction, causing them to go "soft in the head" or leave "their beds in the shank of the night" (167). Like Beloved, Wild appears to possess an uncontainable hunger, a desire that is lavished on sweet things. In Beloved Sethe and Denver learn that Beloved's hunger can be satiated by sweet things," "honey as well as the wax it came in, sugar sandwiches.[ldot] She gnawed a cane stick to flax and kept the strings in her mouth long after the syrup had been sucked away" (55). These traces are re-manifested in Wild, who also appears to love sweet things, judging by the trail of ruined honeycombs she leaves behind, and by the fact that she is associated with the canefield where she is believed to reside (175), where she "creeps about and hides and touches and laughs a low sweet babygirl laugh" (37).

These "signs" function as injunctions to the attentive reader to try to trace and retrace Beloved's presence in Wild, and Wild's presence in Beloved. Like Joe, however, the attentive reader follows these traces but never finds definitive answers. Three times Joe attempts to penetrate the secret of Wild, to receive an acknowledgment that she is his mother. What he finds on his third visit does not so much confirm this story as tell a new story--the story of Golden Gray and Wild. When Joe finally discovers Wild's underground cave of light, he smells "no odor of dung or fur" but instead "a domestic smell--oil, ashes" (183). This seems to indicate that Wild is no longer wild but has, to some extent, become "civilized," as do the other signs of her absent presence: "A green dress. A rocking chair without an arm. A circle of stones for cooking. Jars, baskets, pots; a doll, a spindle, earrings, a photograph, a stack of sticks, a set of silver brushes and a silver cigar case" (184). Perhaps these items--some of whic h (the silver brushes and case) clearly belong to Golden Gray--are stolen. Yet they also seem to mark a connection to the prior text (the earrings, for example) as well as the possible signs of a domestic union between Wild, the "coal black" woman, and Golden Gray, the light-skinned "white man" who turns out to be the son of a very "black" man, Hunters Hunter. For in addition to the spindle (used perhaps to generate thread), Joe sees "a pair of man's trousers with buttons of bone. Carefully folded, a silk shirt, faded pale and creamy--except at the seams. There, both thread and fabric were a fresh and sunny yellow" (184). These clothes clearly belong to Golden Gray (see 158), but what do we make of the fact that they have been repaired at the seams with thread that is "a fresh and sunny yellow"? Who sews these seams, these stitches?

Morrison may be encouraging us, here, to write what Umberto Eco calls a "ghost chapter" (214) about the possible union of Wild/Beloved and Golden Gray. Clues to this ghost chapter are scattered throughout the text, like Wild's leavings of half-eaten victuals. We are told, for example, that, although Wild fears Henry Lestory and will not nurse her own son, she does develop a kind of liking for Golden Gray; individuals remember "when she came, what she looked like, why she stayed and that queer boy [Golden Gray] she set so much store by" (168). Golden Gray himself feels emotions of both attraction and repulsion for Wild; he fears she will "explode in his arms, or worse, that he will, in hers" (153). The narrative suggests, however, that Golden Gray overcomes his repulsion to accept--and perhaps love--Wild:

Golden Gray is eventually "ready for those deer eyes to open" (162). Finally, it is Wild who changes his mind about blowing his father's head off with a shotgun, who steers him "away from death" (173). Does Wild help Golden Gray accept the blackness of his father, the blackness that he finds in himself? Do Wild and Golden Gray live together in her cave of light? Does Wild stitch the seams of Golden Gray's shirt, stitching the story of her textual presence to a reconfigured reality where she and Golden Gray can be united? The narrative never confirms this hypothesis, but the sutures are certainly suggestive.

Stitches may link individuals within this particular textual universe, then, but they may also link characters who appear to be from different textual universes. In Beloved, Baby Suggs sleeps under a drab quilt made up of "scraps of blue serge, black, brown and gray wool" (38), yet by the end of the novel it has become "a quilt of merry colors" (271). The dull-colored quilt gets restitched when Sethe buys bright cloth (including "yellow ribbon") to make dresses for Beloved and herself; the two women are described as "tacking [the extra] scraps of cloth on Baby Suggs's quilt" (241). So in both Beloved and Jazz, it appears that the character Wild/Beloved exists, and that she sews. In Beloved and Jazz, sewing may therefore function as a metaphor for processes not only that connect individuals (Beloved and Sethe, Wild and Golden Gray) but for the textual and narrative processes that connect text and intertext. Nearly imperceptible stitches in the narrative universes of Beloved and Jazz create a relationship that sutures these texts together, that attentive readers can trace and retrace.

