Unimaginable acts imagined: fathers, family myth, and the postmodern crisis of paternal authority in Toni Morrison's Love.
"NUMEROUS TREATISES HAVE BEEN WRITTEN," THE LACANIAN CRITIC SLAVOJ Zizek has said, "about the perception of a [traumatic] historical Real in the terms of a family narrative as a fundamental ideological operation." This is to say that in many of our pop as well as high-brow narrative films and fictions "a story about the conflict of larger social forces ... is flamed into the coordinates of a family drama"--oedipalization, couples and relationships, children and parenting, restoration of paternal authority, and the like. With a variety of popular novels and films in mind, Zizek writes, "This ideology ... finds its clearest expression in Hollywood as the ultimate ideological machine: in a typical Hollywood product, everything, from the fate of the knights of the Round Table through the October Revolution up to asteroids hitting the Earth, is transposed into an Oedipal narrative" (In Defense 52). As Zizek says of Michael Crichton's Prey, "Far from providing a mere human-interest subplot, this family plot is what the novel really turns on" (53). Or, as Zizek says of another popular novel-cum-film, "The Da Vinci Code ... is not really a film about religion, about the 'repressed' secret of Christianity, but a film about a frigid and traumatized young woman who is redeemed, freed of her trauma, provided with a mythical framework that enables her to fully accept her asexuality" (67). In such a monadic relation of social parts to historical wholes, we find the larger significance of Toni Morrison's Love. This novel, which rarely has been accorded the critical significance of others by the Nobel Prize winner, such as The Bluest Eye or Beloved or Paradise, appears to be a family chronicle, often quite Gothic in its details, that reflects almost a century of black business enterprise and social change and conflict. But the truth that the plot's social superstructure reveals is how the functioning of paternal authority rears its obscene head in one figure of the father in the family history and serves most importantly as an obstacle to the relationship of just two characters: Heed and Christine Cosey. In that the love story of Heed and Christine provides the most pervasive narrative arc in Love, that arc establishes paternal imagoes as the rotten core of the family mythology that reflects the historical context identified by Zizek and others as the postmodern crisis of paternal authority.
It seems obvious that the first task of the critique of ideology is, of course, to treat the family narrative as an ideological myth which should be handled like a dream's explicit text, which should be deciphered back into the true struggle obfuscated by the family narrative. (Zizek, In Defense 72)
Given such current social details as the high percentage of single-parent homes run by mothers, by the increasing numbers of gay and lesbian marriages and child-rearing households, the cultural prevalence in heterosexual marriage of serial monogamy and a frequent replacement of "the parental units" in relation to children, it is often suggested these days that Western, and particularly American, culture is "postoedipal." Nevertheless, the crisis of paternal authority remains possible only as an aspect of the oedipal structure of family relations. Specifically, the crisis raises the question, "What happened to the good old days?" and involves the degradation of the role or imago or function of the father in the family myth Freud once outlined briefly in "Family Romances" (1909). His story of the good old days, this little essay--originally published as part of his disciple Otto Rank's The Myth of the Birth of the Hero--recounts Freud's pastoral myth of the family. To the child, mother and father are heroes and love objects, and even when the child--as he or she must do in order to progress through the oedipal process of maturation--replaces them with substitutes, the replacements exhibit features of the real parents. It is all very sweet and endearing. In the beginning, "For a small child his parents are at first the only authority and the source of all belief. The child's most intense and most momentous wish during these early years is to be like his parents (that is, the parent of his own sex) and to be big like his father and mother" (Freud Reader 298). Eventually, however, "the child's imagination becomes engaged in the task of getting free from the parents of whom he now has a low opinion and of replacing them by others, who, as a rule, are of higher social standing." Even so, Freud tells us, there is an ending happy enough:
If we examine in detail the commonest of these imaginative romances, the replacement of both parents or of the father alone by grander people, we find that these new and aristocratic parents are equipped with attributes that are derived entirely from real recollections of the actual and humble ones; so that in fact the child is not getting rid of his father but exalting him. Indeed the whole effort at replacing the real father by a superior one is only an expression of the child's longing for the happy, vanished days when his father seemed to him the noblest and strongest of men and his mother the dearest and loveliest of women. He is turning away from the father whom he knows to-day to the father in whom he believed in the earlier years of his childhood; and his phantasy is no more than the expression of a regret that those happy days have gone. (300)
But the family myth becomes much darker in Totem and Taboo (1913), Freud's retelling of the story of the child's relation to the father. In Freud's anthropological paradigm, the story outlined in "Family Romances" is later than that in Totem and Taboo, the former dealing with the child's life within a nuclear family existing within an organized society, the latter dealing with children before there is much sense of family and no sense at all of organized "society." In Totem and Taboo, Freud's interest lies in the development of cultural elements from the features of totemism. Here, what Freud calls "Darwin's primal horde" has not risen even to the level of totemism, there being, as, for instance, in Eugene O'Neill's Desire Under the Elms, nothing but "a violent and jealous father who keeps all the females for himself and drives away his sons as they grow up" (Freud Reader 500). But there comes a moment, Freud speculates, when "the brothers who had been driven out came together, killed and devoured their father and so made an end of the patriarchal horde. United, they had the courage to do and succeeded in doing what would have been impossible for them individually." In Freud's speculative myth, it is the very fact of totemism that makes of the killing of this violent and jealous father something more than he had been for the murdering sons:
Cannibal savages as they were, it goes without saying that they devoured their victim as well as killing him. The violent primal father had doubtless been the feared and envied model of each one of the company of brothers: and in the act of devouring him they accomplished their identification with him, and each one of them acquired a portion of his strength. The totem meal, which is perhaps mankind's earliest festival, would thus be a repetition and a commemoration of this memorable and criminal deed, which was the beginning of ... social organization, of moral restrictions and of religion. (500-01)
Thereafter, Freud tells us, "The dead father became stronger than the living one had been" (501). It was the very ambivalence of their hatred and admiration that led them to create a social structure that through psychoanalytic means reinitiated the prohibitions--against parricide in the prohibition against killing the father-totem and against incest in the prohibition against taking the father's women sexually--imposed by the father when he was alive. In Freud's words,
They revoked their deed by forbidding the killing of the totem, the substitute for their father; and they renounced its fruits by resigning their claim to the women who had now been set free. They thus created out of their filial sense of guilt the two fundamental taboos of totemism, which for that very reason inevitably corresponded to the two repressed wishes of the Oedipus complex. Whoever contravened those taboos became guilty of the only two crimes with which primitive society concerned itself. (501)
The postmodern crisis in paternal authority lies in the ramifications of these Freudian myths trajected across the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. While, obviously, Freud built the foundation for the analysis of this crisis, it is later workers in what Lacanians call the Freudian field such as Joan Copjec, Juliet MacCannell, Jacques-Alain Miller, and Slavoj Zizek who address it most directly. (1) I find Zizek especially important in a discussion of the degradation of paternal authority not only because of his current international status as perhaps our most prominent psychoanalytic social critic but also because he habitually integrates standard Freudian into neo-Freudian Lacanian theory as, perforce, he develops his own, largely Lacanian premises. As in evidence throughout his work, to produce his social, political, and literary critiques, Zizek typically deploys a Freudian terminology within a Lacanian one, particularly within Lacan's notions of the psychical registers called the Imaginary, the Symbolic, and the Real. Zizek uses the registers, for instance, to work out a theory of "the father" that builds on both Freud and Lacan. On the face of Freud's two paternal myths, there are just two fathers, whether, on the one hand, we identify them as the original father in "Family Romances" and then the idealized substitutes for him the child later seizes upon during oedipal maturation or, on the other hand, the primal one and the dead one identified in Totem and Taboo. Though Dylan Evans has argued that Lacan long had identified three fathers, he admits that the French theorist is vague on the father of the Real. Perhaps echoing Lacan, Zizek stressed early in his career a binary set associated with Freud's pair and Lacan's registers Imaginary and the Symbolic. For instance, a chapter in Enjoy Your Symptom/ addresses the question "Why Are There Always Two Fathers?" (1992), and in The Metastases of Enjoyment, Zizek writes--and one must always note the multiple names used for each base term--"The usual critique of patriarchy fatally neglects the fact that there are two fathers. On the one hand there is the oedipal father: the symbolic-dead father, Name-of-the-Father, the father of Law who does not enjoy, who ignores the dimension of enjoyment; on the other hand there is the 'primordial' father, the obscene, superego anal figure that is real-alive, the 'Master of Enjoyment'" (206).
But a third father emerged in the discourse when Zizek begins, even more than Lacan, to stress the register of the Real (the Real as "reality" experienced without the framing or domesticating features of Symbolic social structures, as when one is suddenly struck by something horribly traumatic--accident, death of a loved one, natural catastrophe). This third father appears when the Symbolic/oedipal father "becomes" a cruel or violent agent of prohibition. In "Four Discourses, Four Subjects" Zizek radically shifts the focus of his attention (1998). "This," he writes there, "is how one is to read the triad of Real-Symbolic-Imaginary" (98-99). The "symbolic father," he says, " is the Name of the Father; imaginary father is the (respectful, dignified ...) 'self-image' of the father; real father is the excess of enjoyment whose perception traumatically disturbs this 'self-image'" (99). (2) At the center of the crisis of paternal authority Zizek identifies with postmodernism is this third, the father of the Real. In Zizek's writings, this father-imago also goes by other names: the anal, the obscene, the excessively enjoying father, and the obscene Pere-Jouissancewhose desire is there for all to recognize. As in the retroactive process by which Freud's primal father is posited as a shadowy double of the dead father/ego ideal, so also, here, is posited the obscene father of enjoyment as the otherface of Lacan's Name-of-the-Father. In a chapter called "Whither Oedipus?" concluding The Ticklish Subject (1999), Zizek argues that in Freud's own time the two standard functions of the oedipal father were kept separate and "embodied in different people" (my emphasis). But modernity changed that situation. In "the modern bourgeois nuclear family," Zizek tells us, the two basic Freudian functions of the father "are united in the same person." And the historical consequence is that, regarding the father's function in postmodernism, from this conflation in particular there arises the crisis of oedipal authority, precisely from the fact that "symbolic authority" today is radically "smeared by the mark of obscenity." Indeed, this fearful symmetry between "ferocious superego" and "pacifying Ego Ideal" is a hidden "truth of the Oedipus complex" (313).
