Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
In “An Agony. As Now,” from The Dead Lecturer (1964), Baraka describes in sensuous phrases his emotional and spiritual paralysis. The title of this poetry collection is a reference to the attempted suicide of the speaker. His sense of dissociation from the self who hates him is a normal part of the recovery process; however, Baraka adds another level of meaning. The inverted symbolism of white implies that assimilation, voluntary or involuntary, is a significant factor of the imprisonment.
Openings in the mask allow the persona to see, but the metal prevents any human contact. Introspectively addressing his ruminations to the soul he has sightlessly abandoned, he recalls a woman who ran from him to the forest of white “civilization” and a man decaying from psychic paralysis, “never beautiful.” The speaker’s mind races unencumbered to the sun in a series of associational images that offer a brief hope for resurrection with fragmented water imagery. Nevertheless, the torment escalates as he recognizes the corruption surrounding him. The sun is love, self-actualization, God, but the poet is trapped within himself and does not know how to reach the love, despite his need. Therefore, the sun reaches out to him, heating his white metal shell and burning awareness into him. His final scream is a scream of self-realization, a moment of truth, in which he relinquishes his detachment and accepts himself.
(The entire section is 324 words.)
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