Read intertextually, these two texts create a perfect fantastic narrative: The first narrative (Beloved) tilts toward the marvelous, while the second (Jazz) tilts toward the realistic. Therefore the presence of Beloved in Jazz creates the balance that is the fantastic, but it also necessitates both intertextual and metatextual readings. Eco argues that certain texts force readers to read intertextually: "To identify these frames the reader had to 'walk,' so to speak, outside the text, in order to gather intertextual support. [ldots] I call these interpretative moves inferential walks" (32). Morrison's textual strategy of bringing Beloved alive in Jazz forces us to "walk" back to the world of Beloved in order to identify the frames which might permit the physical existence of Beloved, the character, and the narrative existence of Beloved, the text, in Jazz. To permit Beloved's/Wild's existence in Jazz, we might have to resuscitate the realistic hypothesis of her presence in Beloved--we may have to infer that our original concept of her as a ghost was only partially true. The two texts also force the reader to read metatextually: to reexamine in a more critical light our practices of reading, or "producing," a text. I myself have searched Beloved for clues to Wild's character, and searched Jazz for clues to Beloved's character. I read back and forth between the two texts, taking my inferential walks, trying to figure out what Beloved really is: a ghost or a real woman. Both and neither, the two texts seem to whisper to me; you will never know, because closure and certainty is death for Beloved, for reading itself.

Narrative Ambiguity in Jazz

The openness of Beloved is therefore enhanced by the way Morrison puts meaning back into play in Jazz through an intertextual relationship with a prior text, and by the ghost chapters she encourages us to write that may suture these texts together. But Jazz also refuses the death of closure through a narrative structure that can be fruitfully contrasted with Beloved's. The narrator of Jazz at times appears to be a disembodied entity who tells us that "I haven't got any muscles, so I can't really be expected to defend myself" (8). Yet at other times s/he seems to be a human individual who knows the disappointment of inattentive lovers, of missed opportunities (9). Furthermore, while this narrator appears to be omniscient, disclosing details no one but an author could know--such as Joe Trace's three trips in search of Wild (121-35)--at other times the voice is subjective, limited, or just plain wrong. The narrator makes erroneous value judgments about characters like Joe, describing his thoughts as "loose" (11 9), and about Golden Gray, "not noticing the hurt that was not linked to the color of his skin" (160). The narrator has pretensions toward omniscience but is wrong, over and over again.

This narrative voice destabilizes a reader's reading of the text; it seems to tell the story as a character within the text, yet also positions itself outside the text, narrating it after the fact. Moreover, as Page argues, this narrator straddles the conventional dichotomy between third-person (external) narration and first-person (internal) narrators, destabilizing traditional conceptions of narration (60). And, most importantly, the narrative voice claims to be truthful and wise--only to turn around and critique itself, admit that it is fallible. The narrator believes Joe and Violet will replay their violent past histories, but this does not occur: "I was sure one would kill the other.[ldots] I was so sure it would happen. That the past was an abused record with no choice but to repeat itself.[ldots] I was so sure, and they danced and walked all over me. Busy, they were, busy being original, complicated, changeable--human, I guess you'd say, while I was the predicable one" (220). The narrator also asserts complete control over the plot of the novel, as an author would: "Well, it's my storm, isn't it? I break lives to prove I can mend them back again" (219). Once again, however, the narrator is wrong: "And when I was feeling most invisible, being tightlipped, silent, and unobservable, they were whispering about me to each other. They knew how little I could be counted on; how poorly, how shabbily my know-it-all self covered helplessness. That when I invented stories about them--and doing it seemed to me so fine--I was completely in their hands" (220). Most interestingly, the narrator admits his/her lack of omniscience: "I have been careless and stupid and it infuriates me to discover (again) how unreliable I am" (160). The narrator is not in control of the story, and although s/he tells it, the points of view of the narrator, the reader, and the characters never coalesce in Jazz, as they do in Beloved.