I want to explore this complex of matters in Morrison via Zizek's three basic distinctions (elaborated through many names), for they illuminate much that must remain mere confusion or contradiction in that late novel called Love. (3) Depicting in Love the man named Bill Cosey, who combines sexual predacity and social pretension, as well as the power at a symbolic distance of dead or missing fathers, Morrison--all paradox no doubt intentional--compacts into just the one character (and tantalizingly unveils) not only the traditional role of the Symbolic father but also the roles of the two other figures of the father--ordinary versus obscene--associated with what Zizek calls the bourgeois father of postmodernism. As Zizek's Lacanian discourse about fathers always circles around Lacan's Imaginary, Symbolic, and Real, so also does Morrison's representation of these registers/fathers within Bill Cosey connect Cosey to the three faces of the father Zizek has discussed as marking the historical shift from the modernist father of Freud to the postmodernist one adumbrated in Lacan and extrapolated by Zizek. (4) Thus I shall pursue my argument regarding fathers, cultural ideology, and the mythology of the family in several steps. First, in part 2, I shall discuss ways in which Bill Cosey represents the Imaginary father, the ordinary father as imagined within his community and, it happens, as he is imagined in contrast to his father, who stands as a late-nineteenth-century exemplar of the obscene father of enjoyment unveiled later and, in the novel's narrative climax, in the son himself. Next, in part 3, I shall discuss how Bill Cosey, after his death--as he appears in the words of his widow and, especially, in an idealized portrait of him in a painting--functions for the "wild girl" Junior Viviane as the Symbolic father of oedipal socialization. In part 4, I shall discuss how ultimately the obscene father of the Real, the anal or superego father of enjoyment, appears as well in Bill Cosey in his relation to Heed and Christine, as girls and women. In this function Cosey serves as the predator childrapist of postmodernism and the focal point of the postmodern decline of paternal authority. (5) Finally, in part 5, I shall conclude by suggesting how Love reveals that the fundamental truth of Morrison's fictional universe lies in a maternal solution to the problem of paternal authority.
The imaginary father is an imago, the composite of all the imaginary constructs that the subject builds up in fantasy around the father. This imaginary construction often bears little relationship to the father as he is in reality. (Evans 62)
Zizek's approach becomes extremely useful in unpacking the complex problems generated in all those fathers in Morrison's fiction and, as I shall demonstrate, particularly in Love's representations of multiple father figures in the context of family myth and the cultural ideology of the crisis of paternal authority. Through Zizek's observations, we discover, among other things, why the novel is both so intense and in its way so difficult--and even unpopular--for those readers whom Timothy Aubry, albeit discussing the equally unpopular Paradise, identifies as "middlebrow." Born in 1890, Bill Cosey, it happens, is constructed as a subject in that historical moment when Freud, as Zizek frequently points out, is inventing psychoanalysis and its paradigms. As a distinctly duplicitous subject, Cosey comes into being at a period when, Zizek argues in The Ticklish Subject's "Whither Oedipus?," those two original Freudian functions of the father--"oedipal" and "primordial"--were separated, embodied in two persons, not one. As the primordial vis a vis his son, Cosey's father plays that precise role.
Daniel Robert Cosey, because of his initials--DRC--and his deeds, is dubbed "Dark," a name that suggests how powerfully he represents the ferocious superego father, the father of evil-spirited prohibition. Dark is allied with the Law at its most pernicious level. In a period of history ranging from about 1870 until about 1920, Dark Cosey makes his living as a paid courthouse informer, as, that is, a stooge to white law enforcement much engaged in suppression of blacks freed by Emancipation. He is the "one pofice could count on to know where a certain colored boy was hiding, who sold liquor, who had an eye on what property, what was said at church meetings, who was agitating to vote, collecting money for a school--all sorts of things Dixie law was interested in." During more than fifty years of keeping "his evil gray eye on everybody," he got rich from tips, favors, and payments. Yet he does his evil not for profit, apparently, but for a reason--power itself--characterizing any prohibitory superego father: "For the pure power of it, people supposed, because he had no joy, and the money he got for being at the beck and call of white folks in general and police in particular didn't bring comfort to him or his family." At a time when it would have been very difficult for black men to do so, Dark accumulates wealth, but he never really enjoys it for anything except itself, the power it stands for. "He worshiped paper money and coin, withheld decent shoes from his son and passable dresses from his wife and daughters, until he died leaving 114,000 resentful dollars behind" (68). Fulfilling one of the two roles of the Victorian father, that of the primordial superego of prohibition, Dark is not the big Other of the social Symbolic order. Rather, he is the "dark," shadowy figure who (as informer) gives that order--Dixie law--its hidden support.
For his part, Bill Cosey understands both that his father is not to be imitated as ego ideal, since there is something obscenely evil in this role, and, to the extent that it ever can be achieved deliberately, that he ought to construct a "self" in opposition to Dark. When Bill Cosey inherited from those $114,000, he "decided to enjoy his share. Not throw it way, exactly, but use it on things Dark cursed: good times, good clothes, good food, good music, dancing till the sun came up in a hotel made for it all." Not only will he use the fortune differently, he will also become something different from--diametrically opposite to--his father. "The father was dreaded; the son was a ray of light. The cops paid off the father; the son paid off the cops. What the father corrected, the son celebrated. The father a miser? The son an easy touch." Hoping to avoid being his father, he is nonetheless always tied to him. If Dark is an original positing, then Bill Cosey, as a negation of it, becomes dialectically defined by him. Moreover, because--in a story typically American--the father's "blood-soaked" (68) fortune supports Bill's bourgeois success, his success is made possible precisely because of--and because he is not--his father.
Morrison's novels often develop a historical subtext that yields exemplary social or economic truths. In this respect, Love is no different from, say, Song of Solomon, Tar Baby, or Paradise. (6) In Love's subtext of socioeconomic history, Bill Cosey's rise to bourgeois success depends upon that "self" constructed, dialectically, against his father's. The business in which he succeeds is Cosey's Resort and Hotel. For such businesses, when the son is in his thirties, it seems that the time has come. In 1922, in a "first" noted by The Encyclopedia of African American Business History, there was a mountain resort for blacks called Winks Panorama established by the Colorado Lincoln Hills Development Company (629). But there is another first in 1922 in which we may hear clearer echoes of Morrison's description of Bill Cosey's establishment: a black entrepreneur named Gilbert Faustina opened for African Americans a swimming resort on Mobile Bay along the Alabama Gulf Coast. (7) For his part, it was a bit later, in 1930, using his money from
Dark, that Bill Cosey managed to buy a property (location never specified, but many details suggest that it, like Faustina's, is on the Gulf Coast) at a time when for a black man it "should have been impossible" (Love 102). Here, exhibiting one face of the exemplary "father"--"no genius, good or bad; he is just an opportunist who knew how to seize the moment"--whom Zizek satirizes in "The Three Faces of Bill Gates" (235), Bill Cosey seems an entrepreneur much like the historical Faustina. In the midst of the Great Depression, Bill Cosey "took advantage. He bought a broke-down 'whites only' club at Sooker Bay from a man honest enough to say that although he swore to God and his pappy he would never sell to niggers, he was happy as a clam to break his vow and take his family away from that bird-infested sidewalk for hurricanes" (Love 102). While it is perhaps with Dark, rather than Bill Cosey, in mind, many in Silk and Sooker Bay believed that too "much money had a whiff of evil and somebody else's blood." But such thinking Cosey disregarded: "He wanted a playground for folk who felt the way he did." He wanted to join those, like him, "who studied ways to contradict history" (103).
In the social paternalism afforded by his business success Cosey achieves the Imaginary function of the bourgeois father and finds his "self" as the obverse of Dark Cosey, the primordial father. While one might say that, like Faustina Beach, Cosey's resort for blacks was made inevitable by the times, much of its success, as with Faustina's, must be attributed to Cosey himself. According to Vida Gibbons, employed at the resort in the early 1960s, the resort succeeded on "Bill Cosey's charm" and food prepared by the woman called L (34). Of Cosey, Vida says, "His pleasure was in pleasing," and she points out that what he promised every guest he expressed in the resort's motto: "The best good time this side of the law" (33). In this role Cosey performs the more desirable of the two functions of the postmodern bourgeois father Zizek describes. As the Imaginary Idealich/ideal ego, he is the father--Bill Gates characterized by Zizek as "ordinary guy"--with whom others wish to identify. In effect, like Gates, he is the little brother, one of their own who is hardly different from themselves and yet who has the genius to make good when for a black man success was very improbable. And though fortune's scale is vastly more munificent for Gates, Cosey nonetheless is one who in his success creates an empire others may admire. Developing Cosey's Resort and Hotel for blacks, he establishes entire communities, those called Sooker Bay and Oceanside. In this role as the Imaginary ideal ego, Cosey appears in fact as a decent citizen and role model. "Ira family couldn't pay for a burial, he had a quiet talk with the undertaker. His friendship with the sheriff got many a son out of handcuffs. For years and without a word, he took care of a stroke victim's doctor bills and her granddaughter's college fees. In those days, the devoted outweighed the jealous and the hotel basked in his glow" (103). As L says, "He helped more colored people here than [had] forty years of government programs" (9). Given the story of his success, local people are "proud of his finesse, his money, the example he set that goaded them into thinking that with patience and savvy, they could do it too" (40).
