62 Matching Annotations
  1. Oct 2020
    1. Within the first pages of the 1952 novel Invisible Man Ralph Ellison’s narrator relates Louis Armstrong’s music to his own desires and self-conceptions.

      What are the big questions Anderson asks the text of Invisible Man? What does he want to discover about the text in his reading? What kinds of sources or methods will he need to use to answer his question/s?

  2. Sep 2020
    1. I am merely a fragment of the Great Soul that surges within the boundaries

      Note how Emerson's "transparent eyeball" slips in through the back door here as Zora becomes "cosmic." Very interesting to think that the ecstatic mode that she enters via jazz opens up the kind of transcendence that Emerson derives from nature, from the "bare common."

  3. Jul 2020
    1. The position of my white neighbor is much more difficult. No brown specter pulls up a chair beside me when I sit down to eat. No dark ghost thrusts its leg against mine in bed. The game of keeping what one has is never so exciting as the game of getting.

      What's ZNH getting at here? What claim is she making about whiteness and the problems of "possessing" it, in the words of George Lipsitz

  4. Mar 2019
    1. NOTES

      General question: what are some fields of knowledge that Anderson needed to know in order to write this piece? What do his readers need to know in order to read his work? What are some of the different kinds of sources did he marshal to make his argument?

    2. If the tragicomic blues spirit of collective affirmation he identified with a music born in his youth was less frequently heard with the passing of time, Ellison worked all the more to commemorate the “romantic lyricism” of a receding world. Thus he offered the following dedication to his never-published second novel: “To That Vanished Tribe Into Which I Was Born: The American Negroes.”

      What is Anderson's evaluation of Ellison's legacy, in the end? What does he affirm about Ellison, and what does he criticize? Do you think Anderson gives a fair assessment?

    3. Putting his blues modernism to work on a nationalist project, Ellison transforms the embrace of the remainder into a new dialectic and an American jeremiad in an African-American idiom. Here he sides with the ideal of an unbuilt and prospective America. Rejecting one dialectical model of history but identifying with all that is left out of that model, the narrator brilliantly uses these very residues to fuel another dialectic of history.

      Unpack this very dense passage. What is "blues modernity"? What does Ellison preserve from the Brotherhood, and what does he revise or add to it?

    4. In order to move with fidelity toward the distant new world of an idealized pluralistic and post-racist America, an older segregated African-American world, with its joys and its restrictions, had to give way. Ellison could at least maintain fidelity to that past world through his home-made stereo and private archive that sonically reproduced the beautiful world of his youth as he imagined it.

      How does the phonograph--which appears in the novel as well--mediate for Anderson the conflict between Ellison's old-school tastes in music and the newer forms that are arising in the 1950s and 60s? What are some of the implications of this reading, in which the old and new co-exist in the same cultural moment?

    5. Moreover, the lurid tableau of Parker’s plunge into self-degrading performance before a “ravenous, sensation-starved” white audience closely follows a fictional precedent from Invisible Man: Tod Clifton’s final appearance as a vacant-eyed street performer indistinguishable from the paper Sambo doll he manipulates for small change. “Who wants Sambo, the dancing, prancing? . . . There’s no license for little Sambo, the joy spreader. You can’t tax joy, so speak up, ladies and gentlemen” (433). Here was the full price of vertiginous plunging.

      How does Anderson link Parker (well, Ellison's depiction of Parker) to Ellison's novel? How does the comparison of Parker to Tod Clifton work? Do you buy this reading?

    6. Ellison’s preferred mode of lyricism in African-American music belonged to what struck him as a comparatively optimistic pre-bebop music of social romance.

      How do Ellison's tastes in music link up with broader narratives in music history (swing to bebop)? How does Anderson explain Ellison's "lagging" taste, preferring the older swing of Basie and Ellison to the new 'bop of Parker and Miles Davis? Why does this issue of what kind of music Ellison prefers matter so much?

    7. Only in holding themselves close to their native community and its rituals of socialization were these men able to cultivate the deepest level of individuality and artistry. Mastering musical form in the swinging guises of jazz and the blues committed these musicians to what we might call a centripetal ethos of lyrical transition even as they enacted “from performance to performance” a more centrifugal and decentering process of what Kimberley Benston calls “multiplication and substitution.”(16)

      Two questions: a) is Rinehart the hero of Ellison's novel? Why or why not? and b) how does the long discussion of Rinehart relate to the encompassing discussion of Ellison and music? Playing music is about the only thing that Rinehart doesn't do!

