"More than 1940's Native Son, which Ellison praised, the publication of Wright's 12 Million Black Voices in 1941 hit him with the force of dynamite. A documentary hymn to black America, it unleashed a torrent of powerful emotion in Ellison. To Wright in the year of its release, he confessed bitterness and rage in a letter of searing frankness: 'I know those emotions . . . which tear the insides to be free and memories which must be kept underground, caged by rigid discipline lest they destroy, but which yet are precious to me because they are mine and I am proud of that which is myself.'"
It's an extraordinary statement, dipping low, rising into a Whitmanesque crescendo, bursting with many of the themes Ellison would pour into his essays and fiction. (It's almost a prophecy of Invisible Man.) Discipline was a key concept for Ellison, referring both to the techniques imposed by the artist, who must master and shape his materials, and to the carefully modulated repertoire of attitudes Ellison saw in black life. These different psychological registers—ironic, forbearing, indifferent, mocking, contemptuous—formed a protective bulwark against political and social oppression. "
I'm not sure I'd call it a slip up, but in his rather nice review of Ellison's new biography, Matthew Price misses the reference to my favorite of Stephen Crane's short poems:
In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, "Is it good, friend?"
"It is bitter—bitter," he answered;
"But I like it
"Because it is bitter,
"And because it is my heart."