A. Object Description: Describing the Object’s Materiality

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The focus of my research for this term will be on an object analysis of the 1952 book titled “Invisible Man’ by Ralph Ellison. By focusing on the 1995 paperback edition of the book as an object, the project will explore the ways in which the materiality of the book allows for an engagement with the existential crisis of American citizenship and racism in the post war period explored by Ellison in his narrative. It is this socio-political, economic and historical relationship between the book as object and the actual text of the book which will be the focus of this project.

The 1995 paperback edition of the book that I will be focusing on has gone through three previous publications, once in 1947, 1948 and 1952 by Vintage International.  The book has 581 pages and measures 8 inches by5 inches. The book is 1 inch thick.  These coordinates give the book a demanding presence, interesting, for a text which explores the invisibility of its main protagonist within his society. In the 1995 edition, the word ‘invisible’ takes up 1.5 inches and the word man takes up 2 inches, again, further highlighting and how the material qualities of the book accentuate the theme of ‘invisibility’ found within the content. Colours used on the cover are a deep maroon, white and black. The ‘a’ in man is coloured maroon, and the two ‘i’s’ in invisible are translucent. It is interesting how the cover of the book also engages with the many themes of invisibility, darkness, lightness and their related associations with racism in the post world war two period in America that Ellison discusses within the text.

The mode of production that this object has gone  through is publishing, printing, formatting and layout at Vintage International office in New York and Random House in Toronto. I find the following information interesting under the copyright information, it says; ” all rights reserved under International and Pan -American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States, Printed in Canada”. I find this copyright information particularly interesting in terms of highlighting the international, transnational and national layers of the copyright process. In fact, throughout the novel, Ellision makes symbolic references to various spaces in his novel, including the underworld of his protagonist and the constant racializing push towards the borders of American society.  The international context of Garveyism and various other political organizations surrounding the drama of the novel is also interesting in light of the international and transnational ways in which the production of the book has taken place.

The book was a project initiated by Ellision after he came back from serving in a post in the military. Ellison was given a grant to write the book, and the book was also a means for Ellison to sustain himself financially following the return of soldiers from the second world war. Becoming one of the greatest works of American literature in the 2oth century, ‘Invisible Man’ has been produced in over 1 million copies world-wide. Initially, the price of this book was around 10 dollars. The edition that I purchased in 2009 cost me 21 dollars (CAN) at a Chapters store in Oakville, Ontario.

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Week 1: What Objects Mean and How They Mean It

I found the S. Shankar and Z. Turan readings very interesting this week. Both readings argued for a renewed vision of objects as things that are not solely ‘affected’ by social relations, but also have the ability to affect social relations. We find this in the example of Turan’s research into the Palestinian diaspora in New York, where objects such as a grandfather’s couch, a scarf, a teapot and tatoo are not only symbols of social displacement for a dispossessed people, but also a means of redefining social relations in varying contexts by the displaced people themselves. For example, Bassam’s tattoo  can be seen as a product of his yearning for a Palestinian heritage, but the positionality of the tatoo on his back enables him to redefine the public and private spheres of him enacting his identity in his current context. It is also interesting in the case of Bassam, that the teapot passed down from his grandmother, evokes a sense of Palestine heritage which has been  passed down through generations, but also allows Bassam to  draw out the borders of his masculinity (ex. the teapot takes a backseat in the hierarchy of objects which have meaning for him, as opposed to his tatoo for example).

I also found the image in Shankar’s article of the 19-year-old female from a middle-class desi family in California holding up an image of her potential suitor and matching it against her desi ‘bling’ outfit very interesting. In this scenario, Shankar describes how objects (the photo of the suitor, her outfit) to speak to the 19-year-old’s past and the social mobility of her community and also her hopes for the future. According to Shankar’s analysis, the objects do much of the speaking in the world of this 19 year old, where the desi ‘bling’ outfit symbolizes a middle class realization of social mobility, and the photo of the suitor represents anxieties and prospects for the future. I think Shankar successfully uses images in this article to illustrate how objects acquire a language of their own, and an agency of their own.

I think both authors did an excellent job of positioning objects at the center of the socio-political analysis of diasporic lives.  In the past, I often thought of the relationship between objects and the meaning they hold for  people as functioning in the opposite direction (i.e. socio-political analysis positions objects in a certain way). The images and stories of these objects that these readings provided, allowed me to re-think the role of the object and what the object can say or mean independently of what can be said about it.

Reading and Commentaries, week 1

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