Aveneu Park, Starling, Australia

Chinelo see and acknowledge his individuality must erupt a

Chinelo Ojialor

Dr. Belilgne

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ENGL 469

Dec. 18, 2017

                                    Deciphering the Coded Boundaries of
Blackness

          Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man echoes modernist conceptions of “Black invisibility”
as construed by the rejection or erasure of black people by white social
hegemonies. The unnamed protagonist who constantly struggles for the society to
see and acknowledge his individuality must erupt a visible path to the future
in order to disrupt the limited perceptions of the white society. Ellison
deploys the language of science fiction to place the protagonist on a path to
the future. By doing so, it distorts the visions of whitewashed futures that
equates blackness to deficiency and non-progressive. As Kodwo Eshun argues,
“science fiction is neither forward-looking nor utopian, rather it is a means
through which to preprogram the present” (290). After a series of dehumanizing
events, Ellison’s protagonist constructs his own visibility outside the
obliterate roles of the white dominated culture. This use of science fiction
reclaims the black history of the past and places the protagonist on an ambiguous
path to the future through the use of technological control. This paper will
explore the Invisible Man as a
postmodern approach to correct the erasure of blackness by blending science
fictional motifs of space and time travel, while rewriting the tropes of
invisibility through hibernation.

              The
invisible man occupies marginal space, consistently using different methods of
power to create a balance between the black and white communities. His method of reconciliation was
prompted by his entrance into the Brotherhood, who used him as an emergency
resource to fulfill their capitalist gain. In order to resist their
subjectivity, Ellison’s protagonist constitutes varying means of shattering the
docile futures that were created for him by the white community. The most
detailed acknowledgment of this comes from Mr. Norton, an old college trustee
who tells the invisible man: “Young man, you are involved in my life quite
intimately, even though you’ve never seen me before. You are my fate and
through you. . .I can observe in terms of living personalities to what extent
my money, my time and my hopes have been fruitfully invested” (45). As depicted
here, the black body is seen as a venture capital that has been set on a path
to a carefully predicted future trapping the protagonist into a controlled web
of the white community. To combat these generated futures, the invisible man
plunges into a space of hibernation which functions as a site of inaction, as
the narrator notes “It is a covert preparation for a more overt action” (13).
Signifying that he is merely waiting on a time to remerge back into society and
create his own path and space to the future. Although his descension into the
cellar might been seen as a way of extirpating his existence, Mark Dery coins
this act of science fiction as “marginal” – operating or learning to operate
from the margins (189). In essence, the invisible man learns to operate in an
unreal environment hidden within the real, visible to himself, but invisible to
the world above.

                In
the novel, Ellison uses invisibility as a visual metaphor which highlights the
narrator’s and his other male counterpart’s resistance to the commodification
of black bodies. As Mark Dery mentions “science fiction entails thrusting a
black body into an alien culture where he has to confront alien ways for
survival” (218). This signifies how Ellison’s narrative begins to slip outside
the boundaries of the reality, placing bodies in and out of absurd spaces.
After Clifton dies, the narrators first glimpse of hibernating black bodies
stemmed from his realization that “Clifton had chosen to plunge out of history
and, except for the picture it made in my mind’s eye, only the plunge was
recorded, and that was the only important thing” (447). The narrator realizes
that his original notion of black bodies “grooving outside of history” (434),
was infact false implying that Clifton chosen to plunge out of history and
hibernate within himself, extricating his body from the entangled web of white
strings pulling him to different directions. When discussing characters who
hibernate within themselves, Rinehart- the subject of multiple personalities is
another unstable character who carefully remains visible and invisible in and
of himself. Ellison mentions “Rine the runner and Rine the gambler and Rine the
briber and Rine the runner and Rine the briber and Rine the lover and Rinehart
the Reverend? Could he himself be both rind and heart? What is real anyway?”
(498). Rinehart’s multiple identities gives segway for his real self to
hibernate within, perhaps Ellison tries to signify that the white society can
constantly try to “whitewash” the borders of his identity, but cannot cross
over the lines of his invisibility. His body is like a fruit “rind and heart”,
heart- being his inner shell (existence) and Rine – the multiple layers of his
skin that had to be peeled off to reveal his “self”. This outer impenetrable
layer that prevents black alien bodies to be seen by the “other” provides
control as Eshun mentions “for black subjects to operate through the power of
falsification” (298).

                     Ellison demonstrates a
rather conflicted sense of time in the beginning sections of the novel. By
placing the narrator in events of the future, unfolding the present and the
past as they occur, Ellison shocks the readers, expanding their concept of
space and time. He states, “Invisibility gives one a slightly different sense
of time, you’re never quite on the beat. Sometimes you’re ahead and sometimes
behind. Instead of the swift and imperceptible flowing of time, you are aware
of its nodes, those points where time stands still or from which it leaps ahead”
(8). Here, the prologue depicts the narrators presence with the use of “I” to
narrate a previous life which would lead up to a newly constructed present. The
Epilogue however, adapts the language of the prologue reflecting on how his
escape and indefinite rest space shuts off the forgotten destruction of the nineteenth
century. His escape is not on the tones of the white spectators in the novel
who conspire to “keep the Nigger-boy running”, rather a choice he made to use
the mode of strategic inactivity which suits his purpose. Ellison’s narrator
experiences during this conflict of space and time that “not only could one
travel upward towards success but you could travel downward as well; up and
down, in retreat as well as in advance. . .” (510). Here, the protagonist
highlights his movement within history. Some days he is progressing forward
into an imagined future, other days he is plunged back into the whitewashed
path of the society, forced to begin and the same point he started from. Whenever
the narrator veers out of his shell, he sees within his vision, the spectators
of the white society merging into one body forcing on him “their picture of
reality without giving a hoot in hell how it looked on him” (508). In this
space, the protagonist would have to adapt one of Rinehart’s tricks “move them
without my self being moved” (507), reversing the roles of racial distinctions,
and moving white people outside the lines of history before they remove him. At
this point, the narrator cannot beat the cyclic nature of the society he exists
in, he has to erupt a way to exist beneath the boundaries of reality and above
the boundaries of the unreal.

