Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man

Invisible Man: A Memorial to Ralph Ellison
Sculptor Elizabeth Catlett, 2003
Riverside Park @ 150th Street, Manhattan
Bronze, granite

I don’t usually get so topical on here, but after reading reports about last night’s RNC speech by a certain actor, I couldn’t help thinking about Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, as I’m sure many other people are doing today.  I’m writing about Ellison in my dissertation because of the college scenes in the first part of the novel, which were based on Ellison’s experiences as a student at Tuskegee.

The opening paragraph of the novel is simply perfect in describing that bizarre scene that so many witnessed last night, an aging white conservative actor lecturing an empty chair meant to represent the nation’s first black President:

“I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids – and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination – indeed, everything and anything except me.”

These lines are prescient in describing the way in which all sorts of paranoid xenophobic anxieties have been projected onto Obama over the last four years.  He is a cipher for the right wing’s narrative of an apocalyptic takeover of America by scary brown foreigners, ball-breaking feminists and nelly homosexuals, all sullying the pure white wholesome Christian America that only ever existed in their imaginations.

I think of the paint factory scene in the novel and the factory’s slogan of “KEEP AMERICA PURE WITH LIBERTY PAINTS.”  The factory’s popular “Optic White” brand of paint is used on the nation’s monuments, and The Invisible Man finds out that “Optic White” paradoxically requires a secret ingredient of black goop in order to achieve its pure white color.

I am hoping that people will take this debacle as an opportunity to re-visit Invisible Man. (That’s asking too much, I know.  We will all be talking about the next scandal in a few more hours). At least I would think that any professors who are teaching on Ellison this semester would be grateful for this teachable moment.

A couple of months ago I noticed this video of a rare interview with Ellison from 1966 posted by the Oklahoma Historical Society on YouTube.  I’m not sure how widely viewed this was before it was posted, but I had not seen it before and I was happy to find it.  So far  it is only clocking about 1400 hits, and it deserves a lot more.  At about the 12 minute mark he starts talking about how he composed Invisible Man.  For anyone interested in Ellison’s work, the whole clip is well worth your time.  Take a look and pass it on.

Orals List #3 – Samuel R. Delany: Race, Sexuality and the Paraliterary

Samuel R. Delany: Race, Sexuality and the Paraliterary 

Selected Primary Works


Babel-17 (1966)

“Aye, and Gomorrah…” (1967)

“The Star-Pit” (1967)

The Einstein Intersection (1967)

Equinox (formerly Tides of Lust) (1973)

Dhalgren (1975)

Trouble on Triton (formerly Triton) (1976)

Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (1984)

“The Tale of Plagues and Carnivals” in Flight from Nevèrÿon (1985)

The Mad Man (1994)

Hogg (1995)

Atlantis: Three Tales (1995)

Dark Reflections (2006)

Memoirs and Non-Fiction

Heavenly Breakfast: An Essay on the Winter of Love (1979)

The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village (1988)

Silent Interviews: On Language, Race, Sex, Science Fiction, and Some Comics (1994)

Longer Views: Extended Essays (1996)

Times Square Red, Times Square Blue (1999)

Bread and Wine: An Erotic Tale of New York (1999)

Shorter Views: Queer Thoughts and the Politics of the Paraliterary (1999)

1984: Selected Letters (2000)

About Writing: Seven Essays, Four Letters and Five Interviews (2006)

“Some Queer Notions About Race.” Brandt, Eric, ed. Dangerous Liaisons: Blacks, Gays, and the Struggle for Equality. New York: The New Press, 1999

Steiner, K. Leslie.  “Samuel R. Delany.” http://www.pseudopodium.org/repress/KLeslieSteiner-SamuelRDelany.html

Secondary Criticism  

Ash of Stars: On the Writing of Samuel R. Delany. Ed. James Sallis.  Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1996.  [Significant individual essays from this collection are listed separately]

Bravard, Robert S. and Michael W. Peplow. Samuel R. Delany: A Primary and Secondary Bibliography, 1962-1979.  Boston: G.K. Hall, 1980.

