Abstract Toni Morrison’s emplotment of the circulated sermon represents an innovative engagement with the vexed tradition of literary preaching in US literature. This article focuses on Morrison’s most celebrated instance of literary preaching—Baby Suggs’s “Love Your Heart” sermon in Beloved (1987)—and pays special attention to the oft-neglected fact that Baby Suggs eventually disavows the vision announced in her sermon. Throughout Beloved, Morrison traces the circulation of the sermon, a process through which an original sermonic or ministerial energy enlivens the community, departs from it, and returns with amplified, reconfigured, and redistributed force. By treating literary preaching in this manner, Morrison sets out to accomplish two related goals. First, she aims to overcome literary preaching’s troublesome affordance of reifying hierarchal and anti-democratic models of authority. Secondly, through this inventive deployment of the form, Morrison meditates not only on her identity as an author but also aims to construct the identities of her readers. After discussing crucial facets of Baby Suggs’s characterization and ministry, the essay treats the sermon itself and examines how it circulates through the text, how it “passes on” from character to character, despite Baby Suggs’s bitter renunciation. Put in the terms of the novel, Baby Suggs’s rejected sermon is “remembered” throughout the text and her “call” generates multiple communal responses. In the novel, the emergence and subsequent disappearance of the singular, poetic, and well-known preacher—a figure for the author herself— enables a radically democratized and disruptive sermonic power to reemerge and heal the community. I long for a critic who will know what I mean when I say “church,” or “community,” or when I say “ancestor,” or “chorus.” Because my books come out of those things and represent how they function in the black cosmology. . . . I am yearning for someone to see such things—to see what my structures are, what the moorings are, where the anchors are that support my writings. —Toni Morrison (“An Interview with Toni Morrison,” by McKay 151)In a 1981 interview with Charles Ruas, Toni Morrison describes her novels with a comparison that discloses one of the enabling “moorings” or “anchors” of her fiction. She explains the “multiple endings” of her novels by insisting that they do not “stop” or “shut” because their meaning, as in an oral folktale, rests in her readers’ responses. To explain this authorial sensibility further, she likens reading her novels to participating in a call-and-response sermon: “Being in church and knowing that the function of the preacher is to make you get up, you do say yes, and you do respond back and forth. . . . [S]omething is supposed to happen so the listener participates” (“Toni” 101). In this arresting explanation, Morrison acts as precisely the sort of critic that she would later claim to “long for,” a critic who understands African American cultural forms, their “function in the black cosmology,” and their structuring influence on her oeuvre. This vision of the novel as something like a call-and-response sermon that requires audience participation for its success is no fleeting vision for Morrison. In another interview of the same year, Thomas LeClair asks Morrison what makes her work distinctive, and she responds by saying, “the language, only the language” (“Language” 123). Morrison scholars with a special interest in her style frequently cite the first part of her answer: “The language must be careful and must appear effortless. It must not sweat. It must suggest and be provocative at the same time.” Rarely, however, does her further elaboration receive critical attention, perhaps because it suggests a puzzling identification of her style with that of the preacher. After saying that the language “must not sweat,” Morrison says that her stylized language’s “function is like a preacher’s: to make you stand up out of your seat, make you lose yourself and hear yourself” (124). In other words, her language, like her strategic refusal to “shut” her novels, is designed to provoke a response, and, curiously, Morrison compares both of these aesthetic commitments to the art of preaching. Despite Morrison’s attraction to the energy, openness, and sensuality of the sermon, she has an intensely ambivalent relation to invoking the sermon for several interlocking reasons. First, Morrison holds the form at arm’s length because it tends to reify highly centralized structures of authority and, more broadly, to fortify culturally dominant modes of Christianity that fail to address the needs of African Americans, especially women and children.1 Second, although Morrison compares her literary style to that of a preacher, her intricate strategies of characterization reveal an attempt to navigate a dialectic of desire and repulsion as she constructs her vocational identity in relation to her numerous fictional preachers. Her attraction to the preacher’s verbal artistry, moral authority, and cultural insight exists in dialectical tension with her repulsion at the preacher’s hubris, elitism, and tendency to privilege abstractions over the needs of the body. Consequently, Morrison’s intentionally multivalent scenes of preaching throw the reader into interpretive crisis and demand patient critical attention. No single article could effectively treat each of Morrison’s engagements with what I refer to as literary preaching, an enduring US literary form in which authors invoke the Protestant sermon in order to address a wide variety of cultural, political, or aesthetic questions. From Soaphead Church’s epistolary sermon against God in The Bluest Eye (1970), to the sermonic wars that take center-stage in Paradise (1997), to what Morrison, in her 2004 foreword to Song of Solomon (1977), describes as Pilate’s “extemporaneous sermon” (xiii), the sermon deeply structures Morrison’s fiction. This article, a “response” to the provocative “call” Morrison offers in the epigraph, focuses on Morrison’s most celebrated instance of literary preaching—Baby Suggs’s “Love Your Heart” sermon in Beloved (1987)—and pays special attention to the oft-neglected fact that Baby Suggs disavows the message that she preaches. Yet after Baby Suggs’s bitter renunciation, a surprising phenomenon emerges within the novel’s diegesis: her crisis of faith and subsequent retreat from a position of spiritual authority enables the multiplication of her sermon’s power. Throughout the novel, Morrison traces the circulation of the sermon, a process through which an original sermonic or ministerial energy enlivens the community, departs from it, and returns with amplified, reconfigured, and redistributed force. By engaging the sermon in this manner, Morrison sets out to accomplish two related goals. First, she aims to overcome literary preaching’s troublesome affordance of reifying hierarchal, anti-democratic models of authority. Second, through this inventive deployment of the sermon, Morrison seeks to recruit the reader as a copartner in her work in the world. In this sense, Morrison’s engagement with literary preaching not only meditates on her identity as an author but also aims to construct the identities of her readers. In order to support these claims, I offer an analysis of Morrison’s literary preaching in Beloved. After examining Baby Suggs’s characterization and ministry among her congregants, I turn to the sermon itself and examine how it circulates through the text, how it “passes on” from character to character despite Baby Suggs’s bitter renunciation. Put in the terms of the novel, Baby Suggs’s rejected sermon is “remembered” throughout the text, and her “call” generates multiple communal responses. In Beloved, the emergence and subsequent disappearance of a particular, poetic, and well-known preacher—a figure for the author herself—enables a radically democratized and disruptive sermonic power to reemerge and heal the community. Morrison’s emplotment of the circulated sermon represents an innovative engagement with the vexed tradition of literary preaching in US literature. Literary preaching—and the multiple contradictions and narrative problems it raises—profoundly shapes the works of numerous US authors who aim to subvert the predominantly religious content of the sermon in order to reimagine profound moments of reform in a political, cultural, aesthetic, and principally secular mode.2 Because the sermon intertwines linguistic artistry and extralegal moral authority, it