Black People : Invisible Man epilogue..

Discussion in 'Black People Open Forum' started by skuderjaymes, Sep 30, 2010.

  1. skuderjaymes

    skuderjaymes Contextualizer Synthesizer MEMBER

    Nov 2, 2009
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    theory to application to discussion to percussion
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    The following is an excerpt from Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (1952)..


    So there you have all of it that's important. Or at least you almost have it. I'm an invisible
    man and it placed me in a hole -- or showed me the hole I was in, if you will -- and I reluctantly
    accepted the fact. What else could I have done? Once you get used to it, reality is as irresistible as
    a club, and I was clubbed into the cellar before I caught the hint. Perhaps that's the way it had to
    be; I don't know. Nor do I know whether accepting the lesson has placed me in the rear or in the
    avant-garde. That, perhaps, is a lesson for history, and I'll leave such decisions to Jack and his ilk
    while I try belatedly to study the lesson of my own life.

    Let me be honest with you -- a feat which, by the way, I find of the utmost difficulty. When
    one is invisible he finds such problems as good and evil, honesty and dishonesty, of such shifting
    shapes that he confuses one with the other, depending upon who happens to be looking through
    him at the time. Well, now I've been trying to look through myself, and there's a risk in it. I was
    never more hated than when I tried to be honest. Or when, even as just now I've tried to articulate
    exactly what I felt to be the truth. No one was satisfied -- not even I. On the other hand, I've never
    been more loved and appreciated than when I tried to "justify" and affirm someone's mistaken
    beliefs; or when I've tried to give my friends the incorrect, absurd answers they wished to hear. In
    my presence they could talk and agree with themselves, the world was nailed down, and they loved
    it. They received a feeling of security. But here was the rub: Too often, in order to justify them, I had
    to take myself by the throat and choke myself until my eyes bulged and my tongue hung out and
    wagged like the door of an empty house in a high wind. Oh, yes, it made them happy and it made
    me sick. So I became ill of affirmation, of saying "yes" against the nay-saying of my stomach -- not
    to mention my brain.

    There is, by the way, an area in which a man's feelings are more rational than his mind,
    and it is precisely in that area that his will is pulled in several directions at the same time. You
    might sneer at this, but I know now. I was pulled this way and that for longer than I can remember.
    And my problem was that I always tried to go in everyone's way but my own. I have also been
    called one thing and then another while no one really wished to hear what I called myself. So after
    years of trying to adopt the opinions of others I finally rebelled. I am an invisible man. Thus I have
    come a long way and returned and boomeranged a long way from the point in society toward which
    I originally aspired.

    So I took to the cellar; I hibernated. I got away from it all. But that wasn't enough. I couldn't
    be still even in hibernation. Because, **** it, there's the mind, the mind. It wouldn't let me rest.
    Gin, jazz and dreams were not enough. Books were not enough. My belated appreciation of the
    crude joke that had kept me running, was not enough. And my mind revolved again and again back
    to my grandfather. And, despite the farce that ended my attempt to say "yes" to the Brotherhood,
    I'm still plagued by his deathbed advice . . . Perhaps he hid his meaning deeper than I thought,
    perhaps his anger threw me off -- I can't decide. Could he have meant -- hell, he must have meant
    the principle, that we were to affirm the principle on which the country was built and not the men, or
    at least not the men who did the violence. Did he mean say "yes" because he knew that the
    principle was greater than the men, greater than the numbers and the vicious power and all the
    methods used to corrupt its name? Did he mean to affirm the principle, which they themselves had
    dreamed into being out of the chaos and darkness of the feudal past, and which they had violated
    and compromised to the point of absurdity even in their own corrupt minds? Or did he mean that we
    had to take the responsibility for all of it, for the men as well as the principle, because we were the
    heirs who must use the principle because no other fitted our needs? Not for the power or for
    vindication, but because we, with the given circumstance of our origin, could only thus find
    transcendence? Was it that we of all, we, most of all, had to affirm the principle, the plan in whose
    name we had been brutalized and sacrificed -- not because we would always be weak nor because
    we were afraid or opportunistic, but because we were older than they, in the sense of what it took to
    live in the world with others and because they had exhausted in us, some -- not much, but some --
    of the human greed and smallness, yes, and the fear and superstition that had kept them running.
    (Oh, yes, they're running too, running all over themselves.) Or was it, did he mean that we should
    affirm the principle because we, through no fault of our own, were linked to all the others in the loud,
    clamoring semi-visible world, that world seen only as a fertile field for exploitation by Jack and his
    kind, and with condescension by Norton and his, who were tired of being the mere pawns in the
    futile game of "making history"? Had he seen that for these too we had to say "yes" to the principle,
    lest they turn upon us to destroy both it and us?

