Award-winning Author Talks About the Future From Some Place in Time
Washington — The past can be a comfortable and happy place to escape. But Nobel Prize-winning author and professor Toni Morrison warned an army of admirers not to linger there long.
“What is infinite, it appears, what is always imaginable, always subject to analysis, adventure and creation is past time,” said Morrison, who delivered the annual Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
The lectureship, which carries an honorarium of $10,000, is sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
“Time, it seems, has no future,” Morrison said. “That is, time no longer seems to be an endless stream through which the human species moves with confidence in its own increasing breadth or sweep or even the fascination of its past. … Twenty or 40 years into the 21st century appears to be all there is of the `real time’ available to our imagination,” said Morrison, whose 70-minute journey through time and back forced a packed audience at times to laugh with abandon and at other times to wince and murmur under the weight of gloomy discourse.
“Seen through the selectively sifted grains of past time, the future thins out, is dumbed down, limited to the duration of a 30-year Treasury bond,” she said. While the future may appear ephemeral it is time for humanity to abandon its reliance on the past. Not all history is treated or presented accurately, she said. She offered the 1960s as an example.
“Killing the ’60s, turning that decade into an aberration, an exotic malady ripe with excess, drugs and disobedience, is designed to bury its central features — emancipation, generosity, acute political awareness and a sense of shared and mutually responsible society,” said Morrison to one of the few bursts of applause.
But don’t be misled, said the author. “Current discourse isn’t fixated on the past and indifferent to the future. In the present, the social and natural sciences are offering promising glimpses and even warnings into a future filled with possibilities.”
Morrison titled her lecture “The Future of Time: Literature and Diminished Expectations.”
She said that there are “scientific applications to erase hunger, annihilate pain … communications technology is already making sure that virtually everyone on earth can `interact’ with each other and be entertained.”
When Morrison, a native of Lorain, OH, arrived here to deliver her lecture, she was returning to a familiar place. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Howard University in 1953 and later assumed a professorship at the campus for six years. As Morrison was introduced, Howard supporters scattered throughout the Kennedy Center Concert Hall welcomed her home with warm applause and cheers.
After leaving Howard, Morrison spent two decades at Random House as one of the highest-ranking people of color in publishing.
She won the 1993 Nobel Prize for Literature and her “Song of Solomon” won the National Book Critics Circle award in 1977. “Beloved” won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988.
Since 1989, Morrison has been a humanities professor at Princeton University.
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