Advertisement

A Dew-Lined Web: On Sula

By

On Books

Image courtesy ofWikimedia Commons

这是名字。sula。这就是我在1973年出版的Toni Morrison的第二个小说,以及我对她的最爱的时候,这就是我的乳房之间的空间。莫里森的标题 - 所罗门,焦油宝宝有其他正确的名字,心爱的人,但他们不如此轻松地穿着寓言。SULA始终在我看一个person, not an idea. She is, of course, atype,但她是超过类型的人。她是那种关于你开始说“她是那种女人的女人......即使你知道随着冬叶的任何言语都会像冬叶一样扭曲,在他们击中空气之前,将落到地上,干燥和死亡。

Sula is areal character, as we say. Sula is incomparable, matchless, singular. There is nobody like Sula. And yet. I’ve seen Sula in my days, in my sisters, my aunts, my friends, a stranger crossing the road. Morrison saw Sula in someone, too, before she wrote her:

I began to write my second book, which was calledSula的图片,因为我的关注woman and the way in which I heard her name pronounced. Her name was Hannah, and I think she was a friend of my mother’s. I don’t remember seeing her very much, but what I do remember is the color around her—a kind of violet, a suffusion of something violet—and her eyes, which appeared to be half closed. But what I remember most is how the women said her name: how they said “Hannah Peace” and smiled to themselves, and there was some secret about her that they knew, which they didn’t talk about, at least not in my hearing, but it seemed loaded in the way in which they said her name. And I suspected that she was a little bit of an outlaw but that they approved in some way. (The Source of Self-Regard, 241)

In the novel, this remembered Hannah is Sula’s mother, Hannah Peace, but she is also Sula.

The paradox of Sula is that she’s quintessentially herself—nobody is like her—but she’s also everybody we know who islike that。This paradox takes shape in different ways inSula, in the novel’s preoccupations with ironic oppositions, with how the individual self-relates to the collective, with the dynamic relation between order and disorder. As is Morrison’s tendency, all aspects of the novel—I am drawn in this writing to its names—flow through these interlocking thematic valves, coordinating like an intricate machine or body.

***

The novel is named for a character whom we don’t really meet for thirty-odd pages.Sula从一个虚构的地方,俄亥俄州和“那个小镇的那部分地区,他们始于”黑人住在哪里,他们在山上的事实中追求底部的一部分。“这种矛盾的名字来自“一个黑鬼的笑话,”白人和彩色的人告诉彩色的人“当他们正在寻找有点舒适时。”莫里森在这里建立了高位和低的昏昏欲睡之间的昏昏欲睡的旋转,从树梢到洞,从山顶到泥,从航空的天空到隧道和沟渠。这种讽刺的讽刺 - “它很可爱在底部” - 技术上被称为反歧,但这只是意味着通过它的对面致电,我们有时候如何称呼一个人的男人“苗条”或高大的“微小”。

Antiphrasis is at work in the names of several characters inSula。我们遇到一个名叫BoyBoy增长。我们遇到一个苍白的man named Tar Baby. We meet a woman everybody calls Teapot’s Mamma “because being his mamma was precisely her major failure.” Late in the novel, we learn that the people of the Bottom have a general “disregard for name changes by marriage” and mark four gravestones with the surname和平。“Together they read like a chant,” Morrison writes, a chant as eerie as it is holy, given that none of the dead comes to their end in peace or rests in peace after.

And then, of course, there are the deweys:

Eva snatched the caps off their heads and ignored their names. She looked at the first child closely, his wrists, the shape of his head and the temperament that showed in his eyes and said, “Well. Look at Dewey. My my mymymy.” When later that same year she sent for a child who kept falling down off the porch across the street, she said the same thing. Somebody said, “But Miss Eva, you calls the other one Dewey.”

“So? This here’s another one.”

Eva bestows the name Dewey upon three boys—whose skin is respectively “deeply black,” “light-skinned,” and “chocolate”—for a quality she sees in each, as if matching some inner thing to the outer label. But each dewey becomes “in fact as well as in name a dewey—joining with the other two to become a trinity with a plural name … inseparable, loving nothing and no one but themselves.” The chain gang game they play enacts their concatenation: “With the shoelaces of each of them tied to the laces of the others, they stumbled and tumbled out of Eva’s room.” The boys stop growing, so they do not become different from each other over time; eventually, not even their mammas can tell the deweys apart.

