Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Taboo in Invisible Man

In the Invisible Man, what is the real reason behind the series of unfortunate events the narrator is faced with? Is it because he is an awful person and deserves it? Does he face failure because he is not capable enough to achieve his greatest wishes and desires? After reading the Invisible Man, I would have to say it is neither of the aforementioned. I will have to argue that this all comes down to the bad luck the narrator has that originates from his grandfather. The narrator’s grandfather leaves him as a walking taboo. You may be thinking; “How and why taboo?”, and the reasoning behind this is from the subtle mentioning in Invisible Man of Freud’s Totem and Taboo (Ellison 180). Along with many other specifics Ellison incorporates into his novel, this was one that really stuck out to me and felt it would give the carnal reading of the novel deeper and more fulfilling meanings.

While reading a novel, everyone will create their own interpretations of what they believe different things mean. They will make these interpretations solely on the internal relationships of the book, unless there is a knowledge of what and why the author has incorporated it into his work. Kermode’s analysis of truth and meaning argues that it is much more important to understand the meanings behind the novel than to just take it as a surface truth. Before understanding some history and the knowledge that was incorporated to create such a masterpiece of a novel, the reader is unknowledgeable of the meanings, and without a doubt an outsider to the novel. Understanding some of Freud’s Totem and Taboo is key to comprehending some of the significance in Invisible Man. This will then ultimately cause the reader to work their way to becoming more of an insider to the novel, although, no one but the author will ever be completely on the inside of the novel. “Outsiders see but do not perceive. Insiders read and perceive, but always in a different sense” (Kermode 144).

With my feelings on taboo being the primary source of the narrator’s problems, a quick explanation of what taboo means is needed. Taboo is “‘sacred’, ‘consecrated’ and on the other ‘uncanny’, ‘dangerous’, ‘forbidden’, ‘unclean’… Thus taboo has about it a sense of something unapproachable, and it is principally expressed in prohibitions and restrictions” (Freud 21). There are taboos towards the protection of important persons, safeguarding the weak against the powerful, coming in contact with a corpse, eating certain foods, guarding initiation against interference, etc (Freud 23). As well as the definition given, an extremely important characteristic of taboo is that; if you violate a taboo, then you, the violator, become taboo yourself, which means no one should come in contact with you as well (Freud 32). With the punishment of the violator becoming a taboo, the worse of the two evils is that the original taboo will take vengeance on the violator (Freud 23). This whole description of taboo goes hand in hand with the narrator of Invisible Man. With taboo not being a modern term of today’s language, you may be wandering why this is even a relevant idea. There are modern-day psychological aspects of taboo that leave it as a relevant issue in the novel in which we will touch upon later.

Totem and Taboo first showed up in the novel during chapter nine when the narrator had an interview with young Emerson. To me, this was the chapter that really gave the narrator a reality check, and where he realized no matter how hard he tries or how much he may deserve better, he is going to have the curse of the taboo of his deceased grandfather following him. As it was mentioned before, everyone has their own interpretations of how and why something was incorporated the way it was. According to Douglas Steward, a member of Johns Hopkins University, Totem and Taboo was incorporated in the novel to shed light on sexual preferences, especially homosexuality. That the
“novel Invisible Man makes with the sorts of theoretical concerns that have preoccupied much queer theory: questions of political speech and agency, of gender’s articulation with and against sexuality, and of the cultural cross-hatching of sexuality with other axes of identification, notably race” (Steward 521).
While he mainly argues about sexual desires relating to young Emerson and the blonde girl at the Battle Royal, he also recognizes that Ellison incorporates race as a major reason for “American hierarchical psychosis”, in which I can make both the sexual issues and race relate to my theory of taboo and neuroses (Steward 523). A part of Stewards interpretation includes that young Emerson is a homosexual (Steward 525). I can see this, and by young Emerson being a homosexual, this can mean he is also a taboo. During mid-century America, homosexuality was not an accepted idea, and was seen by many as being very disturbing. With this being said, by the narrator speaking with young Emerson who is an uncanny, forbidden kind of a person, this is also a taboo. So you can see that it is helpful to view what your interpreting with an interpretation of another individual because it will potentially help to strengthen your thoughts. I would have missed the subtle hints that young Emerson is a homosexual if it weren’t for Steward, which would have also caused me to miss another taboo that faced the narrator. By having multiple viewpoints of one subject it opens the horizon as to where the novel as a whole is supposed to take you.

Going back to what I believe to be the main issue here is simply that the narrator encounters taboo after taboo that causes him to endure the utmost worst luck. The original taboo started with his grandfather. By the narrator being present in the room while his grandfather was on his death bed and giving his last words was the first taboo and continues throughout the entirety of the novel (Ellison 16). Knowing that being near the dead is a taboo we should know the severity of what this really means to the violator.
“Death is commonly regarded as the gravest of all misfortunes; hence the dead are believed to be exceedingly dissatisfied with their fate. According to primitive ideas a person only dies if he is killed-by magic if not by force- and such a death naturally tends to make the soul revengeful and ill tempered” (Freud 69).

This is evident with his grandfather. The narrator is constantly thinking of his grandfather throughout the novel and especially when he is brutally experiencing his bad luck. At first, the dead soul is meant to be seen as a revengeful demon until the violator is completely out of mourning, then once the violator is no longer mourning he can then look to the deceased as an ancestor for guidance (Freud 76). This is perfectly shown when the narrator’s dead grandfather appears in a dream in which the grandfather is laughing about his grandson reading a note that says “Keep this Nigger-Boy Running” (Ellison 33). This is a such an obvious part of the novel that shows the demonic grandfather haunting the narrator, in which, since the dead soul is so revengeful, that he possibly is even eager to try to kill the narrator (Freud 73). Before this curse of his grandfather, the narrator clearly was better off. He was a smart young man who had potential to do whatever he pleased with his life especially with the fact he was the valedictorian of his class. With his outstanding academic achievements, he was given a scholarship to attend college and was ready to start his successful life.