    8. While “the Negro” functioned as a guilt-inducing and thus repressed or demonized presence within white American culture, a psychoanalytically informed post-war modernism might point to more sober possibilities for working through the nation’s racial pathologies. Here was another reason for Ellison’s blues aesthetic to eschew the romanticization of unmediated expression or naturalness in favor of a nearly classicist stress on restraint and self-control. The latter provided the firmest stabilizing equipment for the existential plunge into the “seething vortex” of modernity.

      What's the problem with the "primitive" for African American artists, according to Anderson? What other examples from IM can you think of that carry out this implicit critique of celebrating black "primitivity"?

    9. In such a case Ellison redescribed the African-American blues as a raft, if not a generating motor, for moving closer to the “democratic ideal.” At least on some occasions the blues came to the aid of his anti-racist dialectic of democratic national becoming.

      Unpack Ellison's figure linking the blues and the novel as a "raft" of sorts. How does this figure help us to see a kinship between the blues and the novel as cultural forms? What are the implications of seeing both as "rafts" rather than the kind of structures that grow out of "blueprints"?

    10. Ultimately, the narrator will summon Armstrong’s “beam of lyrical sound” as a heroic model for transforming slips, breaks, and plunges into opportunities to master “the swift and imperceptible flowing of time.” A dawning transvaluation of slips and plunges derived from the African-American blues, one of Armstrong’s chief idiomatic sources, will also enrich the narrator.

      How is musical form an analogue or aspirational model for writing fiction for Ellison? What's the logic of this connection? What can listening to Armstrong teach the novelist?

    11. At these points, the improvising soloist (usually singular) fills the otherwise empty sonic space with dramatic solo obligatti

      To get a sense of what Anderson is talking about sonically, check out Louis Armstrong's sublime set of breaks on "Potato Head Blues" (1927) with the Hot Seven. Go listen to like two hours of the classic Hot Fives and Sevens. If you just want to catch the breaks and have other priorities (sigh), here's a link that skips to the breaks.

    12. Armstrong may have been a representative of an African-American “underworld of sound” but his musical revolution was on intimate terms with the white mainstream of American popular music. The critic Nathaniel Mackey has recently elaborated a theoretical understanding of intimacy and discrepancy through a distinction between “musical othering” and “social othering” that is relevant to this discussion of invisibility’s ironic benefits.

      Anderson's argument gets a bit hard to follow here, for me at least. Is that a mistake on his part? Why might that be? What does this opacity tell us about his style and, perhaps, his method in this piece?

      Is it clear by the end of this section why Anderson took us on this seeming detour through his theoretical analysis of "invisibility"? What is the connection?

    13. On the level of vernacular culture (if not elsewhere), an invisible but irrepressible “underworld of sound” had already quietly taken over the mainstream. This, too, Ellison heard in Armstrong’s popular music. But how was the United States to pass from the sonic and cultural pluralism Ellison discovered to the post-racist social and political revolution of which it offered some kind of foretaste?

      What is the relationship between Ellison's writing and the pre-existing tradition of African American vernacular music in this passage? Also, note how Anderson uses a rhetorical question here: why? What's the benefit of pulling out this question at this point in the argument?

    14. especially the chapter on the “sorrow songs” in W. E. B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk (1903).

      I TOLD y'all that book was important!

    15. Thus, musical othering can submit dominant “fixed equations” and aesthetic norms to what Mackey dubs a “dislocating tilt.”(10)

      What is the relationship between "musical othering" and "social othering"? How might this relationship reflect back on Ellison's novel?

    16. An extraordinary philosophical faith in the translatability, if not transparency, of meaning across artistic media shone through Ellison’s joint account of racial invisibility and musical technique.

      What is Ellison's implied disagreement with his mentors at Tuskeegee (remember: the model for the campus life depicted in IM)? What counter-model does he offer for thinking about "folk" materials?

    17. Musical occasions, that is, play no role in Ellison’s writing by figuring as sites of untranslatable otherness or estrangement. He regularly displayed a Malrauxian fervor for ritual interpretation in his explorations of southern and southwestern African-American music and folkways. Especially in Ellison’s early postwar work, a sense of modernization as an abrupt and volcanic process of cultural upheaval hovered over these explorations. What was happening to African-Americans’ “traditional” cultural tools – what Ellison’s friend Kenneth Burke called “equipment for living” – in the seemingly chaotic context of northern migration and urban proletarianization?(6) Ellison adapted the work of Malraux and other theorists to style his own response to the processes of disruption, survival, and transformation in African-American modernity.

      We get into the deep water here in Anderson's argument. How, according to Anderson, does Ellison think about music? How does his approach differ from other music critics? What were some of his models in developing this perspective, and how do they help him link African American music to other cultural objects? Also, note how Anderson starts with a pretty simple, clear intro and starts to tamp down on it here into something denser.

