By Cathy Moses
First released in 2000. Routledge is an imprint of Taylor & Francis, an informa corporation.
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Extra resources for Dissenting Fictions: Identity and Resistance in the Contemporary American Novel
Banks sees Bob's situation as "a failure of imagination" ("The Search for Clarity: An Interview ... " 48). "Bob," Banks asserts, doesn't imagine his own relation to the larger economy. Bob's substitute for a sense of community is a sense of himself as a consumer; he's victimized, but he participates in his own victimization. And the opportunities that he has to escape, when they present themselves, he declines to really imagine his life and take hold of it and change it. ("The Search for Clarity" 48) The Unbearable Whiteness of Being 33 Bob is dragged down by the materialism he privileges, just as the Haitian passengers on his boat are dragged to the bottom of the sea by their loas.
The very mystery and unfathomability of the Haitians makes Bob's white body real, if only in terms of its inadequacy. By presenting Bob's unmediated thoughts and allowing us a glimpse into Claude's and Vanise's perspective, Banks critiques Bob's gaze and the unconscious process through which Bob reiteratively constitutes himself as a subject in relation to what he perceives as the abject bodies of the Haitians. Banks lays down an additional layer of complexity: in gazing upon the Haitians and perceiving them as sexier and more knowing, Bob perceives his own body as abject, as excluded from knowledge and desire: he sees the abject "outside" inside himself.
But as she is drawn deeper into her obsession with Dorcas's photograph, she comes to see something else. The photograph of Dorcas is a central image in the text, a jazz refrain, like the silent march down Fifth Avenue. Like the march, and like history itself, the photograph exists outside of the text. Morrison has translated into fiction the narrative accompanying a photograph of a teenage girl lying in her coffin in James Van der Zee's Harlem Book of the Dead. Deborah McDowell recognizes that "in the process of 'enlarging' herself, Morrison's narrator has reduced Dorcas to the dimensions of a snapshot-a motionless image, fixed, aestheticized, frozen" (4).