    "Agree 'em to death and destruction," grandfather had advised. Hell, weren't they their own
    death and their own destruction except as the principle lived in them and in us? And here's the
    cream of the joke: Weren't we part of them as well as apart from them and subject to die when they
    died? I can't figure it out; it escapes me. But what do I really want, I've asked myself. Certainly not
    the freedom of a Rinehart or the power of a Jack, nor simply the freedom not to run. No, but the
    next step I couldn't make, so I've remained in the hole.

    I'm not blaming anyone for this state of affairs, mind you; nor merely crying mea culpa. The
    fact is that you carry part of your sickness within you, at least I do as an invisible man. I carried my
    sickness and though for a long time I tried to place it in the outside world, the attempt to write it
    down shows me that at least half of it lay within me. It came upon me slowly, like that strange
    disease that affects those black men whom you see turning slowly from black to albino, their
    pigment disappearing as under the radiation of some cruel, invisible ray. You go along for years
    knowing something is wrong, then suddenly you discover that you're as transparent as air. At first
    you tell yourself that it's all a dirty joke, or that it's due to the "political situation." But deep down
    you come to suspect that you're yourself to blame, and you stand naked and shivering before the
    millions of eyes who look through you unseeingly. That is the real soul-sickness, the spear in the
    side, the drag by the neck through the mob-angry town, the Grand Inquisition, the embrace of the
    Maiden, the rip in the belly with the guts spilling out, the trip to the chamber with the deadly gas
    that ends in the oven so hygienically clean -- only it's worse because you continue stupidly to live.
    But live you must, and you can either make passive love to your sickness or burn it out and go on
    to the next conflicting phase.

    Yes, but what is the next phase? How often have I tried to find it! Over and over again I've
    gone up above to seek it out. For, like almost everyone else in our country, I started out with my
    share of optimism. I believed in hard work and progress and action, but now, after first being "for"
    society and then "against" it, I assign myself no rank or any limit, and such an attitude is very
    much against the trend of the times. But my world has become one of infinite possibilities. What a
    phrase -- still it's a good phrase and a good view of life, and a man shouldn't accept any other; that
    much I've learned underground. Until some gang succeeds in putting the world in a strait jacket, its
    definition is possibility. Step outside the narrow borders of what men call reality and you step into
    chaos -- ask Rinehart, he's a master of it -- or imagination. That too I've learned in the cellar, and
    not by deadening my sense of perception; I'm invisible, not blind.

    No indeed, the world is just as concrete, ornery, vile and sublimely wonderful as before,
    only now I better understand my relation to it and it to me. I've come a long way from those days
    when, full of illusion, I lived a public life and attempted to function under the assumption that the
    world was solid and all the relationships therein. Now I know men are different and that all life is
    divided and that only in division is there true health. Hence again I have stayed in my hole, because
    up above there's an increasing passion to make men conform to a pattern. Just as in my nightmare,
    Jack and the boys are waiting with their knives, looking for the slightest excuse to . . . well, to "ball
    the jack," and I do not refer to the old dance step, although what they're doing is making the old
    eagle rock dangerously.

    Whence all this passion toward conformity anyway? -- diversity is the word. Let man keep
    his many parts and you'll have no tyrant states. Why, if they follow this conformity business they'll
    end up by forcing me, an invisible man, to become white, which is not a color but the lack of one.
    Must I strive toward colorlessness? But seriously, and without snobbery, think of what the world
    would lose if that should happen. America is woven of many strands; I would recognize them and let
    it so remain. It's "winner take nothing" that is the great truth of our country or of any country. Life is
    to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat. Our
    fate is to become one, and yet many -- This is not prophecy, but description. Thus one of the
    greatest jokes in the world is the spectacle of the whites busy escaping blackness and becoming
    blacker every day, and the blacks striving toward whiteness, becoming quite dull and gray. None of
    us seems to know who he is or where he's going.

