Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Leave Ellison out of it

Robert Fulford makes a serious blunder today in comparing one successful black man to another:
Invisible Man, published nine years before Obama was born, is among the books he's read with care. He connects with Ellison in at least one crucial way: Like Ellison, he's a proud black American anxious to transcend all the tired rhetoric of racism and victimhood. Speaking to a nation poisoned by racial division, he simply and decisively changed the subject. He fashioned himself into an answer to the problem that Ellison's Invisible Man posed. A frame of mind that was possible only for a fiction writer during the 20th century became a professional politician's successful strategy in the 21st.
I still can't make out how those last two sentences follow from one another, but never mind ... It may very well be that Barack Obama "connects" with Ralph Ellison in this "one crucial way" of "decisively chang[ing] the subject" (though all indicators are to the contrary--I'm sorry, Bob, but have you been trapped under a stone the last four months?!). But the more obvious comparison to be made, in so many other crucial ways, is not between Obama and the Invisible Man's author, Ellison, but between Obama and the Invisible Man himself ... That is: at the point at which the Invisible Man finds himself around, roughly, the 300 page mark (of a nearly 600 page long book).

Unlike Ralph Ellison, unlike Ellison's Invisible Man by the story's end, Obama has most assuredly not transcended the injustice of his existential 'invisibility'. Rather, he is at the stage of wallowing in it. Indeed, if we are to take the novel as our model, he is at precisely the crux of a far greater horror, of which Ellison and all great humanists warn: an inward invisibility. Of becoming a man whom everyone sees, perhaps, but no one knows. (Least of all himself.)

For it is crucial to the resolution of the novel that the Invisible Man rejects, of his own conviction and initiative--and at great personal cost--the race baiters (in the character of Ras the Exhorter) and the militant social engineers (Brother Jack etc). He was not, let it be clear, compelled so to do for reasons of political expediency, as was Obama to condemn (though, surely, this was only a lip-service) Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers.

Indeed, it is worth noting that the very left-liberal establishment which has seen Obama so decisively into power, has already abandoned Ellison (lynched him, says Joseph Epstein) as a racist.

Fulford opens his piece with a short quote from Mr. Ellison about his book--to which I should like to add this better from the text itself:
... A pressure of guilt came over me. I stood on the edge of the walk watching the crowd threatening to attack the man until a policeman appeared and dispersed them. And although I knew no one man could do much about it, I felt responsible. All our work had been very little, no great change had been made. And it was all my fault. I'd been so fascinated by the motion that I'd forgotten to measure what it was bringing forth. I'd been asleep, dreaming.
Let us hope that Obama is still capable of the depth required to realize this himself.