Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Ralph Ellison - Going To The Territory

`Geography as a symbol of the unknown unluded not only places, but conditions relating to their racially defined status and the complex mystery of a society from which they'd been excluded`

Here I think Ellison is talking about how the history and possibly the future of the race is built into the geography of where they were born and lived out their lives.

`we were...introduced to one of the most precious of American freedoms, which is the freedom to broaden our personal culture by absorbing the cultures of others.`

vernacular as a dynamic process in which the most refined styles from the past are continually merged with the play-it-by-eye-and-by-ear improvisations which we invent in our efforts to control our environment and entertain ourselves

I think Ellison is saying here that language must be a continuously evolving thing, one that we use to control our world but also to move it forward and combine it with new ideas generated by minority cultures.

`In this country it is in the nature of cultural styles to become detached from their places of origin, so it is possible that in their frenzy the kids don't even realise they are sounding like black Baptists. Being Americans who are influenced by the vernacular, it is natural for them to seek out those styles which provide them with a feeling of being most in harmony with the undefined aspects of American experience. In other words, they're seeking the homeness of home.`

`It was as though I had come to the Eden of American culture and found myself indecisive as to which of it's fruits were free for my picking. Thus. for all my bright expectations, my explorations had taken on a certain aspects of an unanticipated and amorphous rite of initiation in which the celebrant - if indeed one existed - remained mute and beyond my range of ear and vision.` p 148

This is a fairly common theme with Ellisons writing , I think it shows up in the Invisible Man. The man is searching for some sort of initiation rite that will bring him into the world in it`s fullest capacity. Something that will make him tangibly feel different. In Richard Wright`s autobiography Black Boy the fight near the end takes on that meaning, of an iniation or rite of passage. But no matter how well you accomplish your task you never achieve those new feelings. It doesn`t feel any different than any other accomplishment. So you become stagnant and go back to doing smaller things.

`...it should be remembered that worms teach small earthly truths even as serpents teach theology.` p 149

`A Southern bus was a contraption contrived by laying the South's social pyramid on its side, knocking out a few strategic holes and rendering it vehicular through the addition of engine, windows and wheels. Thus converted, with the sharp apex of the pyramid blunted and equipped with fare box and steering gear, and it's sprawling base curtailed severely and narrowly aligned...a ride in such a vehicle became, at least for Negro, as unpredictable as a trip in a spaceship doomed to be caught in the time warp of history - that man made "fourth dimension" which ever confounds our American grasp of "real"or actual tie or duration.` p 155

`For since it was an undisputed fact that whites and blacks were of different species, it followed that they could by no means be expected to laugh at the same things. Therefore, when whites found themselves joining in with the coarse
merriment issuing from the laughing-barrels. they suffered the double embarrassment of laughing against their God-given nature while being unsure of exactly why. or at what, specifically, they were laughing. Which mean that somehow the Negro in the barrel had them over a barrel.` p 192

Here Ellison is making reference to laughing barrels. In slavery time white people apparently didn`t like watching black people laugh so they made them laugh into barrels.

"...a gift of freedom arrived wrapped in the guise of disaster. It is ironic, but no less true, that the most tragic incident of our history, the Civil War was a disaster which ended American slavery." p 204

"...dancing of those slaves who...imitated the steps so gravely performed by their masters within and then added to them their own special flair...The whites, looking out at the activity in the yard, thought that they were being flattered by imitation and were amused by the incongruity of tattered blacks dancing courtly steps, while missing completely the fact that before their eyes a European cultural form was becoming Americanized, undergoing a metamorphosis through the mocking activity of a people partially sprung from Africa." 223/224

`Each must live within the isolation of his own senses, dreams, and memories; each must die his own death.` P 275

`With few exceptions our energies as writers have too often focused upon outside definitions of reality, and we've used literature for racial polemics rather than as an agency have seen and felt it.` p 282

I feel that he is slighting some of the black power movements that have tried to focus on the pain and suffering of the people perhaps the expense of the narrative. But then again, he also says the novel is the most important written art form. Which is so completely wrong it`s almost funny.

`We back away from the chaos of experience and from ourselves, and we depict the humour as well as the horror of our living. We project Negro life in a metaphysical perspective and we have seen it with a complexity of vision that seldom gets into our writing.` p 283

`...the writing of novels is the damnedest thing that I ever go into, and I've been into some damnable things.` p 208

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