Opening Lines: Riff No.9

by caroline on April 25, 2012

OPENING LINES: Riff No.9, April 2012

“124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom.”
Toni Morrison, Beloved, 1987


 For weeks now, Caroline has been waiting.

Poor deluded thing, you might say, to have assumed that her breathless grasp of this great novel would land calmly, would settle into a coherent whole in her reading/writing mind.

She has just this minute printed out laptop notes, recovered scraps of paper dropped on the fly at favourite perches around the house. She has retrieved a notebook from her trusty shoulder bag, extracted pages that will give rise to profound revelation.

She is hunched over now, sipping tea, spilling drops onto papers scattered around the kitchen table. She shuffles notes into logical order. Shuffles again.

Surely she is about to contain the swirling mystery, shape her breathless grasp, reveal layers of meaning she has almost understood.

She stares. Waits.

This is what she sees.

It’s as far as she’ll get if she’s ever to complete her ever progressing novel.

Make of it what you will.

Caroline’s Shuffle:

‘124 is spiteful.’
•what kind of an opening line is that?
•124. numbered. not named.
•124. identity. anonymity.
•124. Baby Suggs’ house.
•Baby Suggs, holy. Sethe. her children. their house. the other side of slavery.

•Baby Suggs, holy.
•enslaved. elder. preacher. inspired.
•across the Ohio. own body. startled into self existence. own limbs. own hands. own heart beating. startled into identity.

••(Baby) Beloved, already crawling.
•four limbs. not two. not standing.
•what was already crawling?
•what throat slit. what voice cut off.
•dearly beloved freedom. infancy.
•emerging. barely crawling freedom. cut off.
•124 .haunting spirit. fury. venom.
•re-enslaved. re-enslaving.

••(grown) Beloved, returned.
•spirit manifest. never banished. grave. bridge. collected body. parts held together. found limbs. shoes. parts. pieces fall off. betray. tooth out. no blood.
•alive. or dead.

•Sethe. mother.
•Sethe. born to slavery. runaway. flee to Baby Suggs, holy. to 124. her children. Beloved, already crawling. waiting.
•mother’s milk. mother’s love.
•a husband Halle.  son to Baby Suggs. lost to ‘strange fruit’. gone forever.
•Sethe. fugitive. her critical moment in time.
•(“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”   Good friend Joan Anne, who, while listening to my obsessive preoccupation with this novel
, referred me to the above Gramsci quote.)

••Denver. younger sister to Beloved. born to Sethe.
•part way to freedom. in the gap between slavery and freedom. •interregnum.
•Denver. emerging. the future.

•Paul D. Sethe’s lover. at 124.
•before 124. slave. chain gang.
•hammers. hammers stone.
•hammers. hammers life. to death.
•Paul D. hammers life to death.
•Is life dead
•Is life alive
•Is death alive
•Is Beloved alive. dead.

Beloved. bloodied. held close. by the hand that slit her throat. keep her head from falling off.
•never to be re-enslaved.

•a door slammed at 124.
•three women. Sethe. Beloved. Denver.
•agents of re-enslavement.
• free form. inner conversations. in captivity. sliding confusions, identities, voices.

••old Stamp Paid (every name with its own story).
‘the mumbling of the black and angry dead’
behind closed door at 124.

your love is too thick. Paul D. to Sethe.

Sethe. still murderous with love. smothering love. enslaved.
Beloved  feeds. sucks life. grows large. Sethe withers.

emergent. into community. to identity. into the future.

perpetual victim. challenged. vanished.
“She left me….she was my best thing.”


Sethe: thoughts of Paul D. on his return to 124.
“If he bathes her [Sethe] in sections, will the parts hold.”

Paul D: thoughts of Sethe on his return.
“She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order.”


“She left me….she was my best thing….”

“You your best thing, Sethe. You are.”

“Me? Me?”


cover image


This is too complicated!
Regarding a recent discussion, just saw in the previous New Yorker a more favourable quote from Nietzsche that he believed that art justifies life.

by Joan Anne on 04/26/2012 at 5:31 pm. #

Oh I know it’s too complicated! Maybe you could read the novel, and then help me!
By the way, did you see you got credit for the Gramsci quote?

by caroline on 04/27/2012 at 2:09 am. #

last week’s New Yorker? which article?

by caroline on 04/27/2012 at 2:10 am. #

This is very funny, & defies the linear thought process. Maybe that’s the point. Reminds me of my efforts to understand James Joyce and the scraps of notes I left myself, the layers of meaning I almost caught. Hope to get it one day!

by Parker Duchemin on 04/28/2012 at 9:48 pm. #

l dog-eared the Nietzche quote so that l could keep it for you. No, l don’t see the credit for me…no matter….l barely understand this. l have a visceral reaction to a baby’s venom.What is this esteemed author possibly suggesting? And yes, l think l must read it, although l think that l will understand it too shallowly.
But of one thing l am very sure, l am enjoying immensely your writing. There is something about it that engages me so fully that l find l see myself in it.
What a miracle of writing our lives.

by Joan Anne on 04/30/2012 at 6:04 am. #