Steven C. Tracy, ed. A Historical Guide to Ralph Ellison.
Steven C. Tracy, ed. A Historical Guide to Ralph Ellison Noun 1. Ralph Ellison - United States novelist who wrote about a young Black man and his struggles in American society (1914-1994)
Ellison, Ralph Waldo Ellison . New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of : Oxford UP, 2004. 276 pp. $45.00 cloth/$17.95 paper.
Let's face it. Ralph Ellison's literary reputation rests largely on Invisible Man Invisible Man
(Griffin) character made invisible by chemicals. [Br. Lit.: Invisible Man]
See : Invisibility . One would think therefore that after more than 50 years, scholars, critics, biographers, and book reviewers who have picked over the novel as well as through Ellison's lesser writings would find little more to say. Not so, writes Robert J. Butler in the Historical Guide, "... the literary frontier he [Ellison] opened up ... is still a wide open space awaiting our careful attention." One trouble, of course, is that Ellison himself has been rather more than forthcoming about his life and work.
Nonetheless, as we shall see, though often echoing one another, some critics reveal areas of Ellisonia that Ellison himself might not have wished revealed. Before proceeding along these lines, however, a word or two about Ellison's output other than Invisible Man.
As is well known, Ellison's only other novel, Juneteenth, was published posthumously, put together by Ellison's literary executor, John Callahan
John Callahan (born December 23, 1953 in Brooklyn, New York) is an American actor, best known for his work as Edmund Grey on the soap opera All My Children. , from published bits and pieces and large chunks of manuscripts that Ellison had left behind. Despite Callahan's assurances, we cannot be sure whether Ellison would have liked this book. Is the material in the order he would have wished it? Are there segments he would have left out? Would he have wanted to write new material or alter or modify what he had already produced? In any case the Guide informs us that readers and critics have not always been in accord as to its legitimacy. As regards Ellison's essays, they were written over a span of years on a variety of subjects reflecting Ellison's changing outlook. In general contributors to the Guide believe that most stand up very well; however, a few may not seem as bold as they once did. Lawrence P. Jackson, for example, cites Ellison's famous response ("The World in a Jug") to Irving Howe's mild criticism as ringing a "bit hollow." Still, Ellison's nonfiction fares better than his short stories. Only two, or three, or four deserve these days to be anthologized. The rest may best be likened to apprentice writing. Thus Invisible Man is what most critics want to hone in on, and the problem remains what or where to find something new or undetected about either the book or its author.
To illustrate, Steven C. Tracy's Introduction begins with a comparison of Ellison's and Harriet Tubman's achievements, which, to say the least, is something of a stretch. The essay then settles down, so to speak, to do what all introductions are expected to do; to say in a general sort of way what the rest of the book will say in more detail. But Tracy almost loses Ellison again as he goes on a while about Toni Morrison's indebtedness to Ellison. He does, however, return to business by informing us that the central theme of the Guide is to place Ellison in the context of his "turbulent times." Tracy's essay is followed by Maryemma Graham's and Jeffrey Dwayne Mack's 35-page brief "Biography." Their piece, they acknowledge, draws largely on Robert G. O'Meally's and Lawrence Jackson's longer biographies, and although they break no new ground, they relate Ellison's life in concise straightforward coherent terms, emphasizing predictably his literary influences--jazz, blues, folklore, and the rest. To place him in the best American literary tradition, the authors also declare that he shares with Henry James, among other celebrated writers, an understanding of the "significance of slavery in the American experience American Experience (sometimes abbreviated AmEx) is a television program airing on the PBS network in the United States. The program airs documentaries about important or interesting events and people in American history, many of which have won impressive and portrayed African Americans as representative of the most meaningful aspects of democracy." James? Would that it were true!
The second part of the Guide is called "Ellison in his Time." In the first of these essays, "Creative and Cultural Lag The term cultural lag refers to the notion that society is unable to keep up with the rapid pace of technological change, and that social problems and conflicts are caused by this lag. ," William Maxwell A number of people are called William Maxwell:
Any of several types of social organization that ascribe central importance to the groups to which individuals belong (e.g., state, nation, ethnic group, or social class). It may be contrasted with individualism. , high and low cultures, European and American outlooks, and urban and rural survival skills.
Steven T. Tracy returns in the next essay, "The Power to Weld the Fragments." Here he stresses the influence of African and American music not only as being related to Ellison's literary techniques but as being symbolic of Ellison's views of an American identity. Since we have long heard from Ellison himself on these matters, this is no startling star·tle
v. star·tled, star·tling, star·tles
1. To cause to make a quick involuntary movement or start.
2. To alarm, frighten, or surprise suddenly. See Synonyms at frighten. revelation. Still one has to admire Tracy's superb understanding of the ways Ellison could have assimilated the music he had been listening to all his life. In the best jazz, the soloist must work within a music ensemble and yet assert his individuality apart from others. This method parallels the push and pull elements in Invisible Man. In addition, Tracy mentions other influences--among them black city and country speech patterns, riddles and legends--all of which Ellison integrates in the Invisible Man's narration. But Ellison himself believed fragments of the African American culture African American culture or Black culture, in the United States, includes the various cultural traditions of African American communities. It is both part of, and distinct from American culture. The U.S. also entered the mainstream of American society. He said he heard jazz rhythms in Eliot's "Wasteland," and Tracy speculates Ellison's own aesthetic may well have derived in part from Eliot's "Tradition and the Individual Talent." Tracy ends his essay with a partial discography dis·cog·ra·phy
Examination of the intervertebral disk space using x-rays after injection of contrast media into the disk. of recordings relevant to Ellison's writings.
