In the book of my memory, after the first pages, which are almost blank, there is a section headed
Incipit vita nova.
Beneath this heading I find the words which it is my intention to copy into this smaller book, or if not all, at least their meaning.

Dante,La Vita Nuova

Monday, May 25, 2009

Final Thoughts: I am the invisible man

Invisible Man reminds me of a Lucille Clifton poem: "she closed her eyes, afraid to look for her authenticity / but the light insists on itself in the world..."

Ellison creates this character who is kept in the dark, and who chooses to stay there.  He is strung along from one oppressor to the next as the try to dictate his identity for him, and he goes along with it--unknowingly, then knowingly.  Where does he finally find light? Ironically in the dark, when he falls through the manhole. He lights the last of his money on fire, and he realizes people have been using him to be who they want/need him to be. It's near the end of the book; he still doesn't know who he is.

It's the irony of identity. We need others to affirm who we are, or else we become invisible. IM needs people to acknowledge him, otherwise he is invisible.Yet affirmation can easily turn into definition.  As he is acknowledged, he becomes a clone for whatever institution is trying to use him. But I think light does insist on itself in the world; people don't stay in the dark forever, a la Parable of the Cave. I really believe that. It might take a long time, but it happens.

The journey he goes through to find out who he is and what it means to turn the eye inward is painstaking. People use him as the voice or the face of a movement, but organized movements sometimes forget the point of why they were trying to mobilize in the first place. Take for instance the Brotherhood. They started off with ideals of a more equal society, but by the end they had sucked the life out of the young people they used only for their symbolic value to the masses. This happens all the time today. Look at Miss California, who is now the bizarre spokesperson for the right wing's anti-gay campaign in the U.S. [WTF??]

I think of IM's plight to find who he is after experiencing great disillusion. He thinks he's a kid who's got a chance to do something big, but he finds himself confused, betrayed, hurt, misunderstood, unseen--that painful inner eye. Disillusionment may paint the perpetrator as evil, but it also brings light to your own foolishness for being duped. In lieu of facing the world, he goes into hiding. By the epilogue, he decides that he can no longer hide, hibernate, stew in his own revelations. 

I feel like this right now. I've been hibernating after being disillusioned by two big institutions that I really would have liked to believe were the answers to life: education and religion. I tried to do it their way, but their way wasn't me. And because of my personality, or my "showmanship" perhaps, I'm the one chosen to be paraded around. It's always been this way, i.e. put on a happy face in public, feel depressed about my identity in private. As IM says, "So after years of trying to adopt the opinions of others I finally rebelled."  My hibernation has been through my entire twenties. What do I do? Who am I, then? 

I denounce because though implicated and partially responsible, I have been hurt to the point of abysmal pain, hurt to the point of invisibility. And I defend because in spite of all I find that I love. In order to get some of it down I have to love. I sell you no phony forgiveness, I'm a desperate man--but too much of your life will be lost, its meaning lost, unless you approach it as much through love as through hate. So I approach it through division. So I denounce and I defend and I hate and I love. 579-580

I don't rebel to a point where I give up those facets of my identity only because the institutions disappoint. But I'm a desperate woman--I fear that too much of my youth will be lost to hibernation.

Anyway, here are some cool quotes about the American Identity and conformity and all that. I just realized, that in the beginning of the book, Norton asks IM if he's read "Self-Reliance" and IM ashamedly replies, not yet. However, he is the very essence of self-reliance at the end- the realization of his own individuality, the ability to discern for himself, the anti-conformity rants in the epilogue. And he learns it all in a much harsher way than dear old Ralph., and I just realized it was "Emerson's son" who started him on his journey to utter disillusionment and self-reliance, non-conformity. Cool!!!

I had no longer to run for or from the Jacks and the Emersons and the Bledsoes and the Nortons, but only from their confusion, impatience, and refusal to recognize the beautiful absurdity of their American identity and mine. 559

Whence all this passion toward conformity anyway?--diversity is the word. Let man keep his many parts and you'll have no tyrant states... America is woven of many strands; I would recognize them and let it remain so. 577

So long IM! I've learned much from you. 

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