Page 14- The Michigan Daily - Monday, January 16, 1989
Michigan Quarterly Review prints Morrison speech
BY LISA MAGNINO
1 had planned to call this paper
'Canon Fodder,' because the terms
put me in mind of a kind of trained
muscular response that appears to be
on display in some areas of the recent
canon debate. But I changed my mind
(so many have used the phrase) and
hope to make clear the appropriate-
ness of the title I settled on."
These words should bring back
memories of "Unspeakable Things
Unspoken: The Afro-American Pres-
ence in American Literature," the
electrifying speech Toni Morrison
gave at the Tanner Lecture on Human
Values last fall. All of those in at-
tendance left knowing that they had
seen a woman who has and will con-
tinue to change not only contempo-
rary literature but also contemporary
thought, and it was disturbing to
think that Morrison's provocative
ideas would be laid to rest in the
halls of Rackham.
Now, thanks to the current issue
of the Michigan Quarterly Review,
Morrison's observations have found
new life in a 34-page transcription.
The first portion of the three-part
lecture centers on the debateramong
academics over the literary canon, and
Morrison fashions aclever metaphor
out of the battle. She writes, "The
guns are very big; the trigger-fingers
quick. But I am convinced the mech-
anism of the defenders of the flame is
faulty. Not only may the hands of
the gun-slinging cowboy-scholars be
blown off, not only may the target
be missed, but the subject of the
conflagration (the sacred texts) is
sacrificed, disfigured in the battle.
This canon fodder may kill the
canon...." Instances like these make
the lecture seem as if it were written
for print rather than for speech.
Morrison's ideas come through as
loud and clear in print as at the lec-
ture. Though she writes, "...it is to
my great relief that such terms as
'white' and 'race' can enter serious
discussion of literature," her title
suggests otherwise. She elaborates,
"...in spite of its implicit and ex-
plicit acknowledgement, 'race' is still
a virtually unspeakable thing, as can
be seen in the apologies, notes of
'special use' and circumscribed
definitions that accompany it - not
the least of which is my own defence
in surrounding it with quotation
marks.... In trying to come to some
terms about 'race' and writing, I am
tempted to throw my hands up."
Morrison suggests several strate-
gies that may help overcome the ex-
clusion of Afro-American works and
puts the one that she labels "A
search... for the ghost in the ma-
chine" (a re-examination and
interpretation of the American canon
of 19th century works) to good prac-
tice. She takes a refreshing look at
Moby Dick, taking her lead from
Michael Rogin's essay on the social
commentary within Melville's work.
Morrison's strategy works bril-
liantly. She argues that the white
steps in Beaches
BY JOHN SHEA
Like a gifted but obnoxious child star who doesn't know how to exit the'
stage gracefully after her scene is over, Bette Midler demands your ever-last.
ing attention. You can't help but give it to her. She attacks the senses, go;
ing first after the eyes with her outrageous, larger-than-life persona, and then:
the ears with her squeaky, little-mouse voice that roars without the slightest,
of warning. Her appeal can be found directly underneath the thin veil of-
daintiness she likes to project, where a delicious mean streak of self-indul-,
gence lives. "I'm a bitch," she seems to say in all her films. "What are your
going to do about it?"
The temptation exists to say her new film, Beaches, deviates from her
standard image. After all, it is a drama; the Divine Miss M has not dipped,
her big toe in the murky waters of this genre in ten years, not since her suc-
cess in The Rose. And she looks and feels comfortable in her role of C.C.-
Bloom, a struggling actress from the Bronx whose one-day childhood en-
counter with Hillary Whitney (Barbara Hershey) on the beach in Atlantic,
City in 1957 leads to the beginning of a life-long friendship. Beaches plays,
in essence, as an updated version of The Odd Couple, chronicling the twos
protagonists' lives over a 30-year span. Hillary is shy, quiet, proper; C.C,
brash, loud-mouthed, true-to-herself.
Screenwriter Mary Agnes Donoghue relies on the reliable for plot struc-
ture. They are weary of each other at first (of course), they come to accept-
each other for what they are (of course), they have their share of serious.
problems (of course) but in the end they are resolved, more often than not, in
the warm glow of the fading sun (you bet). Within the predictable frame-
work, however, one can find some nice moments from all parties involved.
Donoghue writes good dialogue and Midler and Hershey work well together.
Midler would like you and the Academy of Motion Picture, Arts and Sci-
ences to believe that her performance is not autobiographical. While I am'
not Midler's best friend, I can tell you: her personal history superimposes,.
comfortably over C.C's. C.C. has a hard time getting work because she's
not beautiful, despite her talent ("My face is my fortune," C.C. sings:'
"That's why I'm totally broke."); Midler has said the same happened to her.
C.C gets her big break on Broadway, singing lead in a trampy musical; so,
did Midler, in 1974, with "The Divine Miss M." C.C. can't find work again;
despite her success; Midler had a six year lull in her career whenno one'
wanted her, from her Oscar nomination in 1979 for The Rose until her
signing of a lucrative contract with Touchstone Pictures in 1985 (does any-
one remember her lone picture in the interim, Jinxed?)
As was the case in The Rose, Midler's passion is convincing but its ori-
gin comes from referring back to her own personal experiences; it is less
acting and more recall. She shows a flair for drama but to date her credits in'
the genre read like a one-note song; two outings, playing two troubled per-
formers. Hershey has, by nature, a broader spectrum of roles she can play.