    18. A closer look at his skeptical commentaries on Parker’s prominent role in the stylistic innovations of the 1940s jazz modernists reveals Ellison’s fascinating and rarely discussed inhabitation of the posture of a musical revanchist committed to the musical superiority of certain pre-World War II idioms.

      What's the "intervention" Anderson wants to make with this piece? What does he have to say that hasn't been said, especially in a critical conversation that (as Blair points out) is already very crowded? More broadly, what can we learn here about how to create some "elbow room" for our own arguments in oft-discussed texts?

    19. revanchist


    20. the scene operated as a regulative norm for the mature Ellison.

      What does Anderson mean by a "regulative norm"? What is the "delicate balance" Ellison describes here? Why does jazz matter so much to Ellison, becoming more that mere entertainment?

    1. hortatory


    2. auratic


    3. In this episode, documentary is transformed from a method of exposure – a technique applied to the hapless, the forgotten, the marginal and unself-conscious – into a powerful exercise, at once aesthetic and political, of self-knowledge.

      How does Blair's argument respond to the idea that documentary work reduces its subjects, exploits its subjects, sticks them to a board on a pin and scrawls labels under them?

    4. sui generis


    5. Photographs Miscellaneous Invisible Men.”(24) At one point, the binder appears to have included a stack of images;

      What are some implications of Ellison's having a folder with images of "invisible men"? How does this archival discovery link to her broader argument?

    6. the tenements and alleys and basements; “the gin mills and the barber shops and the juke joints and the churches” where, as Ellison’s narrator argues, a “whole unrecorded history is spoken” (471).

      Unpack this moment in Blair's argument: how does this passage, which is not about photography at all, nevertheless link up with Blair's argument about documentary modes of representation and the camera?

    7. Yet if this desire impelled any number of writers and intellectuals of Ellison’s generation, it had a particular power, and particular novelistic uses, for him.

      What are some of the pitfalls and potentialities of engaging photography for Ellison, as a writer of color in the 1930s and 40s? What have prior critics said about this relation, and what does Blair want to add that's new?

    8. Putting the camera back in his hand,

      Blair ends the article with a riff on what happens when we "put the camera back in Ellison's hand." What does happen? Is looking at Ellison's relationship to photography something she's added to an evaluation of his novel, or does it force us to think about the novel in new ways?

    9. Ahead of me the body hung, white, naked, and horribly feminine from a lamppost.

      How does Blair read this surreal image on p. 556 of the hanged mannequins? What does it add to our reading of Ellison's novel to read this image alongside other depictions of mannequins from contemporary photographers like Cartier-Bresson? What does this interpretive move tell us about Blair's methodology?

    10. No wonder, then, that black writers and intellectuals were so fascinated by the evolving history and artifacts of documentary photography.

      How does Blair link Ellison to the broader context of "documentary" work in the 1930s and beyond? What does it mean for an African American artist to do "documentary" work? How does Blair link Ellison to broader themes in African American and American culture through this exploration of documentary?

    11. Even the somewhat random, as-yet uncatalogued, photographs housed with Ellison’s archived papers suggest a certain rehearsal on his part of the menu of representational possibilities: formalist, socially conscious, reportial, intimate.

      Blair takes rather seriously the idea that Ellison is a photographer, not just a writer who snaps photos. As such, how does his work fit into the landscape of postwar art photography? How does she massage him into the broader story of the history of photography? How does Ellison's place in this history relate to his examination of "invisibility" in the novel?

    12. he habitually posed for photographs and self-portraits with camera in hand

      What happens when Blair shifts from Ellison as photography to Ellison as subject of photography? How does she read his performances, so to speak, in front of the camera?

    13. the materials preserved in his archive

      What does Blair find in Ellison's archive and how does she put it to use? What strikes you about her methodology here? What significance does she find in materials that one might ordinarily find, well, insignificant?

    14. the young Ellison serendipitously finds “a large photographic lens”

      What does Blair do with this seemingly minor anecdote in one of Ellison's memoirish essays, about finding a camera lens? Why is this such a big deal? What can we learn from Blair about writing criticism from this move, digging up this anecdote and applying it in this way?

    15. reified


    16. apercu


    17. Ellison was to some extent merely one of his generation

      How does Blair "historicize" Ellison's work? To the implied question, "how did Ellison's work, including his fascination with photography, link up with broader cultural historical currents?," what kinds of answers does she give? How does Ellison's race fit into this broader narrative?

    18. But Ellison’s negotiations of racial history and experience in Invisible Man owe an as-yet unacknowledged debt to another cultural form with which he purposively experimented: photography.

      Okay, bold claim, but how does Blair set out to convince us of this argument? What will be her "methodology"? What have prior critics missed in their readings of Ellison's novel?

