What does it mean to hear color? Ralph Ellison’s 1952 novel Invisible Man revolves around sight, but timbre, musically defined as the color of sound, combines sight with sound to explore the implications of hearing race. With music already in the forefront of critical work on Invisible Man, it is intuitive to move into musicological territory to consider what is essentially a problem of perception: can one characterize a voice as having a “black” sound, and what does that distinction jeopardize? Defining timbre in relationship to the body means developing a methodology to track subjective perceptions about voice, race, and differentiation in a shifting temporal structure and adds provocative dimensions to the narrator’s invisible body that attach to a shared history of hearing race. As such, thinking with timbre chronicles how voice is racialized in Invisible Man and, through a disturbing series of misrecognitions, asks if it should be.


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pp. 47-64
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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