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Bleak Liberalism and the Realism/Modernism Debate: Ellison and Lessing

Bleak Liberalism and the Realism/Modernism Debate: Ellison and Lessing

Chapter:
(p.115) Chapter Five Bleak Liberalism and the Realism/Modernism Debate: Ellison and Lessing
Source:
Bleak Liberalism
Author(s):
Amanda Anderson
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226923536.003.0006

This chapter addresses two important political novels of the mid-twentieth century, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook, showing how the bleak liberal tradition continues its experiments with form during the modernist period. Invisible Man employs the formal strategies and conceptual frameworks of modernism, including the idea of protean shape shifting and the elevation of style and cultural expression, yet at its core lies a profound orientation toward liberal principles, one which subtends a broader invocation of democratic aspiration amidst the dehumanizing conditions of the U.S. race politics. The Golden Notebook, exploring a range of psychic and political experiences in Africa and Britain during the war and post-war period, uses innovative form in the service of a complex endorsement of a dual attitude of aspiration and detachment, compassion and critique, one that responds to political disenchantment with communism through a reconfigured progressivism that combines elements of liberalism and socialism. This concluding chapter is meant to show both the continuity and the innovation across the bleak liberal aesthetic tradition.

Keywords:   Ralph Ellison, Doris Lessing, modernism, race, disenchantment, communism, liberalism, socialism

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