With his grandfather being the main source of his tabooed life, we can credit some more instances. Giving his speech after setting eyes upon the blonde girl and then giving a speech in a weakened state (Ellison 29). In the scene where the blonde is introduced “Psychically split, the narrator is unsure whether the woman is an object of sexual desire, a sexual threat, or a fellow victim. He thus desires ‘to caress her and destroy her’” (Steward 524). These thoughts from the narrator show his ambivalent attitude toward the girl, an extension of the definition of taboo meaning “a symptom of the ambivalence and a compromise between two conflicting impulses” (Freud 77).

Running into Trueblood, especially while he is supposed to be in care (but failed to do so) of Mr. Norton; one of the elites of the school (Ellison 51). By not being able to take care of this important person and letting him get sick is yet another taboo (Ellison 69).
“It is equally clear why it is that the violation of certain taboo prohibitions constitutes a social danger which must be punished or atoned for by all the members of the community if they are not all to suffer injury. If we replace the unconscious desires by conscious impulses we shall see that danger is a real one. It lies in the risk of imitation, which would quickly lead to the dissolution of the community. If the violation were not avenged by the other members they would become aware that they wanted to act in the same way as the transgressor” (Freud 39).
The narrator then is carrying such a high risk taboo on himself that he is kicked out of the school he is attending.

He then went on with having bad luck finding a job because of himself being a tabooed individual. Bledsoe’s letters of extreme caution causes employers to deny the narrator from the get-go, unwilling to offer him a job. The running into the homosexual young Emerson, which we have already talked about, helped add to the severity of his tabooed self. The narrator is then eventually in the public eye due to the brotherhood, a position in which he should not have been. He is desiring something that is more or less out of reach for him, tabooing the people of Harlem that he touches with his words. He then witnesses Clifton’s murder, carries around his Sambo doll (in which both of the actions are taboos) and then shouts his name plenty amount of times during his funeral procession which keeps up roaring Clifton’s wandering demon towards the narrator. Then eventually all of Harlem breaks out in riot since they are all tabooed; it’s a vicious cycle that is never ending in the case of the narrator. Another interesting point is about all of his discussions and thoughts on light and power. It is brought up many times in the novel and little do you know that connects with taboo as well. “‘Persons or things which are regarded as taboo may be compared to objects charged with electricity; they are the seat of a tremendous power which is transmissible by contact’” (Freud 24). The narrator has too many taboos following him that he just can’t end his horrendous luck, which then can lead to the conclusion he is a neurotic.

The word taboo basically coincides with the term emotional ambivalence in which we can see in the narrator. It also has many similarities to conscience and overall neuroses. An example of a neurotic action by the narrator is how he refuses at all cost to let anyone know his identity. He does not give any name for himself, for the fear that someone “would then be in possession of a portion of his personality” (Freud 66). Another instance of neuroses in the narrator is when he retreats underground and chooses to have no interaction with the real world: “The real world, which is avoided in this way by neurotics, is under the sway of human society and of the institutions collectively created by it. To turn away from reality is at the same time to withdraw from the community of man” (Freud 86).

Everyone has their own interpretations and that whatever is cared about enough could be continually interpreted and in many different ways to get a better understanding of the novel and the issues it presents. I have decided to take this novel and turn it into an issue of taboo and neuroses, although I know this is not the only importance of this Invisible Man. After some of the quick examples of taboo and neuroses found throughout the novel, I would have to say we are all just one step closer to becoming an insider of the fantastic novel, Invisible Man.
“If we want to think about narratives that mean more and other than they seem to say, and mean different things to different people, with a particularly sharp distinction drawn between those who are outside and those who are inside, we can hardly do better than consider the parables” (Kermode 23).


Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. New York: Vintage, 1980. Print.

Freud, Sigmund. Totem and Taboo. London: Routledge, 2004. Print.

Kermode, Frank. The Genesis of Secrecy: on the Interpretation of Narrative. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1979. Print.

Steward, Douglas. "The Illusions of Phallic Agency: Invisible Man, Totem and Taboo, and the Santa Claus Suprise." Callaloo 26.2 (2003): 522-35. JSTOR. Web. 20 Apr. 2011. .

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Final Proposal outline revision

I thought I had posted this earlier this week after I got better, but I looked today and I guess I never completely submitted it. It's a little late now as I have already progressed further on my paper and have made changes, but I figured I should post it anyway just so its on here.

Argument: Parable of the sower is a grim reminder of the future if we do not change our ways.

By taking current day issues that are also seen in Parable of the Sower I can prove that the future seen in Parable of the Sower is still very possible as we are dealing with the same issues currently that Butler warns could lead to our downfall.

I plan on focusing on the aspect of oppression of the common people that seems to remain so prominent in Parable of the Sower. I have found and read various current day articles that relate to different instances of oppression that can be found in Parable of the Sower. One of the journals I found examines the quickly widening gap between the top 1% of the US population that hold about 90-95% of the US’s wealth and the remaining 99% of the population that make up the last 5-10%. This can be related to the distinct separation of the rich, who live in walled estates, and the middle/lower class, who live in crime-ridden areas. There are other areas of oppression that I would like to talk about as well such as literacy, racism, sexism, slavery, and drugs. For instance, the topic of racism is still fairly prominent today and it definitely is a prominent theme in Parable as Butler parallels Lauren’s journey up north to the journeys made by black slaves in the nineteenth century, who also traveled north to find ‘freedom.’ Slavery is also a strong topic seen in parable of the sower that can be strongly seen today. In parable of the sower, it talks about being a slave to the company as well as sexual slavery (Allie and Jill). These are two issues that are still dealt with largely today. Many workers today are more or less slaves to the company they work for and I have articles talking about numerous instances where this is the case. For example, in one article it talks about how many companies will force workers to take wager cuts by threatening them with the chance of outsourcing and losing their jobs. I also have a article where a fire department just watched a house burn because the family did not pay the “fireman fee” similar to the fire department and police department in Parable.