(and has the ability to play well) but this particular role brings with it great'
limitations. Hilary carries a fragile soul within a papier-mach6 body, and she
never finds the courage to take more than two steps outside the shell she's k'
been living in all her life. Instead of growing as a person, as one would hope.*
for and expect, she shrinks even more. The best that can be said for Hershey
is that she plays a meager character well.
The principle problem of Beaches lies in the five song-and-dance num-4
bers which populate the story. The songs stop whatever dramatic momentum
had been acheived previously. It's hard to tell whether the story is too small
or Midler's presence too big, but you can hear the screeching of the brakes
being applied every time she comes out and sings. She stops the show,
literally, to its own detriment. That the screen only seems truly filled when
Midler is singing suggests Beaches' story might be better off within the
smaller confines of television.
'Those who claim the
superiority of Western
culture are entitled to that
claim only when Western
civilization is measured
thoroughly against other
civilizations and not found
wanting, and... owns up to
its own sources in the
cultures that preceded it.'
-Toni Morrison, printed
in the Michigan Quarterly
whale represented Melville's realiza-
tion of the time in America when
whiteness became ideology and that
Ahab's monomania is the manifesta-
tion of this ideology. She writes,
"The trauma of racism is, for the
racist and the victim, the severe
fragmentation of the self .... Ahab
then is navigating between an idea of
civilization that he renounces and an
idea of savagery he must annihilate,
because the two cannot co-exist."
This is what Morrison calls the
"unspeakable" meaning of Moby
Dick - and it is this re-interpreta-
tion that "points a helpful finger to-
ward the ways in which the ghost
drives the machine."
The final part of Morrison's lec-
ture was a dissection of the first line
of each of her novels; spoken, her
dense explications, though extraordi-
nary, were difficult to follow. Now
that they are in print, however, they
are essential reading.
MQR has packaged Morrison's
words well. Immediately following
the transcription are two essays re-
sponding to her thoughts. The first,
by Hazel Carby, associate English
professor at Wesleyan College,
agrees that Morrison's strategy of re-
examining and re-interpreting the lit-
erary canon is a good one, but that it
does not extend far enough. She ar-
gues that trying to represent inequal-
ity by including certain books on a
syllabus is not enough to overcome
the inherent hierarchies of society;
moreover, these books will soon be-
come part of the problem that they
are supposed to be solving - they
cannot represent all of Afro-American
culture. Instead, Carby, in a succinct,
effective closing, illustrates her
overriding goal: "It is the possibility
that we can develop cultural analyses
that are directed toward the complex-
ity not the purity of culture that can
free us from the limitations of
Counterposed to this view is the
second essay, "The Canon and
American History," by Eric Foner,
professor of history at Columbia. An
unexpected irony arises by this
placement since Carby takes a shot
specifically at Columbia and its
"new" canon, but Foner takes a more
historical look at the development of
the canon. He believes that the best
American historical writing of the
last 20 years has come from students
of slavery and emancipation - and
that much is worthy of inclusion in
the canon. However, Foner's canon
would not include Morrison's
Pulitzer Prize-winning Beloved,
which he criticizes at length for its
pessimistic depiction of Black life
during the Reconstruction.
Foner's essay is followed by a
portfolio of art and an accompanying,
accessible essay, "Abstraction and
Figuration in Afro-American Art,"
that provides a good sense of the
history present in Black visual arts.
It is unfortunate that the theme of
Afro-American culture stops with the
portfolio, but the short fiction and
poetry - works by Raymond
Carver, Joyce Carol Oates, and Ur-
sula LeGuin are featured - are of the
high quality that one expects from
This edition is to be treasured for
the transcription of Morrison's work.
However, one hopes that the
thoughtful handling and packaging of
writings on the debate surrounding
the literary canon is not overlooked
- the Michigan Quarterly Review
should stand as one of the first
publications to successfully examine
what Morrison calls the "contemp-
orary battle plain."
Garry Marshall (Nothing in Common) pushes a lot of emotional buttons
and at times he is overbearing. You can feel almost feel his heavy hand reach;
for the heartstrings. For example, near the end, Hillary is dying. She and
C.C. travel to a beach house for the summer and at Beaches' climax, they are]
sitting in lawn chairs at the beach, watching the sunset. Marshall's camera
lingers on this scene for several seconds too long, and in case you don't get
the metaphor, he slowly zooms in on the sun. So much for subtlety.
Still, Beaches works, in a limited sort of way. We come to feel for thes
characters and their relationship, despite the almost-crippling structural flaw
and excess of virtues. Beaches' urgent message - that the bonds of friend-
ship often grow from the most unlikely of places and that life is too shor'f
and too hard not to nuture them - pounds its way through the film's hol-,
low metaphors with a poignant clarity.
Let Them Know
How You FeelIlI
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SPORTS! SCORESI SIGN-UPSI TRIPSI
January 16, 1989: A day to
Rev. Joseph E. Lc
Rev. Lowery worked extensively with
Martin Luther King, Jr. in founding the
Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
10am - East Quad Auditorium
A M E R I C A S C O L L E G E R I N G7-
Stop by and see a Jostens representative,
January 16th and 17th
11a.m. to 4 p.m.
to select from a comnIte line of nold rinn.
-Film: Eyes on the Prize
11am - East Quad Auditorium
-Dream Into action: Stick an
apple on a tree :Helo build the future