Traces and Cracks: Identity and Narrative in Toni Morrison's Jazz

by Carolyn M. Jones
Traces and Cracks: Identity and Narrative in Toni Morrison's Jazz
Carolyn M. Jones
African American Review
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Traces and Cracks: Identity and Narrative in Toni

Morrison's Jazz

At the end of Beloved, the narrator reminds us that the spirit of Beloved is expiated, not destroyed. She lingers at the boundaries of Sethe's and Paul D's lives: "They can touch [her] if they like, but don't, because they know things will never be the same if they do. . . . Down by the stream in back of 124 her footprints come and go, come and go." We are told that "this is not a story to pass on" (Beloved 275). The double meaning of this phrase is explicated by Karla F. Holloway in "Beloved: A Spiritual": Beloved's is both a story that must not be passed on, told again, but, in the vernacular meaning of the phrase, the story cannot be passed on-that is, the story must be told (517). How to tell the story becomes the task of the writer. Morrison must nar- rate across the breaks in history and the absences of personal nar- ratives of black Americans to express the meaning of the lives of particular black Americans and of African Americans in America. In her subsequent novel Jazz, Morrison creates a narrative strate- gy that combines the movement of music and the structure of tragedy; more specifically, she uses the improvisational quality of music to deconstruct the form of tragedy, allowing a reconstruc- tion of identity to emerge that is not determined, but fluid and improvisational. In Jazz, Toni Morrison retells the story of Beloved, which Morrison regards as the essential story of the black experience in America. The story begins with the fracturing of human psyches, souls, and bodies in slavery. This fracture causes one to devalue the self, to displace the self and to locate the best of the self in an "other": the beloved. In Jazz, Morrison symbolizes this fracture through Violet's cracks and Joe's traces. The narrator of Jazz brings these cracks and traces together in the centerpiece of the novel-the story of Golden Gray and the Wild. This story, this myth of the primordial parents which Joe and Violet share (have in common) but do not share (disclose to each other) reveals essential aspects of each of their characters and of Morrison's nar- rative strategy in the novel. The novel is concerned with the theme of arming: of moving from the violence that wounds the self to a reconstructed identity that heals, that allows one to negotiate life in a full and vital way and to love. The metaphor for the process of attaining this full- ness, this love is jazz. As Morrison said in 1993 in Paris Review, jazz music "reinforced the idea of love as a space where one could negotiate freedom" (113). I want to work through Joe's traces and Violet's cracks to their reconstructions of identity through Dorcas; to look at Golden Gray and the Wild and their relationship to those reconstructions; from the story of Golden Gray, to return to Joe and Violet; and, finally, to comment on the success and failure

Carolyn M. Jones is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies and English at Louisiana State University, where she teaches in the Honors College. Her article "Sulaand Beloved: Images of Cain in the Novels of Toni Morrison" appeared in a 1993 issue of AAR.

African American Review, Volume 31, Number 3 01997 Carolyn M. Jones

of narrative for making meaning in


Morrison confirms the continua- tion of the story of Beloved in an inter- view with Gloria Naylor in The Southern Review. In that interview, Morrison discusses her then-work-in- progress, Beloved, and anticipates the work that will become Jazz:

[The] book I'm writing now [is] called Beloved. I had an idea that I didn't know was a book idea, but I do remember being obsessed by two or three little fragments of stories that I had heard from different places. One was a newspaper clipping about a woman named Margaret Garner in 1851.

She recounts the Garner storv and savs that that story did not becoke clear fdr her until she was thinking of another:

. . . I had read in a book that Camille Billogs published, a collection of pic- tures by Van Der Zee, called The Harlem Book of the Dead. . . . In one picture, there was a young girl lying in a coffin and he says that she was eigh- teen years old and she had gone to a party and that she was dancing and suddenly she slumped and they noticed there was blood on her and they said, "What happened to you?" and she said, "I'll tell you tomorrow. I'll tell you tomorrow." That's all she would say.

Morrison continues:

Now what made these stories connect, I can't explain, but I do know that, in both instances, something seemed clear to me. A woman loved something other than herself so much. She had placed all of the value of her life in something outside herself. (583-84)

Morrison says that this displacement of the self and the return of this displaced self, the dead Beloved, is at the center of both the novel called Beloved and of the novel to come:

Morrison: I call her Beloved so that I can filter all these confrontations and questions that she has in that situation, which is 1851, and then to extend her life, you know, her search, her quest, all the way through as long as I care to go, into the twenties where it switches to this other girl. Therefore, I have a New York uptown-Harlem milieu in which to put this love story, but

Beloved will be there also.

Gloria Naylor: Always Beloved being

the twin self to whatever woman

shows up throughout the work.

Morrison: She will be the mirror, so to speak. (585)

Dorcas, the woman who dies, becomes the Beloved in Jazz. When Violet Trace puts the picture of the dead girl, the girl her husband loved and killed, on the family mantel, Violet places at the heart of the household a mirror for both herself and Joe. At one point Violet realizes that "from the very beginning I was a substitute and so was" Joe (jazz 97). Dorcas represents the sought-for completion that they think are their real best selves. She is what Joe has lost: the trace of some- thing for which he must hunt. Dorcas means deer. She is also that with which Violet is overpowered: She is the sym- 201 of the crack in Violet's being. This :rack, I think, is like Cassandra's in the Oresteia; Violet sees too much that she :annot explain. Dorcas comes from the :reek verb derkomai, 'to see clearly' or to have sight.' Dorcas is the Beloved: :he lost and dead parents; the lover ~ho

opens up loneliness; and the child hat Joe and Violet choose not to have. 411 of this is symbolized in Golden :ray and the Wild. Violet asks at one )oint, "Was she the woman who took he man, or the daughter who fled [the] ~omb?"(109). She is both-and more.