Imaginary ideal ego, indeed. As his friend Sandler Gibbons says, what Cosey achieved was a "fairy tale that lived on even after the hotel was dependent for its life on the people it once excluded" (42). Into old age in the 1960s, when Civil Rights marches and acts of social rebellion marked even those black communities he claimed as his own, Cosey could still shame folks for the assault of one of their rebels upon him. Dripping feces dumped over him by a young black social activist, he reminds people of his works and good deeds. Already nearing eighty and barely responsible for business operations of the resort and hotel, he retains authority enough as paternalistic Imaginary "father" to quell what amounted to an insurrection against him. In perhaps his final public display, "Courteous replies met his greetings and countered the violent smell of dung clotted on his cuffs and paving his way." About Cosey's long-enduring paternalistic role in the Imaginary, Morrison's language here is decisive. Raising a hand as if in farewell to all, he departs as though attending some ceremonial event, his valedictory gesture leaving a lingering crowd "in disarray." Though scene and assault are symptomatic of the historic "rift between generations in 1968," Bill Cosey has nonetheless "managed to span it, to detox it; to say 'I am neither stranger nor enemy'" (149). But in this iconic farewell gesture, he defines as nothing but Imaginary his changing relation to his community. Having truly become a bourgeois father, he enacts a dialectic Zizek calls "properly historical" (Ticklish Subject 313), for he now fits into a place in the history not only of the installation but also of the decline of the traditional oedipal father.
The Symbolic father is not a real being but a position, a function, and hence is synonymous with the term "paternal function." This function is none other than that of imposing the Law and regulating desire in the Oedipus complex, of intervening in the imaginary dual relationship between mother and child to introduce a necessary "symbolic distance" between them. (Evans 62)
In Love, even as Morrison participates, on the one hand, in what has been called the postmodern crisis of the Freudian oedipal father, she has also, on the other hand, suggested the persistent utility of that figure in the function of the father in and through the register of the Symbolic as represented in Lacan's Name of the Father found, seemingly impossibly, in another imago given to Bill Cosey. (8) It is, moreover, this function that permits the proper--social--oedipalization realized in one subject's assumption of Symbolic Law, in a process markedly evident in fiction's
most common (though, as Gail Mortimer shows, by no means only) plot of psychological development. It is from his literal place among the dead that he plays a Symbolic father who actually supports the emergence of love and an oedipalized subjectivity. In this enfiguration, he remains the bourgeois father, but here the two antithetical roles--oedipal and primordial--keep a proper relation, the one (oedipal) visible, the other (primordial) hidden. The "truth of the Oedipus complex," Zizek tells us, is that it functions normally and accomplishes "its job of the child's integration into the socio-symbolic order" only when the identity of the father as Ego Ideal with that of the superego agent of prohibition "remains concealed." If this identity, as we see it in Cosey as paternal sexual harasser, pedophilic variety, is "posited as such," at that moment "the figure of paternal authority potentially turns ... obscene" (Ticklish Subject 313). Thus, we have here a very delicate balance. Any living oedipal father in the Symbolic may at any moment be revealed in the Real as an obscenely predatory one. Just read the headlines: "Model father abuses daughter." Dead, however, the oedipal father's Symbolic role stands some chance of being protected against such manifestations of the Real. Thus, it is a Lacanian commonplace that the Symbolic father functions best as a dead father. Alive, Bill Cosey, as bourgeois father, may function, as we have seen, as the Imaginary-cum-Symbolic Name-of-the-Father, especially for his community, but, at the same time, because there are those who know him in his identity as an irruption of the Real's primordial father, this side of him cannot remain hidden. Thus, once he dies, he may function in that Symbolic--oedipal--role even better as, literally, Freud's dead father who socializes subjects into the Symbolic order, one subject in particular.
In Morrison's novel, this aspect of Cosey's functioning as father/fathers is captured visually in what surely--and symptomatically--is its most specifically Gothic feature. This feature lies in a gaze, the gaze of the Symbolic, located in a portrait, one of none other than Bill Cosey. Morrison uses the portrait, and a photograph from which the portrait was painted, not only to organize our further understanding of Bill Cosey but also in a normalizing oedipal socialization of the girl Junior Viviane. It is first mentioned when we are told Vida Gibbons "believed a powerful, generous friend gazed out from the portrait hanging behind the reception desk" at Cosey's resort where Vida had clerked (45). Encountering the portrait often in Heed Cosey's bedroom, Junior adopts it as her figure of the Imaginary who, as she transforms, becomes the Symbolic father. Hired off the streets through an advertisement placed by Heed, Junior becomes auditor, interlocutor, and research assistant, as it were, to Heed. To right a wrong Junior does not fully understand, Heed recruits the girl to assist her in her machinations against Christine, her plan to "discover" a new will, one "to be found" (as, she believes, had been the first one) on a resort menu, in the crumbling remains of Cosey's former resort at Sooker Bay.
As a normative subject, Junior is still a work in progress. She needs to internalize values of the social Symbolic to forestall her becoming a hardened criminal. She needs, and finds, a dead father of the Symbolic when she joins with Heed. As Heed is the product of poor blacks living in impoverished Up Beach, once populated by employees of a fish-canning plant long since closed down, so Junior is the product of a vaguely located place called "the Settlement." The Settlement belongs to descendants, now racially indeterminate, of whites and blacks who once had been employed at a jute mill abandoned in 1912. They live in ramshackle huts, survive off the land by hunting, fishing, thievery. But they are content in this life. "Settlement people have it the way they want it: unevolved and reviled, they are also tolerated, left alone, and feared" (54). The only crime in its code is "departure." When Junior is asked if she's colored, she "said she didn't know but would find out" (56). At age ten, trying to commit that crime of departure, she's run down by her uncles in a truck, her toes crushed under a rear tire and left to grow together into a sort of hoof. "In one year she was gone," however. "Two more and she was fed, bathed, clothed, educable, and thriving. Behind bars" (59). Eventually, she's put into an educational facility. In her "exit conference," an administrator tries to sexually molest her, so she defends herself by hoisting him by his cuffs over a railing--from a second floor. Thereafter, she is removed to another facility, a correctional one this time. It is after release from the latter that she sees Heed's classified advertisement and comes to One Monarch Street.
From childhood consumed by "longing for her father," Junior is always on the lookout for "the tall, handsome man who named her after himself to show how he felt about her. She just had to wait" (55). In effect, her father appears to her in the portrait of Bill Cosey she sees hanging behind Heed Cosey's bed. Abandoned by her real father, abused by her Settlement uncles, abused again by officials in those correctional facilities, Junior's psyche desperately needs the good father, the Good Man, who appears to her in Cosey's portrait. She is quite willing to take him as Heed describes him, as "a wonderful man" whose portrait, "painted from a snapshot," is "exactly like him" (26). It is under the aegis of this good father's gaze that for once in her life Junior can sleep and dream and feel "protected." He is adumbrated to her in dreams she suffers "in the early days at Correctional when the nights were so terrifying." In those dreams, she sees "upright snakes on tiny feet," waiting for her with "their thin green tongues begging her to come down from the tree." In them she also sees, occasionally, that there is "someone beneath the branches standing apart from the snakes, and although she could not see who it was, his being there implied rescue" (29). For this promise of rescue she "had endured the nightmares, even entered them, for a glimpse of the stranger's face. She never saw it, and eventually he disappeared along with the upright snakes" (29-30).
At One Monarch Street, living with Heed, Junior encounters fulfillment of that dream figure in the portrait of Bill Cosey hanging on Heed's bedroom wall. It is as if her nightmare has turned to dream rescue: "here, now, deep in sleep, her search seemed to have ended. The face hanging over her new boss's bed must have started it." Here, she found a "handsome man with a G.I. Joe chin and a reassuring smile that pledged endless days of hot, tasty food; kind eyes that promised to hold a girl steady on his shoulder while she robbed apples from the highest branch" (30). In her dream-fantasy, her version of Eve and Adam, she imagines that all her education, academic and otherwise, directs her toward this place. "Both kinds honed the cunning needed to secure a place in a big, fancy house on Monarch Street where there was no uniformed woman pacing in the half-light of a corridor or opening doors any old time to check; or where the sleep thrum of bodies close by siphoned the air" (59-60). In her imagination, she knows that on Monarch Street is where she belongs. "This was the right place and there he was, letting her know in every way it had been waiting for her all along. As soon as she saw the stranger's portrait she knew she was home. She had dreamed him the first night, had ridden his shoulders through an orchard of green Granny apples heavy and thick on the boughs" (60).
Junior hopes that by somehow reconciling differences between Heed and Christine she will herself end up possessing the house on Monarch Street. Clearly, as the stranger who enters town and changes existing equations and relationships, she is Morrison's device for bringing about that reconciliation. But more than a device, Junior has her own story, one that appears in fact to be both a story of love and of her transformation into ordinary subjectivity within the Symbolic order. Both love and transformation occur in her relation to that dead Symbolic father in the portrait. As she imagines him everywhere, always watching over her, approving her actions, he clearly is a figure to her of the Ichideal/Ego Ideal, the one in whom through identification one feels loved. Besides taking care of Heed, Junior finds love after she meets Vida and Sandler Gibbons's grandson, Romen. At first, their relationship is only sexual, and the two of them make out whenever and wherever they can, in an upper bedroom of the house on Monarch Street, in the abandoned resort hotel at Sooker Bay, in the ancient Oldsmobile that Bill Cosey had left to Heed. But always, in Junior's imagination, the father in the portrait blesses her activities. It pleases him, she thinks, "to see her taking care of his wife; as it pleased him to watch her and Romen wrestle naked in the backseat of his twenty-five-year-old car; just as it tickled him to know she was wearing his shorts" (124).