Each of these reversals of nominal expectation is but a slight topsy-turvy amid the mellifluous waves of Morrison’s prose. Yet this tic of antiphrasis castsallnames into doubt. Names are meant to pinpoint a person, fix them as a discrete entity, not entangle them or flip them around. But, as Morrison says of the real-life Hannah Peace, even the way a name is spoken can change it indelibly, like the cover of a song.Sulaplays with and overturns the usual logic of marking an individual’s uniqueness with a name, the same logic that we see both in Sula’s belief that her best friend, Nel, “was the first person who had been real to her, whose name she knew,” and in Sula’s horror upon learning that the man she has always known as Ajax is actually Albert Jacks (A. Jacks): “when for the first time in her life she had lain in bed with a man and said his name involuntarily or said it truly meaning him, the name she was screaming and saying was not his at all.”

If you can be named for something you’re not, for somebody other than yourself, are youreal, are youtrulyyourself? If your name can dissolve and recombine into another name, who are you anyway?

***

This mystery of theself, of our shared but unbreachable condition of singularity, twinkles like a string of lights through the novel. The first time young Nel leaves Medallion and meets her grandmother Rochelle—“this tiny woman with the softness and glare of a canary”—she returns with an epiphany:

“I’m me,” she whispered. “Me.” Nel didn’t know quite what she meant, but on the other hand she knew exactly what she meant. “I’m me. I’m not their daughter. I’m not Nel. I’m me. Me.” Each time she said the wordme她的电力像好像一样,像恐惧一样。

Meis a name that only you have and that everybody else does, too; this is the uncanny magic of pronouns.

Nel isherselfbut late in the novel, she tries to distinguish herself from Sula, only to be reminded: “You. Sula. What’s the difference?” Because despite their individuality, the two girls are as deeply connected as the deweys and in a manner just as fantastical. Sula and Nel first meet one another in their dreams, each sensing that “watching the dream along with her, were some smiling sympathetic eyes.” Like Nel’s epiphany of self-regard, this “intense … sudden” friendship with Sula is both consummately specific and hauntingly familiar.

When I think ofSulaand feel that thrum at my breastbone, I’m thinking of the tart green sap of girlhood (“Hey, girl,” they say, “girl, girl, girlgirlgirl”). I’m remembering the “adventuresomeness” of young girl friendship, the “mean determination to explore everything” together, trulyeverything,以及这句话的完美:“他们没有优先事项。”I’m conjuring the teetering into fleshly doings that happens at a certain age when, suddenly, like a flock of birds erupting into flight, all of the boys are beautiful: “It was in that summer, the summer of their twelfth year, the summer of the beautiful black boys, that they became skittish, frightened and bold.”

I’m feeling this trembling time, its desire and ache, “their small breasts just now beginning to create some pleasant discomfort,” this girlish queerness—neither straight nor lesbian exactly, but feverish with slant possibility—this dewy conspiracy of selves:

他们一起工作,直到两个洞是一个and the same. When the depression was the size of a small dishpan, Nel’s twig broke. With a gesture of disgust she threw the pieces into the hole they had made. Sula threw hers in too. Nel saw a bottle cap and tossed it in as well. Each then looked around for more debris to throw into the hole: paper, bits of glass, butts of cigarettes, until all of the small defiling things they could find were collected there. Carefully they replaced the soil and covered the entire grave with uprooted grass.

