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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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“Modulate, Daddy, Modulate!”

“Modulate, Daddy, Modulate!”

Polyrhythms and Metric Modulation in the Fiction of Ralph Ellison

(p.155) Chapter 4 “Modulate, Daddy, Modulate!”
Ralph Ellison, Temporal Technologist

Michael Germana

Oxford University Press

Chapter 4 examines Ellison’s use of rhythm—specifically his incorporation of polyrhythms and his application of an advanced rhythmic concept called metric modulation—to express his beliefs about virtual temporalities and social change. The chapter illustrates how Ellison often places temporal constructs, including the static time of official history and the dynamic time of duration, into polyrhythmic relation in order to challenge an entrenched ideology of historical determinism. This process, and the critique that emerges from it, depend upon a related rhythmic concept, metric modulation, which creates metronomic instability within a musical composition and, in so doing, produces nodes of temporal bifurcation. Ellison’s use of polyrhythms and metric modulation are, like his ekphrastic references to the visual media examined in Chapters 2 and 3, expressions of his commitment to dynamic time and to the promotion of social changes that the actualization of hitherto virtual temporalities makes possible.

Keywords:   Ralph Ellison, polyrhythms, metric modulation, rhythm, duration, Henri Bergson, Ilya Prigogine, Chaos Theory, bifurcation, elaboration

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