Monday, January 31, 2011

Can You See Me?: Blogging Invisible Man

Ellison uses a unique, distinct style in order to highlight the disparity between what is conceived to be there and what actually is. Rene Magritte’s The Son of Man brilliantly depicts how things are not always what they seem. Regarding the painting, Magritte once said, “Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see. There is an interest in that which is hidden and which the visible does not show us. This interest can take the form of a quite intense feeling, a sort of conflict, one might say, between the visible that is hidden and the visible that is present.” This theme of disparity between imagination and reality is most thoroughly conveyed through the character of the veteran who was formerly a physician. The fact that the physician is unnamed further develops the themes of invisibility and lack of individuality. The vet explains to the narrator and Mr. Norton that “neither of you can see the other. To you he is a mark on the scorecard of your achievement, a thing and not a man; a child, or even less—a black amorphous thing. And you, for all your power, are not a man to him, but a God, a force—“(95). Neither the invisible man nor Mr. Norton see the other for who he actually is. Both are blinded in their relationships by a sense of duty, obligation, and self-preservation and a sense of fulfillment, dignity, and even self-righteousness, respectively.
In his prologue, Ellison seems to allude to how light can help reveal the truth of a man’s true station in life, a station that ought to be independent of relations with others. The narrator observes, “The truth is the light and light is the truth” (7). Ellison consciously introduces an oxymoron, a paradox, as the narrator admits, “Perhaps you’ll think it strange that an invisible man should need light, desire light, love light. But maybe it is exactly because I am invisible. Light confirms my reality, gives birth to my form” (6). The narrator goes on to explain that without life, he is not only invisible but also formless. He relates being unaware of one’s form to living a death. At this point, it seems that the narrator desires two opposites, showing complexity in his character. Invisibility/light imagery may play a significant role in the upcoming chapters of the novel, as the narrator begins to realize and come to terms with his lightness of being.
The narrator also points out that invisibility “gives one a slightly different sense of time, you’re never quite on the beat. Sometimes you’re ahead and sometimes behind. Instead of the swift and imperceptible flowing of time, you are aware of its nodes, those points where time stands still or from which it leaps ahead. And you slip into the breaks and look around” (8). The narrator uses this analogy of time to explain the music of Louis Armstrong in highly surrealistic terms. He explains the need to feel its vibration, a sentiment that is later echoed in the relation of one vet that Mr. Norton’s pulse is not beating, but vibrating. In a dream-like trance, the narrator says that he has become “acquainted with ambivalence,” much like J. Alfred Prufrock. William James once said, “There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision.” At the end of the prologue, the narrator presumes that the reader assumes that he is a “horrible, irresponsible bastard,” evocative of the words of the protagonist of Dostoevsky's Notes From Underground. Ellison uses surreal, abstract, non-concrete language to convey feelings such as apathy and disillusionment as well as responses to topics such as equality, indignation, philosophy, and existentialism. The dream-like atmosphere he creates is evocative of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, in which the narrator sees “the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix…who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz.”

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