Both love and Junior's transformation involve young Romen and how he changes her relation to that figure in the portrait. In her foreword to the Vintage edition, Morrison tells us that the novel began for her in a scene involving Romen, "a boy new to his neighborhood, eager to belong." His essential goodness, and thus his transformative power in relation to Junior, lies in how, despite social pressure from his peers, he "disobeys his body's command and keeps faith with his heart" (xi). Given opportunity in a gang-bang, he does not rape a girl, indeed, he saves her from any further abuse. So Romen is okay and, in the face of peer-group taunts, merely needs confirmation of his sexuality. In spades, he gets that from Junior. But Junior badly needs transformation because Morrison makes us understand that the girl is essentially, amorally, dedicated to survival at any cost. Her relationship to Romen, always imagined under the gaze of the Symbolic dead father in the portrait, in fact begins to change her. But changed from what, angel or devil? Like most mysterious strangers, Junior has an ambiguous, contradictory identity. Initially, her accouterments--short-short skirt, leather jacket, big hair, high-heeled boots cloaking her wounded foot, seemingly cloven like a hoof--make her appear demonic. But her face, to Sandler Gibbons, at least, gives her the appearance of"a sweet child, fine-boned ... but lost" (14). In the girl's manifest intelligence and selfish ambition, Heed Cosey sees herself in Junior. Whatever Junior is, change in her is indexed in her changed relation to the father-figure in the portrait of Bill Cosey. As Junior more and more finds herself absorbed in a sexual relation that transforms into something else, she finds that her fantasied image of Bill Cosey begins to absent itself. As the law of the Symbolic father, this image, eventually, if she is to be properly socialized, must be absorbed into herself. But out at the abandoned resort hotel with Heed, in search of another menu-cure-will, Junior knows only this: "Her Good Man hasn't shown up for some time. She hopes he is here in the hotel" (171). Likewise, back at the house on Monarch Street, she thinks, "He was nowhere, not even in his study, so she went directly to him. Good. There he was. Smiling welcome above Heed's bed. Her Good Man" (178). For the nonce, he remains out there, on the wall, on the side of the Imaginary Idealich, not yet in her, on the side of the Symbolic Ich-ideal.
What will make her a normal, oedipalized subject, one endowed within Symbolic law? The answer, in accord with Morrison's titular theme, is love. In a transformation into ordinary subjectivity brought about by love, the most important element seems her cloven foot. This piece of her represents the Lacanian objet a, that part of herself in herself that's more than herself. Morrison makes it clear that to Junior the deformed foot is something special, ambiguously loved and loathed. Early on, before Romen sees that foot, that "other thing," he notices in bewilderment that she never removes her boots when making love. When he finally sees her feet without boots or socks, the one "foot she slipped into the sock looked to him like a hoof" (154). Thus, in her transformation, the most important scene is one following her most demonic act, her causing Heed Cosey to fall through the floor of the attic at the old resort hotel. She returns to the house on Monarch, is joined by Romen, who is unaware of Junior's murderous act, and the two, as always, engage in sexual play. This time, however, almost under the very gaze of the portrait of Cosey, their play takes on significance as baptism and redemptive grace. Because Romen prefers to avoid "that face hanging on the wall," one he says he hates because it is "like screwing in front of your father," he takes their games into the bathroom. Filling the tub with water, pretending "to drown each other," sloshing water about, and calling "each other filthy names," they finally fall apart, "like spent salmon," "sucking air at opposite ends of the tub." The act--the gesture, by which Romen, in a moment of unselfconscious acceptance of Junior in her most essential being--involves her wound, her cloven foot. It is Romen's according grace and love that gives impetus to Junior's transformation.
Feeling strong and melted at the same time, Romen reached under the water and raised Junior's misshapen foot above it. She flinched, tried to yank it out of his hands, but he held on and held on, looking closely at the mangled toes. Then, bending his head, he lifted them to his tongue. After a moment he felt her soften, give, so when he looked up he was surprised to see how dead her sci-fi eyes were. (179)
A writer fully imbued with the language and symbolism of Christian theology, Morrison clearly suggests that at this moment Junior begins a transformation. It is not finished at this moment, but it is begun. Dying to an old self as a new one is born, Junior does not really understand what's going on within her. While Romen sleeps, she tries to figure it out. As she's "huddled over her knees holding them together in her arms," she experiences what may well be her one moment of self analysis ever. "Rocking back and forth, she was remembering how Romen had raised her foot from the bathwater and tasted it as though it were a lollipop." Morrison's details--they both "left the tub," "wet and clean as gristle" (195)--suggest redemptive purification, but Junior's feelings are not so clear. In her a kind of "slipperiness has begun. A kind of inside slide, that made her feel giddy and pretty at the same time. The solid protection she'd felt the first night in the house gave way to a jittery brightness that pleased and frightened her." Morrison seems to suggest that Junior is moving from the security of merely Imaginary (here truly imagined) identifications with an anaclitic father-figure in the portrait to a somewhat more ambiguous register of Symbolic values. Studying her feelings and her relationship to Romen, she seems to recognize in herself the demonic predator she's been and perhaps something else--love?--Morrison does not name for her. In Romen's face, Junior sees something sacramental, a "beautiful boy on whom she had feasted as though he were all the birthday banquets she'd never had." The jittery brightness inside her "intensified," and now she understands what it is. "Brand-new, completely alien, it invaded her, making her feel wide open and whole, already approved and confirmed by the lollipop lick." But without confession, there is no redemption. "That was why, later on, when he'd asked her a second time, she told him the truth" (196)--that she had left Christine and Heed, injured, likely to die, at the abandoned resort. (9)
In Love, there are just two on-going stories in time present, Heed's and Christine's and Romen's and Junior's. The former story will wrap in the discussion below; the latter remains rather ragged at the end. While we need not worry about Romen and it does seems plain enough that Junior goes far toward properly oedipal socialization under the gaze of the Symbolic father in Cosey's portrait, Morrison leaves her story without clear resolution. But she does leave hints. One is that when Romen locks Junior in L's old room, "something"--apparently her old self-interest--seems to drain from her and she seems to accept her imprisonment by the youth as deserved for what she had done to Heed. Another is that Heed and Christine, in the midst of their postmortem dialogue, address Junior's transgressions against them and unbeknownst to the girl still endorse her survival. "Should we let her go, little rudderless, homeless thing?" one asks. "We could let her stay, under certain circumstances," the other answers. "What difference would it make?" the first replies. "She knows how to make trouble," the second retorts, and the two give each other that verbal high-five--"Hey, Celestial"--they have shared since childhood (197). Since Morrison, in her novels, has always made it understood that she loves women who make trouble, the endorsement by Heed and Christine confirms what we would suppose: that since the girl's story is tied directly to Romen's, Junior will also turn out fine in the end. So, make of it what we will, Morrison ends the story of Romen and Junior with the confident youth's transporting the body of the dead Cosey woman to the mortuary, Romen feeling "serene, in control now, although when he approached the car and looked back at the house, unfriendly-looking clouds were sailing over the roof of One Monarch Street, their big-headed profiles darkening all save one window, which, like the eye of a determined flirt, keeps its peachy glint" (199). That "determined flirt"must be Junior. For she is what she is. And she will be just fine. (10)
This is the obscene superego [father] in its contrast to the Name-of-the-Father: the very injunction "be autonomous," in its mode of operation, sabotages its goal; the very injunction "Be free!" ties the subject up forever in the vicious circle of dependence. (Zizek, In Defense 88)
In Love, what Hollywood calls the backstory to the tale of Heed and Christine is the one where we discover that Zizek's postmodern bourgeois father, despite his cloak of respectability, is also an obscene sexual predator. Indeed, it is this other side of Cosey-family mythology that gives meaning to Morrison's intervention in African American business history at the same time that it gives Bill Cosey his role in the postmodern crisis of paternal authority. In the aftermath of the change in the psychoanalytic subject vis a vis the decline of paternal authority, there is, Zizek argues, the "return of figures which function according to the logic of the 'primordial father.'" In postmodernism, such a father returns in two main embodiments: one is the totalitarian political leader, with whom the world seems filled today; the other, equally pervasive, is "the paternal sexual harasser" (Ticklish Subject 315). Here, in the second figure, we begin to see emerge in Bill Cosey the other side of the bourgeois father, the dark, shadowy underside, a side, indeed, that seems descended directly from Dark Cosey. This side is hinted at in Bill Cosey's attachment to the prostitute Celestial, who focalizes Cosey's narcissistic drive, his unwillingness to renounce a jouissance forbidden by a commitment (marriage) made in the Symbolic order. Once, when Sandler Gibbons asks Cosey about Celestial, Cosey replies, "You can live with anything if you have what you can't live without" (112). These words suggest that for Cosey Celestial represents "it," his fetishistic object, what Lacan calls the objet petit a, that little thing in oneself that's more than oneself, the thing one cannot live without. But Sandler eventually understands that this is Cosey's sexual cover story. For even if Celestial were to capitulate to Cosey's demands that she not treat him as merely another of her clients, she is, we discover, not that thing itself. It remains elsewhere, a thing associated with Heed. Nonetheless, the persistent attachment to Celestial signifies that Cosey is a subject of narcissistic drive more than he is the socially acceptable, socially responsible subject of desire. The drive transforms him into a primordial father of the cruel superego.