All of these issues are noticeable still in today's society and could very well be the same things that existed back in the Butler’s age that she is fearing for in the future seen in Parable of the Sower. With these connections made, I will then try to use literary works to reason why this happens and why this oppressed class is unable to rise up and overcome. By using Invisible Man as well, I will be confirming this thought by showing that these fears were just as prominent back then as they are now. Therefore showing that we are still possibly headed towards this feared fate. By incorporating Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man, I’d like to further back up my claims of proving that today's society will not lead into a perfect future. For example, since Parable of the Sower doesn’t deal as much with government issues since there really isn’t one, I plan to use Marcuse to help reason why today’s government is unstable and inefficient and how it is very possible that one day, it could fall as well.

· Oppression

o Racism

§ Slavery

· Lauren travels North – 19th century slavery

· Slave to companies – outsourcing article, longer work hours.

· Sexual slavery – Allie/Jill – prostitution/human trafficking statistics article

o Literacy – today's school literacy rate

o Public Funding – government spending

§ Fire/police department – charge for service

o Global Warming – No rain in Cali (Parable), but when it does rain, it rains for a long time – extreme weather conditions.

o Rich/Poor gap – top 1%

o Prescription drugs


http://sociology.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/power/wealth.html - a detailed look at the gap between the top 1% and the bottom 99%

How to Explain Oppression – Criteria of Adequacy for Normative Explanatory Theories - http://pos.sagepub.com/content/35/1/20

http://consumerist.com/2010/10/firefighters-watch-as-home-burns-to-ground.html - similar instance found in Parable

PRESCRIPTION-DRUG SIDE EFFECTS OFTEN IGNORED BY DOCTORS - https://sslvpn.pitt.edu/hottopics/lnacademic/,DanaInfo=www.lexisnexis.com+?shr=t&csi=156942&sr=HLEAD%28PRESCRIPTION-DRUG+SIDE+EFFECTS+OFTEN+IGNORED+BY+DOCTORS%29+and+date+is+April,%202001

Monday, April 18, 2011

Final Proposal

Cline, B.. Tongueless: Representation of the mentally disabled and the novel. Ph.D. dissertation, Western Michigan University, United States -- Michigan. Retrieved April 1, 2011, from Dissertations & Theses: Full Text.(Publication No. AAT 3424850).
I would like to use Cline to aid my discussion of Ahab and Pip’s relationship. I used it in my original essay as evidence for the loss of Pip’s sanity, but I would like to be able to read further in the text and find portions that apply to other aspects of Pip’s disability.

Ellison, Ralph. (1995). Invisible man. New York: Random House.
I might use Ellison to talk about Pip and his dispossession from the controlling force in the ocean. I’m also going to use Brother Jack’s discussion on the “terminal point in history” and apply it to Pip and Ahab’s relationship.

Marcuse, Herbert. One-Dimensional Man. Boston: Beacon Press. 1964.
Marcuse will definitely be used to talk about Pip as a disruptive character and how that effects the overall meaning of the novel. I might use him to talk about Moby Dick’s effectiveness in refusing the current society or, as Marcuse would call it, in being a piece of true art.

Melville, Herman. Moby Dick. New York: Penguin Group, 2003. Print.
I will be using Moby Dick as the main text for this paper.
Yothers, B. (2006), Terrors of the Soul: Religious Pluralism, Epistemological Dread, and Cosmic Exaltation in Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville. Poe Studies/Dark Romanticism, 39: 136–144. doi: 10.1111/j.1754-6095.2006.tb00194.x
I plan to use this article to talk about the eclectic approach Ishmael takes to religion and how it reflects Melville’s stance on the subject.

FRUSCIONE, J. (2008), “What Is Called Savagery”:. Leviathan, 10: 3–24. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-1849.2008.01217.x
I am going to use this paper to delve further into Melville’s promotion for equality across races and especially in the South Pacific. I will then use this to talk about how Melville’s beliefs manifest themselves in Ishmael.

Argument: Melville, through the subtle use of Ishmael, the foreign sailors, and the relationship between Ahab and Pip, claims that eclectic attitude toward religion is ideal.

Counterargument: Melville is advocating for Christianity throughout the novel.

Purpose: To understand the greater meaning of the novel, or at least what we guess Melville intended the meaning to be.

Marcuse: Marcuse will play a part in this paper by contributing to a discussion about how Pip is a disrupting character. I will be utilizing pages 59 and 60 as evidence that he functions in this way and what that characterization contributes to the overall meaning of the work, that the creator is not a loving god. Also the passages on page 68 and 69 about communication will be used, including, “The word refuses the unifying, sensible rule of the sentence.” That specific passage will help explain that one of Pip’s characteristics that deem him an effective disruptive character is his erratic speech. His nonsensical language contributes to his ability to help disillusion the reader by acting as an antagonist to the current society. I am also toying with the idea of, once the greater meaning of Moby Dick has been established with evidence, applying Marcuse to determine if it can be considered an antagonistic work of art.

