Abstract

Taking seriously Ralph Ellison’s interest in the sympathetic nervous system and his involvement in the Black hospital movement, this article demonstrates how the protagonist’s pain in Invisible Man’s factory hospital scene influences the narrator’s writerly “choices” in the novel’s frame narrative. Scholarship on the novel thoroughly attends to the trope of the protagonist’s invisibility but regularly overlooks his corporeal presence. Invisible Man experiences social invisibility, not as a metaphor but as an embodied, somatic state initiated through racializing violence. This essay offers a psychobiologically attentive reading of the factory hospital scene to investigate the potentialities of the Black protagonist’s embodied living. In the scene, racist doctors injure the protagonist’s brain through electroshock torture, disrupting his cognition and sympathetic nervous system. However, the protagonist’s corporeal development of a new consciousness through racist injury has unintended consequences; his resilient brain charts new pathways of thought, undermining his domination through emotional self-awareness. This essay argues that the protagonist’s patient narrative—written following brain injury—functions as a countertechnology to the doctors’ racializing machine.

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