Davis, Ray.  “Delany’s Dirt.” Ash of Stars: On the Writing of Samuel R. Delany. Ed. James Sallis.  Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1996.

Dubey, Madhu.  Signs and Cities: Black Literary Postmodernism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.

Fox, Robert.  Conscientious Sorcerers:  The Black Postmodernist Fiction of Leroi Jones/Amiri Baraka, Ishmael Reed and Samuel R. Delany.  Greenwood Press, 1987.

Freedman, Carl. Critical Theory and Science Fiction.  Hanover: Wesleyan University Press, 2000.

James, Kenneth R.  “Introduction.” 1984: Selected Letters.  By Samuel R. Delany.  Rutherford: Voyant Publishing, 2000.

Posnock, Ross. Color & Culture: Black Writers and the Making of the Modern Intellectual. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998.

Reid-Pharr, Robert F.  “Disseminating Heterotopia.” African-American Review. Volume 28, Issue 3 (Autumn, 1994), 347-357.

Shaviro, Steven.  Connected, Or What It Means to Live in the Network Society. University of Minnesota Press, 2003.

The Review of Contemporary Fiction: Edmund White/Samuel Delany. Vol. XVI, no. 3, 1996.

Tucker, Jeffrey.  A Sense of Wonder: Samuel R. Delany, Race, Identity and Difference.  Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2004.

Woodehouse, Reed.  Unlimited Embrace: A Canon of Gay Fiction, 1945-1995. University of Massachusetts Press, 1998.

Theoretical and Historical Background

Chauncey, George.  Gay New York: Gender Urban Culture and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940. New York: Basic Books, 1994.

Foucault, Michel.  The History of Sexuality: Volume 1. New York: Random House, 1978.

Foucault, Michel.  Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison.  New York: Random House, 1977.

Marx, Karl.  Capital: Volume 1: A Critique of Political Economy.  1867.

Orals List #2 – Comedy, Humor and Satire in Black Literature

Comedy, Humor and Satire in Black American Literature 

Primary Works

Beatty, Paul.  White Boy Shuffle.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996.

Bennett, Hal.  Lord of Dark Places. New York: Norton, 1970.

Brown, Cecil.  The Life and Loves of Mr. Jiveass Nigger.  New York:  Farrar, 1969.

Carrothers, James D.  The Black Cat Club: Negro Humor and Folklore. Funk & Wagnalls, 1902.

Chesnutt, Charles W.  The Conjure Woman and Other Conjure Tales.  1899.

Ellison, Ralph.  Invisible Man.  New York: Random House, 1952.

Everett, Percival.  Erasure.  New York: Hyperion, 2001.

Fauset, Jessie.  Plum Bun: A Novel Without a Moral. 1929.

Fisher, Rudolf.  The Walls of Jericho.  New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 1928.

Himes, Chester.  If He Hollers Let Him Go.  1945.

Hughes, Langston.  The Ways of White Folks.  1933.

Hurston, Zora Neale.  Moses, Man of the Mountain. New York: J.B. Lippincott, 1939.

James, Darius.  Negrophobia: An Urban Parable: A Novel. Secaucus: Carol Pub. Group, 1992.

Kelley, William Melvin. Dem. 1967.

Killens, John Oliver.  The Cotillion, or One Good Bull is Half the Herd.  1971.

Reed, Ishmael.  Mumbo Jumbo.  1972.
—. Reckless Eyeballing. 1986.

Ross, Fran. Oreo.  New York: Greyfalcon House, 1974.

Schuyler, George S.  Black No More:  Being an Account of the Strange and Wonderful Workings of Science in the Land of the Free, A.D. 1933-1940. 1931.

Thurman, Wallace.  Infants of the Spring.  1932.

Secondary Criticism

Dickson-Carr, Darryl.  African-American Satire: The Sacredly Profane Novel. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2001.