Keep/Change: I plan on keeping almost all of my discussion on Ahab and Pip with some refining, but getting rid of the introduction and conclusion. I want to add a paragraph talking about Pip as a disruptive character right after his current paragraph and then use both of the evidence provided in those paragraphs to prove Ahab’s motivation for hunting Moby Dick is to understand why the controller does what he does and, as the controller’s opposition, kill the controller for the power. I then want to add a detailed analysis of what Ahab truly believes is behind the mask. In the current draft I dance around what I’m really trying to say and I think it would be beneficial to dedicate a few paragraphs to really hitting home what he believes. I plan on analyzing the Ahab-Pip relationship from the perspective of Brother Jack’s “terminal point” and some of the “scientific terms” used by the brotherhood. I will then add a paragraph about Ishmael’s support and acceptance of the “cannibals,” specifically Queequeg. I also plan on adding an analysis on the Christian characters in the novel, like Father Mapple and the owners of the Pequod. Then I want to use all of that evidence and bring it together to figure out what Melville’s stance on religion is. Length permitting, I would also like to use Marcuse to comment on the effectiveness of Moby Dick as part of the “the great refusal” in the area of religion.

Open Thread for Ellison (Week 3) and Kermode VI

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Revision of Final Paper Proposal

Plunge Into History

Ellison’s Invisible Man questions historical narrative to present multiple histories occurring simultaneously. These histories collide and help shape each other. But it is only in “plunging” outside of history that one can disrupt the system.

- Discuss the novel as a reflection. It reads as a memoir, yet contains little autobiographical information fundamental to the narrator’s identity. How does this pertain to the historical plunge? His reflections become a distorted chronology, through which he acknowledges the unawareness of his own identity. His identity was shaped by the narrative in which he was plunged at the moment.

For instance, his first historical narrative is that of the valedictorian. He is obediant through the trials (i.e. the battle royal, which he continuously references later) and follows the narrative into college, where he meets with his first political injustice after the Trueblood incident leads to expulsion. This section of the paper should focus on the significance of the identity through events and expectations. I want to go to a few places: 1. He begins as a speaker, and continues as a speaker. But he is not speaking on behalf of himself or for himself; it is for the white gamblers. Then it is for the white brothers. 2. The battle royal, while disgustingly portrayed, is sort of washed over. Why? — The battle royal is a disturbance that remains for the most part outside of history. Even in writing about it, the narrator does not attribute blame or responsibility, it is only a chronology, despite its disturbing imagery. Yet, it is referenced throughout the remainder of the novel. I want to go to some other sections where it comes up and analyze why it is there in particular and how that affects its overall meaning/ the function of intertwined historical narratives. It is an example of the individual obedience to the larger narrative that he maintains.

- In the next section I would like to discuss more his nature as a speaker. A speaker writes history, regardless of what is the truth. In the novel, after the narrator speaks at Clifton’s funeral the brotherhood punishes him because he has stepped outside of their historical narrative. They tell him that his ideas are irrelevant; he was not hired to think, he was hired to make speeches. His role as the historian does not surpass mere observation within another narrative. I will here bring in Kermode to analyze the truth in history and how that history can be altered. As the narrator takes that unintentional step he forms an individual narrative and causes disturbances.

I will introduce at some point the essay written by Jim Neighbors entitled “Plunging (outside of) History: Naming and Self-Possesion in Invisible Man.” The essay discusses the “plunge” and its relation to naming in the context of Aristotle and analysis of language. I will disagree with the major focus on naming, but take from it key points such as the narrators gradual transition between inside and outside of history and the distinction between chaos and the abyss. As the narrator nears his plunge (before which he becomes aware of the possibility with growing anxiety) chaos ensues around him. This clearly contributes to the idea of disturbance. I will go more into this in the essay and relate it to the examples given.

Clifton plunges outside of history, which leads to the conflict between Ras and IM, but clifton belonged to neither history. The brotherhood deserts him although they acknowledge Ras; Ras follows a historical narrative but Clifton is lost to them (apathy is indifferent to love/hate). Through his plunge the narrator acknowledges the anxieties to the historical narrative — I will here reference the passage that he contemplates Clifton’s “plunge” and analyze the form. Then I will compare his anxiety to the funeral eulogy and introduce a Kermodian analysis based upon the “strict distinction between meaning and truth” and the how the narrator “ignore[s] what is written in favor of what is written about” (Kermode 119). (<-- this citation is originally from Jean Starobinski)

Ultimately, the narrator himself takes the plunge. Following the funeral he sees the epitomization of the historical conflict between the two narratives. He is outside both, hunted by both. It is only in isolation from all history that he can observe and reflect, acknowledge the existence of historical narratives as their own entities to which the members blindly conform. In his invisibility his encounters are limited to minor conflicts. I will return here to the prologue, where we see him invisibly active, in comparison to his literal plunge directly before the epilogue. If he is outside of history, why does he engage in these encounters with it and why does he decide the time has come to return? And how does his isolation relate to the disturbances? He is able to play with history, cause individual chaotic moments followed by a quick return to solitude. I will suggest that it is time to return to society — to history — because aware of his invisibility and thus permanently outside o history he can surpass his past disturbance. He was able to contribute to chaos while unaware, and through the path towards awareness he is ready for the ultimate disturbance. But, back to Kermode, this is speculation based not upon what is written, but what is written about. The disturbances are written about, but the language is always subtle. This relates also to the battle royal.

The conclusion will relate back upon the disturbances. Hopefully by this point I will have given evidence to support that in the novel the disturbance of history is attained through stepping outside of it. Obediance allows the narrative to prevail, questioning causes the ripples of chaos.

Work Cited:

Kermode. The Genesis of Secrecy.

Neighbors, Jim. “Plunging (outside of) History: Naming and Self-Possesion in Invisible Man.African American Review 36.2 (2002): 227-42.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

protest disguised in prose

In class Ellison’s disdain for protest literature was discussed to some degree. Ellison, unlike many of his contemporaries seemed to be less interested in protesting the plight of African-Americans as he was with writing a “classic.” To Marcuse this is all wrong, he often states that literature’s purpose is to challenge the established order. If there exists a debunking of Marcuse’s understanding of literature, it exist in Ellison’s Invisible Man. Ellison frequently refers to socially integrated texts of his time and at the same time presents a story which effectively challenges social structures.

