Monday, February 8, 2010

Fundamentally Tragic

I'm currently reading Arnold Rampersad's 2007 biography of Ralph Ellison, and enjoying it quite a bit. So I was interested to read this Stanley Crouch piece about the recently published manuscript, over 1100 pages long, of Ellison's unfinished second novel.

Here's a particularly scintillating passage from Crouch:

Ellison’s trouble is obvious in what we have before us now. He knew much too much and was much too conscious of what he wanted his novel to do and achieve. He could neither bunt nor swing for a base hit. Only a grand slam would do, bases loaded and the ball leaving the enclosed field on the way to a landing in the parking lot, where it would be lost under the uncountable cars covering almost every inch of the asphalt. Whenever that did not happen to his satisfaction, Ellison sullenly returned to the bench and brooded until his inspiration brought him back to the plate. That seems to have been his tragedy.

Ellison appears to have wanted his piece of the crown worn only by two novelists before him, Melville and Faulkner....

Ralph Ellison may well have been up to the challenge that Faulkner threw down because his experience was broad enough to create a reasonable distrust of the academy, although he became, as an inarguably splendid intellectual, a symbol of the academy at its best. He knew how to put historical facts together with lasting ideas and the new conceptions of modern life that were continually changing while adhering to deathless, classical concerns.

Ellison was suspicious of the right and the left, the capitalists and the Marxists, the corporations and the workers, the whites and the non-whites, the rich and the poor, the religious and the atheists, and every other human variation. He was aware of how often those of any persuasion had been wrong as long as the day goes on. This meant that the Ellison vision was fundamentally tragic.

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