Ferguson, Jeffrey.  The Sage of Sugar Hill: George S. Schuyler and the Harlem Renaissance.  New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005.

Freud, Sigmund. Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious. (1905).

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr.  Figures in Black:  Words, Signs, and the “Racial” Self. Oxford:  Oxford UP, 1989.
—.  The Signifying Monkey:  A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1988.

Levine, Lawrence.  Black Culture and Black Consciousness: Afro-American Folk Thought from Slavery to Freedom.  Oxford: Oxford UP, 1977.

Lott, Eric.  Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class.  Oxford University Press, 1993.

Lowe, John. Jump at the Sun: Zora Neale Hurston’s Cosmic Comedy.  Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994.

Napier, Winston.  African-American Literary Theory: A Reader.  New York: NYU Press, 2000.

Schuyler, George. “The Negro-Art Hokum.” Nation 122.3180 (June 16, 1926): 662-63.

Spiller, Hortense.  “’All The Things You Could Be By Now if Sigmund Freud’s Wife Was Your Mother’: Psychoanalysis and Race.” Black, White and In Color: Essays on American Literature and Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.

Watkins, Mel. On the Real Side: Laughing, Lying and Signifying – the Underground Tradition of African-American Humor. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994.


Beatty, Paul, ed.  Hokum:  An Anthology of African-American Humor.  New York: Bloomsbury, 2006.

Dance, Daryl Cumber, ed.  Honey, Hush!: An Anthology of African American Women’s Humor.  New York: Norton, 1998.

Watkins, Mel, ed. African American Humor:  The Best Black Comedy from Slavery to Today.  Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 2002.

Orals List #1 – Black Nationalist Thought

Black Nationalist Thought in the United States 

(1829-1895) From Slavery to Freedom 

Crummell, Alexander. Destiny and Race, Selected Writings 1840-1889.  Edited with an introduction by Wilson J. Moses. Amherst: University of Mass. Press, 1992.

Delany, Martin R. The Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States.  (1852)

Glaude, Eddie.  Exodus! Religion, Race, and Nation in Early 19th Century Black America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Moses, Wilson Jeremiah, ed.  Classical Black Nationalism: From the American Revolution to Marcus Garvey. New York: New York University Press, 1996. [Significant individual essays from this collection listed separately]

Stewart, Maria.  “Address at the African Masonic Hall” (1833).  In Classical Black Nationalism 

Stuckey, Sterling.  Slave Culture: Nationalist Theory and the Foundations of Black America.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.

Walker, David. Appeal, In Four Articles: Together With A Preamble To The Coloured Citizens Of The World, But In Particular, And Very Expressly, To Those Of The United States Of America.   (1829)

Young, Robert.  “The Ethiopian Manifesto” (1829).  In Classical Black Nationalism 

(1895-1945) Pan-Africanism and The New Negro

Du Bois, W.E.B.  The Souls of Black Folk. (1903), and “The Conservation of Races” (1897)

Garvey, Marcus. The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, or Africa for the Africans. (1925)

Griggs, Sutton.  Imperium in Imperio (1899)

Locke, Alain.  “Foreword.”  The New Negro (1925)

Turner, Henry McNeal.  “The American Negro and His Fatherland.” (1895) In Classical Black Nationalism

Von Eschen, Penny.  Race Against Empire: Black Americans and Anticolonialism, 1937-1957.  Ithaca: Cornell University, 1997.

Washington, Booker T.  “Speech at the Atlanta Cotton States and International Exposition.” (1895).

(1945-1975) Black Power and the Black Arts Movement

Baraka, Amiri and Larry Neal. Black Fire: An Anthology of Afro-American Writing. New York: Morrow, 1968

Cleaver, Eldridge.  Soul on Ice.  New York: Dell Publishing, 1968.

Joseph, Peniel.  Waiting ‘Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America.  New York: Henry Holt, 2006.