In Chapter 3 of Marcuse, the idea of “Oppressive Desublimation” is introduced as the integration of culture into society.

The reality surpasses its culture. Man today can do more than the culture heros and half-gods; he has solved many insoluble problems. But he has also betrayed the hope and destroyed the truth which were preserved in the sublimations of higher culture. To be sure, the higher culture was always in contradiction with social reality, and only a privileged minority enjoyed its blessings and represented its ideals. (Marcuse 3)

The premise of his idea is in many ways disproven within the first pages of Invisible Man. The largely discussed quotations at the start of the book are both from authors who have—by Marcuse’s standards—gone through “oppressive desublimation.” Benito Cereno for example, was first published in a literary quarterly, which for Marcuse would have been a direct agent of desublimation. In the same third chapter of One-Dimensional Man, Marcuse argues that high culture should be reserved for a certain strata of society or else it would lose its effect on social change.

“Today's novel feature is the flattening out of the antagonism between culture and social reality through the obliteration of the oppositional, alien, and transcendent elements in the higher culture by virtue of which it constituted another dimension of reality. This liquidation of two-dimensional culture takes place not through the denial and rejection of the "cultural values," but through their wholesale incorporation into the established order, through their reproduction and display on a massive scale. (Marcuse 3)

For Marcuse, Benito Cereno’s widespread publication would have made it succeptable to desublimation. By invoking such work in the first page of his text, Ellison is making a statement about his novel; in many ways it can be argued that the point of Invisible Man is societal integration. Aside from his invocation of “dead white men,” Ellison makes many other indications at his novel’s goal.

While it may be an ostensible stretch, it is possible to read the subject matter of Invisible man through the context of desublimation. The narrator, in the early part of the novel describes his life before his realization that he was indeed invisible. The second chapter is concerned primarily with the narrator’s time in college, and specifically an instance in which he shows a wealthy white man around campus.

Ellison does something interesting in this segment of the novel, instead of lamenting the lowly state of African-Americans by merely describing Trueblood and the saloon as many of his contemporaries might have. He seemingly integrates and in many ways criticizes those who’d rather not. By showing Mr. Norton the true state of things Ellison creates something that is immune from desublimation. Almost as if his text’s radical nature is disguised in prose, Ellison tells a story that is accessible to a wide audience but at the same time illustrates society’s shortcomings.

Marcuse might have disagreed, the wider reading of Invisible Man would have been seen by Marcuse as a watering down of the issues at hand and further proof of desublimation.

Final Paper Proposal- Invisible Man

Source 1: Doane, Randal. "Ralph Ellison's Sociological Imagination." The Sociological Quarterly 45.1 (2004): 161-84. JSTOR. Web. 14 Apr. 2011. .
- I plan on using this article to interpret parts of the novel that may have been interpreted in multiple ways without the prior knowledge of this. After reading this article, I hope I will be able to point out very specifics and give you a definite answer as to what it represents.

Source 2: Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. New York: Vintage, 1980. Print.
- I am definitely going to use passages from the interview between the narrator and young Emerson, especially because that is where Totem and Taboo was introduced in the novel. I will probably use the fight from the beginning of the novel as well to show his alienation. I would like to also interpret the factory hospital situation; what was happening, why it was happening, and how this is affecting the narrator.

Source 3: Freud, Sigmund. Totem and Taboo. London: Routledge, 2004. Print.
- I have downloaded this book but have not yet begun to read it. I really would like to read the whole book but I am at the least going to read one whole chapter. The chapter that I am definitely going to read is Taboo and Emotional Ambivalence. I feel that out of the four chapters, this will be the one that will relate to Invisible Man the most.

Source 4: Kermode, Frank. The Genesis of Secrecy: on the Interpretation of Narrative. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1979. Print.
- I am going to use Kermode to help back me up that there is meaning in this novel. I am going to use his thoughts on language, meaning and truth, insiders and outsiders, prejudice and interpretation, internal relationships, modern hermeneutics, and historical context.

While reading a novel, everyone will create their own interpretations of what they believe different things mean. They will make these interpretations solely on the internal relationships of the book, unless there is a knowledge of what and why the author has incorporated into his work. Through Kermode’s analysis of truth and meaning in a book, we should not read a book and take that as the “truth”, we need to know some history and have knowledge of it so we can understand the true “meaning” of the work. So after understanding how Ellison’s language throughout the novel shows alienation, freedom, and the unconscious we will be able to interpret the novel much better than what we were able to before making us more of an insider than an outsider to the novel. Also the work of Freud is highly influential to Ellison’s work. Totem and Taboo was specifically touched on for a moment in the novel, and not by coincidence.
I feel this is a good argument to make because we are going to be able to see sociological and psychological aspects of the novel that most people would not catch onto. We are all going to become more knowledgeable on the Invisible Man, Ellison, and Freud. After this paper, I hope that the reader will be able to take my argument and apply it to any part of the novel and be able to interpret it with more knowledge and understanding than before.
When talking about everything having a meaning in a novel the counterargument would be that there is no meaning. That the author just wrote the book to write, but this can not be true. Everyone’s ideas stem from something- you can’t just pull anything out of thin air. This can all relate to Kermode’s “all interpretations proceed from prejudice, and without prejudice there can be no interpretation; but this is to use an institutional prejudice in order to disarm exegesis founded on more interesting personal prejudices”. With out feeling a certain way and having the knowledge to create a certain idea it would not be a successful project. So yes, you can read something that has no real meaning, but it is going to be worthless to read. Everything worth reading has well thought out reasoning backing it. “The pleasures of interpretation are henceforth linked to loss and disappointment, so that most of us will find the task too hard, or simply repugnant; and then, abandoning meaning, we slip back into the old comfortable fictions of transparency, the single sense, the truth” (Kermode 123).

