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“Not a Story to Pass On:” Sexual Violence and Ethical Act in Toni Morrison's Beloved

Toward a Critique of Guilt: Perspectives from Law and the Humanities

ISBN: 978-0-76231-189-7, eISBN: 978-1-84950-334-1

Publication date: 6 July 2005

Abstract

Morrison's Beloved presents a complex anatomy of guilt. This is the perception that underwrites Slavoj Zizek's recruitment of the 1987 novel in his recent discussion of ethics and politics. In Zizek's Fragile Absolute (2000), he claims that Sethe's murder of her child as a privileged instance of what he terms “the ethical act.” Drawing on Lacanian psychoanalytic ethics to articulate a relation between the psychic and the political, Zizek argues that the only truly ethical act is one that breaks with the cycle of law and transgression, evading the superego through a suicidal “shooting oneself in the foot.” This paper argues that while Zizek's reading of Beloved is in some ways illuminating, Morrison's novel itself offers a profound analysis of Zizek's conception of the “ethical act,” exposing the limited nature of this act as part of a larger political strategy. I propose a reading of Morrison's novel that focuses on its exploration of violence and guilt, reading it both alongside and against dominant psychoanalytic conceptions derived from Freud, Lacan, and Zizek's deployment of both.

Citation

Murphy, S. (2005), "“Not a Story to Pass On:” Sexual Violence and Ethical Act in Toni Morrison's Beloved", Anderson, M. (Ed.) Toward a Critique of Guilt: Perspectives from Law and the Humanities (Studies in Law, Politics, and Society, Vol. 36), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 103-123. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1059-4337(05)36006-6

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2005, Emerald Group Publishing Limited