Toni Morrison

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In his book A Kind of Rapture, Robert Bergman included people he encountered on the street of America. Why does Morrison not dwell on that fact?

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This question from The Norton Reader’s twelfth edition of its nonfiction anthology refers to Morrison’s “Strangers,” which serves as the introduction to Robert Bergman’s photography volume called A Kind of Rapture.

To best answer this question, it is important to know that Bergman’s photographic series in this text was...

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This question from The Norton Reader’s twelfth edition of its nonfiction anthology refers to Morrison’s “Strangers,” which serves as the introduction to Robert Bergman’s photography volume called A Kind of Rapture.

To best answer this question, it is important to know that Bergman’s photographic series in this text was a series of portraits that Bergman took of passersby and relative strangers throughout his cross-country travels.

In her short essay about a personal encounter with a stranger that left her baffled, Morrison ruminates about the significance of strangers in our lives, referring only to Bergman’s art in the final paragraph. Describing Bergman’s work as a “master template” of what it means to be essentially human.

This specific question requires you to address why Morrison includes neither any reference to the idea that Bergman photographed seemingly random people nor any mention of his creative process.

Despite being the introduction to his book, “Strangers” focuses on the greater philosophical message and psychological effects of Bergman’s photographs as opposed to the methods by which he created them. For Morrison, it is more important to discuss how these portraits of everyday people, unknown to us personally, make the viewer feel. In her view, the fact that they are strangers is irrelevant.

She makes it a point of emphasis in her essay that the fundamental idea of the stranger is itself a mere construct rather than reality. She suggests that every person with whom we interact, regardless of how brief, is but a mirror of the various facets of the self. She asserts that each of us “appropriate[s]” the identity of a stranger according to our own biases, assumptions, and desires. As such, we believe that we know everyone we meet, because we are constantly searching for some common humanity with which we can connect.

In light of Morrison’s theory about strangers, it is no surprise that she would not dwell on Bergman’s creative process, since none of the subjects in his “gallery” are truly strangers in the connotative sense, because their essential humanity prevents us from seeing them as the “others” we might believe them to be. Bergman’s stark portrayal underscores this message, and Morrison allows the photographs to be a meditation on humanity rather than a catalog of individual, disparate faces.

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