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Compass Newsletter Masthead
   Volume II, Issue 4
May 2006   

Ellison and Augustine

Ennis fellow Mark G. Shiffman, Ph.D., spoke in Falvey Memorial Library’s first floor lounge February 9, the first of a series of events presented in honor of Black History Month. Dr. Shiffman’s lecture, “Ellison’s Blue Confessions,” related Saint Augustine’s famous theological autobiography, Confesssions, to Ralph Ellison’s semi-autobiographical work, Invisible Man.

Finding parallels in themes and content, Dr. Shiffman intrigued the audience with his comments on these two divergent works separated by many centuries of thought. He argued that Ellison's novel seems at first to offer a romantic confession of the kind pioneered by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the 18th century, but then, moving beyond the limits of this form, it comes to resemble an Augustinian-style confession. Dr. Shiffman also discussed Ellison’s literary techniques, his knowledge of social and political history and how music and religion is integrated into Ellison’s compelling novel.

Dr. Shiffman’s talk grew out of an essay he contributed to Augustine and Literature (Lexington Books, 2006). He currently teaches in the Augustine and Culture: The Villanova Seminar program and will join the Humanities and Augustinian Traditions department in the fall. The theme of Falvey's Black History Month series was “Invisible Man Made Visible,” commemorating the publication of Invisible Man more than fifty years ago, a significant work of literature which changed America’s intellectual landscape.

Contributed by Darren Poley, Coordinator for Programming and Outreach; photograph by Laura Hutelmyer