Critics have speculated endlessly about this oddly omniscient-yet-erroneous, embodied-yet-disembodied narrator, with some arguing that s/he is a character within the text, the author of the text, the voice of the city, or the voice of jazz. Still others have argued that the narrative voice is the voice of the novel. [10] I favor the last of these explanations: that the narrator is not a character within the text, although at times s/he plays that role, but rather the voice of the narrative itself. Morrison comments in an interview that "the Voice" is meant to convey that the book "was talking, writing itself, in a sense" (Carabi 42). Morrison is crafting what Ishmael Reed and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., would call "an oral book, a talking book" (Reed 63), a text "that privileg[es] the representation of the speaking black voice" (Gates 249). This voice can also be read as that of language itself--language which continually aims for objectivity, yet contains a radical instability and subjectivity, which would like to create perfect designs, but finally only creates "errors" that still may take us where we need to go. In discussing Golden Gray, the voice comments, "Now I have to think this through, carefully, even though I may be doomed to another misunderstanding.[ldots] I want to be the language that wishes him well, speaks his name, wakes him when his eyes need to be open" (161). The voice 'struggles to catch Golden Gray in perfect language, yet realizes that such a task is never completely realized. Instead the voice can only find "aching words that set, then miss, the mark" (219). Finally this may be the voice of language speaking itself, but it is not a voice that can be trusted to get at the "truth"--not even a voice that trusts itself to get at the truth. Its words can only set, and then miss, the mark.

Readers are, then, given a large responsibility in the textual world that is Jazz. Language itself is imperfect; furthermore, we are guided by no reliable person (character or narrator) who can perfect it, stabilize its meaning. As Doreatha Mbalia notes, "With this type of narrator, Morrison is teaching us to read differently. You can't depend on the narrator for the truth--or the author for that matter" (635). [11] So when we reread the text we do so knowing that neither the characters' points of view nor the narrator's point of view is completely accurate, or all-encompassing. Rather, the meaning of the text is created through an interaction of points of view, and the story goes on and on as each reading, each reader modifies, shapes, and finally creates it as s/he reads. Morrison's text encourages us to remake the novel through its creation of this unusual narrative design. About the city, Morrison's voice comments that, if you "heed the design--the way it's laid out for you," it will be "mindful of where you want to go and what you might need tomorrow" (9). This statement emblematizes the discursive structure of Jazz: If we are mindful of its narrative design, it can take us not only where we want to go today, but where we might need to go tomorrow--in the future, as we read and reread.

Jazz is therefore an excellent example of not only a speakerly text, a talking book, but an extremely open text from a reader-response point of view. Eco argues that certain texts are aimed "at giving the Model Reader the solutions he [or she] does not expect, challenging every overcoded intertextual frame as well as the reader's predictive indolence." Jazz's narrative ambiguity creates a structure that (to use Eco's terms) validates "the widest possible range of interpretative proposals" (33), constantly forcing us to reexamine our interpretations of the text. In a more insistent way than Beloved, Jazz encourages a metareading--a reading of how the original reading was produced. Moreover, because of Jazz's critique of the process of interpretation, our metareading of the text is also a metareading of our own practices of reading: We reread the text to understand our failures as readers, which parallel the failures of the narrator to predict the text's outcome. Eco argues that the reader usually collaborates in the course of the plot or fabula, making forecasts about what will next occur. The ending of a text generally "not only confirms or contradicts the last forecasts, but also authenticates or inauthenticates the whole system of long-distance hypotheses hazarded by the reader about the final state of the fabula" (32). But the ending of Jazz throws us back on our own resources, neither confirming nor denying our forecasts. Were we wrong to trust the voice of the book--the voice of language speaking? But who else can we trust? Only ourselves--and perhaps not even ourselves. Jazz finally informs us that it will provide no authoritative point of view for us to identify with. We confront the world of the text on our own, writing our ghost chapters, taking our inferential walks in the void, the sphere, the oddly unstable, but oddly liberating, constantly shifting terrain of textuality itself.