These characters, therefore, have lisplaced themselves, but for different .easons. Joe and Violet have opposite ,ut complementary problems. Joe is an ibandoned and adopted child, and his dentity is one that he creates for him- ;elf out of the traces of meaning that ire available to him. His problem is :hange: He goes through seven lives )efore he finally confronts his self in he person/mirror of Dorcas. He has )een claimed by Violet, but, unclaimed )y his mother, he never makes a claim. Jiolet's problem is a kind of stasis. She s given an image of perfection, Golden ;ray, by her grandmother True Belle. liolet is overweighted by this image; it


causes a crack in her self, and Violet finds herself needing to sit down. Violet claims Joe, but she has never been claimed. Through the metaphor of jazz, Morrison brings their stories and their lives together.

In "Memory, Creation, and Writing," Toni Morrison says,

I fret the pieces and fragments of mem- ory because too often we want the whole thing. When we wake up from a dream we want to remember all of it, although the fragment we are remem- bering may be, and very probably is, the most important piece in the dream.


Indeed, Jazz itself is a story recon- structed from fragments of memory, gossip, and news. Composition, Morrison says, is a process of "recla- mation of self and of history" (Naylor 576). Thus, memory and storytelling are the exercise of an imaginative facul- ty that helps one to live harmoniously with the self, the human community, and the past. Telling stories, she tells Gloria Naylor, is discovery, "deep talk- ing" (576) with and about the "self" and the "other."

Memory is reconstructed from the image. Morrison's image, like Edouard Glissant's "track" (see Caribbean Discourse 9, 231-32), is a signification on the Derridean "trace." Jacques Derrida, in Of Gramma tology, argues that the trace, or one aspect of it, is where the relationship with the "otheru-specifically, the transcendent "otheru-is marked (47). The trace marks an "irreducible absence" (Gasche 45), "an original non-presence and alterity" (Krell166) at the heart of all systems of expression. It marks the absence of presence and the beginning of binary thinking. The trace, then, is the "mark that must be remarked" (Krell167). Glissant, moving beyond language into history, links the trace to the track. The track marks the historical moment of rupture, the crack-for example, slavery-that itself can be remarked but which creates an absence (Gasche 45) for the black persons involved. The track can be followed to make a reconnection, but that recon- nection will never be a return to the original. Following the track will create a mixture, a creole form that contains elements of the original but also ele- ments from cultural contact.

Morrison works with both trace and track. Recognizing that passing things, history and the people who make and endure it, makes an impres- sion, leaves a trace, Morrison makes the trace a track, a path. It becomes the "route to a reconstruction of a person's story, to an exploration of an interior life that was not written and of a world that has been ignored or devalued" ("Site" 115). Yet Morrison retains the Derridean sense that, even as we take it, this is an "unpassable path" (Steiner 123)-that all rememories, as she calls them in Beloved, are reconstructions, complete but also incomplete. That reconstruction is, therefore, "the reve- lation of a kind of truth" ("Site" 115).

We see this mode of exploration and reconstruction in Toe Trace. Joe's parents leave him, "disap- pear[ing] without a trace" uazz 124). Joe, when asked his name at school, tells the teacher that he is Joseph Trace, because he is " 'Trace, what they went off without' " (124). He is the fragment that he has to investigate, on which he has to base, and with which he must recreate his identity. Joe becomes the hunter, tracking himself back to his ori- gins: his mother, the Wild. She too is a Beloved, with a low sweet babygirl laugh (37, 167). Like all of Morrison's male characters, Joe lives the Ulysses pattern: a life of constant physical movement and change that is about trying to get home. As Beloved does to Paul D, Dorcas stops him, moves him in a way that he has never before been moved. He sees in her light-skinned face the tracks that mark the way to what he has lost. They are like the mark that Wild makes on Hunter's face when she bites him. These marks that are signs on Joe's path, the marks in the rite of passage to self-understanding, are part of why Joe chooses Dorcas. He tells us that he never chose Violet; she chose him. With Dorcas, he chose: "I didn't fall in love. I rose in it" (135).

On Dorcas, he can lavish all the attention that he cannot give to Violet, who is lost in her birds and longing for a child. Dorcas, however, like Sula, is an unloved child who has will not put out her hand, who is "too brain-blasted to do what the meanest sow managed: nurse what she birthed" (Jazz 179).His need to be claimed makes him "Violent." Wild's Treason, committed at the river of the same name, is that she never claims him, so he never claims another-until Dorcas.

It seems that Joe aban-

become a dangerous woman. First rejected by her mother, she subse- Cracks and traces dons his search when he marries Violet, but he must live up to his name:
quently loses her parents in a fire. As much as Alice tries to keep Dorcas from are, for Morrison, construct from the traces a "rememoried" past, and become whole. That is, he
the life of ihe body, the narrative must put into narrative
body, her own body, is all   what has happened to him
that Dorcas has. Like Sula, she has no center, but strategyand and give it meaning. Violet becomes a way of
unlike Sula, who is auda- cious most of the time, Dorcas is only alive when istorica' fact. avoiding that. Betrayed and unclaimed, Joe lets Violet choose him when

she is a mirror of someone else. Her body is her offer- ing, and she offers it until she finds what she wants: Anton, a man who demands that she be not her own self, but what he desires.

a gift, at her feet, and he begins a life of distancing himself from his feelings. He can remember the details, "but he has a tough time trying to catch what it felt like" (29).His mother's rejection creates "the inside nothing he traveled with from then on" (37).Dorcas, even as she becomes a site of confession, does not heal his loneli- ness but, like Beloved for Paul D, inten- sifies it. Joe's numerous changes do not create a self. Instead, they deconstruct his self. He feels that he has to be new every day to survive. Dorcas puts an end to his chameleon-like changes. She is his "young good God young girl who both blesses his life and makes him wish he had never been born" (40). She opens a void in him and prepares him for his last change:

Make me know a loneliness I never

imagine in a empty people for fifteen miles, or on a river- bank with nothing but live bait for company. convince me I never knew the Sweet side of anything until I tasted her honey. They say snakes go blind for awhile before they shed skin for the last time. (129)

Dorcas, for Joe, is the end of change and the beginning of insight.