attracts authors who aim to address culture in an alluring and authoritative idiom. In US literature, literary preaching emerges with special force as a response to deeply felt cultural crisis because it functions as a ready-made form for moral suasion. From the mid-nineteenth century through the present, US authors have engaged in this literary form to voice eloquent and forceful dissent from their milieus and to promote alternative imaginations of community, the self, religion, or politics. Often, in such highly pressurized scenes of literary preaching, an author’s anxious embrace of the sermon gestures in politically contradictory directions. On the one hand, authors engage in literary preaching to critique prevailing ideologies and call for a more egalitarian and humanitarian ethos. On the other hand, this embrace of the sermon often reifies hierarchical, patriarchal power formations and, problematically, presents the voice of the preacher as the paradigm of moral authority and verbal artistry. Like Herman Melville, Zora Neale Hurston, William Faulkner, Ralph Ellison, and many other US novelists, Morrison attempts to harness the sermon’s attractive potentialities while simultaneously resisting its undesirable associations and ideological functions. As I noted above, in Beloved, Morrison’s central aim appears to be to resolve literary preaching’s tendency to reify anti-democratic, hierarchical models of authority. But Morrison’s complex engagement with literary preaching in Beloved also counteracts an additional undesirable ideological function of the sermon: the traditional Protestant sermon’s tendency to privilege a disembodied, patriarchal Word.3 Throughout the novel, Morrison suggests a link between this theological construct and the violently anti-maternal institution of slavery, an institution in which the all-important “power of naming remains with the white master” (Lawrence 234). Beloved repeatedly shows Christian slaveholders, devotees and practitioners of a logocentric patriarchy, using language as their primary tool for disciplining, categorizing, and commodifying African Americans. Schoolteacher—a perverse father figure who “know[s] Jesus by His first name” (Morrison, Beloved 44)—instructs his nephews to write dehumanizing catalogues of Sethe’s “animal” and “human” characteristics, devotes himself to authoring a text steeped in scientific racism, and beats Sixo to teach him that “definitions [belong] to the definers—not the defined” (225). Thus, the uniqueness of Morrison’s literary preaching in Beloved lies, in part, in her effort to unleash the sermon’s prophetic and artistic power while dismantling the logocentrism of the Protestant sermon. Morrison leverages the hybrid African American Christian tradition of the call-and-response sermon to imagine the sermon as a communal and maternal utterance that affirms the sanctity of the black body, the strength of the mother-child bond, and the necessity of self-love. Moreover, as the sermon circulates throughout the novel, taking leave of a particular orator, it becomes less an authoritative Word than a healing sound. Before turning to Baby Suggs’s sermon, we should note that the pattern that defines her ministry—the preacher’s departure preparing the way for the emergence of a more powerful spiritual authority—appears in miniature form when she arrives in Ohio. Long before it became “spiteful” and “full of a baby’s venom” (3), 124 Bluestone Road was a preacher’s home. As Woodruff drives the recently freed Baby Suggs through the outskirts of Cincinnati, he tells her that she is being moved into a “nice house” that was originally the home of a preacher who had been reassigned by “Bishop Allen” (172). This is no incidental name to drop at the moment of Baby Suggs’s arrival. It would be hard for Woodruff to mention a more significant figure in African American religious history than Bishop Richard Allen. As well as being the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Allen tirelessly served in abolitionist causes, gained wide respect as an intellectual, and wrote political pamphlets that became models of the genre (Newman 1).4 Woodruff’s story about Allen’s decision to send the preacher away from the community highlights a model of ministry that requires circulation. A preacher might, at any minute, leave the community and create a vacuum in leadership. Thus, when she arrives, Baby Suggs rushes into a ministerial vacuum. 124 Bluestone Road transforms into “a cheerful buzzing house where Baby Suggs, holy, loved, cautioned, fed, chastised and soothed.” Like her “great heart,” the house pulses with healing energy (Morrison, Beloved 102). The former leader’s mantle has been passed on to Baby Suggs, and she promptly establishes herself as a gifted preacher whose powerful “calls” heal the community. This subtle transfer of power from one spiritual leader to another anticipates the novel’s sustained meditation on the circulation of the sermon. The spiritual authority that Baby Suggs inherits and reconfigures will also be “passed on” and adapted yet again. My emphasis on the circulation of the sermon emerges out of a close examination of the narrative’s conspicuous focus on Baby Suggs’s “great heart” (102). Her “beat and beating” (104) heart receives special attention throughout the diegesis because, in its function as a pump that distributes nutrients to the other organs of the body, it serves as an especially apt and earthy figure for Baby Suggs’s ministry, a ministry that highlights the significance of transfer, circulation, and exchange. Valerie Smith notes that readers may be tempted to read “heart” as a metaphor for “compassion or capacity for empathetic identification” but cautions against such simplistic readings by insisting that, especially in Baby Suggs’s sermon, the heart refers to a physical organ (Toni 70). Smith is correct in cautioning against such banal metaphorical readings, but, at the same time, Baby Suggs refers specifically to the heart as the “prize” that should be loved more than any of the other parts of the body, including the liver and lungs (Morrison, Beloved 104). Obviously, Baby Suggs’s prioritization of the heart cannot be explained by reference to physiology alone. What good is a healthy heart without a functional liver or lungs? To make sense of the high value both Baby Suggs and Morrison place on the heart, we must turn toward figurative language. If we emphasize the heart’s function as an organ that constantly circulates blood through the body, we can see that the heart serves as a resonant image for Baby Suggs’s ministry, which pumps life into the social body. Throughout the novel, Morrison describes Baby Suggs’s sermonic practice and emphasizes the power and permeability of Baby Suggs’s heart. A victim of numerous atrocities at the hands of Christian slaveholders, Baby Suggs rejects the submissive, sentimental piety typified in American literature by Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) and, more broadly, in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount.5 She does not tell her followers to “clean up their lives or to go and sin no more,” nor does she “tell them they were the blessed of the earth, its inheriting meek or its glorybound pure” (103). “Accepting no title of honor before her name, but allowing a small caress after it,” Baby Suggs, holy, becomes “an unchurched preacher, one who visited pulpits and opened her great heart to those who could use it” (102). Morrison suggests a scene of public oratory that is both intimate and disturbing as she images Baby Suggs’s preaching as “open[ing] her great heart” for the “use” of others. The familiar idiomatic expression suggests the revelation of a long-hidden secret. Morrison’s description, however, also suggests a surreal surgical procedure similar to either organ donation or a blood transfusion. Engaging in one of the novel’s most provocative instances of magical realism, Morrison suggests that Baby Suggs’s open-heart sermons promote the healing and nourishment of other hearts, and this, above all, defines her religious practice. Baby Suggs’s unique approach to preaching derives from her visceral experience of liberation. Shortly after she crosses over the Ohio River, she begins to take an index of her own body: “But suddenly she saw her hands and thought with a clarity as simple as it was dazzling, ‘These hands belong to me. These my hands.’” This personal inventory moves inward as Baby Suggs begins to feel heart palpitations that produce euphoria