Friday, April 15, 2011

Final Project Proposal: Moby Dick as Religious Actant

For my final project I am going to continue and expand upon my previous revision of the blog entry originally titled “Melville’s Quest” (http://pitt-crit-reading.blogspot.com/2011/02/melvilles-quest.html). I completed my first revision of this entry two weeks ago with a strict focus on Ahab’s actions and personality as a reflection on Melville’s own beliefs regarding religion. The resounding criticism of this revision was that my focus was too strictly confined to one character within Moby Dick while many of Melville’s characters in represent some sort of religious attitude. My initial apprehension was over the fact that I didn’t feel confident in my ability to address and adequately argue the portrayal of Melville’s religious opinions through multiple characters, though my first draft did feature an equal focus on Ahab and Ishmael. For my final project I would like to return to the original structure of this blog entry and grant equal importance to both characters as I feel they both represent significant portions of Melville’s ideals. Although there is some opportunity for the creation of an argument that contradicts itself, there is an importance in the fact that Ahab views Moby as primarily evil while Ishmael views the whale with fascination, in the fact that Melville seems to regard the whale and its representation of god or religion in general as simultaneously good and evil. As I’ve explained in previous blog entries Melville was very religiously curious and quite unsure as to where his level of belief and confidence fell, a confusion which is best represented in the clear conflict and paradox that exists between Ishmael and Ahab.

Using Kermode’s Chapter IV as a launching point, I would like to examine how Ishmael and Ahab are each individual actants of Melville’s conflicting religious views by approaching this analysis in much the same manner I already have. In doing so I would like to keep much of the material itself that I have already drafted on how Ahab takes on this role but perhaps remove some of the language which made my first revision so entirely negative so that there is some cohesion between the shift to Ishmael’s role. Even in my first entry I brushed aside Ishmael as a character who, although sharing many similarities with the author, simply wasn’t as interesting as the darker Ahab; with this project I would like to more formerly address the merits Ishmael has as a portrayer and representative of Melville’s more positive attitudes (because they do exist). To bolster these individual arguments I would like to more heavily discuss language surrounding the sea according to the character context in which it is presented, how the sea is sometimes portrayed as beautiful, clear, with a likeness to heaven while when identified with Ahab it becomes an environment full of fire, death and dismay.

Ultimately, however, the examination of how Ishmael and Ahab represent Melville’s religious views is inadequate because we are already aware from the beginning of the argument that we should expect such conflict within the novel. What is intriguing is the simple fact that Melville is capable of so seamlessly working this contradiction into his piece while still addressing both sides with equal importance. My final argument will focus on the view that, even with all the importance rewarded to the human protagonists, Moby Dick himself is the decisive actant in Melville’s novel, allowing him to simultaneously and concisely address his varying and discordant views without sacrificing cogency. The, perhaps slightly aggressive, claim I would like to make is that while whaling did play a significant role in Melville’s life, Moby Dick (the novel and the whale himself) is really a means for the author to explore his religious opinions in a fictitious context that would allow him to formally address multiple points of view simultaneously.

The counterargument here of course comes from the fact that I’m making a very severe claim that Moby Dick’s existence as a whale is not as important as his significance as a vehicle for Melville’s religious exploration. One might argue that whaling did in fact hold a more important position in the author’s life and that these religious discussions happened merely as a consequence of Melville’s fascination with the whale.

Works to be Used:

“Moby Dick”, Herman Melville

“The Genesis of Secrecy: On the Interpretation of Narrative”, Frank Kermode

“Melville’s Bibles”, Isabelle Pardes

I have used this book in both the original entry and revision of this blog but solely within the consideration of Melville’s biography. There is one essay/chapter within this book that specifically addresses the character of Ishmael in Moby Dick which I plan to use as part of the foundation for my creation of the argument as Ishmael playing the role of actant.

“The Salt-Sea Mastadon”, Robert Zoellner

This is another book which I have used in the past revision, again with a more narrow focus on the analysis of Ahab. This book will also be used in the final project to address the role of the whale and its importance to Ishmael and Ahab along with, and more importantly, how the beast pertains to Melville himself.

“Herman Melville: Moby-Dick” Nick Selby

This is primarily a critical reading guide for Moby Dick, but a chapter titled “Formalist Approaches, Humanist Readings,” which addresses the many ways critics in the past have read the novel, brings up many suggestions as to what Ishmael, Ahab, and the whale mean and which of these forces is “the dynamic” or most compelling force in the novel. This source may not ultimately be cited in the paper but I have and will use it as a means to compare, contrast, and weight the various analyses of these characters.

“Melville: The Ironic Diagram” John D. Seelye

Another literary criticism, this work was mentioned within Selby’s critique as one which heavily touches upon the issue of the protagonists in Moby Dick within a religious sense. While there is a general overview of Seelye’s opinions, I plan to read a bit more in depth to his opinions of the religious importance of each of the characters I’ve mentioned.

Beginning of Final Project (Draft): Hermeneutic foundations of Moby Dick

Hermeneutic foundations of Moby Dick

Herman Melville’s highly praised nineteenth century novel, Moby Dick, encompasses a spiritual interpretation that can be explained in terms of hermeneutics—a philosophical term that Frank Kermode explores in his book entitled The Genesis of Secrecy: on the Interpretation of Narrative. According to Kermode, a spiritual reading of texts emerges only when “Our divinatory powers grow as the primary reading, carnal, manifest—the one most obvious to the first readers—loses its compelling its compelling force, its obviousness” (Kermode, 10). A carnal reading of Moby Dick will portray a whaling crew that embarks on an a voyage in search of a whale that will bring great economic profit, but a spiritual reading of the novel will reveal that Melville performed a biblical midrash using especially the Book of Job; thus the spiritual meaning of Moby Dick “[emerges] in historical circumstances quite unlike those in which the oracle spoke” (Kermode, 1).

