Beyond Airmindedness: Aviation in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon
The development of aviation was at the core of the twentieth century and its fantasies of a rapidly globalizing world. However, in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon (1977) which begins in the interwar period and extends through the Second World War to the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement, aviation is merely a setting, evidence of class difference, and a mode of transportation. Indeed, the novel repeatedly chooses mythical over technological flight, rendering the seemingly universal grip of airmindedness and the spectacular reality of aviation incommensurate with Black mobility and genealogies of flight. The novel places little or no significance to the form of airmindedness that aviation engendered in the interwar period and after. Instead, it reaches back further into chattel slavery and its myths of flying Africans to propose a genealogy of air and flying that is steeped in Black histories and traditions which exist outside of the purview of aviation’s globality, technology, and connectivity. In this way, Morrison imagines flying in the aftermath of chattel slavery beyond the prevailing fashion of the period by scrutinizing the imagined freedom of flight, and the technologically progressive nationalist impulse of flight as an inadequate framework for Black people in the United States.
Delali Kumavie is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at Syracuse University. Her current research project examines the intersection of Black literature and aviation. Reading across the spectrum of Black literatures globally, she argues that air travel, aviation technologies, and infrastructure must be viewed within the instantiation of global racial structures and their persisting remains.
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