Monday, May 17, 2010

Invisible Man--Part 2

Chaper 13: "Men grow old and types of men grow old." I guess I thought my type had grown old. I still believe there is hope for regeneration, hopefully in the next generation but at least somewhere further down the line. Confidence, ability, success, determination, vitality, involvement with the prevailing spirits of the day, now for some inexplicable reason all dead to the world, must be lying there in some latent form, waiting for the imagination to suddenly comprehend again to what uses its strongest qualities need to be put to, and how to use them, which is what seems to be most lacking now.

There is a litany of "old heroes" named--I am always interested when capable authors reel out lists of superlatives, or what they perceive others to believe to be superlatives. Here we get "Jefferson, Jackson, Pulaski, Garibaldi, Booker T Washington, Sun Yat-sen, Danny O'Connell, Abraham Lincoln..." Not sure how Jackson fits in with this crowd. I guess he was the first man from the common rabble to become president. Also his ungenteel followers were empowered and became a more meaningful force in the national political life than they had been before. That is the official story anyway, not the Noam Chomsky/Howard Zinn version.

One of the white communist women is referred to as having a "thin New England face". Now there is a type that is dying out, or at least is being driven, like the Basques and Bretons, into remote and thinly populated enclaves in the main out of common view.

"One thing about the people at the Chthonian (i.e., the white communists), they all seemed able to say just what they felt and meant in hard, clear terms." My own inability to ever develop this skill rates as one of the 5 or so greatest disappointments of my life. On page 332--the end of chapter 15--out of 581, I finally betray myself as beginning to lose a little faith in the book. "Do black people really like this book," I asked, "or is it white people?" The book's literary sensibility struck me as more self-consciously after the 'white' (Euro) model than I was expecting.

"I stumbled in a stillness so complete that I could hear the gears of the huge clock mounted somewhere on the balcony gnawing upon time." I like that sentence. Another example of the sense of the world in this period being a giant mechanism, with these great clocks as the primary symbol (See also films "The Clock" and "Modern Times").

In Chapter 16 there is a discussion on Joyce and the infamous line about creating the uncreated conscience of his race which is a recurrent theme in the life of everybody who encounters insuperable problems creating individuals and a serious culture out of his available materials, and thereby can never feel intellectually secure.

The super-seriousness, paranoia and backstabbing of 1930s communist intrigue was a whole lot of possibility and fun that as usual most Americans got left out of.

Around page 360 I make a note that 'the pace/direction of this book are very odd.'

"He take one them strumpets and tell the black mahn his freedom lie between her skinny legs..." Ras, the dynamic black activist who it is my impression is a much-studied character in this novel, is explaining one of the means by which blacks get manipulated by whites. The love in question here is white girl love.

"On the day of the parade they drew crowds faster than a dogfight on a country road." Dogfighting was in the news ceaselessly at the time as one of the most horrible things that went on in the world, so I had to take note the reference to it that is obviously intended to be at least some way comic.

Around page 440 I scribbled a note that that this was 'not as good as Salinger. Just not as good. Same year, not as romantic. A different city.' Obviously I really feel this. Of course it has nothing to do with what Ellison is trying to write about, but effective art is very much about presenting a spirit, a picture, a sensation that resonates strongly with people, and this book for the most part failed grandly to accomplish this with me.

This is a Sculpture Commemorating The Invisible Man. It seems to be in Harlem.

I did like his comment on the blues. "Was this all that would be recorded? Was this the only true history of the times, a mood blared by trumpets, trombones, saxophones and drums, a song with turgid, inadequate words?" The stuff I listen to is at least as bad, and most would say worse, so it's not like I'm feeling triumphant or anything. I actually wish everything were more adequate, especially music, if for nothing else that to make the music people happy. When they are unhappy because there is no good music coming into their ears, they tend to be quite mean and assume your lame self must have a great part in the whole sorrty state of affairs.

I have to do one more on this anyway and I'm tired, so I'm going to cut it short.

No comments: