Monday, March 09, 2009

the new Booker T.

For the communist-affiliated Masses & Mainstream, novelist Lloyd Brown wrote a negative review of Ellison's Invisible Man in June of 1952. Here's a passage:

Here, as in James Jones' whine From Here to Eternity, is the one-man-against-the-world theme, a theme which cannot tell the "whole truth" or any part of the truth about the Negro people in America or about any other people anywhere.

Ellison's narrator-hero is a shadowy concept, lacking even the identity of a name, who tells of his Odyssey through a Negro college in the South, then to Harlem where he is hired by the Communists as their mass leader ("How would you like to be the new Booker T. Washington?'') for $300 cash advance and the munificent, depression-period pay of $60 per week; he is quickly disillusioned and, battered in body and soul, finds refuge down a man-hole from whence to write a book about it all.

It would not be in order here to speak of responsibility, for the writer has anticipated and answered that objection in the prologue: "I can hear you say, 'What a horrible, irresponsible bastard!' And you're right. I leap to agree with you. I am one of the most irresponsible beings that ever lived."

The text of the whole review has been on my 1950s web site for 15 years and is one of the most often-visited pages I have.