instead of anxiety. She feels a “knocking in her chest” and asks, “had it been there all along? This pounding thing?” (166). This sensation leads her to begin laughing uncontrollably and inspires her to develop “her own brand of preaching, having made up her mind about what to do with the heart that started beating the minute she crossed the Ohio River” (173). Baby Suggs focuses on extending her experience of self-ownership to the broader community, and to do so she develops not only a new, embodied “brand of preaching” but also a new vision of the worship space. Although Baby Suggs successfully serves as a visiting preacher for traditional denominations (102), her own ministry involves relocation beyond churches’ physical structures. In the Clearing, a woodland space symbolically beyond the confines of traditional dogma and ritual, Baby Suggs leads the congregants through a communal healing ceremony and delivers a sermon that proclaims “the godliness of physicality rather than of spirituality” (Tally, Origins 3). Roxanne Reed suggests that this relocation enables Baby Suggs to gain authority because the Clearing represents a distance from “the structured, hierarchical spaces of traditional pulpits” (67). The novel, however, makes clear that Baby Suggs does not struggle to establish her authority in traditional pulpits (Morrison, Beloved 102). In fact, in his recollections of Baby Suggs’s ministry, Stamp Paid recalls her “authority in the pulpit” (208), a line that confirms Baby Suggs's ability to appropriate the traditional site of male authority when she served as a guest preacher at many local churches. Her movement to the Clearing, motivated by her love from the traumatized community, indicates her keen sense of spatial politics. Like the “strong poets” that Richard Rorty describes in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979), Baby Suggs’s tactical move creates “new logical spaces wherein fresh thoughts can be thought and familiar things redescribed” (qtd. in Tally, Origins 51). Baby Suggs becomes an “unchurched preacher” in order to draw her followers into a new, hospitable space where they can “let go,” emote freely, and begin reclaiming and loving their bodies (Morrison, Beloved 111). Prior to delivering her sermon proper, Baby Suggs begins the service with a call to worship that identifies her as a unique type of preacher. In her analysis of Baby Suggs’s sermon, Cynthia Dobbs notes: “[C]uriously, this sermon does not begin with words. To begin her ‘fixing ceremony,’ Baby Suggs asks the children to laugh, the men to dance, and the women to cry. Thus, instead of an authoritative orator beginning to speak ‘the Word’ to the people, we have a kind of prologue acted out by the people” (565). Here, Dobbs overstates her otherwise important observation. While Baby Suggs certainly resists many of the authoritarian and logocentric structures of Protestant leadership, the “fixing ceremony” does not suggest as wholly a democratic practice as Dobbs implies. The fixing ceremony does not begin with a gentle invitation to organic action but with a series of intensely loaded ritual acts. Like many of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s fictional preachers, Baby Suggs sits atop a “huge flat-sided rock,” installing herself in a natural pulpit and assuming the posture of a rabbi (Morrison, Beloved 102). Moreover, prior to the beginning of the ceremony, Baby Suggs bows her head and prays before the silent congregation. They do not join her in prayer but silently watch her “from the trees,” where they remain until the moment she beckons them (103). Finally, before she speaks the words that will begin the sermon, she dramatically puts down her walking stick, an act that signals to the gathered community that “she was ready” to begin (104). This act signifies a willing surrender of phallic power and, more importantly, functions as the embodied quotation of Aaron’s first miracle before Pharaoh—the casting down and transforming of his staff into a serpent. Aaron’s miracle signals the beginning of God’s liberation of the Hebrew slaves (New Revised Standard Version Bible, Exod. 7.17). Baby Suggs’s repetition of this militant gesture signals the inauguration of a second Exodus. Additionally, Baby Suggs’s liturgy begins with an explosive command drawn from scripture. She does not “ask” the people to laugh, dance, and cry; she demands it. She shouts out, “Let the children come!” and the narrative records an immediate rush of children into the Clearing (Morrison, Beloved 103). The men and women respond in a similarly energetic manner. Before turning to the dynamics of this revival and the content of Baby Suggs’s innovative sermon, I want to point out that she draws the opening line of her ceremony from the Gospel of Mark. Thus, the fixing ceremony does begin with words drawn from Christian scripture. In the Biblical passage, Jesus criticizes some of his followers for blocking children from approaching him and says, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them” (New Revised Standard Version Bible, Mark 10.14). If the line sounds familiar to Morrison scholars, it should. Soaphead Church refers to this same passage in his angry letter to God. In The Bluest Eye, Morrison places this line in the mouth of Soaphead Church—a perverse but occasionally perceptive preacher—and leverages it as a jeremiad against God’s failure to protect African American children from the effects of racism (181). In Beloved, however, Morrison fashions this same passage as a joyous command for the children to participate in a communal worship event. While Baby Suggs does not advocate the subservient morality associated with Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, she embraces his words of radical inclusion for society’s most despised members.6 Above all, Baby Suggs aims for her sermon to heal the body by reclaiming its sanctity. Linda Wagner-Martin describes her as “the genesis of mother love for all the parishioners in the clearing” (71). Like a mother speaking to her newborn child about his or her beautiful body, Baby Suggs lovingly catalogues the congregants’ body parts. Her maternal catalogues establish her as a rival to Schoolteacher, whose racist, pseudoscientific catalogues traumatize Sethe. At the same time, this maternal catalogue includes instructions for enacting a gospel of self-love: Here . . . in this place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don’t love your eyes; they’d just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people [here Morrison/Baby Suggs delivers on the epigraph’s promise of calling the neglected community “my people”] they do not love your hands. Those they use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face ’cause they don’t love that either. You got to love it, you! . . . You got to love it. This is flesh I’m talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. . . . And all your inside parts that they’d just as soon slop for hogs, you got to love them. The dark, dark liver—love it, love it, and the beat and beating heart, love that too. More than eyes or feet. More than lungs that have yet to draw free air. More than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts, hear me now, love your heart. For this is the prize. (Morrison, Beloved 104)Baby Suggs’s sermon counters any religious tradition that celebrates dependency on the divine or any other for self-worth. Here, flesh becomes vested with religious significance typically reserved only for the soul. Dobbs astutely notes that “while such an intertwining of body and spirit may be integral to many African religions, we need to go back to Whitman for such strong linkages in American literature” (565-66). Clearly Whitman’s celebration of the body carried tremendous political potential, which he occasionally used to critique American slavery. Whitman’s writing, however, responds immediately to Victorian attitudes toward embodiment and sexuality. Baby Suggs’s calling of her people, as Dobbs points out, specifically addresses “the horrors of slavery” (556). Thus, we must note that Baby Suggs’s authoritative sermon does not merely take aim at an anti-material religious formation. More importantly, she targets a violent form of global capitalism that transforms the black body into a marketable commodity. Smith accurately identifies the aim of Baby Suggs’s sermon as the aim of the novel, describing both as aimed toward the project of “reclaiming bodies” from the vicious codes of slavery (“Circling” 348) and “encourages the former slaves and the reader to linger over the free black body . . . and to love it as flesh” (Writing 70-71). Similarly, John Duvall reads Baby Suggs as an authorial figure: “Having healed herself through the writing of her first four novels, Morrison now figures as an artist who can truly heal the community. . . . In the female preacher of Beloved, one might say, Morrison reveals her aspirations for her art and communal role” (126-27). In this sense, Morrison participates in the tendency of US writers to engage in literary preaching at moments of intense cultural dialogue. To fully comprehend this sermon’s cultural work, Baby Suggs’s sermon must be read not only within the context of the fictive world but also in relation to the broader cultural-ethical problems suggested by the novel’s opening pages. On the title page of Beloved, a haunting dedication confronts the reader: “Sixty Million and more.” The dedication gestures toward the unaccountable damage wrought by slavery and its lingering effects in the national psyche. For Morrison, remembering the suffering wrought by slavery must be done in a manner that enables the act of remembrance to be something other than wholly destructive. In a 1988 interview about her aim in writing Beloved, she asserts that there “is a necessity for remembering . . . in a manner in which the memory is not destructive. The act of writing a book, in a way, is a way of confronting it and making it possible to remember” (“In” 247-48). The page that follows the dedication presents the reader with an epigraph, drawn from the Book of Romans, that comments on the previous page: “I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved.” The epigraph suggests both Morrison’s method in the novel and the central message of Baby Suggs’s sermon: to call and rename the traumatized and forgotten. Given this essay’s interest in Morrison’s telescoping of her project through Baby Suggs’s career, we should note that the verb call in this scriptural verse explicitly suggests Baby Suggs’s sermonic performance, which she insists her followers describe as only a “call” (Morrison, Beloved 208). Baby Suggs’s designation of her preaching as a “call” also indicates the novel’s crucial engagement with the dialogic call-and-response format of African American preaching and worship, a sermon form marked by its “circularity” (Zauditu-Selassie 124). By engaging this form of African American preaching, Morrison imagines the sermon as a communal performance. In distinction to more linear, hierarchical modes of preaching, a sermon in the call-and-response tradition accumulates rhetorical force by engaging congregants and summoning them to respond verbally to the preacher. Through this exchange, the congregants make meaningful contributions to the sermon—compelling the preacher to repeat certain phrases, establishing the speaker’s rhythm, affirming specific insights that they find especially valuable, or supporting the preacher by expressing encouragement. Historians trace this dialogic rhetorical form to the West African ring shout and note its presence in the earliest records of African American worship through the present day (Lischer 135). Although Baby Suggs’s worship services are less straightforwardly democratic than other critics have suggested, she clearly engages the congregants in a manner that values their responses. Morrison reveals Baby Suggs’s embrace of the call-and-response aesthetic and the communal ethic it implies in a scene during which Baby Suggs demonstrates to her congregants what it might mean to enact an ethic of embodied self-love. Crucially, this moment suggests that Baby Suggs practices what she preaches and that to enact this self-love she requires the community’s assistance. After she finishes speaking, she begins dancing “with her twisted hip,” and the dance communicates “the rest of what her heart had to say while the others opened their mouths and gave her the music” (Beloved 89). Baby Suggs’s dance conveys the insufficiency of words alone, even words as powerful as her sermon and Jesus’s command to welcome the vulnerable. Morrison suggests a sermonic event that blurs the boundaries between congregant and preacher and begins to accomplish what language cannot. Baby Suggs’s heart infuses the hearts of the congregants, and their communal performance of music and dance suggests a self-propagating sermonic energy that circulates through the population. As Baby Suggs’s dance gives the congregants the “rest of what her heart had to say,” the part that cannot be put in human language, the congregants respond with a “four-part harmony” that perfectly expresses their now “deeply loved flesh” (104). Their four-part harmony coalesces with her dance. Her dance, in turn, represents the wordless expression of her four-chambered heart. This moment of intense circulation, intersubjective exchange, and healing, however, disappears from the novel as rapidly as it appears. Indeed, in an unsettling juxtaposition, the paragraph that immediately follows Baby Suggs’s sermon describes her “dismiss[ing] her great heart” and proving herself “a liar” (104). She abruptly stops performing the rituals, refuses to return to the Clearing, and retires to her bed to contemplate colors. In the aftermath of Sethe’s act of infanticide, Baby Suggs comes to believe she has lied to the community: “There was no grace—imaginary or real—and no sunlit dance in the Clearing could change that” (105). Her “heartstrings” break and her “big old heart [begins] to collapse.” While she refuses to speak “the Word” that heals the community anymore, she does continue to speak authoritatively on questions of theology and race. These pessimistic countersermons refuse to offer any affirmation and, instead, speak of a world of foreclosed futures. “Those white things have taken all I had or dreamed,” Baby Suggs testifies, “There is no bad luck in the world but whitefolks” (105). Her partner in supporting the newly freed slaves, Stamp Paid, urges her to return to the Clearing: “Listen here, girl . . . you can’t quit the Word. It’s given to you to speak. You can’t quit the Word, I don’t care what all happened to you” (209). She responds to his impassioned pleas by repeating, three times, the phrase, “I’m saying they came in my yard,” a denial that expresses the vulnerability of African Americans in the era of the Fugitive Slave Law. Stamp Paid suggests that she is trying to punish God by refusing to preach, and she replies, Job-like, “Not like He punish me” (211). If, as many critics suggest, Baby Suggs’s sermon in the Clearing voices the central aim of the novel, what should we make of her dramatic rejection of her moving and urgent religious vision? Baby Suggs’s crisis of faith, a crisis often overlooked in criticism of the novel, is the crucial move in Morrison’s attempt to engage literary preaching in a manner that does not reify conservative and hierarchical forms of authority. The vacuum created by Baby Suggs’s retirement strongly recalls the ministerial vacuum created by the relocation of the original preacher who lived in 124 Bluestone Road, but after Baby Suggs’s retirement, no individual preacher rushes into this vacuum. In The Bluest Eye and Paradise, Morrison critiques the preacher’s authority in the US cultural imaginary by dramatizing preachers’ tendencies to use the sermon to manipulate their congregations or to justify their own aggressive acts. Baby Suggs’s sudden retirement reveals that Morrison remains concerned about literary preaching’s tendency to affirm hierarchical models of authority even when her engagement with literary preaching involves an identification with a preacher as communally oriented and self-giving as Baby Suggs. By imagining a genuinely communal sermon, Morrison aims to nullify this nettlesome affordance and the ambivalence it generates. Before a collective response can begin to flourish, however, the individual preacher must renounce her gospel of self-love, go into seclusion, and eventually die. Considered metatextually, this fictional examination of the afterlife of the sermon opens a window into Morrison’s meditation on how a politically and ethically motivated artist might measure her legacy and cultural impact. Has the celebrity artist’s heart sufficiently enlivened the hearts of her readers and enabled them to extend her work? Can the sermon remain effective in a community if the preacher subsequently rejects her radical faith? Can the healing power of “a great heart,” a therapeutic “Word,” or, perhaps, an award-winning novel survive if the original heart breaks, the preacher recants, or the novelist loses hope? In no uncertain terms, Morrison shows the community’s sorrow at the loss of Baby Suggs’s leadership. Moreover, Baby Suggs dies in a total renunciation of her own sermon. Despite her disavowal, however, the community’s rememory of her allows the liberatory themes of her sermon to continue to shape their social world. The concept of rememory, Sethe’s evocative term for her relationship to the past, denotes the manner in which subjective memories make the past palpable and forceful in the present. The prefix “re-” makes clear Morrison’s sense of “memory as always already re-created: that memory is never a stable, singular calling up of the past, but rather a partially invented, subjectively selected narrative of the past” (Dobbs 568). Although rememory leads to the ultimately destructive presence of Beloved, it also enables Baby Suggs’s sermon to provide a healing, although ghostly, presence in the community. Her sermon, in other words, haunts the community. Through this remembrance of Baby Suggs and her sermon, Morrison suggests that the sermon continues to circulate though the memories of those who originally heard it. In the terms of Morrison’s key figure for Baby Suggs’s ministry, although Baby Suggs’s heart stops pumping, it does not stop the circulation of the sermon because her parishioners became participants in a system strong enough to carry forward her work despite her absence. The cultural work of Baby Suggs’s “call” does not end with her bitter retirement. The community’s response indicates the sermon’s enduring impact. Indeed, the sermon itself becomes stronger precisely because it becomes the joint effort of many additional preachers. In this way, the preacher becomes secondary to the communally shared message that affirms the sanctity of the black body and the urgency of positive self-regard. The circulation and rememory of Baby Suggs occurs in several key scenes. In the initial scene of Baby Suggs’s remembrance, Sethe returns to the Clearing in order to seek assistance. She enters the Clearing and “remember[s] the smell of leaves simmering in the sun, thunderous feet and the shouts that ripped pods off the limbs of the chestnuts. With Baby Suggs’ heart in charge, the people let go” (Morrison, Beloved 111). Clearly, she longs to again “let go” and open her heart to Baby Suggs, to surrender to a spiritual authority who takes “charge” in a specific space. We should also note that this scene of remembrance involves tremendous forgetting. It is a scene of selective memory because Sethe aims to reconnect with Baby Suggs as she was before she gave up her office. After sitting on Baby Suggs’s rock, Sethe begins to feel her fingers caressing her neck. In this attempt at remembrance, Sethe’s subjective rememory of Baby Suggs conjures her tender care for the body, a “long-distance love . . . equal to any skin-close love she had known” (112). Beloved—also a remembered object of Sethe’s trauma and the tangible spirit of all those brutalized by US slavery—interrupts Baby Suggs’s intimate touch and begins to strangle Sethe. Beloved’s attack blocks Sethe’s ability to fully remember Baby Suggs; it chokes the circulation that Sethe had hoped to open up. The contest between Baby Suggs’s caress and Beloved’s choking grip reveals one of the central struggles of rememory in the novel. In the detail that Beloved’s breath, at this moment, smells “exactly like new milk” (115), Morrison suggests not only Beloved’s identity but also indicates this moment as a struggle between the rememory of Baby Suggs and the rememory of another “baby.” Denver’s first steps toward reengaging the community represent the second crucial scene in which we observe the circulation and reemergence of Baby Suggs’s sermon. This scene reveals that her sermon takes on new complexity and power because of her absence. As Denver realizes that Beloved’s presence poses a threat to both her life and Sethe’s, she determines that she must engage the broader community for help. However, she resists taking her first steps off the porch because the community shuns her family, and she remains terrified by the unpredictability of white people. While Mrs. Jones, Denver’s former teacher, paves the way for Denver’s escape (Schapiro 168), Denver’s rememory of Baby Suggs catalyzes her movement off the porch. At this crisis, the rememory of Baby Suggs provides Denver with a word that allows her to begin to counter the harm being done by Beloved. In part, Denver’s remembrance of her grandmother draws on her knowledge of Baby Suggs’s message of self-love and the holiness of the black body. Denver was an infant during the years that Baby Suggs preached in the Clearing, but in what seems to have been a momentary re-embrace of her faith in the body’s essential integrity, Denver recalls Baby Suggs telling her “[t]hat I should always listen to my body and love it” (Morrison, Beloved 247).7 As Denver stands on the porch, her memory of these affirming words collides with the memory of Baby Suggs’s constant expressions of ubiquitous danger. As these narratives compete, we read Denver’s rememory at work and see, through this process, the sermon circulate, invigorate a new parishioner’s heart, and emerge with greater force. Initially, Denver recalls Baby Suggs’s critiques of white people who refused to behave as “real humans did” and her announcement of defeat: “There’s more of us they drown than there is all of them ever lived from the start of time. Lay down your sword. This ain’t a battle; it’s a rout” (287). Confronted by these defeatist words, Denver remains frozen and cannot leave the yard. However, suddenly, as if by miracle, this ambivalent act of remembrance seems to literally revive Denver’s failing heart. This healing registers both in Denver’s imagined dialogue and, unsurprisingly, in her chest: Her throat itched; her heart kicked—and then Baby Suggs laughed, clear as anything. “You mean I never told you nothing about Carolina? About your daddy? You don’t remember nothing about how come I walk the way I do and about your mother’s feet, not to speak of her back? I never told you all that? Is that why you can’t walk down the steps? My Jesus my.” But you said there was no defense. “There ain’t.” Then what do I do? “Know it, and go on out the yard. Go on.” (287-88; emphasis added) In this key moment of circulation, the remembered message once tied to the Clearing now appears to be fully operational on Denver’s porch. Additionally, this scene recalls Baby Suggs’s uncontrolled laughter at feeling the beating of her own heart (166). By coupling the sudden “kicking” of Denver’s heart with Baby Suggs’s laughter “clear as anything,” Morrison suggests the expansion of the Clearing and the circulation of Baby Suggs’s life-affirming sermon. Baby Suggs’s initial sermon receives important revisions in this moment. Through its circulation among other bodies, the submerged sermon reemerges with a difference. The imagined dialogue resolves the tension between Baby Suggs’s dire warnings and her earlier paeans to the sanctity of the body. In the initial sermon, preached in the security of the Clearing, Baby Suggs draws a sharp distinction between the Clearing and the “yonder” world that suggests an incommensurability between these two spaces. Here, her sermon, as filtered through Denver’s own crisis, suggests the necessity of loving one’s own flesh not only in the consecrated time-space of the Clearing but also—and perhaps especially—in the “yonder” and at moments when such an act entails danger. Kathleen Marks points out that Baby Suggs’s remembered words “connect Denver to the absent grandmother, mother, and, most importantly father. Halle, who worked to pay off a nearly $124 debt, is brought before the mind of his daughter, who is now called to save 124 Bluestone Road from its debt of pain” (107). The circulated sermon provides Denver with an inhabitable legacy and enables her to reconnect with others from whom she can learn to practice self-love. Barbara Schapiro identifies this as the central lesson of Baby Suggs’s original sermon and points out that this lesson “cannot be learned in isolation; self-love needs a relational foundation and a social context” (169). Denver reengages the world beyond 124 because Baby Suggs’s sermon continues to circulate through rememory, and, ultimately, the circulation of her sermon galvanizes the community to confront the painful memories that