Friday, February 19, 2010

through Toni Morrison, Paul, LXX Translators, Hosea: Beloved

      Beloved has been and continues to be interpreted in myriad ways, with many different types of interpreters representing many different angles, agendas, and perspectives, responding to what appears to be [Toni Morrison] the author's invitation to read and probe and discuss the book.  There is raging debate still about the character Beloved--whence she comes, who or what she represents, the meaning or import of this or that statement or action attributed to her/it, whither it/she goes.  But all interpreters generally agree that Beloved is a story about a haunting, the haunting of those who are survivor-heirs of the "sixty million and more" made to undergo the Middle Passage (and to whom the book is dedicated).  It is a story about the failure on the part of all of us to remember those who died in such an experience.  It is about the refusal of those who died to go away and remain forgotten; it is about the haunting of the memory of those who died.  It is about why and how the memory of those who died is prevented, held back, made difficult or impossible to embrace.  Why the memory persists.  Why it hurts, traumatizes.  It is about consciousness, the impact the haunting has on the black soul, on the black consciousness.  It is about the impact of the loss of memory, the prevention and refusal of memory upon the black soul.  It is also ultimately about how the black soul may be reconstituted, healed, and united.  So it is also consciousness, interpretation, and articulation about the terms on which, and the framework within which, the black self, the one who is survivor-heir of the Middle Passage may now look back, remember, interpret, negotiate, and speak to the world about what it thinks, how it feels, and how it travels and experiences.  It is about "ripping the veil" that prevents the black self from remembering and healing itself.  It is a pointing in the direction in which the psychological-social stitching, weaving work can be carried out.
      Although it is clear what character in the book does the haunting, not entirely clear in every part of the book is the matter how the haunting is to be understood, that is, how the haunting works, why it persists, what the haunting is really all about.  It should occasion little surprise that I would notice and want to exploit, as very few other interpreters have, Morrison's epigraph, which is taken from Paul's letter to the Romans (9:25), and which also supplies the name of the character for whom the book is named:
I will call them my people,
Which were not my people;
and her beloved,
which was not beloved.
      No argument need be made about the importance of epigraphs in summing up a writer's agenda.  What I want to stress here is the importance of the epigraph in naming the issue behind the (narrative plotline) issue.  In order for this to be clear, it is important that the larger context of Paul's statement (actually a quotation of Hos 2:25, with word agreement with the LXX of 1:9) be established.  The larger discursive-argumentative context is Paul's effort to address the believers at Rome of mixed background ... regarding what appears to be ... an ironic, even paradoxical twist of fate and circumstance -- the phenomenon of the turning to God in great numbers on the part of Gentiles.... Paul tries his best to clarify matters; it does not work.  His arguments are halting, elliptical, and confusing....
      I think it is important to note that the end of the larger section, Romans 9-11, in which the the prophetic statement that Morrison used for her epigraph is found, Paul sums up....  At the beginning of the larger section Paul engages in a wonderful play on the word "call" (kaleo) before he draws a conclusion regarding the "mystery."  It is this word and Paul's play with it -- that is, signifying on it as marker of "hidden meanin'," of paradox -- that seem to draw Morrison's attention and inspire her usage.
      Morrison seems to have applied the Pauline "mystery" that equate "the call" (as election) and being called "beloved" to her book and black existence.  She renders the historical and perduring exclusion and marginalization; the historical enslavement, the other-ness, and subjugation; and the hoped-for elevation and self-possession in society and culture of black peoples mysterious.  Paul's rendering of Hosea's being called "beloved" is translated by Morrison as black folks' coming to be loved.  So it seems that what is most mysterious is the matter of how they were first enslaved and how they can or may come to be healed, elevated.  In Morrison's thinking -- through Paul [ -- through the LXX translators -- through Hosea] -- black peoples are the Gentiles, the ones thought at first to be outside, at first considered marginals, slaves, in terms of some grand design.  And just as mysterious a thing happened with the Gentiles of Paul's day, as even they were brought into the fold, so black folks, according to Morrison, are destined to be "called," to be loved.


above, an excerpt from the chapter "We Will Make Our Own Future Text," by Dr. Vincent L. Wimbush, in  True to Our Native Land: An African American New Testament Commentary.  (HT Rod)

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