Saturday, June 19, 2010
The anniversary of Texas emancipation brings to mind Ralph Ellison's novel,
So now we have Juneteenth, the novel that Ellison's executor, John Callahan, has ably quarried from that mountain. The book is more than Ellison fans could expect, yet less than Ellison probably hoped--an ambivalent masterpiece. It celebrates the promise of interracial love even as it cannot square its black and white points-of-view. It flares with stylistic pyrotechnics--passages that match Invisible Man for energy--even as its plot feels unfinished and its monologues too windy. Perhaps most strikingly, Juneteenth aims to speak to our current racial dilemmas even as it harkens to an age before "the inner city," "black power," and the "underclass." It is easy to see why Ellison could not wrap up his epic: the novel revolves in an intelligence too complex and too quick, ironically, to come to completion. As his Invisible Man might say, Ellison was trapped in a groove of history.