Beloved metonymically represents. Most dramatically, the circulation of Baby Suggs’s sermon among the community empowers the women’s exorcism of Beloved. After reemerging from 124, Denver describes Beloved’s violence toward Sethe to the women in the community. Ella, who in former years participated in Baby Suggs’s “fixing ceremonies,” leads these women to fill the vacuum created by Baby Suggs’s long absence. Ella’s connection to Baby Suggs, although stronger than other members of the community, is not unique. The other women whom Denver approaches “knew her grandmother and some had even danced with her in the Clearing” (Morrison, Beloved 293). Ella’s uniqueness derives from her similarity to Sethe; Ella, too, has committed an act of infanticide as a response to a crisis created by slavery (Powell 152). A victim of serial rape at the hands of her masters, Ella refuses to nurse her son, “a hairy white thing,” and the boy dies shortly after his birth (Morrison, Beloved 305). She identifies strongly with Sethe and sees in Beloved a threat that her son might terrorize her in a similar manner. Thus, her desire to intervene arises from her identification with Sethe and her rememory of Baby Suggs, her spiritual mother. The women’s rememory of Baby Suggs’s sermon occurs in two parts. First, when the women discuss what should be done about Beloved, we see the circulation of the sermon in their dialogue. Crucially, the women’s affirmation of Baby Suggs’s sermon defies her rejection of her own religious vision. In this climactic scene, the sermon’s positive effects appear to be distinct from the personality of the preacher. Indeed, in the terms of the novel’s conclusion, the passing on of the preacher allows the sermon to be passed on. As the women discuss Beloved’s terrorization of Sethe, they piece the story together. Ella speaks first: “It’s sitting there. Sleeps, eats and raises hell. Whipping Sethe every day.” “I’ll be. A baby?” “No. Grown. The age it would have been had it lived.” “You talking about flesh?” “I’m talking about flesh.” “Whipping her?” “Like she was batter.” “Guess she had it coming.” “Nobody got that coming.” (301; emphasis added)Commenting on the two lines about “flesh,” Duvall astutely observes that these “two lines, suggesting the call-response form of an African-American church service, particularly echo one of Baby Suggs’s lines from the Clearing—‘This is flesh I’m talking about here’” (130). Additionally, we should note that the content of Ella’s address mirrors Baby Suggs’s own. She refuses to cede Sethe’s body to physical violation: “Nobody got that coming” (Morrison, Beloved 301). Finally, Ella’s initial response strongly mirrors Baby Suggs’s own ministry in that she begins her healing work with a short prayer but refuses to substitute prayer for direct human action. One woman asks her: “Shall we pray?” Ella responds humorously: “Uh huh. . . . First. Then we got to get down to business” (302). It would be difficult to find a more apt disciple of Baby Suggs’s theology than Ella. She remains committed to practicing what Baby Suggs preached despite Baby Suggs’s renunciation. The ambiguous rescue scene —an exorcism accomplished through corporate hollering, singing, and chanting—serves as the final scene of the sermon’s circulation. Here, the circulation of the sermon merges explicitly with the novel’s focus on haunting and rememory. As the thirty women gird themselves to attempt to rescue Sethe, they draw on resources of African folk religion and Christianity: “Some brought what they could and what they believed would work. Stuffed in apron pockets, strung round their necks, lying in the space between their breasts. Others brought Christian faith—as shield and sword. Most brought a little of both” (303). When they arrive at 124 Bluestone Road, they begin their communal rememory of Baby Suggs. They recall her feeding them at her home: [T]he first thing they saw was not Denver sitting on the steps, but themselves. Younger, stronger, even as little girls lying in the grass asleep. Catfish was popping grease in the pan and they saw themselves scoop German potato salad onto the plate. Cobbler oozing purple syrup colored their teeth. They sat on the porch, ran down to the creek, teased the men, hoisted children on their hips or, if they were the children, straddled the ankles of old men who held their little hands while giving them a horsey ride. Baby Suggs laughed and skipped among them, urging more. Mothers, dead now, moved their shoulders to mouth harps. . . . [T]here they were, young and happy, playing in Baby Suggs’ yard, not feeling the envy that surfaced the next day. (304)This rememory pulses with excess, bodily joy, and parental-daughter union. The sensual appeal of foods, the ecstasies of play and athleticism, and the soothing pleasures of dance coalesce to remember a time in which Baby Suggs’s ministry transformed them. Baby Suggs’s laughter and the pounding of newly freed hearts recurs throughout the novel, and this moment of intensified circulation represents the final appearance of her coded laughter. In this collective remembrance, the women return to the event that initiated the community’s abandonment of Baby Suggs and Sethe—the feast that Baby Suggs throws to honor Sethe. The community initially sees Baby Suggs’s “reckless generosity” as an arrogant appropriation of Jesus’s ability to multiply food in order to feed a multitude: “Loaves and fishes were His powers—they didn’t belong to an ex-slave” (161-62). Their resentment prevents them from warning Baby Suggs and Sethe of Schoolteacher’s approach, and it contributes significantly to both Sethe’s killing of Beloved and the community’s subsequent dissolution. Within this lush rememory of bodily pleasure, however, the women acknowledge the essential goodness of Baby Suggs’s generosity and see it as a logical extension of her ministry. By doing so, they mend their relationship with Baby Suggs, forgive themselves, and reclaim their agency. In this rememory, the women identify themselves as Baby Suggs’s spiritual daughters, and their subsequent actions reveal the intensity of their sustained, although dormant, connection to their ancestor. As Doreen Fowler rightly notes, “Slavery, as Morrison realizes it in Beloved, institutionalizes the repression of mother-power” (141). At the novel’s conclusion, this repressed mother-power returns as a political force. Some of the women—both daughters and mothers—begin to pray, and Denver can hear them chanting words of agreement. “Yes, yes, yes, oh yes,” the praying women chant, “Hear me. Hear me” (Morrison, Beloved 305). Yet, just as Baby Suggs’s prayers play a minor role in her ministry, so, too, do the prayers of these women play a minor role in this final scene of sermonic circulation. The return of Baby Suggs’s healing sermon appears most powerfully as a communal utterance that transcends language and, thus, attacks conventional, oppressive linguistic codes. As Ella stares at 124, her rememory of Baby Suggs’s ministry collides with the memory of her own act of infanticide. The idea that her unnursed son might, like Beloved, come to torment her “set[s] her jaw to working” and she begins to “holler” (305). Ella’s primal scream mirrors Baby Suggs’s dance in the Clearing because both acts viscerally express a fierce and culturally denied maternal love that transcends language. Ella’s cry, engendered by the juxtaposition of the joyous memory of her spiritual mother and the unspeakable memory of her act of infanticide, gives voice, but not words, to an ineffable maternal bond. Spontaneously, the other women join their voices to Ella’s, and together, they search for “the right combination, the key, the code, the sound that broke the back of words” (308). As the women join their voices, Baby Suggs’s maternal sermon reemerges as a radically democratized force. The chorus of women transform Baby Suggs’s sermon, which involves words and quotation from scripture, the Word of God, into a prelinguistic sound. Additionally, as the women each contribute to this primal cry, the text suggests a multiplication of “preachers.” Previously, the community rejected Baby Suggs’s love when she demonstrated it, perhaps miraculously, by multiplying her food. Eighteen years later, again standing in the yard of 124 Bluestone Road, the community reembraces Baby Suggs’s vision and participates in a more miraculous multiplication: the individual preacher becomes a chorus of thirty. Numerous critics identify this collective maternal utterance as an