Friday, June 29, 2018

Invisible Man Discussions, round one

Thanks to the Friends of the U City Library for our books!
Wow!  What a great trio of discussions - over 80 participants and much to talk about.  Here are my notes:

What are the mysteries here?

Remember that this is a novel of the surreal

A novel of dreams

Battle Royal is a nightmare - but there's a foreshadowing of the idea that someone can beat an expert by using time (the yokel versus the skilled fighter) - syncopation - a big part of West African music

the position of the Battle royal in the beginning - leaves the reader thrown off balance -

blindfoldedness of the Battle Royal leads to the unblinding that occurs when he reads the Dr Bledsoe letter

reader is off balance in part because we keep moving to strange new environments - from one episode to another

prologue - invisible man beats up the white man who doesn't see him but he doesn't kill him, in contrast to Bigger Thomas in Native Son, (Richard Wright) - he's giving a warning that he's writing a different kind of book

Ellison is arguing against linear time - we don't make straightforward progress

At the slave quarters, IM comes under the power of a great author - Trueblood - he is an orator, who totally controls the scene - possibly deliberately giving Mr. Norton what he desires, something he (Norton) can never actually have

Trueblood's cabin represents the era of slavery

Golden Day - the vets are vets of WWI.  Lots of black troops in WWI.  NAACP had to fight to allow black soldiers to have combat roles - Harlem Hellfighters - they thought they could prove themselves, but when they returned, nothing had changed

Supercargo / superego - should control the id- he is the supervisor of the vets - he gets knocked out - what happens when desire and race collide and there's no more control -

everything in the book is working in several different tracks - IM wants to listen to Armstrong on five different phonographs - this is part of the modernist aesthetic

Shout-outs to TS Eliot - beginning of Chapter 2 description of Tuskegee - Ellison loved Eliot - he masters ragtime rhythms

vet / doctor - manic - very wise - our culture has decided that great intelligence in African Americans is seen as madness

What about Bledsoe?  he's not a blood anymore because of his behavior - a historical replacement for Booker T Washington

Bledsoe is a figure of the will to power - almost like a fascist - beyond good and evil - only the pursuit of personal power

NAACP was formed in part to knock Booker T Washington off his pedestal of power

WEB Dubois became a national figure in part because he challenged Booker T

In Doctorow's Ragtime Booker T is portrayed as an Uncle Tom

this is a novel about education - about the process - it can be a violent process - a bildungsroman - a de-idealization of a young person - learning about where power lies and how it works

IM doesn't have friends, doesn't make friends, doesn't really have real conversations -

Ellison is a self cultivated individualist - during the black power movement, Ellison was seen as a sort of loner

Homer A Barbee is blind - like the other Homer - IM is an African American epic - like Odyssey

Ellison is always braiding traditions together -

narrator is dangerous because Bledsoe can't read him

Bledsoe has decided what the message is supposed to be -

IM is a wild card

battle royal sets up the question about agency

Who was crueler - the white small-town power of the Battle Royal, or the black power of Bledsoe sending him to NY with no hope

Bledsoe's cruelty may have really set IM free

identity of the founder - not clear to some readers, but it's believed to be Booker T. Washington

Booker T Washington - getting ahead by going along - he tried to carve out something from what exists now

Book:  Doctrine of Self Help - biggest selling book in Victorian England - this encapsulates Booker T.

Bledsoe's letters were evil

Did Bledsoe trip Homer Barbee  - "he floundered on Dr. Bledsoe's legs"  - Ellison leaves us 'in the dark' on this issue

Perplexing character - the asylum doctor - what is the purpose of this character - are we supposed to believe that a highly intelligent African American would only be crazy -

Mr Norton is looking for his legacy - he meets the 'mad' doctor, who was once at the college

are the mad vets some hint of rumors, low-level awareness of Syphilis Experiments at Tuskegee

Giving his speech after the Battle Royal- was it strength or naivete

IM's speech is what legitimizes the Chamber of Commerce event for the white men

After the trauma of the Battle Royal, rather than throwing away the briefcase, he clutches it to himself - he wins

Briefcase is an important item - it's like a trophy - that's when he begins to become invisible

We wear the Mask - the receipt of the briefcase, passing the test, reminded a reader of this poem (by Paul Laurence Dunbar) - grandfather's advice is related to this poem

IM knew he was selling out when he substituted 'responsibility' for 'equality'

Invisibility is frequently a superpower

Invisibility is a very relatable concept for our times - elderly people, for example

the prologue vs the rest of the book - almost seems to be written by two different people

what are the motives of young Emerson - is he trying to help - is he a sadist trying to pluck the fly's wings?

Invisible Man is Everyman (and woman) - it crosses age, race, gender, status

Title (without 'the') reflects the consciousness that this is about everyone

a reader relates to One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest

a reader sees the positive side of invisibility - we should strive to 'not see' the differences

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