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11. Chronic Modernism

Leigh Anne Duck

Subject Literature » American Literature

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1900-1999

Key-Topics modernism, novel and novella

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631206873.2009.00014.x


Nor do I know whether accepting the lesson has placed me in the rear or in the avant-garde. ( Ralph Ellison , Invisible Man) Though the closing date of modernism is difficult to specify – and may not, as many critics argue, have even occurred – Ralph Ellison's opus, published in 1952, includes several stylistic and philosophical traits associated with the transition to postmodernism. Throughout the novel, the protagonist fears that his identity, his senses, or his body itself may be absorbed into an amorphous, technologically mediated array of images and energies amid which he has no agency – “surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass,” “driven by a furious bellows,” and “pumped between live electrodes like an accordion between a player's hands” ( Ellison 1952/1990 : 3, 416, 232). He tries to resist this potential disintegration into postmodern system or simulacrum, however, by aligning himself with transformative ideologies and projects of the sort that Marshall Berman has since proclaimed characteristic of modernism. These include the racial uplift propounded at the protagonist's black college, which serves “a young, though a fast-rising people,” and the “scientific revolution” promised by the Brotherhood, a loosely Leninist organization that seeks, at “a terminal point in history … [to] determine the direction of events” (pp. 133, 307). Because Ellison's unnamed narrator ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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