Surreal quasi-Pynchonian elevator-based race allegory, written by a very, very odd man named Colson Whitehead, who, if he ever writes another book that we read, may get his own page some day.
The Intuitionist documents the adventures of Lila Mae Watson, the first black female elevator inspector in an alternate New York, in which elevators are a vital field of technology and literary theory, and there are two schools of elevator inspection: the empiricist, which depends on instruments and tools and whatnot, and the intuitionist, which mostly involves standing in an elevator and feeling if it’s going to fall.

Colson Whitehead, *, p. 55—“117 Second Avenue…is now his campaign headquarters and home to a formidable optimism new to these generally sullen detective-philosophers of vertical transport.”
Colson Whitehead, *[The Intuitionist]
, p. 59—The instructors broken and cursed under the burden of such knowledge…
Colson Whitehead, *, p. 87—“The perfect train terminates at Heaven. The perfect elevator waits while its human freight tries to grab through the muck and find the words. In the black box, this messy business of human communication is reduced to extracted chemicals, understood by the soul’s receptors and translated into true speech.”
Colson Whitehead, *[The Intuitionist]
, p. 100—It was Fulton’s odd perceptions that made him a technical wiz, his way of finding the unobvious solution that is also the perfect solution. It also allowed him, Lila Mae sees, to pierce the veil of this world and discover the elevator world. Because that’s what Theoretical Elevators did, it described a world, and a world needs inhabitants to make it real. The black box is the elevator-citizen for the elevator world.
Colson Whitehead, *, p. 101 - ”...the vertical imperative applies to the elevator’s will, and doesn’t apply to passengers. I think what Fulton was referring to in this section was the ‘index of being’-where the elevator is when it is not in service. If, as the index of being tells us, the elevator does not exist when there is no freight, human or otherwise, then I think in this case the doors open and the elevator exists, but only for the loading time. Once the doors close, the elevator returns to non-being-‘the eternal quiescence’-until called into service again.”
Colson Whitehead, *[The Intuitionist]
, p. 102—“An elevator doesn’t exist without its freight. If there’s no one to get on, the elevator remains in quiescence. The elevator and the passengers need each other.”...
“And if we set up a film camera in the hallway…?”
“By leaving the camera there, you’ve created what Fulton calls ‘the expectation of freight.’ The camera is a passenger who declines to get on the elevator, not a phantom passenger.”
Colson Whitehead, *, p. 132—She disassembles elevators in her mind and imagines that there is a discrepancy between the mass of the elevator before disassembly and after. That this mass returns when the elevator is reassembled.
Colson Whitehead, *[The Intuitionist]
, p. 151—Fulton’s nigrescence whispered from the binding of the House’s signed first editions, tinting the disciples’ words, reconnoting them. Only she could see it, this shadow. She had learned to read and there was no one she could tell…she read the words in her lap, horizontal thinking in a vertical world is the race’s curse, and hated him.
Colson Whitehead, *, p. 185—Not a lot of elevators in this neighborhood. This is the place verticality indicts, the passed-over flatlands…
Colson Whitehead, *[The Intuitionist]
, p. 186—The race sleeps in this hectic and disordered century. Grim lids that will not open. Anxious retinas flit to and fro beneath them. They are stirred by dreaming. In this dream of uplift, they understand that they are dreaming the contra?t of the hallowed verticality and hope to remember the terms on waking. The race never does, and that is our course.
Colson Whitehead, *, p. 198-9—They will have to destroy this city once we deliver the black box. The current bones will not accommodate the marrow of the device. They will have to raze the city and cart off the rubble to less popular boroughs and start anew. What will it like look like. The shining city will possess untold arms and a thousand eyes, mutability itself, constructed of yet-unconjured plastics that will float, fly, fall, have no need of steel armature, have a liquid spine, no spine at all. Astronomer-architects will lay out the heliopolis so that it charts the progress of the stars through heaven.
Colson Whitehead, *[The Intuitionist]
, p. 229—After all of Fulton’s anthropomorphism: did the machine know itself. Possessed of the usual spectrum of elevator emotion, yes, but did it have articulate self-awareness. Erlich, the mad Frenchman, of course, posited such, but he never gets invited to conferences and his monographs wilt on the shelves of his relatives’ libraries…Even Fulton stayed away from the horror of the catastrophic accident: even in explicating the unbelievable he never dared breach the unknowable. Lila Mae thinks: out of fear.
Colson Whitehead, *, p. 230—Catastrophic accidents are a million-in-a-million occurrences, not so much what happens very seldom but what happens when you subtract what happens all the time.
Colson Whitehead, *[The Intuitionist]
, p. 231—...instructing the dull and plodding citizens of modernity that there is a power beyond rationality. That the devil still walks the earth and architecture is no substitute for prayer…
Colson Whitehead, *, p. 232—Fulton was colored. In his books, the hatred of the corrupt order of this world, the keen longing for the next one, its next rules.
Colson Whitehead, *[The Intuitionist]
, p. 239—“They were all slaves to what they could see. But there was a truth behind that they couldn’t see for the life of them.”
Colson Whitehead, *, p. 241—He does not believe in the perfect elevator. He dreams a doctrine of transcendence. That is as much a lie as his life. But then something happens…Now he wants that perfect elevator that will lift him away from here and devises solid method from his original satire.
Colson Whitehead, *[The Intuitionist]
, p. 241—Intuitionism is communication.
Colson Whitehead, *, p. 241—The elevator world will look like heaven, but not the Heaven that you have reckoned.
Colson Whitehead, *[The Intuitionist]
, p. 255—It is important to let them know it’s coming. To let them prepare for the second elevation.
h2. See also:
Matt Ruff