As the primordial father, he must have what he wants, and the drive that determines what he wants is not, as it turns out, primally devoted to adult women. In the decision to take a child bride, Cosey unreservedly opens up that dark side of himself, that side which follows the logic, if not the historical moment, of the primal father of Freud's Totem and Taboo. This figure of the father is one Lacan identifies as "the worse": there is the oedipal father, who may be bad enough, but there is the other--the anal, obscene, primordial--father, who is even worse. Though it is this worse father who permits the oedipal father to function, the oedipal functions effectively only when the worse one remains veiled. This worse father Zizek also calls Father himself. This is the father whose obscene acts yield an equally obscene jouissance on which, so long as that father and his acts remain hidden, social structures are paradoxically founded. Zizek attaches this father to "an Otherness" (Ticklish Subject 314) that is not the Other of the Imaginary or Symbolic, not the father as either Imaginary ideal ego or Symbolic ego ideal. Instead, it is the father from the Real, the Other as "the Real Thing." This is not the Thing Lacan ordinarily associates with das Ding, the Maternal Thing. It is, rather, an emanation of the Real who matches the Mother Thing and whose ontogenesis precedes Imaginary identifications and the Symbolic authority vested in the Name-of-the-Father. With Freud, Zizek regards this Father himself as prior to the oedipal father because it is the murder of this "obscene Father-jouissance" that elevates the oedipal to the "agency of symbolic authority." Zizek further theorizes that this Father himself may, and in postmodern times does, return in those two figures identified above--totalitarian political leaders and paternal sexual abusers. In Morrison's novel, of course, he surfaces in the latter embodiment. In the postmodern decline of the traditional oedipal father, "When the 'pacifying' symbolic authority is suspended, the only way to avoid the debilitating deadlock of desire, its inherent impossibility, is to locate the cause of its inaccessibility in a despotic figure which stands for the primordial jouisseur." Put simply, for postoedipal subjects, such a father means that they "cannot enjoy because he appropriates all enjoyment" (315).
That Pere-Jouissance in Love, the one who steals ordinary enjoyment, is represented of course in a third face of Bill Cosey. If L is one of the two observers of Cosey's life who seem to know all his faces, Sandler Gibbons is the other. On Cosey's marrying an eleven-year-old child, Sandler tells us that as an old man Cosey claims it was because he had wanted children that he married a virginal youngster. "Well," Sandler says, "that's what he told his friends and maybe himself. But not me. He never told that to me because I had worked for him since I was fourteen and knew the truth." The truth is, "He liked her" (emphasis added). Sandier recalls that Cosey tells him a story about a young girl who falls "in horse manure running after a posse." The story's point, Sandler believes, was Cosey's rationalization of his interest in young girls. Like the crowd who watched the girl fall into the manure, Cosey "laughed too," but he "apologized for it by marrying Heed." Sandler thinks that while Cosey "avoided Christine because she had his father's gray eyes, he picked Heed to make old Dark groan" (139). Whatever the rationalization, Sandler believes that Cosey's interest in little girls is in fact sexual. Remembering how Cosey had spoken of the first time he had seen Heed, Sandler tells of "Cosey's dream-bitten expression as he rambled on about" this child, her narrow hips, her "chest smooth as a plank, skin soft and damp, like a lip. Invisible navel above scant, newborn hair." Sandler says that "Cosey's rapturous description of his wife" forms for him a "picture" not of "a child but a fashion model." In the picture Cosey paints, Sandler detects pure erotic desire. "Although by then Cosey was fully involved with grown women, the memory of having a child bride still stirred him" (148).
As readers of Morrison know, pedophilia and child abuse occur rather frequently in her fiction, from The Bluest Eye and Tar Baby through Jazz and Paradise. (11) In the foreword to Love, referring to a childhood acquaintance whose own father raped her, Morrison writes of a lesson girls learned back then: "Before we even knew who we were," she laments, "someone we trusted our lives to could, might, would make use of our littleness, our ignorance, our need, and sully us to the bone, disturbing the balance of our lives" (x). Eventually, then, Morrison's narrative confirms L's and Sandler's suspicions of a more obscene irruption of Cosey's pedophilia and its long-term effects. Early on, from Christine, we get hints something is amiss. In the novel's final episode, where dies one of the now-old women, Heed or Christine, and the two of them have a postmortem conversation, we learn why Christine hates her own grandfather and why Heed had faked her adoration of him. Cosey is the recrudescence of the obscene primordial father, he who steals sexual enjoyment from those around him by his predations upon them. As the novel has it, the sexual assaults he perpetrates on the two prepubescent children occur in the same narrative moment. Well before he chooses Heed in marriage, he physically molests her, thereby ever after "disturbing the balance" of her life, leaving her to believe during most of it that ordinary sexual pleasure was never to be hers. Seeing this child in a hallway of the hotel he owns, Cosey "touches her chin, and then--casually, still smiling--her nipple, or rather the place ... where a nipple will be if the circled dot on her chest ever changes." Before Cosey's act, Heed had never given a thought to this "spot on her chest," but, after it, running to tell Christine about "what her grandfather did," she now feels it "burning, tingling." She does not find Christine immediately, however, and when she does, her friend seems inexplicably to have vomited on herself: "Her face is hard, flat. She looks sick, disgusted, and doesn't meet Heed's eyes. Heed can't speak, can't tell her friend what happened." Moreover, not speaking is the first "lie" between the two girls. "That first lie, of many to follow, is born because Heed thinks Christine knows what happened and it made her vomit" (191).
In the void of understanding arising between them, Heed concludes that Christine somehow knows her secret regarding Cosey's molestation of her. Thus in this moment Heed comes to believe it is she herself, not a father himself, who "has spoiled it all"--all enjoyment--for the two young girls.
So there is something wrong with Heed. The old man saw it right away so all he had to do was touch her and it moved as he knew it would because the wrong was already there, waiting for a thumb to bring it to life. And she had started it--not him. The hip-wiggling came first--then him. Now Christine knows it's there too, and can't look at her because the wrong thing shows. (191-92)
As primordial Father himself, Bill Cosey has done more damage than even Heed might imagine. While Heed was out searching for Christine, Christine has fallen under the blind, masturbatory gaze of the Pere-Jouissance. Above her, standing in her own bedroom window, Cosey is harvesting his moment of contact with Heed's nipple, "his trousers open, his wrist moving with the same speed L used to beat egg whites into unbelievable creaminess. He doesn't see Christine because his eyes are closed." Not at first quite understanding what she sees, Christine laughs at her grandfather's actions, but then--at some deeper level--she does begin to understand, and finds herself throwing up in revulsion and shame--shame for her grandfather but also a misplaced shame for herself for having seen and understood what he was doing. Thereafter, for her, as for Heed, Cosey has smeared everything "to the bone" (x). "When [Christine] went to bed that night, his shadow had booked the room." She feels now that "an old man's solitary pleasure lurked there. Like a guest with a long-held reservation arriving in your room at last, a guest you knew would stay" (192).
In her narrator's voice, Morrison explains what has happened to these two children. "It wasn't the arousals, not altogether unpleasant," she tells us, "that the girls could not talk about." What they encounter in this Bill Cosey is a Lacanian Thing, the Real of thanatic sexual drive: it is not the desire of ordinary arousal but the jouissance of drive's death-oriented narcissism. In Morrison's language, "It was the other thing. The thing that made each believe, without knowing why, that this particular shame was different and could not tolerate speech--not even in the language [they call Idagay] they had invented for secrets" (emphasis added). So they are forever left with a "dirtiness" inside they fear will leak into their ordinary lives. Indeed, sixty years later, "exhausted, drifting toward a maybe permanent sleep, they don't speak of the birth of sin. Idagay can't help them with that." In their speechless speech to each other, the one says of Cosey, "He took all my childhood away from me." To that, the other replies, "He took all of you away from me" (194). The truth is that he took childhood away from both of them and, perhaps worse, given the importance of their powerful identificatory love for each other, he opened a distance between them that alienated one from the other for all but the final moments of the remaining three score or so years of their lives. Perhaps even worse, as primordial Father himself, Bill Cosey seems almost to extinguish in them--and in the novel--love itself.
[The] unconscious desire in a dream is not simply its core which never appears directly, which is distorted by the translation into the manifest dream-text, but the very principle of this distortion. (Zizek, In Defense 72)
If Morrison takes a critical interest in fathers, family mythology, and the crisis of paternal authority, she does so because, paradoxically, her universe is grounded not upon the father and the paternal but in mothers and the maternal. In this, Morrison participates in the oldest--and most unanswerable--question in psychoanalytic theory since Freud: are the human subject and by extension human culture primarily determined by paternal or maternal authority? Freud, in dispute with his apostate disciple Karl Jung, and going against the thesis of one of the most influential books of the age, J. J. Bachofen's Myth, Religion and Mother-Right (1861), of course came down on the side of paternal priority. But, as writes Madelon Sprengnether, who deals at length in her book with this psychological and anthropological crux, "Questions regarding maternal power have a way of recurring in Freud's texts despite his emphasis on male rivalry and the significance of paternal authority within the Oedipal triangle." What's more, writes Sprengnether, because the "preoedipal mother, as Freud himself portrays her, refuses to stay in her place," she generates "a level of persistent, low-level disturbance that problematizes his attempts to theorize her subordination" (85). In Love, and Morrison's fiction generally, the antinomy between maternal and paternal priorities creates a textual unconscious at work in the gap between a manifest story regarding paternal authority and the novel's latent story of maternal triumph. Thus, situated in the space between the problem of the father in the family mythology and the decline of paternal authority in the historical epoch, there is revealed a maternal solution one also finds suggested in the outcomes of other of Morrison's novels, where a powerful maternal agency is visible--for instance, in Sula, Tar Baby, Beloved, Jazz, Paradise, and A Mercy. In these novels, and as we also see in Love, this agency takes the form that Sprengnether calls "the spectral mother," one, indeed, that may represent the emergence of a latency found in Lacan's claim that "the Name-of-the-Father [exists] as the metaphoric substitute of the desire of the mother" (Zizek, For They Know Not 135). Rooted in Freud's notion of the preoedipal mother, the spectral mother is a shadowy reappearance of that figure who evokes thoughts of death and destruction. In Freud, Sprengnether says, "Her functions are ... marginalized, divided, suppressed, or transcended," and therefore, she concedes, they are "always problematic and thus in need of continuous reformulation" (39-40). But, Sprengnether concludes, "As an object of both fascination and dread, she is the specter that drives [Freud] forth," "compels his return," and toward the end calls from him "thought of death" (40). Significantly, in this, Freud's relation to the spectral mother suggests much that Morrison evokes in Love.
