Afro-American folk expressiveness in art as a sign of identity, a sign that marked the creator as unequivocally Afro-American and, hence, other. I have sought to demonstrate, however, that Ellison's folk expressiveness is, in fact, "identity within difference." While critics experience alienation, artists can detach themselves from, survive, and even laugh at their initial experiences of otherness. Like Velazquez in his Las Meninas or the Van Eyck of Giovanni Arnolfini and His Bride, the creator of Trueblood is "conscious of being self- conscious of himself" as artist. 11 Instead of solacing himself with critical distinctions, he employs reflexivity mirroring narratives to multiply distinctions and move playfully across categorical boundaries. Like his sharecropper, he knows indisputably that his most meaningful identity is his Afro-American self image in acts of expressive creativity.
Ralph Ellison's bracketings as a public critic, therefore, do not forestall his private artistic recognition that he "ain't nobody but himself." And it is out of this realization that a magnificent folk creation such as Trueblood emerges. Both the creator and his agrarian folk storyteller have the wisdom to know that they are resourceful "whistlers" for the tribe. They know that their primary matrix as artists is coextensive not with a capitalistic society but with material circumstances like those implied by the blues singer Howard Wolf:
Well I'm a po' boy, long way from home.
Well, I'm a po' boy, long was from home.
No spendin' money in my pocket, no spare meat on my bone. ( Nicholas, 85).
One might say that in the brilliant reflexivity of the Trueblood encounter, we hear the blues whistle among the high-comic thickets. We glimpse Ellison's creative genius beneath his Western critical mask. And while we stand awaiting the next high-cultural pronouncement from the critic, we are startled by a captivating sound of flattened thirds and sevenths--the private artist's blues-filled flight.