Ellison's Wonderland

Culture and technology.
June 5 1999 3:30 AM

Ellison's Wonderland

A curious masterpiece finally arrives.

By Ralph Ellison
Edited by John F. Callahan
Random House, 368 pages, $25

(Continued from Page 1)

Why didn't Ellison finish--or publish--the book? The oft-repeated official version involves a fire that destroyed an important manuscript in 1966. But as disastrous an event as that must have been, I find it unconvincing as an explanation. Ellison described losing a summer's worth of work. He had a decade of writing his novel behind him and almost three more ahead of him. A more compelling explanation is that Ellison wanted to write a second novel that would meet the standard of Invisible Man while being an entirely different kind of book. This strenuous ambition was confounded by a perfectionism that, as Ellison wrote in the introduction to his volume of essays Shadow and Act, made it somewhat "unreal" to even think of himself as a writer. As he puts it, "my standards were impossibly high."


Those standards didn't keep Ellison from writing, merely from calling it quits. Failing to finish doesn't mean he failed. Indeed, a great, unfinished work can be more fascinating than a finished one because of the way the reader is drawn into the artistic process. Juneteenth is a truly interactive novel, in which readers are not an audience but collaborators, trying to pull together strands and elements of a story that has no final resolution. Other fragments and versions will add to what Callahan has assembled, not overwrite it. As with Faulkner, the boundaries of Ellison's separate texts may blur, but the mythic force of the buried story and the stylistic virtuosity of its telling will remain.



Scalia’s Liberal Streak

The conservative justice’s most brilliant—and surprisingly progressive—moments on the bench.

Colorado Is Ground Zero for the Fight Over Female Voters

There’s a Way to Keep Ex-Cons Out of Prison That Pays for Itself. Why Don’t More States Use It?

The NFL Explains How It Sees “the Role of the Female”

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B


Theo’s Joint and Vanessa’s Whiskey

No sitcom did the “Very Special Episode” as well as The Cosby Show.


The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Cliff Huxtable Explains the World: Five Lessons From TV’s Greatest Dad

Why Television Needs a New Cosby Show Right Now

  News & Politics
Sept. 18 2014 8:20 PM A Clever Attempt at Explaining Away a Vote Against the Farm Bill
Sept. 18 2014 6:02 PM A Chinese Company Just Announced the Biggest IPO in U.S. History
Sept. 18 2014 3:24 PM Symantec Removes Its “Sexual Orientation” Filter
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 3:30 PM How Crisis Pregnancy Centers Trick Women
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 18 2014 1:23 PM “It’s Not Every Day That You Can Beat the World Champion” An exclusive interview with chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 3:04 PM Pogo Returns With Another Utterly Catchy Disney Remix
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 6:48 PM By 2100 the World's Population Could Be 11 Billion
  Health & Science
Sept. 18 2014 3:35 PM Do People Still Die of Rabies? And how do you know if an animal is rabid?
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.