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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