既不说出一个词。

再次,令我震惊的是场景的陌生性和熟悉的结合:奇怪的比赛儿童在外面玩耍而没有玩具;作为一个年轻女孩的感觉,我也是这样玩耍,成为一个与其他年轻女孩(我知道的名字:Hilda,Chanda,Nyaka)。甚至场景的最小细节 - 字面位和碎片和NEL在随机和原型之间的合并空穴颤抖中。

***

This suits the novel’s interest in waste: every other page refers to shit, piss, butts, asses, stool, outhouses, restrooms, bladders, or constipation. (The Bottom is a triple pun at least). The girls’ burial of “small defiling things” comes after two other episodes of oblique abjection, one familial, one erotic. In the first, Sula overhears her mother speaking dismissively about her and feels radically severed from home, cast out like slops. In the second, Sula and Nel run a gauntlet of male gazes (“pig meat,” Ajax calls after them), secretly thrilled by what lies curled behind the seams of the men’s trousers. The hole-digging scene in turn foreshadows later sexual entanglements and gruesome deaths, some requiring a closed casket.

The scene itself climaxes in a beautiful and horrifying death—horrifying because it is beautiful—that both binds the two girls together and, when she tries to ensure that he has not witnessed it, binds young Sula to Shadrack for life. In this novel, the abject—filth and mess, all that is beyond the bounds, the realm of the “jettisoned … where meaning collapses”—is, oddly enough, a binding agent (Julia Kristeva,Powers of Horror, 2). This symbiosis of order and disorder appears throughoutSula—Nel lives in “the high silence of her mother’s incredibly orderly house, feeling the neatness pointing at her back,” while Sula is “wedged into a household of throbbing disorder constantly awry”—but especially in Shadrack’s story, which itself sits on the outer edges of the novel.

Shadrack’s name points us to the Book of Daniel, where King Nebuchadnezzar II throws three men, one named Shadrach, into a furnace for refusing to bow to the king’s image. This biblical tale echoes the immolation of Sula’s uncle and mother in the novel, as well as the hellhole Shadrack finds himself in during World War I: “he turned his head a little to the right and saw the face of a soldier near him fly off.” Shadrack’s trauma as a veteran makes him unravel. His fingers seem “to grow in higgledy-piggledy fashion like Jack’s beanstalk” and to join up with his shoelaces: “The four fingers of each hand fused into the fabric, knotted themselves and zigzagged in and out of the tiny eyeholes.”

But he’s soothed by the “neat balance” of a food tray separating rice, tomatoes, and meat: “All their repugnance was contained.” And so, when he returns to Medallion, he invents National Suicide Day “to order and focus experience,” to make “a place for fear as a way of controlling it”; “if one day a year were devoted to it, everybody could get it out of the way and the rest of the year would be safe and free.” His shack on a riverbank on the outskirts of town is a spatial version of National Suicide Day, a place of containment beside a muddy slurry.

当年轻的SULA走进他的家时,命运的日子看到死亡,她遇到了干净和整洁的震惊,尽管住在这样的混乱心灵。女孩和男人之间的关系很薄,绷紧,简要而言。他们的谈话围绕着一个字 - “总是” - 这对每个词来说是完全不同的含义。这一比赛,或然一天带来了Shadrack一个粉碎的人类来抓住;Sula下降的孩子的皮带成为“他曾经有过游客的一条证据。”这一天也用作令人担忧的坩埚,这是不负责任的:SULA,女人。

***

Who—orwhat- sula变成?Sula女人很漂亮,宽松;她的工作很少,丢弃人;她和镇上的男人一起睡觉,抓住一个感情。一方面,Sula是完全理解的,她母亲和祖母的自然生长,对女性残忍但崇拜男性。另一方面,Sula完全是外星人。当她抓住另一个女人的丈夫时,他们的手和膝盖舔彼此的嘴唇,就像狗一样,他们都不是显着的。当Sula坠入爱河时,她想象她的令人令人不安的方式的职员的身体:“皮肤黑色。非常黑。如此黑色,只有钢丝羊毛稳定的仔细摩擦会将它移除,并且除了删除的金叶和金箔下的闪光下,寒冷的雪橇和深处,深深地,寒冷的雪橇下只有这次 black of warm loam.”

