October 10, 1995
Defining the Invisible Man's final invisibility--his ideology as he sits surrounded by light bulbs--is the most daunting challenge represented by the text.<1> While the text explains lucidly<2> I.M.s rejection of one ideology after another, it leaves us to piece together the hows and whys of invisibility. Does the I.M. despair or challenge society in his invisibility?<3>
Ignoring his grandfathers advice,<4> I.M. attempts to selectively say both yes or no to both the demands of his conscience as well as those of ideology, even as the conflict between the two asks him to both betray humanity in the interests of ideology and ideology in the interests of humanity. Linking all his nemeses at the end reminds us of what each asks of him: blind obedience in betraying ideology and himself.<5>
Thus saying yes--or no--partially denies him the comfort of either an infallible ideology or of personal agency. If I.M. follows the ideological track,<6> he must humiliate himself and the putative goals of ideology (progress," variably defined, for blacks). If he follows his conscience as an individual, he dooms himself to futility. And finally, saying yes to both, he stands on both sides denying his allegiance to the other. Hence the repeated stress on the difference between his actions and his intentions.
Part of this is the predictable outcome of sublimating individuality to ideology, or vice versa. By accepting either absolute, he negates any claim that he serves the other, and becomes invisible like Rinehart.<7> By accepting both, he becomes invisible, with all beliefs and actions refused by one extreme or the other. By accepting neither, as he does at the end, he recognizes the futility of reconciling the two--reconciling himself to the the inevitable invisibility of the other two choices without the other choices inherent self-deception.
This answers the question of whether invisibility is defined, in the end, by his rejection of both. Invisibility was inevitable--admitting invisibility saves him the mind warping, half-hearted reconciliations that both individuality and ideology represent, both alone and in tandem. Quite simply, by a standard that demands one not wuss out before the challenge of facing ones demons, I.M. does wuss out.<8> This, I believe, is where Ellisons racial protest lies. The conflict of ideology and individuality, is made irreconcilable, because they are accompanied by, respectively, hypocrisy and conscience. This makes the I.M.s final choices all the more distressing. Denied an identity, I.M. has no outlet for his frustrations but his embittered invisibility.<9>
2. I don't agree. Beautifully but not lucidly. OED has:
Translucent, pellucid, clear
The key early use of the term: 1620 Venner Via Recta Introd. 4 The lucide and cleare substance of it [sc. air].
I'd say, rather: complexly, untransparently, brilliantly counterintuitively.
3. Actually I think you would argue: both. I think the former only.
4. There's no doubt about the fact that the text wants us to believe that Invisible does NOT fall into his grandfather's yessing trap.
5. You are making the case "against" "ideology" better and more interestingly than many of the end-of-the-ideologists did in the 50s.
6. Doing what he does takes him "off" this "track"--really? You think so?
7. I disagree with the assumption behind this interesting assertion--that Rinehart's invisibility is qualitatively different from the one I. finds for himself at the end, AND that Rinehart's invisibility somehow follows from the acceptance of either absolute. I think Rinehart's strategy entails undecidability (not choosing absolutes, but deliberately obscuring things by accepting all possibilities).
8. This disarmingly deals with the other side (the window side) of this argument. You are rejecting, thus, the assumption that one not wuss out and calling the demand that one not wuss out the very sort of ideology that would bind I. (and everyone else) to a no-non-wuss situation. Very shrewd.
9. I disagree totally and while doing so recognize the strong talent in your having made the counterargument. You do, in my view, a better job at describing the "no outlet" situation than Invisible does--which is why I have all along wondered about his reliability as a narrator.
General comment: this is just plain wonderful.
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