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Yiorgos Kalogeras on H. Raphael-Hernandez’s The Utopian Aesthetics of Three African American Women (Toni Morrison, Gloria Naylor, Judie Dash).

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1Heike Raphael-Hernandez. The Utopian Aesthetics of Three African American Women (Toni Morrison, Gloria Naylor, Judie Dash). The Principles of Hope. The Edwin Mellen Press, 2008. Viii + pp. 173.

2Dr Heike Raphael-Hernandez’s book focuses on a close reading of two novels and a movie script. It also discusses briefly several other novels by African American women writers who have published their work since the 1960s. Many among these writers are already considered as major voices and their work has garnered literary prizes, and very enthusiastic critical attention. As Raphael-Hernandez herself points out these writers represent several generations and, therefore, cannot be categorized by age group.

3The three artists discussed extensively in the individual chapters are mentioned on the title of the book. The novels analyzed are Beloved, Bailey’s Café and the script is Daughters of the Dust. The book consists of five chapters, an introduction and a conclusion. Dr Raphael-Hernandez (HRH) discusses these three often-analyzed works suggesting a novel theoretical approach. Her basis is Ernest Bloch’s book The Philosophy of Hope which she discusses in the first chapter. The main idea that she proposes is that beneath the often grueling and violent stories that contemporary Afro-American women writers compose there is a utopian impulse implying eventual personal, but more importantly communal healing. Thus, what seems to be a universe of pain, loss and suffering carries within it the seeds of a potential regeneration. Such regeneration becomes possible for Naylor’s, and Nash’s heroes and heroines, but only marginally possible for Morrison’s in the end of Beloved. HRH insists that the personal salvation is not sufficient from the point of view of her analysis since the politics of the race require a restructuring of the society her artists depict in their work. The heroines cannot go back and accept a society that may no longer oppress them, but remains oppressive for their sisters. Their going back would make sense only if they would carry with them a vision of hope and transformation for an openly democratic new ethos.

4HRH’s book should open an interesting dialogue as far as it fits in the discussion of utopian aesthetics. Bloch’s work has been variously attacked and defended in Germany and abroad since it reflects his disarticulation of the dark despair of the Nazi past of the country he fled from in the thirties. Others, like Adorno, responded and philosophized differently on the basis of the apocalyptic experiences of the IIWW. One, however, can certainly argue that the personal response and the Faustian idealism that Bloch proposes are not sufficient to change social and political structures especially when the actors are women of color. Perhaps Morrison feels this better than some of the other authors HRH mentions when she chooses not to end Beloved on a very optimistic note. (The movie version, of course, bowed to Hollywood standards and ended differently). But again Bloch was writing as a white man from the USA at a time when some of the issues that concerned Afro American writers and thinkers were not popular and at a time when the African Liberation movement had not acquired momentum.

5Apart from the reservations of the previous paragraph, I have also strong objections when it comes to the discussion of a script separately from the film it was written for as HRH does in the case of Julie Dash’s work. Nevertheless, I feel that her analysis adds a new way of looking at these extremely interesting books and opens the ground for fruitful discussions.

Yiorgos Kalogeras, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki

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« Yiorgos Kalogeras on H. Raphael-Hernandez’s The Utopian Aesthetics of Three African American Women (Toni Morrison, Gloria Naylor, Judie Dash).  », European journal of American studies [Online], Reviews 2009, document 18, Online since 01 November 2009, connection on 19 August 2017. URL : http://ejas.revues.org/7633

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