Lawrie Balfour (University of Virginia): "Imagining Freedom -Toni Morrison on Taking Flight and Making a Home in the Racial Polity"

Thu, Feb 8, 2018, 4:30 pm to 6:00 pm
Corwin Hall, Room 127

ABSTRACT: In her 1994 address, at the “Race Matters” conference at Princeton University, Toni Morrison grappled with a question that had “troubled all of [her] work”: “How to be both free and situated”? The question is especially vexing, because the situatedness that concerns Morrison so often involves racialized forms of terror, bondage, and violent disregard. One of the defining features of her political thought is a double-tension: between the freedom of movement and rootedness in a place, and between chosen forms of mobility and "the mass movement of raced populations, beginning with the largest forced transfer of people in the history of the world: slavery.” Through a close reading of two novels, Song of Solomon (1977) and Home (2012), this paper investigates how Morrison imagines forms of flight and home-making that have shaped African American history. In so doing, I argue, she crafts an original account of the relationship between political movement(s) and freedom. 

Lawrie Balfour teaches political theory and American studies at the University of Virginia. She is the author of Democracy’s Reconstruction: Thinking Politically with W. E. B. Du Bois and The Evidence of Things Not Said: James Baldwin and the Promise of American Democracy. She is working on two book projects: one on reparations for slavery and Jim Crow and a second on Toni Morrison and the idea of freedom. Currently, she serves as editor of Political Theory.