The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations
“A slow, careful reading of this book will reveal the deep thinking and philosophical regard for the world that made it possible for Toni Morrison to create such towering literary works as Beloved and Jazz.”
Toni Morrison’s selected essays, speeches and meditations should come with a cover warning: In order to prevent being overwhelmed, take it slowly and easily. Also, you might want to take notes. This is not a book to devour. Instead, it’s a book to savor, think about, and reflect on one essay/speech/meditation at a time.
The book is divided into three sections: The Foreigner’s Home, Black Matter(s), and God’s Language. Throughout all three sections, Morrison embraces a wide range of themes, including: the power of words; home; boundaries; migration; the price and responsibility of freedom; and the demonization of the other in order to foster fear, chaos, and all forms of slavery and war in the world. These themes are examined, honed, and polished over a wide variety of essays and speeches.
Although the rehashing of certain themes may seem redundant, don’t be tempted to jump to the next essay. Each time she revisits a theme, Morrison reaches deeper for new meaning and clarification in a globally shifting world.
Here’s what Morrison has to say about borders and fences:
“Porous borders and are understood in some quarters to be areas of threat and certain chaos, and whether real or imagined, enforced separation is posited as the solution.”
About the importance of art and the artist in society:
“Art reminds us that we belong here. And if we serve, we last. My faith in art rivals my admiration for any other discourse. Its conversation with the public and among its various genres is critical to the understanding of what it means to care deeply and to be human completely.”
Throughout the collection, Morrison wrestles with language, its meaning and implications and the persuasive ways words shape our understanding of the world. And it is language, be it conversation or the written word (journalism and literature) that will allow us to come together to figure out what it means to be human.
Many of the pieces were written in the 1990s and early 2000s, but they are more relevant today than perhaps they were when first written. Particularly, her ideas about boundaries, the rapid shifting of populations across borders and our apparent need to secure borders and demonize some people as dangerous and “not us” and why this designation allows us to fear the other.
Our festering belief that borders and walls keep those who are “not us” away from our people does not and never has guaranteed safety. As Morrison says, quite the contrary, that demonization, that wall, that fear that others might infiltrate our communities and homes are the very seeds of war.
What is the opposite of fear? It is freedom. And, the function and consequence of freedom is the responsibility to free someone else, not just ourselves.
Not to be missed in this bold and thoughtful collection is Morrison’s tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr., the eulogy she wrote for James Baldwin, and the tour de force title piece: “The Source of Self-Regard.”
A slow, careful reading of this book will reveal the deep thinking and philosophical regard for the world that made it possible for Toni Morrison to create such towering literary works as Beloved and Jazz.