Academic journal article The Southern Literary Journal

Chaos and Pattern in Ellison's Invisible Man

Academic journal article The Southern Literary Journal

Chaos and Pattern in Ellison's Invisible Man

Article excerpt

"Chaos was the law of Nature; Order was the Dream of Man."

The Education of Henry Adams.

In his article, "Tradition and Innovation: Evolving Paradigms in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and Invisible Man," John F. Cullahan links Ellison's paradigm of invisibility, as a point of intellectual doubt and confusion, to Thomas S. Kuhn's concept of "the invisible, chaotic, almost accidental elements in scientific revolutions" (Slade 121). Cullahan argues that the encounter of a recurrent condition of anomaly within established order "illustrates the problem of tradition and innovation, convergence and divergence that he (Ellison) encounters as an American novelist" (192). The writer's predictably "accidental" encounter with "invisibility" accounts for the creation of what Eric Zencey calls "root metaphor," a foundational idea of a world theory (Slade 185).

"Invisibility" functions as the novel's turbulent, entropic energy. Ellison's basic preoccupation is with such fundamental issues as order and disorder, probability and time, the nature of transformation and change, all of which are major concerns of the taw of entropy. (1) I would like to expand the discussion of Ellison's entropic vision by suggesting that the meaning of chaos and the strategies of its representation, as well as the ability to experience chaos creatively, are germane both to Ellison's subject matter and his artistic vision. That the ultimate quest of the writer is for the perception of structure in what is seen as lacking one is revealed in Ellison's confiding: "a writer learns to be as conscious about his craft as he can possibly be--not because this will make him absolutely lucid about what he does, but because it prepares the stage for structuring his daydreaming and allows him to draw upon the various irrational elements involved in writing" (Hersey 8). Ultimately the writer admits his dependence on "that amorphous level, which lies somewhere between the emotions and the intellect, between the conscious and the unconscious, which supports our creative powers but which we cannot control" (11).

This new perception of relationships is basic for the structure of Invisible Man. It collapses the center/margin polarity, turning the boundary, the in-between space, into a turbulent eddy, threatening to disrupt the traditional hierarchical arrangements. Throughout the novel, while recounting his experience, the narrator is in liminal space and time. His state of hibernation is an ambiguous synthesis of stagnancy and change. In every episode the protagonist manages in some way to break the surface of routine experience and glimpse unsuspected realities. In his essay "Anthropology, Modernization, and Jazz," Berndt Ostendorf quite aptly observes that "Here Ellison shrewdly applies the second law of thermodynamics to social systems; it says that homogeneous, closed systems are incapable of moral and artistic renewal" (O'Meadlly 100). By contrast, the invisible man's hybrid world is not closed: thus it is governed by both randomness and predictability. While its components are more or less known, the patterns produced by the slightest disturbance at any point of this precariously balanced model will in no way resemble structurally the initial state from which they derive.

In order to survive and become available to himself, to reach beyond the culturally and ethnically circumscribed identity as victim and inferior human being, the protagonist has to master the ability to live on the borderlands, on the fault lines, and to write without depending on the founding myths of origins. In Heroism and the Black Intellectual Jerry Watts defines "the black intellectual who tries to step outside of the logic of the victim status syndrome ... as "ethnically marginal" (20), thus drawing attention to his double marginalization. The act of transgression, a definitive action in Ellison's novel, becomes the survival strategy of this multiply marginal figure, that is, the strategy of the hybrid self. …

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