enactment of French feminism's theorization of a potent feminine discourse: the scene dramatizes an eruption of “the pre-symbolic communication with the Mother” that Julia Kristeva describes as chora and Hélène Cixous suggests is recovered though the development of an écriture féminine (Tally, “Trilogy” 88). As Toril Moi puts it, Cixous theorizes that the voice in each woman … is not only her own, but springs from the deepest layers of her psyche: her own speech becomes the echo of the primeval song she once heard, the voice, the incarnation of the “first voice of love which all women preserve alive.” … [T]he Voice of the Mother, that omnipotent figure that dominates the fantasies of the pre-Oedipal baby. (Moi 112) Moreover, this often-suppressed pre-symbolic mode of communication holds the resource for profound cultural transformation because it challenges stale narratives of order. Kristeva argues that irruptions of the pre-symbolic semiotic or chora “tap into a well of as yet unordered language processes and unarticulated sounds to generate new possibilities for thought and for society” (Rivkin and Ryan 454). Beloved validates this theorization of a powerful but submerged “primeval song” that generates “new possibilities” as the women improvise a song that enables both Sethe's and the community's liberation. Morrison's novel, however, does not merely recycle French feminist theory in fictional form. One of the problems with reading the exorcism as a simple victory of the pre-symbolic over the symbolic register of patriarchal language and culture is that, in Kristeva’s narrative of subjectivity, ego formation depends on the alienation of the infant from the mother. Put simply, a return to the abundance of undifferentiated maternal union seems, above all, to suggest the loss of the subject, not her salvation. Yet Morrison’s novel does not so much dramatize Kristevan psychoanalytic theory as it riffs on this theory from the historical vantage point of slavery, an intensely anti-maternal cultural formation that destroyed the mother-child bond for profit. To submit to culture, for the slave community, was often an act of “social death,” not, as it is typically narrated in Lacanian and Kristevan theory, an ultimately paradoxical act of ego formation. For Morrison, the emergence of a community of mothers and daughters who voice a nonpatriarchal language enables Sethe and the broader community to begin anew. This rescue scene does not result in an immediate healing. It is a flood after which a diseased social order can, perhaps, begin again. Morrison figures this moment as one of both communal and religious significance. The women “took a step back to the beginning. In the beginning there were no words. In the beginning was the sound, and they all knew what that sound sounded like” (Morrison, Beloved 305). Thus, the cry suggests a counter-myth to the Judeo-Christian myth of origins in which “the Word” precedes all matter—a collective maternal wail replaces the divine Word. Both Sethe and Beloved respond strongly to this maternal sound because, as Stave notes, “[Sethe] and Beloved share their inconsolable longing for mother love” (“Eden” 111). Both women need desperately to hear the women’s cry, a communal response to the violations of the mother-child bond that pervade the novel and an angry expression of a desire for the maternal union that slavery repeatedly denied them. This maternal cry—a circulation and evolution of Baby Suggs’s sermons—frees both women. For Beloved, the sound speaks of her mother’s intense feeling for her and enables her to see Sethe’s actions as a particular manifestation of a more general maternal-child desire that Barbara Christian calls “mother-love/mother-pain, daughter-love/daughter-pain” (qtd. in Grewal 97). Beloved sees her mother’s love-pain for her enacted differently when Sethe attempts to attack a white man who she believes is coming, once again, to take her daughters from her. This does not suggest that Beloved’s insatiable need becomes fully satisfied; the ending of the novel will not allow such a reading. However, the women’s rememory of Baby Suggs’s sermon addresses her longing to the extent that she leaves 124 when she sees Sethe decide to attack the white rider instead of her or Denver. Crucially, Sethe’s act of maternal protection causes Beloved to begin smiling (309). These conjoined events—the women’s collective screaming/singing and Sethe’s attack at the supposed oppressor—compel Beloved, and by extension “the past,” to retreat “at least to a point that will allow healing” (Powell 153). For Sethe, this wordless sermon reconnects her with Baby Suggs and her followers, drawing her back within a community that provides the fluid social context in which self-love might flourish. Her pain over her lost mother and children no longer appears as hers alone, nor does it mark her as wholly distinct in her community. Their cry indicates that they might share her story because each of the women understands Sethe’s desire to, as Andrea O’Reilly puts it, “be a daughter to her mother, and a mother to her daughter” (89). More importantly, they share a sense of the violation of this crucial matrilineal heritage under the slavery’s anti-maternal regime. The eruption of a shared maternal language enables Sethe to break from the calcified narrative of individual guilt that defines her life. As she stands at the door holding Beloved’s hand, she hears the voices of these women shift from a scream into a song: It was as though the Clearing had come to her with all its heat and simmering leaves, where the voices of the women searched for the right combination, the key, the code, the sound that broke the back of words. Building voice upon voice until they found it, and when they did it was a wave of sound wide enough to sound deep water and knock the pods off chestnut trees. It broke over Sethe and she trembled like the baptized in its wash. (Morrison, Beloved 308; emphasis added)Two features of this scene, suffused with images of both spiritual and physical rebirth, appear especially significant for Morrison’s engagement with literary preaching in Beloved. First, Sethe’s sense that the Clearing comes to her confirms Morrison’s effort to free the sermon from the individual authority of the preacher by showing the manner in which the sermon circulates through the work of the community. Sethe does not say, as one might expect, that she senses that she is once again back in the Clearing. The sermon’s healing force does not stay in the Clearing but now, through the women’s agency, becomes active at the site of Sethe’s trauma. Second, as Sethe constructs her rememory of the Clearing, she observes a sound that she describes as “wide enough to sound deep water,” a sound that “broke the back of words” (308). These observations provide crucial insight into Morrison’s own attempt to write in a manner that somehow transcends the medium of words. Water and ink seem to be sworn enemies. On one hand, then, we should read this primal sound wave as a counterattack to the linguistic violence represented by Schoolteacher’s meticulous documentation of Sethe’s rape and her “animal” characteristics (226, 228-29). This primal scene, a scene of weaponized writing, inaugurates Sethe’s deepest trauma and ultimately motivates her to kill her infant daughter: “And no one, nobody on this earth, would list her daughter’s characteristics on the animal side of the paper. No. Oh no” (296). Here, Morrison deploys a maternal sound that threatens the careful orderings of an oppressive patriarchal culture and reveals the inadequacy of oppressive language systems that Sethe and Morrison alike identify with patriarchy and racism. On the other hand, the sound serves less as a sword than a shield in a scene that enacts a homecoming. The scene dramatizes the reunion of an exile with her community and images forth a sense of solidarity that cannot be expressed in language. In the “sound wide enough to sound deep water” that breaks over and heals Sethe, Morrison engages the language of Psalm 42, a Hebrew poem of exile that deals centrally with water imagery and recounts the healing powers of memory and sound. The Psalmist describes his exile in language that recalls Sethe’s longing for the excess and community symbolized by the Clearing: “My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually ‘Where is your God?’ These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I went with the throng, and led them in procession to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival” (New Revised Standard Version Bible, Ps. 42.3-4). The Psalmist, like Sethe and the chorus of thirty singers, eventually finds a unifying resource in an ill-defined, water-like sound through which the exile communicates beyond language: “Deep calls unto deep at the thunder of your cataracts; all your waves have gone over me. . . . [Y]our song is with me” (Ps. 42.7-8). Morrison exploits the ambiguity of this Psalm, which expresses a theory of pre-linguistic communication surprisingly similar to Kristeva’s, as she constructs a scene in which memory, sound, and song unite to usher Sethe into a new mode of communal being. Additionally, the imagery of waves washing over the Psalmist parallels Morrison’s description of the women’s song that “broke over Sethe” and left her “trembl[ing] like the baptized in its wash” (Morrison, Beloved 308). The women’s healing song validates and amplifies Baby Suggs’s spiritual vision and shows that, ultimately, her sermon—like Morrison’s novel—succeeds only when it is received, revised, and expressed in the acts of a community. Like the preachers she admires, Morrison constructs this multivalent scene less as a conclusion than as a provocation—“something is supposed to happen so the listener participates” (Morrison, “Toni” 101). Throughout Beloved, Morrison embraces the sermon, one of her central “moorings,” only to unmoor it from the preacher and the specific time-space of the sermon’s initial utterance. The ambiguous exorcism scene, which completes the novel’s emplotment of the circulated sermon, continues to generate scholarly engagement and informed discussion. Again and again, Morrison encourages her readers to contribute to the novel’s meaning and message, just as the chorus of women’s “response” amplifies Baby Suggs’s “call” (Morrison, “An Interview with Toni Morrison,” by McKay 147). At the same time, Morrison clearly aims for the novel to do more than catalyze scholarship and discussion. The denouement promotes an engaged communal ethics centered on, as Ella puts it, “get[ting] down to business” (Morrison, Beloved 302). Through her uniquely democratic engagement with literary preaching, Morrison suggests that the social responsibilities of the writer—which Morrison describes elsewhere as “bear[ing] witness” and “effect[ing] change”—become the readers’ responsibilities as well (Morrison, “An Interview with Toni Morrison,” by Jones and Vinson 183). Thus, in her most famous novel, Morrison’s ingenious literary preaching discloses not only one of the most significant and variable “anchors” of her fiction but also her longing for a readership that remains haunted by her novels, responsive to their core messages, and empowered to contribute to the cultural healing they aim to effect. Footnotes I would like to thank Laura Mielke, Doreen Fowler, Gary Totten, and the anonymous readers at MELUS for offering insightful and generous feedback on this article. 1. For a useful account of Toni Morrison’s rejection of mainstream Christianity, see Shirley A. Stave (“From”). Stave emphasizes Morrison’s pattern of revising Christianity by rejecting its “metaphorizing God as the father” (110), its privileging of the “spirit over flesh” (117), and “the pettiness of God . . . as he is portrayed in the Old Testament” (113). Frequently, Morrison aims to show that integral flaws in Christian theology and practice contribute to the political crises and personal tragedies that define her characters’ lives. At the same time, Morrison understands the historical significance of the church in many African American communities and regards it as an institution that provided crucial space for community bonding, political formation, and personal encouragement (Morrison, “Toni” 116). These conflicting responses toward Christianity contribute significantly to Morrison’s ambivalence toward literary preaching. For detailed discussions of Morrison’s revealing engagements with Hebrew and Christian scripture, see Stave (Toni) and Katherine Clay Bassard (93-105). 2. US authors negotiate the contradictory energies of the Protestant sermon using a wide variety of narrative techniques. Their engagements with literary preaching are, necessarily, inflected by their various historical situations; perceptions of the sermon’s form, language, and function; aesthetic commitments; reservations about the sermon as a cultural form; and the cultural work they aim to accomplish through deploying this privileged idiom. Examples of this entrenched literary form represent some of the most emotionally intense, aesthetically rich, and politically urgent scenes in major US fiction: Father Mapple’s homily in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick (1851), the numerous sermons in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), Catherine’s sermon in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Gentle Boy” (1832) and Dimmesdale’s Election Day sermon in The Scarlet Letter (1850), the stranger’s sermonic prayer in Mark Twain’s “The War Prayer” (1923), Reverend John Pearson’s “Hammers of Creation” sermon in Zora Neale Hurston’s Jonah’s Gourd Vine (1934), Reverend Shegog’s Easter sermon in William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury (1929), and Homer A. Barbee’s Founder’s Day sermon in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952). This list only scratches the surface of US novels that exhibit an intense engagement with literary preaching. For valuable studies of preaching in US literature, see Dawn Coleman and Dolan Hubbard. 3. Morrison’s desire to revise this logocentric Protestant doctrine informs the novel’s central event: the miraculous incarnation of the lost daughter, Beloved. As Gurleen Grewal observes, “the transmutation from the word ‘Beloved’ inscribed on the tombstone to the living Beloved reinterprets the Gospel According to St. John: ‘And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us’” (106). Sethe’s deceased daughter, not the eternally begotten Son of the Father, the Word of God, takes on flesh. For discussions of Beloved’s revision of patriarchal, logocentric codes, see John Duvall (124-26), Doreen Fowler (144-47), and David Lawrence (231-46). 4. For more on Bishop Richard Allen, see Richard S. Newman. 5. For a fascinating discussion of Uncle Tom’s Cabin as an intertext for Beloved, see Duvall (120-31). Duvall draws persuasive parallels between the two novels and argues that Baby Suggs’s sermon, which articulates her “religion of the maternal body” (126), should be read as a response to the literary preaching of Uncle Tom. While I generally agree with Duvall’s insightful reading of the novel, his assessment of the sentimental theology of Stowe’s novel overlooks the intensely prophetic, “unsentimental” preaching that Coleman identifies as inextricably bound up with the novel’s cultural work (156-73). 6. The corporeal, communal practices that occur in the Clearing receive considerable focus in extant criticism of Baby Suggs’s ministry—and they should. However, we should also note that Baby Suggs’s proclamation of “the Word,” represented in this section, matters tremendously to Stamp Paid, undoubtedly a voice of wisdom in the novel. Significantly, in his pleas for Baby Suggs to return after her retirement, Stamp Paid asks her to preach “the Word” five times (Morrison, Beloved 209-11). It is possible to argue that Stamp Paid’s pleas reflect a male perspective at odds with Baby Suggs’s (and Morrison’s) attempt to “break the back of words” (308), but I would argue that his pleas highlight the value of her articulate preaching as an effective, although perhaps limited, means of “re-calling” individual and social bodies. Understandably, Stamp Paid cannot imagine a more powerful, therapeutic form of preaching than Baby Suggs’s; he cannot anticipate that her sermon will circulate and receive important revisions in her absence. 7. I am indebted to Nancy Berkowitz Bate for pointing out this passage in which Baby Suggs rearticulates the central theme of her sermon from her deathbed. Although I do not agree with Bate that this suggests that Baby Suggs “never relinquishes faith in her gospel of the body” (27), it does help make sense of Denver’s desire to remember her grandmother during this crisis moment in 124. Works Cited Bassard Katherine Clay. 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MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States – Oxford University Press
Published: May 18, 2018
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