    Which reminds me of something that occurred the other day in the subway. At first I saw
    only an old gentleman who for the moment was lost. I knew he was lost, for as I looked down the
    platform I saw him approach several people and turn away without speaking. He's lost, I thought,
    and he'll keep coming until he sees me, then he'll ask his direction. Maybe there's an
    embarrassment in it if he admits he's lost to a strange white man. Perhaps to lose a sense of where
    you are implies the danger of losing a sense of who you are. That must be it, I thought -- to lose
    your direction is to lose your face. So here he comes to ask his direction from the lost, the invisible.
    Very well, I've learned to live without direction. Let him ask.

    But then he was only a few feet away and I recognized him; it was Mr. Norton. The old
    gentleman was thinner and wrinkled now but as dapper as ever. And seeing him made all the old life
    live in me for an instant, and I smiled with tear-stinging eyes. Then it was over, dead, and when he
    asked me how to get to Centre Street, I regarded him with mixed feelings.

    "Don't you know me?" I said.

    "Should I?" he said.

    "You see me?" I said, watching him tensely.

    "Why, of course -- Sir, do you know the way to Centre Street?"

    "So. Last time it was the Golden Day, now it's Centre Street. You've retrenched, sir. But
    don't you know who I am?"

    "Young man, I'm in a hurry," he said, cupping a hand to his ear. "Why should I know you?"

    "Because I'm your destiny."

    "My destiny, did you say?" He gave me a puzzled stare, backing away. "Young man, are
    you well? Which train did you say I should take?"

    "I didn't say," I said, shaking my head. "Now, aren't you ashamed?"

    "Ashamed? ASHAMED!" he said indignantly.

    I laughed, suddenly taken by the idea. "Because, Mr. Norton, if you don't know where you
    are, you probably don't know who you are. So you came to me out of shame. You are ashamed,
    now aren't you?"

    "Young man, I've lived too long in this world to be ashamed of anything. Are you light-
    headed from hunger? How do you know my name?"

    "But I'm your destiny, I made you. Why shouldn't I know you?" I said, walking closer and
    seeing him back against a pillar. He looked around like a cornered animal. He thought I was mad.

    "Don't be afraid, Mr. Norton," I said. "There's a guard down the platform there. You're safe
    . Take any train; they all go to the Golden D --"

    But now an express had rolled up and the old man was disappearing quite spryly inside
    one of its doors. I stood there laughing hysterically. I laughed all the way back to my hole.

    But after I had laughed I was thrown back on my thoughts -- how had it all happened? And I
    asked myself if it were only a joke and I couldn't answer. Since then I've sometimes been overcome
    with a passion to return into that "heart of darkness" across the Mason-Dixon line, but then I remind
    myself that the true darkness lies within my own mind, and the idea loses itself in the gloom. Still
    the passion persists. Sometimes I feel the need to reaffirm all of it, the whole unhappy territory and
    all the things loved and unlovable in it, for all of it is part of me. Till now, however, this is as far as
    I've ever gotten, for all life seen from the hole of invisibility is absurd.

    So why do I write, torturing myself to put it down? Because in spite of myself I've learned
    some things. Without the possibility of action, all knowledge comes to one labeled "file and forget,"
    and I can neither file nor forget. Nor will certain ideas forget me; they keep filing away at my
    lethargy, my complacency. Why should I be the one to dream this nightmare? Why should I be
    dedicated and set aside -- yes, if not to at least tell a few people about it? There seems to be no
    escape. Here I've set out to throw my anger into the world's face, but now that I've tried to put it all
    down the old fascination with playing a role returns, and I'm drawn upward again. So that even
    before I finish I've failed (maybe my anger is too heavy; perhaps, being a talker, I've used too many
    words). But I've failed. The very act of trying to put it all down has confused me and negated some
    of the anger and some of the bitterness. So it is that now I denounce and defend, or feel prepared to
    defend. I condemn and affirm, say no and say yes, say yes and say no. I denounce because
    though implicated and partially responsible, I have been hurt to the point of abysmal pain, hurt to
    the point of invisibility. And I defend because in spite of all I find that I love. In order to get some of it
    down I have to love. I sell you no phony forgiveness, I'm a desperate man -- but too much of your life
    will be lost, its meaning lost, unless you approach it as much through love as through hate. So I
    approach it through division. So I denounce and I defend and I hate and I love.

