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    Blacking out: Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and the historicity of Anti-Blackness

    O'Brien, Sean Joseph (2019) Blacking out: Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and the historicity of Anti-Blackness. Cultural Critique 105 , pp. 80-105. ISSN 0882-4371.

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    Triangulating black unemployment, anti-black police violence and the spread of riots in moments of financial crisis, this essay reads Ralph Ellison’s visionary 1952 novel Invisible Man in relation to what Giovanni Arrighi identifies as the US systemic cycle of accumulation. In his structuralist account of developments in the capitalist world-system, Arrighi adopts Fernand Braudel’s model of the longue durée, with its seasonal logic of hegemonic transition whereby autumn for one declining global hegemon means spring for the next. For Ellison’s unnamed narrator, whose struggle for visibility is presciently tied to the rise and fall of American growth, spring too carries its “stenches of death.” When the US cycle reaches its own crisis of accumulation in the late 1960s, and the long American century enters its autumnal downturn, the expulsion of labour from the site of production will sound the death knell for African American Bildung. Anticipating the coming of autumn in terms of exhaustion and abjection, Invisible Man envisions the end of American economic hegemony as a crushing experience of social death. Tracing the relationship between precarity and the American novel across this transitional period, the present essay revisits Ellison’s literary milestone to chart the decline of the American century from within its zenith.


    Item Type: Article
    Additional Information: The original work can be found at the link above. © Peter Lang AG, 20xx. All rights reserved.
    School: Birkbeck Faculties and Schools > Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Creative Arts, Culture and Communication
    Depositing User: Sean Joseph O'Brien
    Date Deposited: 11 Mar 2019 10:37
    Last Modified: 09 Aug 2023 12:46


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