Specifically, Melville performs a biblical midrash in which he warns against modern day rousing of leviathan—the demonic sea creature that is repeatedly spoken of in the Bible; “Such midrash presupposes belief in the continuing relevance of Old Testament texts, a relevance that is brought out by remolding it, and setting it in a new narrative context , where it will enhance the truth and power of the doctrines…The basic assumption is that the present is the end-time, when all the figures and prophecies will be fulfilled…” (Kermode, 82-83). In a spiritual sense, Melville is attempting to illustrate one of God’s key proclamations, located in the Book of Job, that man should exercise humility as opposed to pride and that no man, no matter how rich, is above the works of God: “Do you have an arm like God’s…look at every proud man and bring him low, look at every proud man and humble him (New International Version Bible, Job:40).

Given that Herman Melville practiced Puritanism, it is very likely that his biblical midrash through Moby Dick was developed with biblical/Christian typology in mind. Jonathan Cook, in his essay entitled Christian Typology and Social Critique in Melville's 'The Two Temples' describes the term Christian typology as a hermeneutic tactic and explains that it was widely utilized by nineteenth century Puritan authors; Melville’s practice of Puritanism possibly inspired his midrash in Moby Dick:

As a key hermeneutical technique in both the composition and later interpretation of scripture, Christian typology was premised on the assumption that the New Testament was the fulfillment of the Old, and thus a number of representative individuals, objects, and events in the Old Testament, designated "types," were duplicated and superseded by corresponding "antitypes" in the life and ministry of Christ…Typological symbolism was pervasive in Puritan religious writing, history, and poetry, and it continued to influence nineteenth-century American authors grounded in Puritan theology and its traditions of biblical interpretation (Cook, 6).

Thus, many characters that appear in Moby Dick may be attributed to Melville’s use of Christian typology. For example, the prideful Ahab represents the antitype of Job; Pip with his abundant humility can be seen as the type of Job. Additionally, the fearsome yet aesthetic Moby Dick represents the type of Leviathan, as it is described in the bible: “Nothing on earth is his [the leviathan] equal—a creature without fear (Job 41:33). Accordingly, Melville portrays Moby Dick in such terms: “He [the White Whale] is without doubt, the largest inhabitant of the globe; the most formidable of all whales to encounter; the most majestic in aspect…” (Melville, 149). To be continued...


New International Version of Holy Bible

Herman Melville. Moby Dick. New York, NY: Baronet, 1990.

Kermode, Frank (1979), The Genesis of Secrecy: on the Interpretation of Narrative, Cambridge, Mass.; London, Harvard University Press.

Cook, Jonathan A. “Christian Typology and Social Critique in Melville's 'The Two Temples’” Christianity and Literature (2006): 5-33.

It's a Midrash Type of Day

Ralph Ellison was to all of my knowledge, a fan of Herman Melville. In chapter three in Invisible Man I found a passage that I feel Ellison intentionally tries to connect to Melville. The short summary of the scene is that the main narrator, who is nameless, is trying to fulfill the wishes of Mr. Norton who simply wanted a drink to make him feel better. The narrator decides to stop at the Golden Day; a bar that seems to be out of control. The section that I am going to use has Mr. Norton passed out under the stairs of the bar and the narrator is describing how he looks.

“Then some of the milling men pushed me up against him and suddenly a mass of whiteness was looming two inches from my eyes; it was only his face but I felt a shudder of nameless horror. I had never been so close to a white person before. In a panic I struggled to get away. With his eyes closed he seemed more threatening than with them open. He was like a formless white death, suddenly appeared before me, a death which had been there all the time and which had now revealed itself in the madness of the Golden Day” (Ellison 86).

This passage could be considered a midrash of Melville and his ideas on the whiteness. Kermode defined midrash as a practice that takes an earlier text and interprets and almost rewrites it in a way that loses some of its original meaning. He used the example of the Gospels as possibly being midrashed. The new ending of the Gospels is a perfect moment for the example of midrashing. In Mark, the gospel ends suddenly and as history went on and on people or readers wanted answers. The development of the other gospels had endings that were more appealing to the readers, leaving them with more closer. Kermode brings up that these alternate endings could be different interpretations and some people like it and some don’t.

This all goes back to what I feel Ellison was trying to do with Melville. Although, we are not talking about the gospels now these are two very influential authors in American Literature. I feel that in the passage that I already quoted Ellison was trying to interpret what Melville was trying to say in his chapter in Moby-Dick, The Whiteness of The Whale. The whole chapter is about whiteness and Melville does not make it to interpret what he his saying whether you look at it carnally or spiritually. Ishmael says, “It was the whiteness of the whale that above all things appalled me”. Melville goes on to give examples of how whiteness has been considered a color of power and importance like in court, Greek mythology, and Christian priests. After that he goes into the horror and terror it can represent. He says in Nature whiteness warns of terror and horror like the polar bear and white sharks of the sea. He said a mariner lost at sea said, “ Sir, it was not so much the fear of striking hidden rocks, as the fear of that hideous whiteness that stirred me”. Here more than the other example I think I can see the spiritual reading of Melville. For when he said that the mariner said he was afraid of the whiteness of the sea I feel that he was trying to say he was afraid of the future or the unknown. That is what the mariner felt; the fear of the unknown; if he was going to live, if he was going to ever see another human, or if he would die a lonely death at sea.