If Dorcas stops Joe, she sets Violet in motion. Violet is characterized by her public craziness-slashing the face of a dead girl-and her private cracks. These cracks are "not openings or breaks, but dark fissures in the globe light of the day" (22). The globe light .of her consciousness, of her self, illumi- nates scenes that are like slides in a projector. Violet sees, watches every- day life go on in these scenes, but, as if she were watching slides, she does not see herself acting. Each scene is sepa- rate, discrete. There are thresholds, spaces between the slides, but Violet does not seem to be able to cross them without becoming caught. The every- day thresholds, like alleyways, do not threaten her being, but there are mon- strous chasms: the cracks.

These cracks seem to be two things. They are spaces that Violet should be able to fill with her own nar- rative voice, bringing the discrete expe- riences of her life into story, and they are also a form of knowledge. What emerges from these cracks are connec- tions that Violet cannot explain. This seems to me to be the "magical mys- tery of the link" that Enrico Santi describes: the connection between one thing and another that is not the usual er kind of mirror in the text, much less her husband. The other is "That Violet," Violent-the one who claimed Joe Trace, the one knows where the knife is, who has hips, and who "knew there was no shame [and] no disgust" (94).Violet must realize that "that Violet" is she. Only then can she become the true Violet: bring the two kinds of knowledge together through the process of mourning her losses- the death of her mother Rose Dear, the inconstancy of her "birthday-every- day" (100) father, and the strength that she left in Virginia, the strength that let her claim Joe Trace.

Dorcas becomes the symbol of these losses. Violet's experience with her parents teaches her one thing: ". . . never never have children" (103). Later, however, Violet wants a child, and this wanting begins to separate her from Joe. She is so blinded by the desire that she separates herself from everyone, invests her desire in animals and objects, moves into a deadly stasis, and only wakes when Joe kills Dorcas. Dorcas becomes, therefore, not only a rival lover but a child. It is this betrayal and desire that Violet works out in her conversations with Alice Manfred, Dorcas's aunt. Violet, having slipped

rational link between cause and effe~t.~ into an "innarrable" crack, needs to sit

Thus, Violet feels "the anything-at-all begin in her mouth. Words connected only to themselves pierced an other- wise normal comment" (23). For exam- ple, she tells Joe, speaking of the lot- tery, " 'Got a mind to double it with an aught and two or three others just in case who is that pretty girl standing next to you?' " (23). She seems to fore- see Joe's affair, but is powerless to stop him. I think that her name indicates this frightening "in-sight," for violet is the color of the third eye, of second sight. Her "wayward mouth indicates a split in her being-that a part of her knows things that another part can nei- ther narrate nor change.

One Violet is the silent woman who fears her cracks and who never names and cannot answer back the "I love you" of even a bird, who is anoth- down. She wears her hat, trying to hold in her head the traces of meaning that remain-meanings that, as we shall see, she has to give up to be whole. Alice and Violet's conversations and thoughts center on the problemat- ics of being a black woman in the City. They seek and demand "clarity" (83)- the looking inside represented by Joe's clear eye. They want the answer to why Violet became Violent and picked up a knife.

Alice is concerned with the vio- lence, particularly sexual violence, that threatens black women. That is why she tries, in vain, to control Dorcas. In response to that violence, black women become Violent-armed and danger- ous, "and the less money they had the deadlier weapon they chose" (77). As Dorothea Drummond Mbalia reveals black women faced with violence become Wild (625-26), linking Joe's wife and his mother. Violence is consti- tutive of American culture and of the lives of black Americans. Indeed, the novel's background is the post-World War I race riots in Chicago, St. Louis, and New York. Women, particularly black women, become the objects on whom this violence is worked out in the culture. They, from slavery for- ward, are imaged as savage and sexual, like Wild. Thus, women must be armed. The only unarmed women who can survive are religious women whose myth does not let them internal- ize the evil of the Beast Uazz78), women who join the numerous wom- en's clubs and organizations, and women who "get an attitudeu-who internalize the violence of the culture and become dangerous, who are them- selves the weapons. Not to be armed is be "silent or crazy [Alice and Violet] or dead [Dorcas]" (79).

Alice shows us that internalized violence is dangerous because it is turned, not outward toward patri- archy, but inward, toward the self, and outward toward other women. When her husband strays, she is "starving" not for his but "for [the other woman's] blood" (86). As Audre Lorde reminds us in "Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and Anger" in Sister Outsider, behind the object of attack, another black woman, lies "the face of my own self, unaccepted" (146). In essence, in violating Dorcas's corpse, Violet disfig- ures her own self. The husband becomes the beloved in whom the woman invests her best self. How to reclaim the self is what Alice and Violet discover as they talk in this fem- inine space. They move, as Richard Hardack suggests, from being armed to finding arms to hold them (167-68).

They find two answers. The first comes when Violet contemplates whether to leave Joe, saying that she loves him but wants some " 'fat in this life' " (110)-wants back those hips

"Is that [knowing how to behave]

all it is?"

"Is that all what is?"

"Oh shoot! Where the grown peo-

ple? Is it us?"

"Oh, Mama." Alice blurted it out

and then covered her mouth. (110)

Violet, too, is thinking "Mama," a cry 3f agreement and a symbol. As June lordan's poem "Gettin Down to Get aver" in Naming Our Destiny, so elo- quently show us, "Mama" contains all the meanings of black woman: mother, sister, lover, and oppressed being:

momma momma




Baby Baby
MOMMA MOMMA . . . (67)

"Mama," for Violet and Alice, is a sym- bol of what they are and what they need. "Mama" is supposed to be the adult sign, the one who loves you natu- rally and whose love you can refer to in order to know how to love yourself and others. Without this love-and all these characters lose Mama-the human is in a place of negatives, a vast, dark, featureless plain: "The place of shade without trees where you know you are not and never again will be loved by anybody who can choose to do it" (Jazz 110). To come out of that dark place, out of that crack, one must choose to love. Alice tells Violet, " 'You got anything left to you to love, any- thing at all, do it. . . .Nobody's asking you to take it. I'm sayin make it, make


it!' " (113).As the narrator of Beloved tells us, we must endure: "Just weath- er" (Beloved 275). Just love.

