Emancipating Pragmatism: Emerson, Jazz, and Experimental Writing

By Michael Magee | Go to book overview
Save to active project

Ralph Waldo's Blues, Take 2
Ellison's Changes

Conventional categories and hand-me-down reverence aside, it is only
natural for contemporary U.S. writers to proceed as if Ralph Waldo
Emerson, for all his New England stiffness, would have been moved
by Louis Armstrong and would have acknowledged him as a Repre-
sentative American Artist, a poet whose melodies “ascend and leap and
pierce into the deeps of infinite time.”

Albert Murray, The Blue Devils of Nada

To fully appreciate the depth and complexity of Ellison's attempt to put democracy into aesthetic action in Invisible Man, one must search out, confront, query the role Emerson-as-sign plays in that text. There is no better evidence than Ellison's relationship with Emerson's work of the fact that, as Mackey has written, “Creative kinship and the lines of affinity are much more complex, jagged, and indissociable than the totalizing pretensions of canon formation tend to acknowledge” (DE 3).1 The critical discourse surrounding the “kinship” of Emerson and Ellison (small as it is) is troubled by a failure to recognize either Emerson's abolitionism or his pragmatism, two aspects of Emerson's intellectual activity of which Ellison was acutely aware.2 As a consequence, critics who argue for an affinity between the two writers turn them both into caricatured transcendentalists, representative of the man who “glories in the special and soulful nature of his own existence, of which he has finally and totally become aware.” Never mind that neither writer's conception of the self allows for “final” or “total” awareness—the most significant drawback of this line of thinking is that it draws our attention away from the sociological aspects of their thought. As a consequence, the critical debate be


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
Emancipating Pragmatism: Emerson, Jazz, and Experimental Writing


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 248

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?