Connecting this back to Ellison, I feel that like I tried to do above by interpreting Melville’s work, Ellison has also tired. The problem lies in the fact that Melville crams so many ideas and symbols all into one chapter that any attempt at an interpretation would almost have to be considered midrash. The narrator says that he feels a nameless horror because the white face is so close to him. This is ironic since he himself is nameless throughout the novel, but that is just an aside. The connection between Melville and Ellison can be made because of the fact they both at a point associate whiteness with horror. This is very interesting to me and I feel could be considered a critique by both of the white society that is commonly referred to in America. The problem that I have with Ellison is that if this is an attempt at a connection with Melville, why so short and sudden? I know that Ellison is not one for using unnecessary words but I feel he could have gone deeper with his Melville moment. Maybe he didn’t want to and maybe he didn’t agree with all Melville ideas about the whiteness. I do like what I’m calling the icing on the cake, when in the last sentence of the passage I quoted. Ellison makes an almost useless reference to the Golden Day unless like I’m thinking is another clue to say that this is a Melville reference. It is widely known that Melville was considered one of the members of the Golden Days and I feel that in Ellison’s midrash some of his thoughts get lost due to interpretation.

Utopia in the Revolution Cycle - Outline/Draft

Utopia as Part of the Revolution Cycle : outline

  1. Utopia

    • definition: the ideal, conceptual society in which every individual can be happy and live a fulfilled live (Sources: More & Surtz, Ritzer)

    • people's lives are worth living and worth making better (Source: Marcuse)

  2. Dystopia

    • definition: a society resulting from an attempt at utopia where the government creates a false happiness through extreme, often overwhelming social control under the illusion of creating a utopia (Source: Ritzer)

    • What changes to make a society dystopian?

      1. An attempt at utopia creates a dystopia – sometimes the utopia exists briefly before falling, other times the dystopia simply appears outwardly to be utopian.

        • Olivar – KSF acts as though they are rescuing and resurrecting Olivar, but even Lauren knows that they are creating wage slavery. (Sources: Butler, Marcuse)

      2. Government social structure appears on the surface to care for its people, but underneath that surface layer the people don't identify with their social structure anymore (Sources: Baron, Marcuse)

  3. Revolution

    • Definition (Source: Cutner)

    • What role does revolution play in the creation and destruction of utopias and dystopias?

      1. When people feel their social structure does not represent them (Source: Baron), they feel a need to eliminate their affiliation with the group.

        • How can they eliminate their affiliation?

          • Remove themselves from the group

            • expatriation

            • apathy

          • Eliminate the group (revolution)

    • Examples of past revolutions (Source: Cutner)

    • Results of Revolution

      1. Intent to create utopia (leads to utopia or dystopia)

      2. Creates outside, rebel group in opposition to the existing, original social structure

    • Revolution as a cycle

      1. Return to people feeling that their new, post-revolution social structure does not represent them (Source: Baron)

      2. American Democracy – minimizes violence of revolution through votes

  1. Utopia and Dystopia's place in the revolution structure

    • Utopias are an ideal societies in the mind of the people; attempting to create them leads to an unending cycle of revolution, a plateau of utopian or dystopian society, and buildup to another revolution.

Final Paper Proposal

I am planning on revising my last post “What has [not] cast a shadow upon you” which was about the narrator of Invisible Man and how he is oblivious to the inner workings of society. I am thinking about developing this further but I will focus on the evolution of the narrator throughout the book in regards to his understanding of society and the shadow that is cast over him. I’m arguing that although he may become slightly more aware of the control of society, he does little to change it and the shadow still remains.

I will use a good portion of my original blogpost, but it will make up mostly the beginning of my overall final paper. I will continue it by talking about each rebirth that the narrator goes through and see the differences between his views on society as well as the control that society has on him.

Kermode: Genesis will come into play with Kermode’s ideas of interpretation with outsiders vs. insiders. I will also talk about how the narrator’s views effect what we as readers understand of certain events. This could be a counterargument that there might not be a shadow upon the narrator at all; we just perceive it to be there based on the narrator’s opinions and the fact that he is the one whose eyes we see everything through.

Marcuse: I will use the points I made in my original blogpost that talk about domination, solitude, and possibly progress, but I will go into more depth and try to find other examples or events throughout Invisible Man that these points can apply to. I might also use Marcuse’s discussion on hypnotic language to argue how language effects the narrator’s domination by society.

Butler: The ideas and process of change that come about from Lauren’s Earthseed will be used to talk about the narrator’s evolution. First, I will talk about what he needs to do to change and escape the shadow and then I will compare it to what actually happens throughout the novel.

Nussbaum, “Invisibility and Recognition: Sophocles’ Philoctetes and Ellison’s Invisible Man”, Philosophy and Literature 23.2, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999, 257-283. : I will incorporate Nussbaum’s arguments into my paper. She talks about certain points like “the Invisible Man reminds his readers that the accident of invisibility, in a society whose inner eyes are so deficient, can in effect befall any human being” which I would use to argue that the invisibility of the narrator is caused by the shadow that society has cast upon him, and she continues “although of course it is only the ones with a particular epidermis whom this accident has actually befallen in today's America”. She has other points that I will most likely discuss but that is just one example.

Jarenski, “Invisibility Embraced: The Abject as a Site of Agency in Ellison’s Invisible Man”, MELUS 35.4 (2010): 85-109. Academic Search Premier. : Jarenski talks about what I would cover near the end of my paper: the narrator’s acceptance and even choice of invisibility. Even though I haven’t reached this part of the novel as of yet, from several articles I have read on this subject, I know that I will need to cover it since I am talking about the evolution of the narrator in terms of the degrees of society’s domination of him throughout the entire novel.

Counterargument: Other than the possible counterargument that there is no shadow at all, the counterargument could be that the narrator is not invisible or dominated and therefore does not need to change, even if he did in any way.

So, I have a general idea about what I would like to do and some points I would like to make but not everything is really solidified. I’m hoping that once I start to write it that everything will come together. I’m really hoping for your input on if this is ok or if it needs to be more cohesive.