Photographer, Helen Marcus/Contact Press Images (NYT)

Reflections on Toni’ Morrison’s the Source of Self-Regard

Photographer, Helen Marcus/Contact Press Images (NYT)

Here at the LP, we’ve built a practice of grounding ourselves in the wisdom of our ancestors and the critical thinkers who’ve impacted our work, providing a blueprint for us to live fuller, richer lives through self-expression, collective care, and a shared vision for liberation from oppression in all forms.

What roles can a POC-centered arts & cultural organization actively take in its community to support its neighbors? Through Spin Cycle, we offer a dedicated space to dig deeper, explore ideas, and be in dialogue with you.

Earlier this year, our ED Ayesha Williams shared her staff pick for a Read, Rest, and Reflect, which is posted weekly on Sundays.  In offering us the liberatory work of Toni Morrison to reflect upon, Ayesha, unknowingly, sparked in us the desire to reflect more deeply  on the essay, “The Future of Time.” Published in Morrsion’s collection of essays, speeches, and meditations on life, The Source of Self-Regard, “The Future of Time” encourages a reimagining of ourselves as authors of time. Below, our Media & Storytelling Manager, Sade, and our Marketing and Communications Coordinator, Kas, we consider a world that holds our collective past and the complexities of our present and creates space for a radical liberatory future. Read the Spin Cycle below, in which The LP communications Team share their reflections on Morrison and her essay, “The Future of Time,” in The Source of Self-Regard.

Sade’s Reflections

As I read the last few sentences of Toni Morrison’s “The Future of Time” essay, where in those final words she asserts that time does indeed hold a future for all of us, I’m immediately struck by the mention of more than ten other writers in this short but meaty work. Over several pages, I am introduced to Ralph Ellison, Umberto Eco, Toni Cade Bambara, Leslie Marmon Silk, and James Baldwin to name a few. These short introductions, interspersed throughout the text, tease out clues to the ways in which other writers have thought about time and our relationship to it, the conditions of our lives, and the weight of forces outside of our immediate control. Morrison celebrates authors whose narrative styles illustrate her positionality on our connection to time through literature and narrative storytelling. “When the power and brilliance of many late-twentieth-century owners focus on our condition,” Morrison writes, “they often find a rehearsal of the past to yield the most insightful examination of the present, and the images they leave with us are instructive.”

As I draw my gaze further away from the ideas of time, how we bend and shape it, or are shaped by it, I am drawn closer to the equally poignant matters of style. Morrison’s masterful techniques, her moral compass, and literary prowess are weaved through crisp language and emotive descriptions. She poses questions to the reader that cause immediate pause and reflection. World histories are revealed through the recounting of critical moments that have come to define our modern world, The Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Holocaust are some examples. Excerpts from other literary works hone in on the richness and fullness of literature as a keeper of time itself. Morrison writes, “literature, sensitive as a tuning fork, is an unblinking witness to the light and shade of the world we live in.” In the reading of “The Future of Time,” one must slow down. The text requires deep thought and consideration of oneself and the world – of which we are an integral part. While reading the essay I’m compelled to discover not only more of Morrison’s work, but other authors whose use of language pushes literature forward in the same way art pushes culture forward.

Kas’s Reflections

Who are the authors of time? This is a question Toni Morrison invites us to consider throughout “The Future of Time” essay. Morrison masterfully teases apart the historical trajectory of time, as told by the Western world. Morrison situates time as a persuasive tool across decades of U.S. politics, from the Cold War of the 1940s, to the overlapping Vietnam war and Civil Rights-induced cultural clashes of the late ‘60s, to the emerging telecommunication technology of the early ‘90s. Calling upon the Darwinian era of evolution, Morrison suggests that the public perception of time has always been rooted in deep colonial speculation–a way of thinking that continuously situates the past as “imperialist appropriations of the future.”

In other words, our fixation with the past comes from an inability to grasp a future, or even a present, that is not riddled with outdated narratives about the institutions and ideologies that serve only those in power. For instance, think about a public institution whose founders have remained the same for the last 40+ years (yet their equity, diversity, and inclusion statement is plastered at the top of their homepage).

Being stuck in a slow, everlasting, past contradicts the Western world’s ideas of “progress”, as Morrison outlines. How can our nation’s leaders and we as citizens claim to want progress when we continue to reference old paradigms designed to disenfranchise our communities? As a society, we are conditioned to be afraid of “articulating a long earthly future” beyond the constraints of these old, exclusive histories. To truly imagine our future, we’d have to consider the true quality of our human lives beyond the nation’s political agendas, beyond just our individual, capitalistic pursuits.

Morrison posits repairing our relationship to time as the way to truly embody our present and build a liberatory future. We need to venture into the “cellars of time” on our terms: “What becomes most compelling, therefore, are the places and voices where the journey into the cellar of time is a rescue of sorts, an excavation for the purposes of building, discovering, envisioning a future.” According to Morrison, the future of time rests with the people pressed into its margins.

So, what happens if we venture into Morrison’s “cellar of time” to time to call upon the Black thinkers, organizers, and cultural leaders of our collective past? We may have cracked the code…

The LP community works to preserve our histories not as static, untouched memorials where legacies dissolve into nonexistence under the pressure of dominant narratives, but to preserve them instead as cultural blueprints. The wisdom of our ancestors, like Toni Morrison, serves as our blueprints, allowing us to honor our past, contextualize our present, and lean into our shared visions for the future. 

As we use community preservation to advance artists and neighbors as change agents in their neighborhoods, part of our responsibility becomes clear: We must always remember
And with that, we must consider not just what we remember, but how.