    Perhaps that makes me a little bit as human as my grandfather. Once I thought my
    grandfather incapable of thoughts about humanity, but I was wrong. Why should an old slave use
    such a phrase as, "This and this or this has made me more human," as I did in my arena speech?
    Hell, he never had any doubts about his humanity -- that was left to his "free" offspring. He accepted
    his humanity just as he accepted the principle. It was his, and the principle lives on in all its human
    and absurd diversity. So now having tried to put it down I have disarmed myself in the process. You
    won't believe in my invisibility and you'll fail to see how any principle that applies to you could apply
    to me. You'll fail to see it even though death waits for both of us if you don't. Nevertheless, the very
    disarmament has brought me to a decision. The hibernation is over. I must shake off the old skin
    and come up for breath. There's a stench in the air, which, from this distance underground, might be
    the smell either of death or of spring -- I hope of spring. But don't let me trick you, there is a death
    in the smell of spring and in the smell of thee as in the smell of me. And if nothing more, invisibility
    has taught my nose to classify the stenches of death.

    In going underground, I whipped it all except the mind, the mind. And the mind that has
    conceived a plan of living must never lose sight of the chaos against which that pattern was
    conceived. That goes for societies as well as for individuals. Thus, having tried to give pattern to the
    chaos which lives within the pattern of your certainties, I must come out, I must emerge. And
    there's still a conflict within me: With Louis Armstrong one half of me says, "Open the window and
    let the foul air out," while the other says, "It was good green corn before the harvest." Of course
    Louis was kidding, he wouldn't have thrown old Bad Air out, because it would have broken up the
    music and the dance, when it was the good music that came from the bell of old Bad Air's horn that
    counted. Old Bad Air is still around with his music and his dancing and his diversity, and I'll be up
    and around with mine. And, as I said before, a decision has been made. I'm shaking off the old skin
    and I'll leave it here in the hole. I'm coming out, no less invisible without it, but coming out
    nevertheless. And I suppose it's **** well time. Even hibernations can be overdone, come to think
    of it. Perhaps that's my greatest social crime, I've overstayed my hibernation, since there's a
    possibility that even an invisible man has a socially responsible role to play.

    "Ah," I can hear you say, "so it was all a build-up to bore us with his buggy jiving. He only
    wanted us to listen to him rave!" But only partially true: Being invisible and without substance, a
    disembodied voice, as it were, what else could I do? What else but try to tell you what was really
    happening when your eyes were looking through? And it is this which frightens me:

    Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?​
  2. skuderjaymes

    skuderjaymes Contextualizer Synthesizer MEMBER

    Nov 2, 2009
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    independent thoughtist thinker, context linker
    theory to application to discussion to percussion
    +6,027 / -14
    I've read this epilogue a thousand times.. And everytime is like the first time..
    I've often said that the entire book is contained in the prologue and epilogue..
    I performed a portion of the prologue as a monologue in an acting workshop
    some years back.. his words really come alive on stage.. Someone needs to
    adapt his work to the stage or the big screen..

    Ralph was often criticized for only writing a single Novel but what a Novel it is..
    and his Articles, Speeches and Literary Criticism make up a pretty powerful
    and rich body of work. He was 38 when he published this book.. that means
    there's still hope for us 30 plus-ers still working on or planning to work on our
    first Novels..

  3. $$RICH$$

    $$RICH$$ Lyon King Admin. STAFF

    United States
    Mar 21, 2001
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    The delivery was so powerful.. I had a chance to read it and it's like seing it again
    for the first time, i agree his work need to be taken to the big screen , there's a message that's yet heard by the world ...awesome
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  1. “You go along for years knowing something is wrong then suddenly you discover that youre as transparent as air.”