The first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize for literature, Toni Morrison is the voice of black identity in American literature. Her experimental style has been both existential and aesthetically alluring in its essence. She opened up the world of black lives to the world and did so in a way that captured the imagination of many a reader and writer.
“We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”
And now here’s a keepsake for her fans. The Measure of Our Lives is a compendium of quotations from her works, both fiction and non-fiction works and has come from books like The Bluest Eye and The Source of Self-Regard.
“You are nothing but wilderness. No constraint. No mind.”
The selected quotes are a testimony to her powerful imagination, psychological observations and poetic prose. They sum up her literary style and vision with her thoughts on pretty much everything from love, to self, language, women and black oppression.
“It had been the longest time since she had had a rib-scraping laugh. She had forgotten how deep and down it could be. So different from the miscellaneous giggles and smiles she had learned to be content with these past few years.”
The book is a really quick read. The foreword has been written by Zadie Smith where she talks about her own relationship with Toni Morrison. However, the one thing that seems to be missing, which would have added more to the reading experience of this book, is the context of the quotes. There are no attributions to any of the quotations, so only someone familiar with Morrison’s works will be able to place the quotes within the works they first appear. There is also no explanation for why these and not other quotes have been selected and it does feel slightly arbitrary to choose one quote from among many different sentences and phrases that the future generations will come to remember Morrison by.
“Love is never any better than the lover. Wicked people love wickedly, violent people love violently, weak people love weakly, stupid people love stupidly, but the love of a free man is never safe. There is no gift for the beloved. The lover alone possesses his gift of love. The loved one is shorn, neutralized, frozen in the glare of the lover’s inward eye.”
Nevertheless, despite the slight disappointment, this compendium is a neat summation of everything Morrison stood for – her uninhibited expression of all the truths she identified with, and the courage with which she placed them in front of her readers at a time when few other writers could bring them out with such alacrity and finesse.
This post is part of our December 2019 Issue