[In]conclusion: Beloved Returns

In Playing in the Dark, Morrison comments that "the imagination that produces work which bears and invites rereadings, which motions to future readings as well as contemporary ones, implies a shareable world and an endlessly flexible language" (xii). For Morrison, rereading is not an activity confined to certain "marginal" categories of people, as Barthes rather sardonically phrases it, but is fundamentally necessary to the creation of the openness that is at the core of language, of storytelling. Jazz creates a shareable universe, as reader, characters, and narrator together shape the plot, and an endlessly flexible language, as the story gets told and retold. And the intertextuality between Beloved and Jazz adds to the flexibility of the imaginative world Morrison has crafted, engendering rereadings as well as consciousness of our own flaws as "readers," as "producers," of textual interpretations. Reading becomes an infinite process--not a stone dropped into a pond, but an ever-expanding series of circles r adiating out from a center, a text, an interpretation, a reader. And this process is continued in Morrison's next novel, Paradise (1998), which also contains intertextual references to the story of Beloved/Wild-- hints that expand the fictional universe Morrison is crafting while simultaneously encouraging us to read and reread, create and recreate, this universe. [12]

Beloved/Wild is herself the ultimate figure of this ever-expanding, infinite process of rereading, of a story that can go on and on. The intertextuality between Beloved and Jazz means, finally, that Beloved/Wild can never be finalized, immobilized. In the last analysis, we cannot say who this is, this Beloved/Wild creature who haunts the pages of both fictional universes, and even of Morrison's most recent novel Paradise, this individual who can be tracked (followed), but not traced--fixed in one location, one text, contained in one sphere of meaning. So it is certainly meant to be ironic that, in the final chapter of Jazz, the narrator claims to have traced Beloved/Wild, to have reached comprehension of her: "She has seen me and is not afraid of me. She hugs me. Understands me. Has given me her hand. I am touched by her. Released in secret. Now I know" (221). Apparently, the narrator penetrates to the secret of Beloved/Wild, and it frees the narrator--the mystery is solved. But what is the final revealed se cret? We never know--we are never told. Nor do we even know whether we can trust the narrator when s/he says, "Now I know." [In]conclusion: Beloved returns in Jazz, yet she remains a mystery. So we must start over--reading and rereading, motioning to future readings as well as contemporary ones, creating and recreating that endlessly flexible language, that endlessly shareable world, that endlessly changing text that is storytelling itself.

Martha J. Cutter is Associate Professor of English at Kent State University, where she teaches multiethnic American literature. Her book Unruly Tongue: Language and Identity in American Women's Writing, 1850-1930, was recently published by the University of Mississippi Press. Professor Cutter wishes to thank Carolyn Sorisio and Deborah J. Rosenthal for their careful input on this essay.


(1.) Critics most frequently view Beloved as a ghost, although there are competing ideas about what this ghost represents (see Jessee 208, Rushdy 578, Wyatt 479, Daily 144, Horvitz 163-64, and Barnett 418). Linda Krumholz believes that Beloved is a contradictory symbol and a rift in the attempt to close meaning (401-02), but nonetheless reads her as the repressed memories of slavery, everyone's ghost (400). However, a few critics resist stabilizing the text's presentation of Beloved. James Phelan, for example, argues that, because the novel supports--indeed, insists on--all these not entirely compatible accounts [of Beloved's presence], it prevents us from resting with any one" (711). Deborah Ayer Sitter argues that Beloved should be seen in at least three ways: "as the incarnated spirit of Sethe's murdered daughter, as an escaped slave who murdered her abusive master, and as the collective racial memory of the Middle Passage, in particular, and of the experience of slavery, in general" (29n17).

(2.) There has been no extended critical discussion of the intertextual relationship between Beloved and Jazz, although Sarah Aguiar, Roberta Rubenstein, and Carolyn Jones briefly mention the subject. Yet none of these critics evaluates how this intertextuality affects our reading practices, or how Wild/Beloved's appearance in Jazz may encourage rereading of both texts. I am using the term intertextuality to mean quite literal and deliberate connections between two or more fictional texts by one author, what some theorists have called "autotextuality." For a more general definition of intertextuality, see Kristeva (36) or Scholes (145).

