• Slavery’s Ghosts and the Haunted Housing Crisis: On Narrative Economy and Circum-Atlantic Memory in Toni Morrison’s A Mercy

    Jesse A. Goldberg (see profile)
    GS Prose Fiction, LLC 20th- and 21st-Century American, LLC African American, TC Race and Ethnicity Studies, TC Women’s and Gender Studies
    American literature--African American authors, Fiction, Twenty-first century, Economics and literature, Slavery, United States, Area studies
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    African American literature, Contemporary fiction, Literature and economics, American studies
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    In light of (re)new(ed) interest in focusing interdisciplinary scholarly attention on the history of capitalism – a focus captured in Edward Baptist’s recent book, The Half has Never Been Told – this essay reads Toni Morrison’s 2008 novel A Mercy as a key text for considering the history of capitalism as central to conceptions of circum-Atlantic modernity. Scholarship on the novel has already established the rich ways of reading A Mercy as a rememory of colonial North America, and the novel has been reviewed within the context of its historical moment of publication (the 2008 Housing Crisis and the election of Barack Obama), but there have been few analytical readings of the novel within its moment of publication, so my essay seeks to open more space for thinking about the novel in multiple temporal directions. Drawing on a theoretical and historical framework shaped by Hortense Spillers, Jacques Derrida, Joseph Roach, Ian Baucom, and Suzan-Lori Parks, I argue that A Mercy is a text that teaches us how to better read narratives of the Housing Crisis which coincidentally erupted in the same year as its publication. I demonstrate this through a careful reading of the text’s narrative economy as it is shaped by the historical economic logic of the moment which it remembers, attending both to close readings of the novel’s language and analysis of its narrative structure. Ultimately, the essay continues discussions of Morrison’s novel by insisting on its centrality in conversations about the history of our most recent economic crisis.
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    5 years ago
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