In Love, as if to exemplify Zizek's basic Freudian premise that in dreams, and narrative texts, the "'deeper' wish is located in the very gap between the latent dream-thought and manifest dream-content" (In Defense 73), there is indeed a spectral element that, despite its masculinized name, seems associated with a primordial maternal figure linked to death and castrating punishment. Alluded to above as perhaps that something which keeps a watchful eye upon Romen and Junior Viviane, it emanates from thunderclouds or rises up from oceanic depths and is called "Police-heads" (5). In the novel's untitled prologue, the narrative voice attributed to L, dead since the mid-1970s but speaking spectrally, timelessly, describes these figures--"dirty things with big hats who shoot up out of the ocean to harm loose women and eat disobedient children"--and provides a history for them that reaches back to her mother's time in the previous century. "My mother knew them," L says, "when she was a girl and people dreamed wide awake." After disappearing for a while, they return to L's account in the 1940s and persist there into the narrative's time-present, the mid-1990s. Though their physical appearance is ambiguous, Police-heads seem less like male figures than like the preoedipal devouring mother of myth-"demons ... hungry at suppertime" who "liked to troll at night," ones who appear in "thunderclouds" above the ocean where they "turned into gate-mouthed profiles wearing wide-brimmed hats" (5). Mostly, Police-heads seek out the recalcitrant child and the lustful woman, but at any time they will also go after couples suspected of something illicit, ones such as "a clarinet player"--the brother, it turns out, of Heed Cosey's only lover (Knox Sinclair)--"and his bride" who one morning in 1958 "drowned before breakfast." L reflects that "After the drowned couple was separated ... you'd think women up to no good and mule-headed children wouldn't need further warning, because they knew there was no escape: fast as lightning, nighttime or day, Police-heads could blast up out of the waves to punish wayward women or swallow the misbehaving young" (6). Male or female, but likely androgynously both, and thus a figuration of the phallic mother, these figures are as cruelly unforgiving as Father himself and must be construed as the counterpart to the paternal superego, as, that is, the Mother Thing seen as das Ding. Just as surely, as an emanation in Love of the spectral mother, they must be associated with none but L herself. It is she, and only she, as the author's narrative surrogate, who is the ghostly, spectral force of the maternal principle that rules Morrison's text.
Zizek has said that, in a formal sense, as a truth-event that may lead to radical acts, "love is evil" (Taylor). As also demonstrated in Beloved, in Sethe's love and the murderous act it precipitates, here in Love, Morrison, as she reveals those diverse faces of the father, seems to accept the Zizekian paradox. The paradox itself is archetypal for, in the standard Freudian myth of the brothers' killing the primordial father, love and betrayal are inextricably linked. For his part, Lacan suggests that it is only out of love that such a betrayal is possible. For his part, Zizek argues that to kill him is one way to deal with the "trauma of the excessively enjoying father who must be betrayed" ("Four Discourses" 98). At the end of Love, Morrison's one major revelation is that it is for love, and inevitable guilt, that someone had indeed killed Bill Cosey, the obscene father whose very murder establishes the possibility of his becoming for Junior Viviane the dead father, the Symbolic Name of the Father. The revelation comes through L. With a mild shock, readers eventually realize that L herself had loved Cosey from the moment she first saw him, "standing," she says, "in the sea, holding Julia, his wife, in his arms. I was five; he was twenty-four and I'd never seen anything like that" (64). In one of the peculiar features of Morrison's narration, L herself has been dead some twenty years when she offers her own pronouncement upon the multiple faces of Bill Cosey. "You could call him a good bad man, or a bad good man," she says. On the one hand, "Whenever I see his righteous face correcting Heed, his extinguished eyes gazing at Christine, I think Dark won out." But, on the other, she remembers "his tenderness cradling Julia in the sea; his wide wallet, his hand roughing his son's hair." In such moments, as if she were a woman defending Freud's primordial father in Totem and Taboo, she recognizes his humanity, how he is neither Superman, with "an S stitched on his shirt," nor a devil with "a pitchfork" in hand. Instead, she insists, "He was an ordinary man ripped, like the rest of us, by wrath and love" (200).
Thus, as if it is the job of Cosey family mythology to create a truly odd primal couple in L and Bill Cosey, it is as a spectral agent of both maternal wrath and love that L plays her own role in the process by which Love's primordial Father himself of the Real comes to be Junior Viviane's dead father of the Symbolic. Taking the place of Totem and Taboo's murderous sons or what the novel calls Dixie law (68), either of which might kill an overbearing father who is also a successful black businessman, L, acting as Mother herself, murdered Bill Cosey. From love, she poisoned him with foxglove, which "can be quick, if you know what you're doing, and doesn't hurt all that long," she says. "He wasn't fit to think, and ... he wasn't going to get better" (201). But from wrath she does it because someone had to "stop him" to prevent his doing yet more evil. In a last will and testament, which L has seen, he means to exercise a final form of obscene power over the family members who remained at the end. Upon May, Heed, and Christine, he would have avenged himself by leaving all his property to the prostitute in whose place he married Heed. Thus, it came to pass, as L explains, "I had to stop him" (200). Finally, then, if Love is about the paradoxes of fathers and of love, as in many forms it seems to be, L's act may well be the most decisive--even, in its result, the kindest--gesture of love in it. Moreover, by its securing a home for Heed and Christine, and by establishing for Junior Viviane the conditions by which Bill Cosey might somehow become the Symbolic father, the dead father, the oedipal Name-of-the-Father--as while alive he could be the Zizekian bourgeois father, conflating both the oedipal and superego fathers, both the father of totem and of taboo--L's murder of such a man is also perhaps the most primal founding gesture in Love and, indeed, in all Morrison's fiction. And here lies the truth of Morrison's fictional universe, for it is one evident in all the novels from The Bluest Eye through Sula to Song of Solomon, Tar Baby, Beloved, Jazz, Paradise, Love, and A Mercy. Even in a seemingly regnant patriarchal culture, there remains an unfathomable maternal power that rules it as much as does the paternal.
Aubrey, Timothy. "Beware the Furrow of the Middlebrow: Searching for Paradise on the Oprah Winfrey Show." Modern Fiction Studies 52 (206): 350-73.
Backus, Margo Gayle. "'Looking for That Dead Girl': Incest, Pornography, and the Capitalist Family Romance in Nightwood, The Years and Tar Baby." American Imago 51 (1994): 521-45.
Bennett, Paula. "The Mother's Part: Incest and Maternal Deprivation in Woolf and Morrison." Narrating Mothers: Theorizing Maternal Subjectivities. Ed. Brenda O. Daly and Maureen T. Reddy. Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 1991. 125-38.
Bueno, Eva Paulino, Terry Caesar, and William Hummel, eds. Naming the Father: Legacies, Genealogies, and Explorations of Fatherhood in Modern and Contemporary Literature. New York: Lexington, 2000.
Copiec, Joan. Read My Desire: Lacan against the Historicists. Cambridge: MIT P, 1994.
Dickerson, Vanessa D. "The Naked Father in Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye." Yaeger and Kowaleski-Wallace 108-27.
Duvall, John N. "Descent in 'The House of Chloe': Race, Rape, and Identity in Tar Baby." Contemporary Literature 38 (1997): 325-49.
Encyclopedia of African American Business History. Ed. Juliet E. K. Walker. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1999.
Evans, Dylan. An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis. New York: Routledge, 1996.
Freud, Sigmund. The Freud Reader. Ed. Peter Gay. New York: Norton, 1989.
Gwin, Minrose C. "'Hereisthehouse': Cultural Spaces of Incest in The Bluest Eye." Incest and the Literary Imagination. Gainesville: U of Florida P, 2002. 316-28.
Jagodzinski, Jan. "Recuperating the Flaccid Phallus: The Hysteria of Post-Oedipal Masculine Representation and the Return of the Anal Father." JPCS: Journal for the Psychoanalysis of Culture and Society 6.1 (2001): 29-39.
Lacan, Jacques. Les complexes farniliaux dans la formation de l'individu: essai d'analysis d'une fonction en psychologie. Paris: Navarin, 1984.
--. Ecrits. Trans. Bruce Fink. New York: Norton, 2005.
--. Encore. On Feminine Sexuality: The Limits of Love and Knowledge. Book XX 1972-1973. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Trans. with notes by Bruce Fink. New York: Norton, 1998.
--. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis. Book VII 1959-1960. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Trans. Dennis Porter. New York: Norton, 1992.
--. Freud's Papers on Technique. Book I 1953-1954. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Trans. with notes by John Forrester. New York: Norton, 1988.