(3.) Some features of Todorov's fantastic present in Beloved include: a collapse between mind and matter (114-15); a collapse between subject and object (117); an interpenetration of the physical and spiritual worlds (118); a destablized, fluid, even non-existent sense of time (118-19, 145); and a portrayal of desire that is excessive and transgressive (138).

(4.) I mention only briefly Morrison's investment in oral storytelling traditions of African and African American culture, since Maggie Sale has already analyzed this topic in detail and since numerous other critics have discussed it (see, for example, Holloway, Handley, Harris, and Rushdy). In interviews, Morrison has repeatedly emphasized her interest in capturing the oral quality of storytelling and dialogue in written language (see, e.g., Tate 126, Ruas 108).

(5.) There has been little discussion of Beloved according to Todorov's definition of the fantastic. Gary Daily is most concerned with how "the 'fierce and instructive' ghost of Beloved, meshes with historical accounts of slavery" (141). And although Sharon Jessee does briefly employ some of Todorov's categorizations (203), she is more interested in using an African cosmology to understand Beloved as the return of the repressed past (200).

(6.) Beloved's status as a real woman who has suffered the horrors of slavery has been most extensively discussed by Elizabeth House; no other critic has pursued this line of investigation.

(7.) Beloved's connection to the Middle Passage has been discussed in more detail by Deborah Horvitz (162-65).

(8.) There have been few extended critical interpretations of Wild. Roberta Rubenstein sees her as "the radically unavailable embodiment of a primary emotional attachment, whose absence persists as a haunting, idealized presence" (161); Richard Hardack believes she is Morrison's gendering of "Pan as female" (462); Doreatha Mbalia views her as a representation of the possibility of wildness in all women of African descent (626); and Eusebio Rodrigues sees her as being associated "with a Kalilike 'mother' nature" (753n13).

(9.) Page's reading of Jazz argues that such Derridean concepts as the differance, the trace, and the breach are useful in understanding specific characters (55), as well as the way the novel enacts an alternative to the either/or trap of Western, binary logic (65). Page does not discuss, however, connections between Beloved and Jazz.

(10.) Leonard first suggested that the narrator is the voice of the book, and the novel's last sentences lend credence to this idea: "Make me, remake me. You are free to do it and I am free to let you because look, look. Look where your hands are. Now" (Morrison 229). Leonard notes that, quite literally, our hands are holding the book; as we read the book we create and recreate it (49). Other critics have read the voice as "a hybrid creature who is half character, half omniscient narrator" (Mbalia 624), "the author incarnat[ed]" (Furman 100), "the voice of the city" ( Rodrigues 748), and the voice of jazz (Eckard 13, Lesoinne 162).

(11.) A fruitful subject for research on Jazz has been how Morrison uses the structure of jazz music itself to encourage the reader to remake the novel. Since critics such as Carolyn Jones, Paula Eckard, Richard Hardack, and Veronique Lesoinne have already extensively explored this subject, I have not pursued this line of analysis here.

(12.) In a 1987 interview with Gail Caidwell, Morrison reports that she conceived of Beloved as the first part of a three-volume work (240). In the third volume of this "trilogy" (Paradise) the figure of Beloved appears to split into the five different women who inhabit the Convent, all of whom are described as having foolish "babygirl dreams" (222). Out of these women, Pallas has the most intertextual resonance with Beloved; Pallas has experiences of drowning and sexual abuse (163), problems with speech (173,175), and "hair full of algae" (174) reminiscent of Beloved's "fish for hair" (267). Most suggestive is Pallas's last name ('Truelove" [164]) which not only echoes the word beloved but also the name of a family in The Bluest Eye (Breedlove). It is not my purpose here to pursue intertextuality in Paradise, but rather to suggest that the story of Beloved/Wild is not concluded at the end of Jazz--that it continues in Morrison's latest novel.

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Author:Cutter, Martha J.
Publication:African American Review
Article Type:Critical Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2000
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