Ralph Ellison quotes

All quotes in this entry come from here:

Ellison, Ralph. Shadow and Act. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.

“We [American blacks] know we’re not the creatures which our enemies in the white South would have us be and we know too that neither color nor our civil predicament explain us adequately. Our strength is that with the total society saying to us, “No, No, No, No,” we continue to move toward our goal. So when I came to write I felt moved to affirm and to explore all this–not as a social mission but as the stuff of literature and as an expression of the better part of my own sense of life.”

–p. 18.

“If the writer exists for any social good, his role is that of preserving in art those human values which can endure by confronting change…Our Negro siuation is changing rapidly, but so much which we’ve gleaned through the harsh discipline of Negro American life is simply too precious to be lost. I speak of the faith, the patience, the humor, the sense of timing, rugged sense of life and the manner of expressing it…Times change but these possessions must endure forever–not simply because they define us as a group, but because they represent a further instance of man’s triumph over chaos.”

–pp. 21-22.

“If the word has the potency to revive us and make us free, it also has the power to blind, imprison, and destroy.”

–p. 24.

“The function, the psychology, of artistic selectivity is to eliminate from art form all those elements of experience which contain no compelling significance. Life is as the sea, art a ship in which man conquers life’s crushing formlessness, reducing it to a course, a series of swells, tides, and wind currents inscribed on a chart.”

–pp. 82-83.

“On its profoundest level American experience is of a whole. Its truth lies in its diversity and swiftness of change. Through forging forms of the novel worthy of it, we achieve not only the promise of our lives, but we anticipate the resolution of those world problems of humanity which for a moment seem to those who are in awe of statistics completely insoluble.”

–p. 106.

“For even as his life toughens the Negro, even as it brutalizes him…it conditions him to deal with his life and with himself. Because it is his life and no mere abstraction in someone’s head. He must live it and try consciously to grasp its complexity until he can change it; must live it as he changes it.”

–p. 112.

“[N]o matter how strictly Negroes are segregated socially and politically, on the level of the imagination their ability to achieve freedom is limited only by their individual aspiration, insight, energy and will.”

–p. 116.

“One of the most insidious crimes occurring in this democracy is that of designating another, politically weaker, less socially acceptable, people as the receptacle for one’s own self-disgust, for one’s own infantile rebellions, for one’s own fears of, and retreats from, reality.”

–p. 124.

“Thus for a writer to insist that his personal suffering is of special interest in itself, or simply because he belongs to a particular racial or religious group, is to advance a claim for special privileges which members of his own group who are not writers would be ashamed to demand. The kindest judgement one can make of this point of view is that it reveals a sad misunderstanding of the relationship between suffering and art.”

–p. 146.

“It is our fate as human beings to always give up some goof things for other good things, to throw off certain bad circumstances only to create others. Thus there is a value for the writer in trying to give as thorough a report of social reality as possible. Only by doing so may we grasp and convey the cost of change.”

–p. 166.

“I recognize no dichotomy between art and protest…Don Quixote, Man’s Fate, Oedipus Rex, The Trial–all these embody protest, even against the limitation of human life itself. If social protest is antithetical to art, what then shall we make of Goya, Dickens, and Ywain?”

–p. 169.

“Too many books by Negro writers are addressed to a white audience. By doing this the authors run the risk of limiting themselves to the audience’s presumptions of what a Negro is or should be; the tendency is to become involved in polemics, to plead the Negro’s humanity. You know, many white people question that humanity, but I don’t think that Negroes can afford to indulge in such a false issue. For us, the question should be, what are the specific forms of that humanity, and what in our background is worth preserving or abandoning.”

–p. 170.

“The understanding of art depends finally upon one’s willingness to extend one’s humanity and one’s knowledge of human life.”

–p. 175.

“”Perhaps in the swift change of American society in which the meanings of one’s origin are so quickly lost, one of the chief values of living with music lies in its power to give us an orientation in time. In doing so, it gives significance to all those indefinable aspects of experience which nevertheless help to make us what we are. In the swift whirl of time, music is a constant, reminding us of what we were and of that toward which we aspired.”

–p. 198.

“There are certain women singers who possess, beyond all the boundaries of our admiration for their art, an uncanny power to evoke our love. We warm with pleasure at mere mention of their names; their simplest songs sing in our hearts like the remembered voices of old dear friends, and when we are lost within the listening anonymity of darkened concert halls, they seem to seek us out unerringly. Standing regal within the bright isolation of the stage, their subtlest effects seem meant for us and us along: privately, as across the intimate space of our own living rooms. And when we encounter the simple dignity of their immediate presence, we suddenly ponder the mystery of human greatness.”

–p. 212.

“For as I see it, from the days of their introduction into the colonies, Negroes have taken, with the ruthlessness of those without articulate investments in cultural styles, what they could of European music, making of it that which would, when blended with the cultural tendencies inherited from Africa, express their sense of life, while rejecting the rest. Perhaps this is only another way of saying that, whatever the degree of injustice and inequality sustained by the slaves, American culture was. even before the official founding of the nation, pluralistic; and it was the African’s origin in which art was highly functional as Jones points out—which gave him an edge in shaping the music and dance of this nation. ”

–p. 255.

“Men cannot unmake history, thus it is not a question of reincarnating those cultural traditions which were destroyed, but a matter of using industrialization, modern medecine, modern science generally, to work in the interest of these people rather than against them. Nor is the disruption of continuity with the past necessarily a totally negative phenomenon; sometimes it makes possible a modulation of a people’s way of life which allows for a more creative use of its energies…it is not industrial progress per se which damages peoples or cultures, it is the exploitation of peoples in order to keep the machines fed with raw materials.”

–pp. 264-265.

“The Germany which produced Beethoven and Hegel and Mann turned its science and technology to the monstrous task of genocide; one hopes that when what are known as the “Negro” societies are in full possession of the world’s knowledge and in control of their destinies, they will bring to an end all those savageries which for centuries have been committed in the name of race. From what we are witnessing in certain parts of the world today, however, there is no guarantee that simply being non-white offers any guarantee of this.”

–p. 272.

“For whatever the assigned function of social institutions, their psychological function is to protect the citizen against the irrational, incalculable forces that hover about the edges of human life like cosmic destruction lurking within and atomic stockpile.”

–p. 299.

Yet another non-substantial quote entry for you today, though I hope you enjoyed it anyways. The reason being? Change of plans.

Remember in this entry I said I’d be reading a lot of books? I’ve thought better of it…since I’ll probably be in a much better place to do my reading once I get back to grad school (thanks to the library), I think I’ll focus on my reading *then,* after August 15. For now, therefore, I want to finish up all of my non-grad school related stuff

1: Reorganize all the files on my computer and find someplace to save them so I can transport them with me to grad school.

2: Finish up as much of Wayward Son as I *possibly* can.

3: Finish up a couple of history textbooks I have (shouldnt take too long).

Thus, next week you can expect more Writing Logs rather than book reviews, hehe 😀 I’m gonna really really try and buckle down hard on Wayward Son, and hope to get…hmm, if I release a chapter a month, getting up to chapter 77 (I’m on chapter 67 right now) should keep me set for a while. Then I can just release a chapter every month while concentrating on grad school 😀 It’ll be tough to pull off, but I gotta try…


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