               Ellison positions brother Tarp’s
character as a constant reminder for the protagonist to consciously keep
denying the whitewashed futures that are imposed to eradicate black
subjectivity After refusing to succumb to the misery imposed on him, Tarp
escaped to the North and joined the Brotherhood. He hands the narrator his leg
shackle- a reminder of his escape from the past, stating, “Funny thing to give
to somebody, but I think it’s got a heap of signifying wrapped up in it and it
might help you remember what we’re really fighting against. I don’t think of it
in terms of but two words, yes and no; but it signifies a heap more . . .”
(388). Subsequently, this passage demonsartes Tarps refusal to follow the path
to the scripted future created for him. In essence, it depicts how his
rejection of the future, leads him on the path of generating a promising future
with the Brotherhood. This shackle, similar to the one Dr. Bledsoe keeps on his
desk as a figurine signifying the progression since slavery, eventually pulls
the narrator underground. While Ellison’s protagonist was running from the Mass
destruction in Harlem in search of Mary’s house, his forward motion was drawn
back by the heavy contents of the briefcase kept pulling his steps. Ellison
writes “The briefcase swung heavy against my leg as I ran wildly, pulling me to
limp forward as I swung the brief case hard against the head of a dog that
leaped away . . .” (552). Ellison uses the heavy contents of this briefcase to
skillfully prevent the protagonist from blindly veering too far ahead into the unknown,
or plunging backwards into destruction. In essence the invisible man decides to
refuse the history of the past and future “placing a brake on the old wheels of
history” (504), while moving without motion. He also breaks free from the white
lines had been following since he took Norton on a joyride in town. By doing
this, the protagonist deviates himself from the white manipulation that has been
an obstruction of his own identity.

                    Eshun’s concept of
“interplanetary abduction” defines the protagonist plunge into the sewer of New
York City. Within this liminal space, he exists between the boundaries of the
land of the living without fully transgressing to the borderline of the dead.
Here, he exists between the spaces of the “I” and “other” which enables him to
imagine trajectories and possibilities beyond human existence. As Eshun
reiterates, the invisible man is able to “recreate a founding structure where
there isn’t one, without losing sight of the limitations of existing models . .
.” (292). When the narrator chooses to emerge from his manhole, he is able to
approach the society in a new manner deeply rooted in imagination. For the time
spent in his hole embedded with electricity and power sources, Ellison
reimagines the protagonist on a time travel that carries him into an unknown
world, where he can reimagine and visibly see multiple forms of the American
identity. Similar to Eshun’s theory of imagining archeologists using their
emulators to scroll through the fragile files of history, Ellison’s protagonist
develops a form of triple consciousness that functions through the envisioning
and managing of reliable futures to create a new and more complex multicultural
future. (289-290). Perhaps during his course of hibernation, he acknowledges
the “possibility that even an invisible man has a socially responsible role to
play” (586).  After witnessing and
understanding the substructure of the society and how to fully analyze it, the
protagonist retreats back to his chamber and transform his robotic persona to a
fueled hacker who redirects power from the white amateur culture, to fuel his
own “sonic technologies”. Ellison mentions, “Without light I am not only
invisible, but formless as well; and to be unaware of one’s form is to live in
death” (7). In essence, through the technological power of light, the invisible
man can begin to see and understand the “darkness of lightness”- thus the dark
shadows that lurk within the white society becomes visible to the naked eyes.

         
         Furthermore, the invisible man’s stay underground
enables him to become an Afrofuturist antecedent, skilled with the ability of “looking
around corners” and possibly rethinking the vary methods of remapping the past
and present that would thrust him into a distinct future.  Essentially, the story of Invisible Man exemplifies futuristic shock as Eshun describes, the
present moment is stretching, slipping for some into yesterday, and reaching
for others into tomorrow (289). Thus, the protagonist’s space ship is constantly
moving back and forth through time and space, and between distinct cultural and
topographical zones. With this continuous motion propelled by sonic technologies,
Ellison veers the invisible man towards a new identity, and a hopeful aesthetic
future which includes black culture. As Dery mentions “Can a community whose
past has been deliberately rubbed out, and whose energies have subsequently
been consumed by the search for legible traces of its history, imagine possible
futures?” (180). Although Ellison provides a snippet of the future to the
narrator, he marks his intention of remaining invisible. Ultimately, Ellison
backwardly rewrote the past and the present, and until the invisible man can
peel of his old skin, and find a space that allows him to engage in his
socially responsible role, he is left with nothing but spaces to imagine and
powerfully survey the next generation of blackness. Just like Rinehart, the black
body has multiple layers. The more white people attempt to “whitewash” or erase
these layers, the more blackness would unravel.

                      

                 

            

                    

                  

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                   Work Cited

 Dery, Mark. “Black to the future: interviews
with Samuel R. Delany, Greg Tate, and Tricia

 Rose.” South Atlantic Quarterly, vol 92, 1994,
pp. 180-217.

Ellison,
Ralph. Invisible Man. New York: Vintage International, 1995. Print.

Eshun,
Kodwo. “Further Considerations of Afrofuturism.” CR: The New
Centennial Review,

             vol. 3 no. 2, 2003, pp. 287-302.
Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/ncr.2003.0021

 

                                              

 

 

 

                

           

                     

               

                

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