The second answer is: In your worst moments, laugh. When Alice scorches the garment she is ironing, there are two possibilities: anger or laughter. Violet is reminded of True Belle, who laughs seeing Violet and her siblings "hunched like mice near a can fire, not even a stove, on the floor, hun- gry and irritable" (Jazz113).The chil- dren laugh too, and laughter lifts them up: ". . . what they felt was better. Not beaten, not lost. Better. . . . suddenly the world was right side up." This is the joy that is the essence of the blues and of jazz. It is "serious. More compli- cated, more serious than tears" (113), because it does not deny or forget the worst of life, but it endures in the face of the worst.

Suddenly, Violet gets a new per- spective. She recognizes that she became a weapon too late. She can see herself at the funeral, slashing the face of a corpse: "The sight of herself trying to do something bluesy, something hep, fumbling the knife, too late any- way. . . She laughed until she coughed . . . . *' This laughter indicates a poten- tially positive aspect of the double-con- sciousness: the insight that allows one to see the self as an "other" and to love the "other self." This perspective lets Violet claim her name, unites the two Violets and heals the crack: "She but- toned her coat and left the drugstore and noticed, at the same moment as thatViolet did, that it was spring. In the City" (114).Jazz, we know, is this taking of another perspective. It is the disruption that is comic; though it has a sacred dimension, it never considers anything too holy to leave alone (Bond 1).

Alice's and Violet's frank interrogation and investigation are jazz, and prepare us to confront the center of the novel: Golden Gray. Jazz makes a way beyond tears. For both Violet and Joe, the loss of parents cre-

ates a loss in the self. They marry when

each is about to give up: when Violet is

humiliated in the cotton field and

when Joe has been rejected by his

mother. Dorcas becomes the symbol of

the "heart you can't live without" (Jazz

130).She is, for Joe, his mother, the

Wild; she is, for Violet, a symbol of

Golden Gray, the mole in her mind

who is both brother and boyfriend

(208)of whom she has to rid herself to

be whole. True Belle makes Golden

Gray a kind of prototype or goal for

Violet. When he rides away to see his

father, True Belle never sees him again,

but her memories are enough (143).

These memories and this figure

fascinate our narrator. The episode of

Golden Gray, the Wild, and Henry

"Le-story" or "Les Troyu-either the

story or the Troy, the destruction-is

the pivotal, even mythical, center and

the most consciously narrated part of

Jazz.Its elements are riffs in Violet's

and Joe's stories: the light-skinned

beloved, tracks and facial marks, mur-

dering the beloved, and the search for

the mother and the father. Violet and

Joe are linked by this story. The narra-

tor tells us the story two times, giving

us various details and different per-

spectives; the narrator is also con-

sciously present in the story, shaping

it. The narrator is jazz artist, linking in

this story Joe's traces and Violet's

cracks and us.

Jazz, Gilbert Bond has said, "relies

upon introduction, statement of theme,

repetition, and Wham! an improvised

reworking of the familiar which

depends upon everyone knowing the

original reference sound, in order to

appreciate where [the artist] took it

then [took] Off. When it works, it

sounds as natural and intimate as

lovers who don't have to finish sen-

tences." Bond's image describes this

scene and prepares us for the second

consciously narrated section of Jazz:

the end of the novel, which is about

lovers and desire. Jazz depends on

phrasing, whether instrumental or

The break, a kind of "no-where" space is not an empty space but a chal- lenge, an opportunity to make a per- sonal statement. Jelly Roll Morton explains:

"Without breaks and without clean

breaks, and without beautiful ideas in

breaks, . . . you haven't got a jazz band

and you can't play jazz. Even if a tune

ha[s]nlt got a break in it, it's always

necessary to arrange some kind of spot

to make a break. . . . A break, itself, is

like a musical surprise." (qtd. in Gioia


Both Joe and Violet must learn to "take the break" and play the self-assert the individual voice against and within the limits of the preceding ensemble sound and the melodic line. As Morrison says, jazz is performance that does not allow the luxury of revision; "you have to make something out of a mistake, and if you do it well enough it will take you to another place where you never would have gone had you not made that error. So you have to be able to risk making that error in performance" ("Art of Fiction" 116-17). This is what Violet and Joe must do: risk an action that will allow them to create from their pasts.

The melodic line they must locate, play, and break from is the story of Golden Gray. Similarly, the story of Golden Gray becomes the narrator's

break on the central melodic line of Joe and Violet. The "no-where" space of the narrator is the page where the nar- rator makes her music, and the impor-

tance of her music is the reason that she frets the pieces of Golden Gray's story. Her intensity indicates that, if we can understand Golden Gray, we can

understand and re-link the whole. This project of speculation, of narration, she tells us, is "risky" uazz 137). She tries to see this story from every angle but, most importantly, from Golden Gray's. He, too, is a crack and a trace-a gap in

the text that must be narrated. He has come to kill his father but, more impor- tantly, to insult his race (143)-and, by extension, his own self. The narrator does not want us to love, like, or hate him, but to understand: to see that this white-looking man with a "black- skinned nigger" father (143) has no "authentic" self (160) to be or place to dwell. In her frustration in trying to narrate this space, this character, she breaks into the text: "I have been care- less and stupid and it infuriates me to discover (again) how unreliable I am" (160). As readers, we have either sur- rendered to the story or questioned the reliability of the narrator from the beginning. Thus, this admission comes as either a shock or an affirmation.

Why does the narrator feel unreli- able? Because the narrator, unlike Golden Gray's horse, has not adhered to the nature of her work which is, through the imagination, to get us there (160). "There" is inside Golden Gray's thoughts and is also a place of sympathy for this "tragic mulatto" on whom the story turns and rests. The narrator indicates a responsibility, a weight: that she cannot break down and that she has to be careful so that we see this story correctly (161). Writing Golden Gray, though the nar- rator does not realize it, is a way of reclaiming her own self, as we shall see. She wants to give Golden Gray something and make him something.


