Saturday, April 16, 2011

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).


  1. This is promising in several ways. First, your reading of Kermode seems to be nimble and attentive (it's maybe not the same as mine - I see him as valuing "meaning" more, and "truth" less than perhaps you do, but I don't really see that as a problem at all). Second, I think the focus of your research is excellent - thinking through how Freud works in the novel is a large topic, but not so large that you can't tackle some reasonable part of it, as long as you're focused. Going to Freud directly is, of course, an excellent idea.

    I do find your proposed argument to be a little vague. Arguing that Freud is an influence, or an important influence, upon the novel is well into the territory of the obvious, at least within the context of this class. So you need to find some *particular* claim to make rooted within the more general and obvious claim that Freud was important to Ellison's thought.

    Two other thoughts:

    1) It's been a while since I sat down and read through all of Ellison's essays, but I am quite sure that he has a good bit to say about Freud, and even specifically about the possible importance of psychoanalysis in Harlem, somewhere in his essays. His essays are most accessible in the collection "The Collected Essays of Ralph Ellison"

    2) One difficulty among intellectuals earlier in the century was trying to make sense of both Marx and Freud, two thinkers who are usually (but not always) understood as being antithetical. Both Ellison and, even more so, Marcuse, were important examples of intellectuals who tried to integrate the ideas of both. I don't necessarily think that's important for your essay, but it might be helpful just as context.

  2. I completely understand that since this is a proposal (and especially since you haven't read Totem and Taboo) that you don't have all of the details down pat yet. My biggest question is do you think you're going to use a general overview of Freud's argument to petition for your argument of the reading of Invisible Man or do you think you'll look for an individual quote to base your argument around? Obviously this is only my opinion but in my experience with a past blog entry I would definitely advise the latter. It seems a little bit daunting at first to pick just one thought to embody your whole paper but I think something I've learned through writing these blogs is that sometimes narrowing your focus is sometimes the most beneficial thing you can do for your argument. Again, this is just in my personal experience but I'll be interested to see exactly how Freud fits into Ellison's work.