This introductory chapter traces the origins of Ralph Ellison’s philosophy of temporality, and illustrates how Ellison’s synthesis of the ideas of Henri Bergson and Friedrich Nietzsche precedes, and in many ways prefigures, the work of Gilles Deleuze. It also demonstrates how Ellison’s Bergsonian critique of spatialized time—a coercive form of temporality that subtends progressive history—anticipates contemporary post-Deleuzian elucidations of the reciprocal relationship between temporality and subjectivity. By attuning his readers to intensities implicit in the present, or the dynamism inherent in what Bergson called duration, Ellison affirms the open-endedness of the future while critiquing all forms of determinism. And by treating race as a matter of time, Ellison shows how the feedback loops by which a racist society chaotically reproduces itself can be destabilized by troubling the coercive temporality with which they are linked “on the lower frequencies” of our immanent existence.
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