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Ralph Ellison, Temporal Technologist$
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Michael Germana

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780190682088

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2017

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190682088.001.0001

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Peristrephic Visions

Peristrephic Visions

Henry Box Brown, Ralph Ellison, and the Panoramic Logic of Invisible Man

(p.83) Chapter 2 Peristrephic Visions
Ralph Ellison, Temporal Technologist

Michael Germana

Oxford University Press

Chapter 2 examines Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man as a text that ekphrastically simulates a moving or “peristrephic” panorama in general, and an antebellum antislavery panorama in particular. In the process, this chapter reads Ellison’s debut novel as a text indebted to and allusive of, while ironically commenting on, the life and career of celebrated fugitive and peristrephic panoramist Henry Box Brown, who shipped himself in a sealed wooden crate from Richmond to Philadelphia and thus from slavery to freedom in 1849. Brown’s subsequent efforts to navigate the terrain of abolitionist discourse within a white supremacist culture led him to create a moving panorama called the Mirror of Slavery, which chronicled the cruelties of slavery, yet ended with the promise of universal emancipation. In appropriating the visual grammar of the antislavery panorama, Ellison also extends its ambivalent temporal logic to create his own alternative history in service of the future.

Keywords:   Ralph Ellison, Henry Box Brown, panorama, peristrephic, Mirror of Slavery, panoptic sublime, Henri Bergson, modernism, cinema, alternative history

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