James Smethurst's "Something Warmly, Infuriatingly Feminine" contrasts the neomodernism of Invisible Man against stereotypical mass cultural images of women, black and white. As regards African American women, Smethurst tells us there is some controversy as to whether they are portrayed as nurturing black mammies or wise Mother Africa guides to survival. In neither case do they appear as sexual. White women, on the other hand, are femmes fatales, dangerous and demanding, paradoxically fantasizing black men as both deferential deferential /def·er·en·tial/ (-en´shal) pertaining to the ductus deferens.
Of or relating to the vas deferens.
pertaining to the ductus deferens. and sexual paragons. Smethurst concludes, however, by saying that although Invisible Man offers "virtually no positive portrayals of women," they "are absolutely central to the ideological and artistic project of the book." The reader may not be certain what Smethurst presumes the artistic project to be, but one could argue that the Invisible Man is too busy uncovering his own identity to bother much with three-dimensional realities of women--or, for that matter, men.
As is now well known, Ellison claimed a white European and American literary ancestry and gave short shrift short shrift
1. Summary, careless treatment; scant attention: These annoying memos will get short shrift from the boss.
2. Quick work.
a. to African American writers (with the equivocal EQUIVOCAL. What has a double sense.
2. In the construction of contracts, it is a general rule that when an expression may be taken in two senses, that shall be preferred which gives it effect. Vide Ambiguity; Construction; Interpretation; and Dig. exception of Richard Wright Noun 1. Richard Wright - United States writer whose work is concerned with the oppression of African Americans (1908-1960)
Wright ). Alan Nadel in "The Integrated Literary Tradition" deals with how Ellison's works relate to the challenging presences and invisibility of white American The term white American (often used interchangeably with "Caucasian American" and within the United States simply "white") is an umbrella term that refers to people of European, Middle Eastern, and North African descent residing in the United States. canonical letters letters of several kinds, formerly given by a bishop to traveling clergymen or laymen, to show that they were entitled to receive the communion, and to distinguish them from heretics.
See also: canonic . In Invisible Man Ellison's subtle allusions to these writings reinterpret re·in·ter·pret
tr.v. re·in·ter·pret·ed, re·in·ter·pret·ing, re·in·ter·prets
To interpret again or anew.
re their moral and cultural implications. As for Juneteenth, Nadel believes the arrays of points of view are not unlike the modernist methods of authors like Eliot, Joyce, or Pound. Meanwhile, the ambiguities of the protagonist's identity suggest Joe Christmas's dilemmas in Faulkner's Light in August.
Lawrence P. Jackson's "Ralph Ellison's Politics of Integration" takes a somewhat jaundiced jaun·diced
1. Affected with jaundice.
2. Yellow or yellowish.
3. Affected by or exhibiting envy, prejudice, or hostility.
1. view of Ellison's achievements. Jackson asserts that Ellison "enforced" particular readings of Invisible Man to accord with changing critical fashion. Authorial stress on the Invisible Man's efforts to uncover his individuality--as opposed to further illuminating America's unhappy social and caste system--diminishes the work. It is interesting, Jackson notes, that at its publication many African American critics did not take as warmly to the novel as did their white counterparts. Jackson ends his piece by asserting that the irony of Ellison's career "was that he concluded it as a critic at a time when he seemed most to doubt the value of shaping the artist's reality."
The last parts of the Historical Guide contain an uncredited un·cred·it·ed
1. Not having been credited, as on a ledger: an uncredited deposit.
2. Not having been accorded due recognition: an uncredited discovery. "Illustrated Chronology" and a "Bibliographical Essay" by Robert J. Butler. The latter is a solid piece of work although Butler here and there inevitably repeats the bibliographical materials appended to some of the other essays in the Guide. The "Chronology," on the other hand, documents highlights in Ellison's life in the context of major historical events. Included in these pages are miscellaneous photos of musicians and celebrities, as well as reproductions of record album covers, book jackets, and the like, some of which seem to have only the most tenuous connection to what the rest of the book is about. Yet, on the whole, the Guide does what it sets out to do. The essays are for the most part stimulating and should prove useful to both beginning and advanced Ellison acolytes. It is a sign surely that the Ellison industry thrives and proliferates. And who knows, perhaps some day there may be an Historical Guide to Ellison Historical Guides.
City University of New York The City University of New York (CUNY; acronym: IPA pronunciation: [kjuni]), is the public university system of New York City. , Emeritus