Sula is “like any artist with no art form … dangerous.” Her material is life—“hers was an experimental life”—and she creates two major works of art, the Bottom and her own self: “I don’t want to make somebody else. I want to make myself.” In each case, she creates via negation, by rubbing herself off, carving herself out: “She had no center, no speck around which to grow … She was completely free of ambition, with no affection for money, property or things, no greed, no desire to command attention or compliments—no ego.” This emptiness is crucial to her art but it is also threatening. It makes Sula额外的在各种各样的意义上:太多了,一个“任性的陌生人”,一个“帕里亚”。

Yet Sula is necessary, essential to the black people of Medallion. This is because they have a precise understanding of evil, one that is akin to Shadrack making a place for fear rather than trying to dispel it:

Their conviction of Sula’s evil changed them in accountable yet mysterious ways. Once the source of their personal misfortune was identified, they had leave to protect and love one another. They began to cherish their husbands and wives, protect their children, repair their homes and in general band together against the devil in their midst. In their world, aberrations were as much a part of nature as grace. It was not for them to expel or annihilate it. They would no more run Sula out of town than they would kill the robins that brought her back…

Sula’s evil makes the good rise in others; her bad brings out their best; her wrongs make them right.

虽然一些评论家解释对苏的胎记la’s eye as the biblical mark of Cain, the divergent and quotidian readings of the birthmark in the novel itself (other characters see it as a rose, a snake, ashes, a tadpole) suggest not just spiritual symbolism, but also worldly, deeply human ambiguity. Each person sees the particular evil in her that they need to. The community doesn’t cast Sula out or set out to sacrifice her; everybody knows deep down that her magnificent, maleficent presence is what unites them. Sula isn’t in fact a scapegoat but a supplement, the allegedly “unnatural” extraneous piece that turns out to be missing from the center. (Jacques Derrida writes inSpeech and Phenomena: “We can speak … of a primordial ‘supplement’: theiraddition来到make up fora deficiency, it comes to compensate for a primordial nonself-presence.”)

When Sula’s gone, everybody misses her; they miss hating her and measuring themselves against her. When Sula’s gone, everything collapses.

因此,谁,以及她不仅仅是一个人格的问题。这是一个哲学问题:“这就是哲学如何开始......一个可能姿势的第一个问题之一......是谁和谁和什么的问题......我爱一个人的绝对奇点吗?我爱你,因为你是你。或者我喜欢你的品质吗?......爱的历史,爱的核心,分为谁和什么。“(德里达,在Derrida, by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering Kofman).

If what Sula is to us is an emblem, a mirror, a type, a supplement of the community—and she is all of these things—we must always remember that who Sula is belongs, in the end, to her friend. “We was girls together,” Nel cries and it strikes me in my chest like the point of a pin hitting a gong.

***

SulaisNel. Sula is Rochelle, Nel’s grandmother, who also wears yellow and brings birds. Sula is her mother, Hannah, who also fucks all the men in the Bottom. Sula is her grandmother, Eva, who also kills a boy. Sula is Shadrack, another outcast whose hellfire teems at the edges of the community, sealing it whole. And Sula is herself, Sula Mae Peace, as well as every possible unraveling of that triple rippling name, which only on this latest rereading did I think to look into.

As with many of Morrison’s names, Sula Mae is biblical. Sula Mae is Shulamit or Shulamite, the name of Solomon’s beloved in the Song of Songs, the woman whose “lips drop sweetness as the honeycomb.” Sula Mae could also be Salome—either the temptress who danced for King Herod and demanded the head of John the Baptist at the behest of her fiery mother, or a female disciple who witnessed Christ’s crucifixion. Both the names Shulamit and Salome come from the root wordshalom, orpeace。So, Sula Mae Peace is Peace Peace, a doubling that seems to jar her loose from herself, and makes us wonder whether she is one of the peaces in that graveyard, or all of them. And Sula spelled backward—is it “all us” or “alas” or “a lass” or “a loss?”

Sula is all of these possibilities, every line of light on a dew-lined web. But no matter how many times I rereadSula, analyze her names, untangle her threads, the light of her slips through my fingers. Some small thing that lives in my chest and has a bell for a tongue knows the truth of the matter: Sula isSula

From Namwali Serpell’s introduction to the new reissue ofSula, published by Vintage Classics.

Namwali Serpell is a professor of English at Harvard University and the author of七种不确定性(2014),The Old Drift(2019),Stranger Faces(2020), andThe Furrows(September 2022).