Existential Book Club discussion

Invisible Man
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Rachel Louise Atkin | 54 comments Mod
In July we're going to be reading Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. I'm really excited to read this as I've been meaning to for a while. Leave all thoughts or discussion points down below!

Jordan | 4 comments I just read this book like 2 months ago so I'm excited to see what everyone else thinks about it.

Rachel Louise Atkin | 54 comments Mod
I'm about a quarter of the way in and honestly I love it so far. The voice of the narrator is just so captivating, and that prologue actually blew me away. Can't wait to get further into it.

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Charlie Blackwood (charlieblackwood) | 2 comments I started reading it yesterday, but the prologue was so dense that I totally lost my motivation to keep reading. I mean the writing was remarkable, yet I felt really drained after finishing it.
I don't know what's the matter with me, maybe I'm just not used to that kind of writing. I'll try again later this evening and I hope I'll get into the narrative this time.

Jordan | 4 comments I feel like a familiarity with jazz music, even if it's not in-depth, just having heard jazz... Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Miles, Monk, Coltrane... that helps in understanding the narrative. It's a piece of the narrative, the narrator being a jazz trumpeter himself. The underlying rhythm, the runs, the tonality. It gives the narrative roots. Also the prologue sets the rhythm for the entire piece, it's a bass line, a toe tap for the entire book. The entire thing seems orchestrated as a cohesive piece and can't be separated from the culture that birthed it. It is entirely a statement of the Harlem Renaissance and a beautiful, moving, philosophically enormous statement.

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Charlie Blackwood (charlieblackwood) | 2 comments Yeah... I have no familiarity with jazz whatsoever. Tbh I just listen to instrumental jazz as background music when I'm studying. I'll look into those artists and the culture surrounding the setting of the book and then try to read the prologue again and see if I can get a grasp on the rhythm of the book. Thanks a lot ^^

tortoise dreams (tortoise_dreams) | 21 comments Halfway in, & so far: (1) totally not what I expected, (2) mind is blown, (3) the ex'list theme fits like a glove, (4) how was this written in 1952? (5) like Candide meets The Trial (ok, a bit of a stretch), (6) I've got to finish this -- where does it go?!

Rachel Louise Atkin | 54 comments Mod
I wouldn't say comparing it to the Trial is a stretch, I already find myself making comparisons to Kafka, especially in terms of the main character being subject to a dominant, very patriarchal state that comes to inform his identity to an extent. I think there is a big element of the protagonist wanting to understand where he exists in the world in relation to white men without really knowing why he is forced to do so, in a similar way to Joseph unquestionably letting the state determine his guilt or innocence.

Jordan | 4 comments I agree, I don't think it's much of a stretch either. Both are what, I guess, we could call an existential "hero". I really see a lot of similarities between the narrator of Invisible Man and the narrator of Notes From Underground by Dostoyevsky. But even with Josef K, they're all alienated individuals struggling with questions of identity within an overwhelming world that they're unable to understand.

Rachel Louise Atkin | 54 comments Mod
A great passage from the author's introduction in the Penguin modern classics edition, useful for some comparisons:

"...I concluded that he was without question a 'character,' and that in the dual meaning of the term. And I saw that he was young, powerless (reflecting the difficulties of Negro leaders of the period) and ambitious for a role of leadership; a role at which he was doomed to fail. Having nothing to lose, and by way of providing myself the widest field for success or failure, I associated him, ever so distantly, with the narrator of Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground, and with that I began to structure the movement of my plot, while he began to merge with my more specialised concerns with fictional form and with certain problems arising out of the pluralistic literary tradition from which I spring."

Susan Doherty | 2 comments I'm about a third of the way through and so far really enjoying it. I found it easier to get into than The Trial, I found with the Trial I lost my thread a few times and could only get into it when I had time to sit and read long stretches of it in one go. I find I don't get that with The Invisible Man - I can read it and put it down and go back to it. One of the main feelings I have about it is that although I have read much contemporary Black British, Black American and Carribean literature, I have not read any black literature from the period The Invisible Man is written or set in. I especially like so far the way the difference between a black Southern US man and a black Northern US man is brought out and the way the narrator's life changes when he moves to New York. I hope by the time I have finished I will be able to comment more, especially on the existentialist elements. I feel the jazz vibe so far and I think by the end I hope to get the Richard Wright and the French existentialists' influences. I think it will be interesting to compare European existentialist writing with American existentialists. I know the beats were influenced by existentialism - perhaps at some stage we could read Nelson Algren's Man with the Golden Arm?

tortoise dreams (tortoise_dreams) | 21 comments Finished! A classic, a work of brilliance. A book about race, but also an existentialist novel. Part of Ellison's brilliance is how he intertwines the two to show how existentialism is peculiarly part of the African American experience, inextricably linked. The treatment of, and therefore the life of, American blacks, has no rules, no morals, no meaning. In the end, life is meaningless, leaving the individual disoriented and confused, stunned ("I believed in nothing"). Dispossessed. While reading I kept feeling that somehow this book was Candide meets The Trial. Although our nameless protagonist is naive and gullible, he is not quite as unbelievably so as Voltaire's hero. And although The Trial seemed surreal to me, fantastic, allegorical, Invisible Man stays just on the real side of reality; there are moments that may perhaps seem implausible, but always possible. As in The Trial, our hero faces a number of challenges that he cannot understand, that have no meaning, demonstrating that the world is not as he thought, and leaving him alone and lost. There is symbolism on virtually every page. A leather briefcase, a glass eye, a metal coin bank, life insurance policies marked "void," and many more elements give innumerable levels of meaning to the book. There are so many brilliant, emotional scenes. But for me the death and funeral scenes are overwhelming in their power. The repeated discussions and evocations of identity are another enlightening strength of this book. He is not there in so many ways, as a student, friend, man, even as a lover. Note: early in the book Ralph Waldo Emerson is mentioned, and then again throughout the novel. If the reader doesn't realize it, the author's name is Ralph Waldo Ellison, named after the American essayist. This naming seemed to have troubled Ellison in his life. So happy to have read this book! If this comment is too vague, a longer review is on my GR page or at https://tortoisedreams.blogspot.com

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