What she wants to give him is a weapon; she wants to arm him. Golden Gray worries, throughout the journey, about his armor (160), about what role to play in the meeting with his father. With Joe, Golden Gray, Hunter's Hunter, and Honor as the central char- acters of this story, it is a heavily mas- culine riff in Jazz. The gift the narrator wants to give him is to take away the need for traditional masculine armor and to arm him instead with the power of an authentic self: the "confident, enabling, serene power that flicks like a razor and then hides." He loses this self when True Belle tells him he is black. The narrator does not want to feel for him, but to "speak his namen- to call him back to his self. The narrator wants to be "a shadow that wishes him well." like Rose Dear's leftover smiles from the bottom of the well. She wants to give him the power to rememory his own past, for being so armed is being able to survive:

No doubt a lot of other things will come again: doubt will come, and things may seem unclear from time to time. But once the razor blade has flicked-he will remember it, and if he remembers it he can recall it. That is to say, he has it at his disposal. (161)

As Mbalia puts it, the narrator "remakes" him (640), just as the reader will be invited to "remake" the narra- tor at the end of the novel. The narra- tor, first, wants to make Golden Gray clear and authentic to himself so that he becomes not tragic, but fully human.

She also wants to make him clear and authentic to us. Golden Gray rep- resents an ideal for black Americans and a horror for white ones. His name indicates his in-betweenness. He is golden, not white; gray, not black. He is identified, by the narrator, not as "other," but as "intimateu-as being at the heart of racial tension, of the mean- ing of slavery, of black self-hatred, and of Joe's and Violet's stories. For white Americans, he is the symbol of misce- genation, of the "sins of the fathersu- in this case, of the mothers. In Cane, Jean Toomer's Kabnis sees himself as the symbol of sin, but a symbol that cannot be narrated. Morrison's narra- tor wants to give Golden Gray the power of self-narrative, identity, but she also wants to give black Americans a way to see him and to negotiate his meaning.

For black Americans, and for Violet in this novel, he represents a kind of internalized ideal. Stamp Paid, in Beloved, indicates that there is something worse than slavery-accept- ing the construction of identity that the master narrative creates for you. Golden Gray is a symbol of what tor- tures black Americans if they accept the definitions of human of the master narrative: He is light, bright, and, therefore, all right. He is the Dorcas in Violet's mind, the image of what she ought to be to keep Joe's love and to be a whole self. She has to rid herself of this image in order to be whole. So, in one sense, does Golden Gray himself. He feels, from the moment he finds out that he is black, tainted. He hates his black self, and this self-hatred means that he has to destrov its source, his father.

There are two deliveries in this male-coded scene: Joe's and Golden Gray's. At the birth of Joe Trace preside the elements of black masculinity and the extremes of blackness: the black Wild woman (the so-called savage) and the light, hyper-civilized man (the mulatto). Putting these opposites side- by-side indicates that they are not dif- ferent, but two sides of the same: In short, the narrator affirms blackness. Hunter's Hunter tells Golden Gray that he has to choose what he is going to be-in a sense, to rename and deliver himself. He can choose to be white, but if he chooses to be black, he has to " 'act black, meaning draw your man- hood up-quicklike, and don't bring me no whiteboy sass' " (Jazz 173). He must, like the name of the other person present, Honor who he is and from where he comes. If he chooses black, he chooses Hunter's Hunter and the Wild. He gains the father, the loss of whom was like an amputation, and becomes whole. We know, however, that he does not choose his father. Joe and Victory, Hunter's proteges, never know Golden Gray. He vanishes, leav- ing his traces, the clothes that symbol- ize his civilized whiteness, in the bower of the black and naked Wild:

a set of silver brushes and a sliver cigar case. Also. Also, a pair of man's trousers with buttons of bone. Carefully folded, a silk shirt, faded pale and creamy--except at the seams. There, both thread and fabric were a fresh and sunny yellow. (184)

He chooses "Mama." When Joe, look- ing for his mother/Dorcas, asks, "But where is she?" he is also asking for Violet, "Where is he?"---Golden Gray.

Golden Gray and the Wild's disap- pearances set a potentially tragic cycle in motion: Joe and Violet are destined to hunt for what they will never find, destroying themselves and others in the search and in the repetition of the search. Toni Morrison is a deep reader of Aeschylus. She is fascinated with Greek tragedy because, as she says in "Unspeakable Things Unspoken," it "makes available [the] varieties of provocative love" (3) that she explores in her novels. She is posing in Jazz Aeschylus's questions of the Oresteia: How can the cycle be broken so that something new can emerge? Can Violet ever merge the cracks into meaning, or must she be either a victim like Cassandra or a murderess like Clyternnestra? Do the discrete traces become a track that Joe, like Orestes, having killed his mother/lover, is bound to, like the groove on a record going round and round uazz 120), or can he escape? The narrator thinks, in the beginning, that we are bound to the track. She tells us that, when Felice comes to the house, someone else dies: "Violet invited her in to examine the record and that's how that scandaliz- ing threesome on Lenox Avenue began. What turned out different was who shot whom" (6).

But this does not happen. The pres- ence of Felice becomes another image of Dorcas, another mirror in which Joe and Violet can see themselves. Felice, rather than making Violet Violent and Joe sad, offers them another picture of Dorcas: a manipulative, competitive girl who longed to be the heroine of her own drama and whose void at the center made her wish to die rather than save herself. Felice, who becomes a daughter, also sees the best of Joe and Violet. Violet, she says, does not lie (205), and Joe's double eyes, which have indicated his unresolved identity, indicate his ability to see the other and to reveal fully his self: "A sad one that lets you look inside him, and a clear one that looks inside you." Having suf- fered, he can see Felice's difference, and, thus, he makes her feel important and interesting (206).