--The Other Side of Psychoanalysis. Book XVII 1969-1970. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Trans. with notes by Russell Grigg. New York: Norton, 2007.
Laplanche, Jean, and J.-B. Pontalis. 1967. The Language of Psycho-Analysis. Trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith. New York: Norton, 1973.
MacCannell, Juliet Flower. The Regime of the Brother: After the Patriarchy. New York: Routledge, 1991.
Masson, Jeffrey Moussaieff. The Assault on Truth: Freud's Suppression of the Seduction Theory. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1984.
Miller, Jacques-Alain, and Eric Laurent. "The Other Who Does Not Exist and His Ethical Committees." Trans. Michele Julien et al. Almanac of Psychoanalysis. Ed. Ruth Golan et al. Tel Aviv: Groupe Israelienne de l'Ecole Europeene, 1998. 15-35.
Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. 1970. New York: Plume, 1994.
--. Interview. O." The Oprah Magazine. Web. <http://www.oprah.com/omagazine/200311/omag_200311_toni_b.jhtml>.
--. Love. 2003. New York: Knopf, 2005.
--. Song of Solomon. 1977. New York: Knopf, 2004.
Mortimer, Gail L. "Initiation Stories and Gender." Analyzing the Different Voice: Feminist Psychological Theory and Literary Texts. Ed. Jerilyn Fisher and Ellen S. Silber. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998. 9-25.
Samuels, Robert. Writing Prejudices: The Psychoanalysis and Pedagogy of Discrimination from Shakespeare to Toni Morrison. Albany: SUNY P, 2001.
Schreiber, Evelyn Jaffe. Subversive Voices: Eroticizing the Other in William Faulkner and Toni Morrison. Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 2001.
Sprengnether, Madelon. The Spectral Mother: Freud, Feminism, and Psychoanalysis. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1990.
Taylor, Astra, dir. Zizek! New York: Zeitgeist Films, 2006.
Vickroy, Laurie. "The Politics of Abuse: The Traumatized Child in Toni Morrison and Marguerite Duras." Mosaic 29.2 (1996): 91-108.
Walker, Juliet E. K. The History of Black Business in America: Capitalism, Race, Entrepreneurship. New York: Macmillan/Prentice Hall International, 1998.
Wyatt, Jean. Risking Difference: IdentiEcation, Race, and Community in Contemporary Fiction and Feminism. Albany: SUNY P, 2004.
Yaeger, Patricia. "The Father's Breasts." Yaeger and Kowaleski-Wallace 3-21.
--, and Beth Kowaleski-Wallace, eds. Refiguring the Father: New Feminist Readings of Patriarchy. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1989.
Zizek, Slavoj. Enjoy Your Symptom/Lacan in Hollywood and Out. New York: Routledge, 1992.
--. For They Know Not What They Do: Enjoyment as a Political Factor. New York: Verso, 1991.
--. "Four Discourses, Four Subjects." Cogito and the Unconscious. Ed. Zizek. Durham: Duke UP, 1998. 74-113.
--. In Defense of Lost Causes. London: Verso, 2008.
--. The Metastases of Enjoyment: Six Essays on Woman and Causality. New York: Verso, 1994.
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--Tarrying with the Negative: Kant, Hegel, and the Critique of Ideology. Durham: Duke UP, 1993.
--. "The Three Faces of Bill Gates." The Universal Exception: Selected Writings, Volume Two. Ed. Rex Butler and Scott Stephens. New York: Continuum, 2006. 227-36.
--. The Ticklish Subject. New York: Routledge, 1999.
JAMES M. MELLARD
Northern Illinois University, Emeritus
(1) On the historical decline or crisis of the oedipal father, Copjec, MacCannell, and Miller all see the terms of the situation differently, but there are, shall we say, family resemblances. Copjec worries politically, arguing that democracy itself, as in America, hystericizes its subjects, and those subjects do what hysterics do: they elect "a master who is demonstrably fallible--even, in some cases, incompetent" (149). MacCannell evinces a concern more specifically feminist, for it is the brother who in our time, she claims, takes the place once held by the father as the signifier of law, authority: "the brother utters a prohibition, or rather acts it out silently. Like the primary oedipal intergenerational incest taboos which are the basis of family, it is still directed against familial relations: but its focus is changed, widened, to work at the level of the group or society" (13). Concerned with the general decline of belief in the big Other of theology, Miller, likewise, sees the problem in the devolution of the exercise of the law of the father to the level of the group, to what he calls mere "ethical committees." For none of these three social critics is there a signifier of Law that stands above the Law clearly to establish it; rather, in Miller's words, Law or Authority falls to "horizontal identification between the members of the society themselves" (24). Further discussion of these views occurs below in part 4. For the historical backgrounds of such views, see not only Freud's "Family Romances" and Totem and Taboo, but also works by Lacan: Les complexes familiaux(1938) and various seminars, such as the first, Freud's Papers on Technique (1953-1954), and, among the last, The Other Side of Psychoanalysis (1969-1970) and Encore (1972-1973). To gain more familiarity with Freud's and Lacan's concepts, one might also see Laplanche and Pontalis; for Lacan's in particular, see Dylan Evans, who no longer regards himself a Lacanian but whose study is outstanding nonetheless.
(2) Zizek frequently explains the embedded relations of sets of Freudian and Lacanian concepts associated with "the father" (who, like the Old Testament Yahweh, has many associated names). As these are sets of terms I often use in the analysis that follows, here is a passage of detailed exposition from a recent book of his. First, the Freudian:
Although Freud uses three distinct terms for the agency that pushes the subject to act ethically--he speaks of the ideal ego (Idealich), ego ideal (Ich-Ideal), and superego (Uberich)--as a rule he conflated the three (he often uses the expression Ichideal oder Idealich (ego ideal or ideal ego), and the title of chapter III of The Ego and the Id is "The Ego and Superego (Ego Ideal)."
Next come the Freudian transposed into the Lacanian:
Lacan, however, introduces a precise distinction between these three terms: the "ideal ego" stands for the idealized self-image of the subject (the way I would like to be, I would like others to see me); the ego ideal is the agency whose gaze I try to impress with my ego image, the big Other who watches over me and pushes me to give my best, the ideal I try to follow and actualize; and the superego is this same agency in its vengeful, sadistic, punishing aspect.
Finally come the determinative triad of terms both Freudian and Lacanian so essential to Zizekian analysis:
The underlying structuring principle of these three terms is clearly Lacan's triad Imaginary-Symbolic-Real: the ideal ego is imaginary, what Lacan calls the "small other," the idealized double image of my ego; the ego ideal is symbolic, the point of my symbolic identification, the point in the big Other from which I observe (and judge) myself; the superego is real, the cruel and insatiable agency which bombards me with impossible demands and which mocks my failed attempts to meet them, the agency in the eyes of which I am all the more guilty, the more I try to suppress my "sinful" strivings and live up to its exigencies. (In Defense 89)
Briefly, in another text, Zizek exemplifies the three father imagoes through a pop-cultural Staple, Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest, starring Cary Grant as Thornhill: the film, Zizek suggests, offers "a kind of spectral analysis of the figure of the father, separating it into its three components: the imaginary father (the United Nations official whose stabbing in the lobby of the General Assembly--the parricide--is attributed to Thornhill); the symbolic father ('Professor,' the CIA official who concocted the nonexistent 'George Kaplan'); and the real father (the tragic, obscene and impotent figure of Van Datum, Thornhill's principal adversary)" (For They Know Not 135).
(3) On Morrison's works, others have also used Zizek (and, of course, Lacan as well) to good purpose: for example, see chapters on Morrison in Samuels, Schreiber, and Wyatt. Obviously, if my approach were not rooted in Zizek, Lacan, and psychoanalysis, I might devote this essay to other orientations--ethnic, racial, feminist, historical, sociological, or anthropological--on the debate regarding fathers and the father. Feminist theory has been particularly instrumental in recent critiques of notions of the father within patriarchy. Refiguring the Father: New Feminist Readings of Patriarchy, edited by Patricia Yaeger and Beth Kowaleski-Wallace, for instance, offers several insightful essays under the headings "The Father's Desire," "Oedipal Hermeneutics," and "Beyond the Figure of the Father." Under the first, in "The Father's Breasts," Yaeger critiques the "disembodiment" of fathers as found in feminist and Lacanian discussions of father functions. Yaeger does not claim, she writes, "that 'real' fathers are not 'imagoes'--subjects and subjective experiences mediated for themselves, their cohorts, and their children by a network of social imperatives." Instead, she says, "this mediation is inevitably fractured and incomplete--and ... a simplistic preoccupation with the 'no' or 'name' of the father keeps the most tyrannical aspect of this name in its place" (13). For a collection of essays representing a variety of critical approaches, see Naming the Father, edited by Eva Paulino Bueno, Terry Caesar, and William Hummel.
(4) In the chapter "Whither Oedipus?" of The Ticklish Subject, Zizek uses Microsoft megabillionaire Bill Gates to illustrate a postmodern triad of (functions of the) father in one personage. Gates, Zizek argues, represents a structure in American cultural fantasy that replaces both the old "patriarchal Father-Master" of the Victorian Age and last century's "corporate Big Brother." He does so as a new icon, "a kind of 'Little Brother' ... [whose] very ordinariness functions as an indication of its opposite, of some monstrous dimension so uncanny that it can no longer publicly be rendered in the guise of some symbolic title" (347). As such a figure, Gates, as "the Little Brother, the average ugly guy," represents a newly emergent "notion of authority, that of the obscene superego that operates in the Real" (348). As American icon, Gates suggests "how the disintegration of patriarchal symbolic authority, of the Name of the Father, gives rise to the new figure of the Master who is simultaneously our common peer, our fellow creature, our imaginary double, and--for this very reason--fantasmatically endowed with another dimension of the Evil Genius." Indeed, "In Lacanian terms," says Zizek, "the suspension of the Ego Ideal, of the feature of symbolic identification--that is, the reduction of the Master to an imaginary ideal--necessarily gives rise to its monstrous obverse, to the superego figure of the omnipotent Evil Genius who controls our lives. In this figure, the imaginary (semblance) and the real (of paranoia) overlap, owing to the suspension of the proper symbolic efficiency" (349). Zizek's discussion of Gates is also found, in a longer form, in "The Three Faces of Bill Gates."
