An Imaginary Garden With Real Toads

Choose one of the provided quotes and reflect on it. I chose the following quote: ''Art is man's constant effort to create for himself a different order of reality from that which is given to him.'' --Attributed to Chinua Achebe, Nigerian novelist and poet


''Art is man's constant effort to create for himself a different order of reality from that which is given to him.''

--Attributed to Chinua Achebe, Nigerian novelist and poet

I’d like to beg to differ with Mr. Achebe. Art is not always man’s effort to create a different reality – or at least, it shouldn’t be. The best art isn’t an escape like a fairy tale or a beach novel. I think the best art makes us grapple with what we are – forcing us to come to terms with our imperfection as a species, as a nation, as an individual.

I can’t help but think of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, which exemplifies the kind of art I love best. Ellison’s novel, though written in a sort of surreal, experimental style to reflect the jazz music of the period, seeks to portray the black experience in pre-civil rights America with harsh realism. The unnamed narrator of the novel suffers from a kind of invisibility—society’s failure to recognize his humanity—for which the novel is named. He suffers extreme and grotesque violence at the hands of white authority figures. In a deeply disturbing scene, he and a group of other young black men are pitted against one another and forced to battle in a kind of cage fight for the entertainment of...

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