erik lundegaard

Searching for Ralph Ellison's Quote

You remember “Almost Live”? Good show. Nancy Guppy was a regular, and funny. Last year at opening night of the Seattle International Film Festival at McCaw Hall, I ran into her. I was with a group of mostly women, I believe, suited up and wearing sunglasses, so not my usual raggedy self, when I saw her by the front stairs and pointed her out. She noticed being pointed out, and I smiled, and she came up to me. I think she thought I was someone else. Her disappointment when it turned out to be just me was muted but palpable, but, as things go, she's now a friend ... on Facebook. Just that. She wouldn't know me from Adam Wahlberg.

The other day, on Facebook, she posted this:

“Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat.”
--Ralph Ellison

I immediately loved it. I asked her where it was from but she didn't know. So I searched it out in 2012 fashion.

The first Google search result is from an ad-heavy site called Brainy Quote, which sandwiches Ellison's thought between two similar thoughts from F. Scott Fitzgerald and Anais Nin, but of course it attributes nothing. Such is the way these days. You can click on his name and find out that he's an AUTHOR, that he's AMERICAN, when he was BORN and when he DIED, but the quote is just there to be quoted, along with other Ralph Ellison quotes plucked from the obscurity of, what, a book, and made to live forever here. And now here's an ad from Google.

The second and third results are from Good Reads, which at least tells us the quote is from “Invisible Man” (rather than, say, “Shadow and Act”), but provides no context. We do find out, however, that 1,190 people “liked” it. Which is good enough for me.

Linguaspectrum.com, fourth, expands upon the quote. On its page, “92 Quotes About Defeat,” it gives us a slightly fuller version:

“America is woven of many strands; I would recognize them and let it so remain. It's winner take nothing that is the great truth of our country or of any country. Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat. Our fate is to become one, and yet many - This in not prophecy, but description.”

The fifth result, from the ad-heavy Bookrags.com, which uses those awful double-underlined pop-up ad-links to specific words, finally gives us context. Ralph Ellison's quote is from the epilogue to “Invisible Man,” pg. 577, which does no good for me since my Modern Library edition only goes to 439 pages. But at least we know where it's from now. It's no longer invisible, you could say.

But how about that line right before the plucked version?

It's winner take nothing that is the great truth of our country or of any country.

Tell that to Bill Gates' house on Lake Washington.

I finally found the quote in my edition of “Invisible Man,” by the way. It's at the bottom of pg. 435 of the Modern Library edition and part of an argument for diversity and against conformity. “Must I strive toward colorlessness?” he asks, among other things. I actually underlined (not doubly so) “winner take nothing” when I read this back in college, but for what reason I can't image. Because I thought it was profound? Because I disagreed? I hope I disagreed.

Originally I was going to tie Nancy Guppy's FB quote to Roger Kahn's quote about a team in defeat, one of my favorites, and then tie both to any team playing the New York Yankees, and have fun that way. This was going to be a YANKEES SUCK blog post, and giddy, and ha-ha fun, but the Google searches depressed me too much: All the crap out there that ranks so highly. I'm even more depressed that somehow, in the last month, Pres. Obama's approval rating has dropped from 50 % to 41%. What happened in the last month? Tell me. How is he now in a statistical dead heat with Mitt Freakin' Romney? All the crap out there that ranks so highly.

Seriously, bless those who play in the face of certain defeat. Me, sometimes I get so sick of it all I search for e.e. cummings' helluva good universe next door.

Ralph Ellison, at typewriter

Ralph Ellison of brainyquote.com. Make sure to “like” him.


Posted at 07:21 AM on Tue. Mar 13, 2012 in category Books  
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COMMENTS

Sara Vail wrote:

Chin up Erik! Tomorrow is another day. Well also today is still young. Obama's going to win and the Yankees do suck. I appreciate the quote and your detective work on it. I love the blog.

Comment posted on Tue. Mar 13, 2012 at 07:45 AM

Joe Mama wrote:

Looks like 41% was an outlier, several others came in today at 50.
Still... Why is it this close?

Comment posted on Tue. Mar 13, 2012 at 07:13 PM

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