(5) Looking back on the 1930s and 1940s, when Morrison was growing up, she came to regard this third image of the father--the center, as it eventuated, of the postmodern crisis of paternal authority--as her time's dirty little social secret. If the writings adjunctive to many of her novels mean much, it is plain that it is this father who manifests himself in her fictions but also haunts her dreams--"When I learned," she writes of a friend raped by her father, "what separated her from us ... I became afraid of wakefulness as well as of sleep" (Foreword, Love x). Such a father, she writes in an afterword to The Bluest Eye, is the "secret between us," the "secret that is being kept from us." He is that father who was central to a larger social "conspiracy," a knowledge that is "both held and withheld, exposed and sustained." And that father is "precisely what the act of writing" her first novel was meant to reveal: to provide a "public exposure of a private confidence" (212). Nonetheless, while it is evident that The Bluest Eye in a most dramatic way represents in Cholly Breedlove the central figure in the crisis of paternal authority, there are almost equally problematic fathers after that novel, from Song of Solomon through A Mercy(2008). Morrison's eighth novel, Love, however, represents its most complete historical form and expresses its most psychoanalytically insidious results.
(6) In the novels prior to Love, the most significant black businessmen are Song of Solomon's Macon Dead II and Paradise's Morgan twins, Deacon and Steward. In those men, Morrison explores several issues associated with worldly success that she expands upon in Bill Cosey. In Cosey, as in Dead and the Morgans, Morrison emphasizes the class element associated with bourgeois values. While Cosey does achieve wealth and social status sufficient to qualify him as bourgeois, it is with some denigration that he is placed in that specific category by his granddaughter, who expresses no pride when calling him "her bourgeois grandfather" (167). As a significant element of plot in Song of Solomon, Morrison uses the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, founded in 1898, according to Encyclopedia of African American Business History, by "John Merrick and other black investors as the North Carolina Mutual Life and Provident Association" (625). In a foreword to Song of Solomon, in her explication of the novel's opening sentence--"The North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance agent promised to fly from Mercy [Hospital] to the other side of Lake Superior at three o'clock" (3)--Morrison indicates to what an extent she is attuned to the history of black business: "The name of the insurance company is that of a well-known black-owned company dependent on black clients" (xiii). As for a Marxist view of fathers and patriarchy in a novel of Morrison's that precedes Love, Margot Gayle Backus writes: "In the Anglo-American patriarchal family system, which appears in ... Tar Baby as a microcosm of the larger social order, the patriarch occupies the position of the entrepreneur or capitalist, while the other members of the family occupy the role of workers" (425). For more on African American business history, see both the Encyclopedia, edited by Juliet E. K. Walker, and Walker's monograph The History of Black Business in America.
(7) The entry on Gilbert Faustina (c. 1878-1941) in the Encyclopedia of African American Business History might well have been a template for Morrison. Although she suggests in Love that Cosey's place is "on the East Coast" (6), details of climate and one about Hurricane Agnes (9), which originated in the Gulf of Mexico and hit the Florida Panhandle area in 1972, suggest her geographical setting is near there, quite possibly near Mobile. Faustina's is precisely the sort of American success story Morrison needs. He has the proper capitalist virtues: "With cunning and determination not to be constrained by Jim Crow laws, Gilbert bought a seven-acre plot of land on Mon Luis Island, situated on the Mobile Bay, 20 miles south of the city of Mobile. Whites with summer homes on the island were unaware that a Negro had purchased a prime water front parcel. (It was speculated that a white lawyer ... sneaked the purchase through the legal process.)" He finds a product and a clientele for it: "Then, in 1922, Gilbert opened Faustina Beach--a five-acre picnic ground with bathing beach for Negroes, the first and only place in the entire western and eastern shoreline where Negroes could go swimming in the Mobile Bay or any other part of the Gulf of Mexico." He uses his gifts for marketing and salesmanship: "Gilbert marketed his beach as a place for families, churches, and other nonprofit organizations." His success exceeded anyone's wildest dreams, but, inevitably, it drew opposition from the only "natural" enemy in his environment. "The response was overwhelming. Groups came from as far away as Birmingham, Alabama, Pascagoula, Mississippi, and Pensacola, Florida.... [But] Faustina Beach did not go without notice from whites on the island and in the city of Mobile. The harassment and efforts to shut it down were numerous, varied, and severe. Gilbert won all legal challenges, but physical threats to him, his family, and patrons were persistent." It was, however, less a result of any personal business acumen than a matter of historical forces that eventually his venture failed. "Faustina Beach did not close until racial integration arrived in the late 1950s, and other water accesses became available for Negroes in the Deep South. It should be noted that with the relaxation of Jim Crow laws the Negro professional elite of Mobile began to purchase property on Mon Luis Island, and ironically, they, too, took exception to the 'publicness' and 'riffraff that Gilbert permitted on his property" (230).
(8) In the foreword to the 2004 Knopf edition of Song of Solomon, Morrison addresses the roles of her father in what I would call her own family mythology in ways that suggest how an ordinary father (ideal ego) of the Imaginary can be transformed into the idealized (ego ideal) father of the Symbolic. Her little tale seems, indeed, right out of Freud's "Family Romances." "He carried a letter from me in his coat pocket for years and years," she recounts, "and drove through blinding snowstorms to help me. Most important, he talked to each of us in language cut to our different understandings." Moreover, she says, "He had a flattering view of me as someone interesting, capable, witty, smart, high-spirited. I did not share that view of myself, and wondered why he held it." When she was in her thirties, her father died and in her memory was transformed by the death in the way it frequently happens with fathers. Still, she seems surprised by aspects of her mourning. Instead of his death, she says, "it was the death of that girl--the one who lived in his head--that I mourned when he died. Even more than I mourned him, I suffered the loss of the person he thought I was. I think it was because I felt closer to him than to myself that, after his death, I deliberately sought his advice for writing the novel that continued to elude me. 'What are the men you have known really like?'" In perhaps the most mysterious comment of all, Morrison says, simply, "He answered." This "father," she says, became her "muse, insight, inspiration, 'the dark finger that guides,' [her] 'bright angel,'" one she has, she says, "trusted ... ever since" (xii). But what this father has told her about fathers we can understand only by reading her novels.
(9) Most readers likely assume that because it is Heed who is so seriously injured and in need of medical attention at the novel's end it must be she who dies. But previous to Heed's fall Morrison quietly provides Christine with symptoms suggesting it could well be she who is "the dead one" Romen carries down the stairs and to the ancient Olds (197). Christine's symptoms are those of a stroke and seem familiar to her: a noise in her ears she takes to be from "heightened blood pressure," "dizziness and zigzags of light before her eyes" (169), and a "thorn of pain [that] scratches [her] shoulder as she climbs the steps" (170). After the moment Romen finds the two women, Morrison never attaches a name to either the live or the dead one. Nor does the live one, carried here and there by the youth, perform any actions that expressly rule out her being Heed rather than Christine. Morrison's withholding clarity on this matter seems significant largely in terms of the "love story" completed at Love's end, in its emulation of love's greatest tales, those of the liebestod, the love-death, the death in love. Heed's and Christine's final death-duet, with its refrain "Hey, Celestial," in which Morrison provides no speech tags, may not exactly remind of Wagner or Shakespeare, but it is not for Morrison's not having wished something equally grand for the termination of their lifelong love.
(10) In an interview in O: The Oprah Magazine, Morrison endorses trouble-making women and suggests that her definition of responsible social maturity would include Junior: "The idea of a wanton woman," Morrison says, "is something I have inserted into almost all of my books." This woman she describes as 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 theirpresence is constructive in the long run. Sula, for instance, was someone the other characters missed terribly when she was gone, even though she was the pariah. In Love, Junior, harking back to such figures as the three prostitutes in The Bluest Eye and to Sula's Eva and Sula Peace, as well as to similar figures in Jazz and Paradise, is a poor, rootless, free-floating young woman--a survivor, a manipulator, a hungry person--but she does create a space where people come with their better selves. [my emphasis]
(11) On incest and sexual abuse in Morrison, see Bennett, Dickerson, Duvall, Gwin, and Vickroy. The sexually abusive bourgeois father Zizek describes as an aspect of postmodernism has become a staple (as also, occasionally--as in Morrison's Tar Baby--has been the sexually abusive mother) of such contemporary television series as Cold Case, Close to Home, Law and Order, and, especially, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. It may well be that in social and family life the very trait defining the postmodern is the social outing of both the Pere- and Mere-Jouissance. While sexually abusive parents and parent-surrogates must always have existed, they seem never so readily acknowledged in so many social discourses as they are today. Had Freud not backed away from his seduction theory--the thesis that female hysteria developed from childhood sexual abuse--would postmodernism (in the mode of Virginia Woolf's famous quip) have begun on or about 1900? For more on the controversy surrounding Freud's seduction theory, see Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson.
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|Author:||Mellard, James M.|
|Publication:||The Mississippi Quarterly|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2010|
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