Foxcroft, Nigel H., ‘Transgenerational Haunting: The Legacy of Metamorphosis, Transgression, and Survival in Toni Morrison’s Jazz’, The Atlantic Critical Review, 10, no. 2 (April-June 2011), 67-82 (ISSN 0972-6373)
The uniqueness of this paper is the way in which it applies Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok’s research into psychoanalysis to a study of Jazz (1992), a historical novel with a difference by the prominent American, Nobel-prizewinning author, Toni Morrison. Indeed, it investigates the full significance of transgenerational haunting in this saga of human survival. The conjuring up of phantoms - or ghosts - of the past launches its readership, as it does its protagonists, on a trek back to the roots of memory by recreating a lost, yet repetitive history of pain and suffering. In doing so, it encompasses the tragic afflictions passed down both orally and ventriloquially through the generations.
Inspired by James Van Der Zee’s photographic record of a young Afro-American girl lying in a coffin, Jazz thrusts us into the recreated lives of individuals experiencing the events of 1926, the heyday of the Harlem Renaissance (1910-30). Confronted with the impact of geographical, ethnic, and socio-economic transformation, Foxcroft’s research advances the thesis of what Deborah H. Barnes has identified as a process of cultural metamorphosis, transgression, and survival in attempting to adapt to the consequences of migration. In doing so, it charts the journey of discovery and self-definition undergone by newcomers to the so-called city of jazz – reminiscent of New Orleans - in 1920’s America. It is one of ethnic violence and trauma, combined with the unveiling of racial hybridity and, indeed, erstwhile, illegal miscegenation. It reaches the conclusion that the psychoanalytical, transgenerational haunting caused by the sins - both witnessed and committed - by previous generations living in the nineteenth-century South means that it is incredibly difficult to escape from the claws of the past.
As with Coleman Silk in Philip Roth’s The Human Stain (2000), it is the descendants’ liability to address the truth of bygone eras by interpreting the spiderlike, phobia-inducing web of links connecting the past with the present. It is essential for them to reclaim and transgress the burden of personal and collective memories in order to decode their genuine Afro-American, cultural heritage, to be able to survive psychologically, and, indeed, newly invigorated, to embark upon the true path to the future.