    19. “Ralph Ellison, Photographer.”

      What are the implications of this object Blair has pulled from the archives? Why does it matter what's written on Ellison's old memoranda sheets? What's a memoranda sheet, anyway? Why was photography so important to Ellison, and how do we know?

    20. General note: this is the first piece of criticism we're reading for the course (I'm leaving out the theoretical pieces by Emerson, Du Bois, etc., which did not analyze a particular literary text). Here, I want to pose some questions in the margins that call attention to the craft of criticism: what moves critics make, what methodologies they employ, what assumptions they make about what their readers know and don't know, what questions they ask of the text, implicitly or explicitly. We'll keep developing these skills throughout the term, and you'll develop more independence as you go. For now, you'll be sort of reading over my shoulder. For those who have read Dante, I'll be the Virgil to your Dante!

    21. Among readers of Ellison, it is a truth universally acknowledged that the benchmark for his aesthetics and novelistic style is jazz.

      Note the "here's how everyone else reads this text" opening move. What are the advantages of starting this way? How does Blair develop this theme of a critical consensus, and how does she wedge herself in the discussion?

  5. Feb 2019
    1. The cosmic Zora emerges. I belong to no race nor time. I am the eternal feminine with its string of beads.

      Surprising echo of Emerson's "Nature" here, no?

    2. Music. The great blobs of purple and red emotion have not touched him. He has only heard what I felt. He is far away and I see him but dimly across the ocean and the continent that have fallen between us. He is so pale with his whiteness then and I am so colored.

      Pathological whiteness. There's a hilarious moment in Kiese Laymon's recent Heavy, in which Laymon's college friend, noticing his being depressed, counsels him not to take antidepressants. He tells Laymon that he took them and "felt like a white dude" until he quit.

    3. I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.

      Spoiler alert, but we'll see Claudia Rankine chew on this line later in the term.

    4. Slavery is sixty years in the past.

      Now that chattel slavery is about 150 years in the past, how does this passage read? Where does this idea place Hurston in political terms?

    5. I do not be long to the sobbing school of Negrohood

      How is Hurston positioning herself in cultural terms here? What does she mean by the "sobbing school"? Can you think of an example?

    6. I was not Zora of Orange County any more, I was now a little colored girl. I found it out in certain ways. In my heart as well as in the mirror, I became a fast brown–warranted not to rub nor run.

      What does she mean that she "was not Zora" in Jacksonville? How does this relate to her claims of being "owned" by Eatonville in the prior paragraph?

    7. I remember the very day that I became colored.

      Compare to Du Bois's parallel but very different account.

    8. got just as much pleasure out of the tourists as the tourists got out of the village.

      Very different perspective on the gaze v look problem Du Bois wrestles with.

  6. Jan 2019
    1. merge his double self into a better and truer self.

      What would be involved in the act of "merging" that Du Bois fantasizes about?

    2. the revelation first bursts upon one

      What is the "revelation" that bursts up on Du Bois in childhood? What choices does it leave Du Bois as he attempts to work through it?

    3. How does it feel to be a problem?

      What does it mean to be a problem? Why is this such a strange-sounding construction and what are some of its implications?

    4. Between

      What's the first word of the first chapter? Why is betweenness such a crucial term in Du Bois's discourse? How does this opening compare to Emerson's?

    5. need I add that I who speak

      What is the rhetorical effect of this line? What would it mean for him to "add" or not "add" the fact of his blackness? What do you make of his dramatic understatement, his "need I add," that doesn't quite add or subtract his racial identity?

    1. Standing on the bare ground

      What happens to Emerson as he stands on this "bare ground"? What does he gain and what does he lose in this moment? What are some of the anxieties that lurk in this passage beneath the celebratory tone?

    2. There is a property in the horizon which no man has but he whose eye can integrate all the parts, that is, the poet. This is the best part of these men’s farms, yet to this their warranty-deeds give no title.

      Who owns the landscape, according to Emerson? How does this ownership work, and how does it differ from traditional ideas of property and ownership?

    3. Nature, in the common sense, refers to essences unchanged by man; space, the air, the river, the leaf. Art is applied to the mixture of his will with the same things, as in a house, a canal, a statue, a picture. But his operations taken together are so insignificant, a little chipping, baking, patching, and washing, that in an impression so grand as that of the world on the human mind, they do not vary the result.

      How does Emerson define "nature" and how does his definition differ from traditional definitions?

    4. He acts it as life, before he apprehends it as truth. In like manner, nature is already, in its forms and tendencies, describing its own design.

      What is implied about how we know what we know here? What might be some problems with this argument?

    5. OUR age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchres of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe?

      What is the contrast in generations RWE sets up here? What is the problem with his generation in the middle of the 19th century?