Violet, rather than being Violent, arms Felice, becomes "Mama." She warns her about trying to be something she is not: "White. Light. . . . About having another you [like Golden Gray] that isn't anything like you" (208). Violet also affirms, through her conver- sations with Felice, the new self that she discovered with Alice:

"How did you get rid of her?"

"Killed her. Then I killed the me

that killed her."

"Who's left?"

"Me." (209)

This cry of affirmation that Nel makes at the end of Sula and that Sethe makes at the end of Beloved is the assertion of the true, authentic self that is not a "present taken from whitefolks, given to [one] when [one] was too young to say No thank you" (211) but a recov- ered, rememoried, and narrated self.

Felice also gives Joe a gift. She tells him that Dorcas, at the end, held out her hand: "'There's only one apple . . . . Just one. Tell Joe'" (213).In telling him that he is claimed by Dorcas, the wild lover/mother, Felice completes Joe's search for self and gives him hap- piness. The image of the apple, which symbolizes the fall, becomes, as Joe fel- from the beginning, his chance to rise in love-but with Violet, not Dorcas. Being claimed, he can claim


Violent/Violet. He can rememory their past and, finding her sleeping, see the fragility in her strength and the femi- ninity in her power (225-26). Their pasts are concretized and sanctified, brought into the present in the image and act of sleeping with the beloved, who is parent, lover, and child. Her shoulder is the thin line of Dorcas's blood, then the red on the wing of a bird that signals the presence of the Wild, his mother. Joe's chest is the rim of the well where Rose lies, and his heart is the heart of Violet's father, gathering gifts (225).

But what of our narrator? The nar- rator goes through the tragic cycle. She tells us that she was blinded (atc): ". . . I was the predictable one, con- fused in my solitude into arrogance, thinking my space, my view was the only one that was or that mattered." Thus, she overreaches, commits hubris and hamartia : "I was sure one would kill the other. I waited for it so I could describe it. . . .I overreached and missed the obvious" (220).The narra- tor has told us more than she knows. We know from her construction that Joe is looking for both the Wild and Dorcas, for example, even if she does not (221). Her words, defining hamar- tia, both "set, then miss, the mark" (219). She thought that humans could not give up their misery because they enjoy it. But, as she tells us, to think that is the real blindness: "Something is missing there. Something rogue. Something else you have to figure in before you can figure it out" (228). That something could be love, could be laughter, could be the human ability to change the pattern, to see the world from another angle-in short, could be the improvisational quality of jazz.

The narrator begins as a kind of distant and bloodthirsty gossip: "Sth, I know that woman" (3). Gossip is like the sound-'5th"-of a striking match (61)that starts a fire that burns out of control. The narrator ends in desire, which is the admission of our finitude and the sign of our need for other human beings. It is, as Audre Lorde

says, in "Uses of the Erotic" in Sister Outsider, the assertion of that need and the expression of our particular cre- ative energies (54-55). If jazz, as Ted Gioia suggests, forces us to see art not as static objects but as performance, as spiritual and expressive communica- tion (107), Morrison's text becomes a site of performance, of interaction between reader and writer with the text as an instrument both played and heard. Morrison's novel is like jazz-as James Collier characterizes it, a "com- munal effort" (28). We either give the narrator love or reject her. The final image of the novel, the image of the lover that lifts, turns, and touches while the beloved looks at the face is us, the readers: "Say make me, remake me. You are free to do it and I am free to let YOU . . . . " "Look where your hands are. Now" is an order (229). Our hands are holding this text, and our reading is making love3-and, I hope to show, making jazz.

Cracks and traces are, for Morrison, narrative strategy and historical fact. As narrative strate- gy, cracks and traces indicate her method of reconstruction. In "Memory, Creation, and Writing," Morrison, quoting Edvard Munch, says that memory is the regrouping of the pieces that is composition. The writer's move- ment is from image to picture to mean- ing to text (117), but meaning, as I indi- cated earlier, does not have to do with facticity: It is a kind of truth ("Site" 115). Indeed, Morrison distinguishes between fact and truth. Truth for her is what we reach when we move through the imaginative process, and this achievement may not be one with accepted fact ("Memory" 113). Thus, the essential unreliability of the narra- tor is a given, but this does not under- cut the power of the narrator's creation to make meaning. Narrative, therefore, is like jazz-particularly this novel, which Morrison consciously constructs as jazz. Jazz contains, she says in "The Art of Fiction," "two contradictory

things-artifice and improvisation" (116). The novel Jazz "predicts its own story" (117), containing, like jazz music. a melodic line that the narrator returns to time after time, "seeing it afresh each time, playing it back and forth." Morrison continues: ". . . the jazz-like structure wasn't a secondary thing for me-it was the raison dl@tre of the book" (110). Morrison has said, in "Rootedness: The Ancestor as Foundation," that she sees her work as something like Duke Ellington's com- positions and that "the art form that was healing for Black people was music" (340). Now, if music no longer fully serves this function, the novel can.

But it can only if the reader partici- pates in it, as the listener does with music. Morrison has said that she wants her fiction "to urge the reader into active participation in the non-nar- rative, nonliterary experience of the text, which makes it difficult for the reader to confine himself to a cool and distant acceptance of data" ("Memory" 387). She wants the reader to work with her in the construction of the book ("Ancestor" 341). Thus, she leaves traces and cracks in the narrative-like the question of what happened to Golden Gray-that we must contem- plate and narrate for ourselves. Wynton Marsalis once said that, when he was learning to play Louis Armstrong's music, he came to see that it was neither learning the melodic line nor playing fast that was important but learning where the breaks are. The power of the breath, the break, the crack of narration and invitation to narration is part of Morrison's narra- tive strategy. As she says in "The Art of Fiction," the writer has "to work very carefully with what is in between the words. What is not said. Which is mea- sure, which is rhythm. . . . [it] is what you don't write that frequently gives what you do write its power" (90).

