Chromos

This may serve as a justification for the disorder
I have allowed to invade my narrative. In order to
preserve the sequence of Garcia's stories, I have
sacrificed my own. It is a good excuse anyway.

imgres.jpgIn the 1940s Filipe Alfau wrote his best-known novel, Chromos; it was published in 1990 and hailed as a prototype for the postmodern novel. Now I thought Tristram Shandy held this honor but I’ll admit that Chromos does benefit from a few of the postmodern tropes. Chromos also suggests the argument between the tenets of the New Criticism and the more modern literary scholarship that might explicate a passage based on what the author had for breakfast that day.

The blurb posted on Amazon is informative and succinct:

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Invisible Man

The story is that Ralph Ellison, disillusioned by the promise that the Communist Party would overcome the racial inequities in the world, started writing what became Invisible Man in 1945 when he was still in the Merchant Marine service. Five years later it was published in full to great acclaim, winning the National Book Award for 1953. It’s an important book but why is it on the Modern Library and many other lists of the best literature in the twentieth century?

Ellison suggested that the novel was experimental attitude. It does start in the middle and rely upon a first-person narrator that knows how it all turns out. That’s not unusual. It was Ellison’s background in music, and especially jazz, which inevitably forms the structure and texture of his writing. Here is what Wikipedia says:

In his speech accepting the 1953 National Book Award, Ellison says that he considered the novel’s chief significance to be its experimental attitude. Rejecting the idea of social protest—as Ellison would later put it—he did not want to write another protest novel, and also seeing the highly regarded styles of Naturalism and Realism too limiting to speak to the broader issues of race and America, Ellison created an open style, one that did not restrict his ideas to a movement but was more free-flowing in its delivery. What Ellison finally settled on was a style based heavily upon modern symbolism. It was the kind of symbolism that Ellison first encountered in the poem The Waste Land, by T. S. Eliot. Ellison had read this poem as a freshman at the Tuskegee Institute and was immediately impressed by The Waste Land‘s ability to merge his two greatest passions, that of music and literature, for it was in The Waste Land that he first saw jazz set to words. When asked later what he had learned from the poem, Ellison responded:  imagery, and also improvisation—techniques he had only before seen in jazz.

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