Invisible Man

Black Existentialism and The Jazz Aesthetic in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man College

Sharon D. Welch, in ““Lush Life”: Foucault’s Analytics of Power and a Jazz Aesthetic,” states:

What is seen through a jazz aesthetic is what is seen now by many: conflict, difference, failure, mistakes, suffering, meaning, beauty, commitment to justice, grief, outrage at suffering and injustice. The form of jazz can provide a modality of critique, of social engagement that enables the actualization of Foucault’s dream, his dream of a criticism that “would try not to judge but to bring an idea to life…It would multiply not judgment, but signs of existence.”(Welch, 88)

In this context, jazz aesthetic in inherently based in duality: it provides a platform wherein the individual experience is privileged, while simultaneously attempting to encapsulate collective experience. This “modal criticism” is concerned with explicating individual meaning, that is, how an individual should both determine and access an awareness of his or her own subjective reality. A distinctive brand of existentialism accompanies Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man, in the form of the nameless protagonist, an African American man who assigns himself the ultimate existentialist task: to realize the he must honor his individual complexity and remain genuine to...

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