Before and after writing Invisible Man
, novelist and
essayist Ralph Ellison fought to secure a place as a black
intellectual in a white-dominated society. In this sophisticated
analysis of Ellison's cultural politics, Jerry Watts examines the
ways in which black artists and thinkers attempt to establish
creative intellectual spaces for themselves. Using Ellison as a
case study, Watts makes important observations about the role of
black intellectuals in America today.
Watts argues that black intellectuals have had to navigate their
way through a society that both denied them the resources, status,
and encouragement available to their white peers and alienated them
from the rest of their ethnic group. For Ellison to pursue
meaningful intellectual activities in the face of this
marginalization demanded creative heroism, a new social and
artistic stance that challenges cultural stereotypes.
For example, Ellison first created an artistic space for himself by
associating with Communist party literary circles, which recognized
the value of his writing long before the rest of society was open
to his work. In addition, to avoid prescriptive white intellectual
norms, Ellison developed his own ideology, which Watts terms the
'blues aesthetic.' Watts's ambitious study reveals a side of
Ellison rarely acknowledged, blending careful criticism of art with
a wholesale engagement with society.