This article discusses the status of Toni Morrison as an American writer who consistently foregrounded African American history and experience and acted during her long career as a public intellectual. Morrison’s writerly agenda has been to delve into the epistemological origin of constructions such as race and blackness, placed in the context of their historical manifestation, such as transatlantic slavery as manifested in Morrison’s two most striking historical novels, Beloved (1987) and A Mercy (2008). Writing slavery, as a way to re-write the United States’ history and probe its dark spaces, places Morrison’s texts in a long line of nineteenth-century slave narratives, and in particular their twentieth-century avatar, the neo-slave novel, which strives to historicize slavery from the sufferer’s perspective. In the process, Morrison creates a “resistant text” (Sommer) requiring the reader’s imaginative and ethical engagement and refusing to fill in all the gaps. That the haunting of slavery still requires imaginative, historical, and ethical engagement, like the one accorded it by Morrison, is a fact of U.S. American social life to the present day.
Starting from Timothy Bahti’s claim that “literary studies in the university are still the heir to the historicism after Hegel,” readily verified by sundry historically organised takes on literary criticism and theory steadily advancing towards the present moment of comprehension, even as the true sources of the thought of the authors under scru-tiny as well as of the actual origins of critical problems are unfailingly revealed to stem from the “real world,” the paper aims to present T.S. Eliot’s very different thinking about literature, criticism and history as a salubrious contravention of the worldwide dominance of approaches to reading works of literature predicated on unexamined notions of context and identity, which Timothy Clark dubbed “institutional Ameri-canism,” contending that it is no accident that the final thesis advanced by the histo-rian Elco Runia in his recent Moved by the Past, which proposes a complete overhaul of certain certainties on which how we conceive of the past is predicated, should have a distinctly Eliotic ring to it: “By burying the dead we create not our future, but our past.”