Sunday, May 30, 2010

Invisible Man--Part 3

Reading about Waugh and the other amusing but rather spoiled brats of his generation as I have been recently probably does not put one in the right frame of mind for considering Ralph Ellison in the properly serious manner. However, one's perspective is always being altered and distracted by one thing or another, and while the inclinations of my attention in these sorts of matters are often disappointing from almost any point of view, I am far enough gone now that I am no longer wholly untrustful of them, and am at least equally as curious as frustrated as to why certain generally frivolous things appeal to my interest more than those of greater real import.

I find it very hard to say anything about the Ellison book, nor is there really anything I wish to say but am unable to formulate into words. I took notes, but they don't add up to anything coherent. There are clearly episodes and images that I liked scattered throughout, but they do not seem to have had the effect of "making me think" very much which is supposed, I think, to be the book's most important quality.

Chapter 21--"I won't call him noble, because what's such a word to do with one of us?" I took this 'us' as referring obliquely to all Americans, though I doubt that is what the speaker would explicitly have been referring to by it.

Rinehart represents American reality, fraud and deception, illusion.

'White women rape fantasies' I wrote. 'Everyone believes women want black ****.' I think I am referring here to the fantasies of white men who seem in great part, apart from obvious studs and other more or less secure individuals, to consider themselves incapable of sexually satisfying 'their' women and are in awe at the idea of the presence on earth of a race of men who are perceived as being able to accomplish so easily and uncomplicatedly what is a major source of angst in and drag on the white male population (black men may have many problems, but judging from their art at least, sexual inadequacy, or feelings of the same, does not appear to be one of them). I remember reading about voyeur clubs where white men get aroused (as much as it is possible for them to) by watching a black guy do things to his wife or girlfriend sexually that are supposedly beyond his physical capacities. I don't have a good sense for what form these kinds of male-female relationships can possibly take when everybody goes home. Evidently for the men who have internalized their own inferiority to such an extent there is some sort of catharsis in this experience. I often experience a masochistic desire to have authentic writers, artists and other men and women of serious accomplishment methodically and systematically savage what remains of my person and pretensions in front of an audience, not merely recommending that I be shunned by all desirable company forever after, but ensuring that this will be the collective will. In my novel the main character is incapable of imagining himself giving sexual pleasure to the woman he 'loves', but can only imagine her enjoying herself with a parade of comparatively godlike studs who have just finished destroying him in some area of human endeavor or another. This kind of mental flagellation does not really have a racial component with me however.

The depiction of the race riot in chapter 25 was good, one of the stronger scenes. The looting woman carrying a broom with a dozen dressed chickens suspended from it for some reason especially stands out to me. I have never been in a riot of course, although on the other hand it seems curious that I, indeed most people, can live for 40 years and never have had so many of the signature human experiences that make up a huge portion of the subjects of literature and the other arts.

There was, I wrote, a 'Don Quixote scene' with Ras that I believed did not work because it was trying too hard to say something serious. I thought that these kind of scenes only have a chance of working if the writer plays them as absolutely straight.

I guess a lot of people have to read this book in high school, though to be honest it is hard for me to see what they would be likely to get out of it. The motif of the 'invisible man' didn't make a searing impression on me. There is something of a disquisition in the epilogue about affirming "the principle on which the country was built, and not the men". Is this suposed to be the lesson of the book? The meaning of this philosophizing at the end is not clear to me. It neither rings true nor seems to know exactly what it wants to say. It is not self-contained and full in its expression and language. I sort of know what he means but I have to manipulate the images to what I think they might/must be rather than knowing what they are at all confidently. There are some pretty good bits on diversity and accepting the fact of one's humanity at the end. Maybe this last is the lesson of the book. I don't know.

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