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September 21, 2013


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Patrick S. O'Donnell

And tomorrow is the beginning of Banned Books Week:


Are you being sarcastic when you say that if Ms. Parson is African American, it means the novel "is being evaluated on lines entirely separate from race"?

Alfred Brophy

Not at all, ajr. Thanks for asking.

By way of background, one of the key themes of Ellison's work is the ways that we are bound together on issues that cross racial lines. While IM is often thought of as a novel of particular importance to the African American experience, it is also about how some things we think of as central to the American experience come from the African American experience. (I'm thinking here of the scene in the paint factory where black paint dropped into the white paint made the white paint even whiter. Wasn't it National Monument White or some such?) But Ellison was also interested in other unifying themes. He said at one point he hoped he'd live to see the first African American (maybe he said black) president, but that even if he did, that person would be more shaped by his American-ness than his blackness. I think he was right on in terms of President Obama. And that's been the cause of a lot of disappointment among many Obama supporters, I suspect. But to return to my statement: while I suspect that Ellison wouldn't have liked the banning one bit he would have enjoyed that it was the subject of controversy for something other than race.

One further thought on this -- I actually think that the issues with sex are racial, but Ms. Parson isn't seeing them that way.

I hope to have a lot more to say about this down the road.


The Board is reconsidering on the 25th.

Alfred Brophy

Thanks for this update, E. I'm delighted to hear it and I wish I could attend the meeting. Sounds like this ill-considered decision is going to be reversed.

Alfred Brophy

Further thoughts here on the school board. I think the things we need to emphasize in response to Parson's complaint are, that the sex is an important part of the critique of racism; it's not gratuitous. (I wondered why the complaint doesn't she mention that naked white woman with the American flag painted on her body from chapter 1? But that's aside from the point right now.) Second, the novel is incredibly important as a historical document -- that is, it says a lot about American thought in the middle part of the twentieth century and it helps mark the whole-sale remaking of our attitudes towards equality; third, it continues to be among the most spoken-about novels in American history. And finally, it's quite a moderate book. I'd drive out to Asheboro for the meeting myself (I now realize it's only about an hour from Chapel Hill), but I'm headed out to the land of Ellison (Oklahoma City) at the end of the week for a conference.

Ah, well. At least we know who the historians are on Wednesday and it's pretty clear how they'll put it down.


Thanks, Al. I've read the book but not Ms. Parson's complaint. I believe it to be a book that is deeply important to American literature for so many reasons, but the book and how we read it now and how it's historically been read and taught are deeply tied up in race, and it's hard for me to conceive of an honest evaluation of it--for the purposes of whether to include in or exclude from curriculum-- that can ever be (truly) "entirely separate from race."

Alfred Brophy

I agree with everything you say, ajr.

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