Muhammad, Elijah.  Message to the Blackman in America.  (1965)

Murray, Rolland.  Our Living Manhood:  Literature, Black Power, and Masculine Ideology.  Philadelphia: UPenn Press, 2006.

Newton, Huey. “A Letter to the Revolutionary Brothers and Sisters about the Women’s Liberation and Gay Liberation Movements.” (1970)

Robinson, Dean. Black Nationalism in American Politics and Thought.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Van De Burg, William. New Day in Babylon: The Black Power Movement and American Culture, 1965-1975. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

Wallace, Michele.  Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman.  New York: Dial Press, 1978.

X, Malcolm.  Malcolm X Speaks: Selected Speeches and Statements.  New York: Grove Press, 1990.

(1975 – present) Afrocentricity, Cosmopolitanism and the Critique of Gender 

Asante, Molefi.  The Afrocentric Idea.  Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1987.

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism.  Verso, 1983.

“Combahee River Collective Statement.”  (1977) in Words of Fire: An Anthology of African-American Feminist Thought.  Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Ed.  New York: The New Press, 1995.

Diawara, Manthia.  In Search of Africa.  Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998.

Gilroy, Paul.  The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness.  Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993.

McBride, Dwight.  “Can the Queen Speak? Racial Essentialism, Sexuality and the Problem of Authority.” Callaloo 21.2 (1998) 363-379.

Moses, Wilson J.  Afrotopia: The Roots of African American Popular History.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Szwed, John.  Space is the Place:  The Lives and Times of Sun Ra.  New York: Da Capo Press, 1998.

White, E. Frances. “Africa on my Mind: Gender, Counterdiscourse and African American Nationalists.” published in Words of Fire: An Anthology of African-American Feminist Thought. ed. Beverly Guy-Sheftall. (New York: New Press, 1995) , 504-524.


Once again I want to thank all of the wonderful people who took the time to read my post about the Boy Scouts.  I have received a lot of great feedback and support, both online and in person.

For now, I have said what I needed to say about that particular issue, and I will leave it in the hands of people who are more directly involved in Scouting.  The tumblr page Eagle Scouts Returning Our Badges is still accumulating letters (up to 127 now). Scouts for Equality has a petition that you can sign in order to be counted among all the people in the BSA who oppose their anti-gay policy, as well as other ways to be involved.  I will keep an eye on the issue and lend my support in any way that I can.

For now, it is time to turn my attention back to my own academic work, which is long overdue. I’m planning to post more about academic fiction and higher education throughout the fall.

I wanted to start with something that I have been interested in posting for a while.  When I was preparing for my oral exams I found it helpful to see reading lists that others had compiled for similar fields.  I did three fields:  “Black Nationalist Thought in the U.S.”;  “Comedy, Humor and Satire in Black American Literature”; “Samuel R. Delany: Race, Sexuality and the Paraliterary.”  I’ll be posting each of these lists individually.

Reviewing the lists has been a good intellectual exercise for me.  My dissertation topic came out of reading these books. The main bit of advice to other grad students that I can think of after seeing these lists again:  They don’t have to be perfect.  The point was to set a date for the exam and follow through on the reading.  The lists aren’t exhaustive.  I can see plenty of gaps in the knowledge, plenty of the things that I left off, plenty of things I should have included.  But the only way to know that was to follow through on the process.  (I’m trying to reiterate to myself this same advice for dissertation writing.)

Finally I’ve been thinking a lot about digital literacy lately.  Recently, I came across Howard Rheingold whose work has been helpful for me as I’ve thought more about how to use digital resources in my academic work.  I’m reading his book Net Smart right now, and I’ve watched some of his lectures online.  His ideas about mindfulness, multitasking and filtering information have resonated with me and synced up with other ideas about digital writing that I have accumulated over the past few years.  I’m trying to put some of these ideas into practice on this blog and in other digital outlets.

So, I’ll be posting the orals lists next, and then hopefully some more on academic fiction later in the week.