“Rhopographic Photography and Atemporal Cinema: The Link Between Ralph Ellison’s Polaroids and Three Days Before the Shooting…”



This essay is drawn from a book manuscript that examines Ralph Ellison’s life-long preoccupation with time and concomitant pursuit of a literature of immanence. In it, I illustrate how Ellison’s engagements with Bergsonian philosophy, Nietzschean cosmology, cybernetic theory, and transhistorical inquiry are inseparable from his ongoing efforts to trouble the Newtonian construct of universal time. Whether it’s in his early short stories, his 1952 masterpiece Invisible Man, his music criticism, or his unfinished tome posthumously published as Three Days Before the Shooting…, Ellison routinely turns to optic and sonic technologies to enact performative critiques of a still-hegemonic view of temporality born of the Enlightenment and maintained by the forces of capitalist acceleration and globalization. As he interrogates the forms of subjectivity that spatialized time reifies, Ellison constructs an alternative durational framework in which individuality and democracy, like emergent temporalities, are always becoming, immanent and inter-implicated. Ellison’s remedies for the order progressive history imposes upon the present, I contend, directly address the time that history adulterates by reclaiming the very technologies through which linear time is formalized. As an integral part of this larger work, “Rhopographic Photography and Atemporal Cinema” specifically addresses Ellison’s Bergsonian ekphrastic references to still photography and motion picture projection in his ultimately unfinished second novel and illustrates how Ellison’s own evolving photographic compositions, represented by the Polaroid photographs he took between 1966 and 1994, inform his temporal theorizing.

Keywords: temporality, immanence, Ralph Ellison, Three Days Before the Shooting

How to Cite: Germana, M. (2017) ““Rhopographic Photography and Atemporal Cinema: The Link Between Ralph Ellison’s Polaroids and Three Days Before the Shooting…””, Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies. 17(1). doi: