The Intuitionist Essay

1847 words - 7 pages

In The Intuitionist, Colson Whitehead demands social uplift but does not give a means to achieving it. However, in rereading the text we notice hints of secular criticism which -in literary theory- serves as a means to social progress. Secular criticism in literature is not a method established to rebuke religion or religious beliefs. It is (as Edward Said puts it) ?a means to counter pose the divide between esoteric intellectual professionalism and prevailing societal pieties such as ethnocentrism and racism to disallow their prevalence.? (Said,219) Secular criticism is usually composed of structured commentary and analysis. However, in the Intuitionist it is composed of fiction. Fulton is an intellectual that first serves as an example of the divide between intellectual thought and society because his contributions to the study of elevators are considered to be purely theoretical and do not relate to any problems in society (In this novel the main societal problem is racism). Later in the novel we discover that his purely theoretical study into elevators and the whole idea of intuitionism was a joke and that he was an African American. This newly discovered fact forges a connection between the intellectual and the societal aspects of his work in that we can now view his writing on elevators as an allusion to society. Furthermore, Lila Mae is capable of decrypting what the new elevation is only after rereading Fulton?s intellectual inquiry as it connects to the morbid reality that is racism. This leads to the notion that public intellectuals are needed to achieve social uplift. Whitehead?s bridging between Fulton?s intellectual scholarship and his social beliefs as a means to end racism can thus be characterized as secular criticism. Moreover, intellectual inquiry into societal problems rather than into abstract theory is how Man will achieve social uplift in Whitehead?s eyes.Close to the end of the novel Lila Mae rhetorically asks ?He was joking right? About intuitionism. It was all a big joke??(232) This compels us to go back and reread the entries. First however, we must remember: Fulton was reminded of what it meant to be an African American when his sister visited him. The visit of his sister is considered to be the moment when Fulton detached himself from the purely intellectual life he was living because it reminded him that he was not only a scholar but also part of an oppressed society. That is when he started writing Theoretical elevators. Rereading a passage from Volume one of the fictional Theoretical Elevators Fulton?s depiction of the fearful barbarian in a modern city becomes an allusion to our incessant fear of the unknown. ?The dark?. The second point made in the passage is the notion of the Occupant?s Fallacy. Here Fulton states ?we conform to objects, we capitulate to them. We need to reverse this order.?(38) Interestingly, Fulton uses the royal ?we? adding himself to the equation hence admitting that his character conforms to...

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