What is not written is also part of Morrison's commitment to community. The rhythm of the novel moves it off the page. As Eusebio Rodriguez says in "Experiencing Jazz," Toni Morrison

"oralizes print" (739). This oral quality is part of Morrison's sense of commu- nify. She says in an interview with Christina Davis that writing is "a total- ly communal experience where I would feel unhappy if there w[ere]

. . . [no] passion that accompanied the experience of the work. I want some- body to say amen!" (419). Her

"restraint" ("Art of Fiction" 111)creates the space for the reader's response

to the call and indicates the richness of narrative. Narrative is map, not territo- ry ("Memory" 389). It is not a case study or a recipe; it, instead, "suggests where the conflicts are, what the prob- lems are, [but] it need not solve those problems" ("Ancestor" 341). I do not think, however, that Morrison would be completely content with the defini- tions of readers and text that, for exam- ple, Stanley Fish in Is There a Text in

This Class?: The Authority of Imperpreta tive Communities has set forth in reader-response criticism. Fish argues that neither text nor reader is independent and authoritative, but that texts emerge from interpretation (16). Interpretation comes out of the context of interpretative communities that, while unstable in themselves, "determine from which of a number of possible perspectives reading will pro- ceed" (172). This hermeneutical rela- tionship between reader and text desta- bilizes both and even calls into ques- tion the product of the interaction between them: Even "meaning," Fish argues, should be discarded in the sense of "message or point" (65).

Morrison, I think, would want to argue for the stability of her text at the same time that she would want to argue that it is a performance that invites response. She destabilizes tradi- tional interpretative strategies by using traditional structures4reek tragic structure in this novel, for example- then undercutting these structures through signification. In this improvi- sational black mode, she both utilizes and breaks with tradition at once-just as she asks the reader to do. Narrative


with breaks, like music, therefore, becomes a space of freedom. Both the reader and the text are, I think, inde- pendent entities who enter into an act of relationality in which the reader must not just respond---either in hav- ing an experience of reading or in mak- ing an act of interpretation-but create: make meaning for the self in a relation- ship to an "other." The "Amen!" Morrison asks for can be a number of things, all having authority. The "amens" range-perhaps in the same reader over time-from a cry of recog- nition to the reader's telling a story about Jazz to the reader's telling a story that is about the novel and the self at once. In this way, a variety of inter- preters are invited into the text, and the difference of both narrative and reader and, perhaps, more importantly, reader and reader can be maintained and, at the same time, come into relation, per- haps forming new communities, through what Robert Detweiler calls the erotic power of narrative-its capacity to link and to help us to sur- vive (qtd. in Greene 434).

These ideas of the erotic power of narrative and of relationality lead us to see that the trace and the crack, as well as narrative strategy, are, for Morrison, historical fact. They are symbolic of the African diasporic experience and of how it has been and must be negotiat- ed. African American experience is one of fracture, beginning with the middle passage and continuing through slav- ery and into the twentieth century. The African American past cannot be recovered whole and perfect; it must be reconstructed through following the traces, written in the face of the reality of the cracks. The narrator of Jazz says that she has an affection for pain: "What, I wonder, what would I be without a few brilliant spots of blood to ponder?" (219). Morrison reminds us that narration, rememory, is pain; she takes the most painful reality and bases her concept of identity on it, transforms it, and frets the pieces into a strategy for survival that makes identi- ty and wholeness possible. As Richard Hardack puts it, "Morrison . . . uses fragmentation to resituate the improvi- sational against the inevitable. She reenvisions the use of violence to oppose violence, fragmentation to tran- scend fragmentation, and double-con- sciousness to undo double-conscious- ness" (160). This mode of reconstruct- ing the self, if successfully accom- plished, becomes a way of creatively engaging the historical and political realities of oppression through rela- tionality and from a position within what Morrison calls the village? a revitalized community of equal persons. This mode of individual identity Morrison imagines is located and fluid--capable of negotiating multiple tasks, of managing and creating. Most of all this improvisational quality of identity, as Albert Murray says in me Hero and the Blues, "enables [African Americans] to extemporize under pres- sure and in the most complicated cir- cumstances" (25); he concludes that "improvisation is the ultimate human endowment" (107). This capacity allows us to survive and to experience joy-and to do both is, for Morrison, the essential issue.

The empty spaces in Jazz become what bell hooks in Black Looks: Race and Representation calls "trans- gressive" (4).They create a context for improvisation and transformation. Morrison, through Joe and Violet, shows us that, as Stuart Hall tells us in "Cultural Identity and Diaspora," iden- tity is not formed in the simple recov- ery of the past but in the way that we position ourselves in relationship to that past and rename our selves and our realities (qtd. in hooks 5). Charles Hartmann, in Jazz Text, says that voice is born "from a matrix of voices" (47). Such is the voice of Morrison's narrator in Jazz and the voice that the reader constructs in reading. The narratorTs/reader's voice is, as Charles Hartmann says of both jazz and poetry, "authorial but not exactly authorita- tive. . . . [her] function depends on . . . others" (41). I said earlier that jazz calls for a concept of identity that, as is about individual voice and cornmu- Edward Said described it in an inter- nity. Hartmann argues that the band is view, can tolerate "the polyphony of an extension of voice "that emphasizes many voices playing off against each the possibility of the multiplicity of

other, without. . . the need to reconcile voice" (35).Jazz is, to return to them, just to hold them together" (26).

Glissant, creole; it is mixture Writing the novel as jazz text, Morrison (Hartmann 94). So too is Morrison's creates a form that demonstrates a con- concept of identity.

cept of identity. In doing so, she moves Identity, narrative, and voice, and back to where she begins as a writer- their relationship, are all redefined in writing texts like Duke Ellington wrote Toni Morrison's writing jazz/ Jazz.

music-and forward-posing the ques-

Identity is not just a stable unity, but also an improvisation. Narrative is not tion of whether art is relationship, per- only written, but performed. And voice formance, or artifact/object. Jazz, as a is not only singular, but consists of site of multiple voices and of identity finding a place among voices. Morrison and community formation, is all three.

