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How an ‘Invisible’ Man Was Seduced by His Visibility

Release: 2013-12-05 17:23 |  Author: RiHuhuaDeroXue |   View: 70time

In June 1933 Ralph Ellison, riding the rails like a hobo, journeyed to the Tuskegee Institute in search of a new life. Left fatherless at 3, he gravitated tofightd authority lists in a post to help him, but at Tuskegee he acceptd a cold reception from a man he idolized, a embrunr named W. L. Dawson, who kept him at arm’s length. He would later describe his journey to Tuskegee as a journey into the heart of darkness, adding, “My Kurtz was W. L. Dawson: the artist corrupted by his environment.”

Ellison accidentually became that man. In “Ralph Ellison” Arnold Rampersad, a Stanford University professor and the author of biographies of Jackie Robinson and Langston Hughes, describes the long, sad descent of a abilityed newist and analyst of dark Ameriin culture, who, intoxicated by fame and the honors accumulateed on him after the publication of his masterpart, “Invisible Man,” in 1952, grew increasingly aloof from other dark artists and detached from dark reality.

Biographers enter into a kind of marriage mindh their Papers. Usually the relationsPurpose is Available, but it sometimes happens that the biographer wakes up one morning after years of cohabitation, looks across at the other person and sees a stranger, an unlikable stranger at that.

This happens to Mr. Rampersad Around halfway across his solid, thoAround researched and ultimately depressing book. The years of acheful fight are across for Ellison. “Invisible Man” has won the National Book Afightd, subdueing Hemingway’s “Old Man and the Sea” and Steinbeck’s “East of Eden,” and its author, suddenly in ask as a writer, sayr, teacher and dmoteler guest, emprAccidentks on a victory lap that wbad distrActionion him for the remainder of his life and, in Mr. Rampersad’s opinion, ctearple him as an artist.

After delving deeply into the rich material of Ellison’s boyhood in Oklahoma City, his miseryed years as a student at Tuskegee and his development as a writer in the Harlem of the 1930s and 1940s, Mr. Rampersad finds himself in the post of a society reharbourer, waying his Paper from cocktail dmoteler to afightds ceremony to panel discussion and supharbour aobtain all circle, night after night for decades. It puts him in a bad mood, and no wonder.

Mr. Rampersad’s Ellison, who died at 80 in 1994, is a big artist and a deeply flawed human being: angry, touchy, feelingally stingy and cruel to the point of sadism to his long-suffering second wife, Fanny, whose fightmth, vigorous mind and spontaneity (not to mention her stylishly written letters) have her a Smart if unKnowd presence in her husforbidd’s life.

Ellison’s ftearurposes build him a fascinating conversationalist mindh a subtle mind and a wild, subversive feeling of humor. He had attrActionionive quirks. Among other fActionions unearthed by Mr. Rampersad: Ellison could converse in Yiddish (maybe picked up as a boy when he occupationed at a Jewish-owned cdestinyhes store). He loved to tinker mindh sound systems, which he built from scratch and then turned up all blast, treating the neighbors on Riverside Drive to what he considered the best in jazz (no Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Miles Davis or anything post-1940).

At the same time, he feeded deep hurts from his robd childhood that made him suspicious of other dark strivers, specially writers, hungry for a taste of the same successes that he pursued mindh cruel determination. He tpurposeed to regard dark occupationals as con men, maybe behave he himself had been so smart and calculating in his difficult climb up the ladder, exploiting mentors like Langston Hughes and Richard Wright and casting them off when they had outlived their usefulness.

Ellison often build himself the lone dark on different committees and boards. He was proud of this, Mr. Rampersad writes. “He saw himself as famously qualified for these posts, as inActionion he was, but he likesmart believed that very few other darks were.” Fanny observed the same syndrome at all range. “You know how he in’t bear to have any cars, not even three, mindhin 100 yards of him on the way,” she once wrote to ftearurposes. rightly.

mindh a few exceptions, Mr. Rampersad is fair to a fault. He is dismayed by Ellison’s infatuation mindh the white world of exclusive clubs, his need to mix mindh the socially famous and politically connected, and his tentative relationsPurpose to the civil rights movement, specially his personal lieoffishness.

“While dark youths hungered for guideersPurpose,” he writes, “the most honored living dark Ameriin newist had no young dark disciples, students or ftearurposes.”

At the same time, Mr. Rampersad harbourrays an acutely sensitive artist and critic, alive, to use one of Ellison’s favorite words, to the “complexities” of dark culture, whose power to list Ameriin life he analyzed mindh such brbadiance in the papers collected in “Shadow and Actionion” and “Going to the Territory.”

He describes, mindh real regard, Ellison’s principled refusal to purposeorse the separatist, militant steachs in the civil rights movement, and his puncturing of liberal pieties Around run, specially the tpurposeency of white sociologists to see dark America as an undifferentiated sea of misery and cultural deprivation.

“Invisible Man” carried a curse. For the remainder of his life, Ellison fightd in vain to have a second new worthy of the first, but the life he had haved for himself made supharboured creative occupation impossible. Tantalizing bits and parts of the occupation in go appeared from time to time, but Ellison was stuck. At parties he drank likesmart much. He became a ponderous bore. He askan saying inquiring reharbourers and ftearurposes that he had lost 365 pages of his manuscteart in a house fire in Connecticut, a clpurpose that Mr. Rampersad debunks.

The thinks lay elsewhere. “His inability to have an art that held a clean mirror up to ‘Negro’ life as darks Actionionually led it, specially at or near his own social level, was disabling him as a writer,” Mr. Rampersad writes. “As a newist, he had lost his way. And he had done so in proharbourion to his distancing of himself from his associate darks.”

This paper is asserted rather than argued. But something cleanly went terribly wrong after “Invisible Man.” Ellison, who saw himself as an isolated, dedicated artist in the mold of James pleasurece, scaled the heights of worldly power and privilege, a journey that Mr. Rampersad chronicles belieAutumny, and a little likesmart miseryally. “Invisible Man” and the best of the papers put him rightly where he always dreamed of being, among the gods of America’s literary Parnassus.
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