Notes 1. Hardack (155) discusses Morrison's novel as an example of the Modernist novel. He sees Joe as echoing the dislocations of Joe Christmas in Faulkner's Light in August and Bigger Thomas in Native Son. These characters, he argues, represent the violence that can emerge "involuntarily" from the chasm between the sides of the double-consciousness.

  1. Enrico Santi, in a lecture given 24 June 1994 in "Poetics of the Americas: Transformations of the Tragic and Comic, A Summer Institute for College Teachers," Louisiana State U, 6 June-1 July 1994.
  2. John Leonard writes, "Where my hands were then was holding on to my copy of Jazz. And, of course, the Voice is the book itself, this physical object, our metatext" (49). See also Hardack 169.
  3. Anthony Berret notes, "In a modern metropolis that runs on mass aggregation and rapid move- ment, people need some form of village experience to preserve their individual wholeness and group identity" (282).

Appiah, K. A,, and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., eds. Toni Morrison: Critical Perspectives Past and Present. New York: Amistad, 1993.



Berret, Anthony J. "Toni Morrison's Literary Jazz ." CLA Journal 32 (1989): 267-83. Bond, Gilbert. "JAZZissssss . . . . " Unpublished Paper. Collier, James Lincoln. Jazz: The American Theme Song. New York: Oxford UP, 1993. Davis, Christina. "Interview with Toni Morrison." Appiah and Gates 412-20. Derrida, Jacques. Of Grammatology. Trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins

UP, 1976. Fish, Stanley. Is There A Text In This Class?: The Authority of Interpretative Communities.

Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1980. Gasche, Rodolphe. Inventions of Difference: On Jacques Derrida. Cambridge: Haward UP, 1994. Gilissant, Edouard. Caribbean Discourse: Selected Essays. Trans. J. Michael Dash. Charlottesville:

UP of Virginia, 1992. Gioia, Ted. The Imperfect Art: Reflections on Jazz and Modern Culture. New York: Oxford UP, 1988. Greene, Sharon. "A Conversation With Robert Detweiler" In Good Company: Essays in Honor of

Robert Detweiler. Ed. David Jasper and Mark Ledbetter. Atlanta: Scholars P, 1994.433-50. Hardack, Richard. " 'A Music Seeking Its Words': Double-Timing and Double Consciousness in Toni Morrison's Jazz." Black Warrior Review 19.2 (1993): 151-71. Hartmann, Charles 0.Jazz Text: Voice and Improvisation in Poetry, Jazz and Song. Princeton:

Princeton UP, 1991. Holloway, Karla F. "Beloved: A Spiritual." Callaloo 13 (1990): 516-25. hooks, bell. Black Looks: Race and Representation . Boston: South End, 1992. Krell, David Farrell. Of Memory, Reminiscence, and Writing: On the Verge. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1990. AFRICAN AMERICAN REVIEW Leonard, John. "Jazz." Appiah and Gates 36-49. Lorde, Audre. Sister Outsider. New York: Quality Paperback Book Club, 1993. Mbalia, Dorothea Drummond. "Women Who Run With Wild: The Need for Sisterhoods in Jazz." Modern Fiction Studies 39 (1 993): 623-46. Morrison, Toni. "The Art of Fiction CXXXIV." Paris Review 128 (1993): 83-125. -. Beloved. New York: Knopf, 1987. -, "A Conversation: Gloria Naylor and Toni Morrison." Southern Review ns 21 (1985): 567-93. -. Jazz. New York: Plume, 1993. -. "Memory, Creation, and Writing." Thought 59 (Dec. 1984): 385-90. -. RM Artists Presents Profile of a Writer: Toni Morrison. Home Vision, 1987. -, "Rootedness: The Ancestor as Foundation." Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation. Ed. Mari Evans. Garden City: Anchor, 1984. 339-45. -. "The Site of Memory." Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir. Ed. William Zinsser. Boston: Houghton, 1987. 103-24. -, "Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature." Michigan Quarterly Review 28.1 (1989): 1-34. Murray, Albert. The Hero and the Blues. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 1973. Rodrigues, Eusebio L. "Experiencing Jazz." Modern Fiction Studies 39 (1993): 733-54. Said, Edward. "Criticism, Culture, and Performance: An Interview with Edward Said." Performing Arts Journal 37 (Jan. 1991): 21-42. Steiner, George. Real Presences. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1991.

vocal. It is, to continue with Bond's 1 thoughts, an art that reveals "commu- nities created out of verbally impro- vised presentations of the Self, a Self not given, inherited, or defined by sta- tus or role, but discovered, made up, created from the available air and enacted within the dramatically intense space of ritual . . . [a] space that existed no-where except between its partici- pants" (1).As ritual, jazz is perfor- mance. Ted Gioia, in The Imperfect Art: Reflections on Jazz and Modern Culture, reinforces Bond's statement. Gioia says that jazz, as "performance par excellence . . . may, in fact, stand as a compelling argument for viewing art as a spiritual and expressive communi- cation between artist and audience" (107). Jazz is about individuals and/in community (about which I shall speak at the end), about sound and silence, about voice and break.

If Dorcas is Anton's toy, she is Joe's prey. His hunt for, his desire for, his mother-"Where is she ?" (184)-is symbolized and culminates in his tracking and killing Dorcas-"There she is" (187).lJoe, like the voices in Beloved that sound what Morrison calls "the unspeakable thoughts unspo- ken" (RMArtists), claims Dorcas's being: "You are mine" (Beloved 217). He invests all his feelings in attaining Victory-the name of his childhood friend and the symbol of the end of the hunt. In shooting Dorcas, he claims her being and violates what Hunter's Hunter had told him about Wild: " 'Now, learn this: she ain't prey. You got to know the difference' " (Jazz175). Hunter is saying that human is not ani- mal, that no human has a right to 1 another human's being. ~uooe's love, like Sethe's in Beloved, is "too thick (Beloved 203). He does not respect dif- ference because his difference is not acknowledged by Wild. He, like Dorcas, is rejected by his mother, who he falls out of the tree, like

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