A day or so ago I found myself struggling to finish a song I was writing. I just felt like I was saying something that had been said before. So I gave up my grip on the song I wrestled with and turned my attention onto some work that I had been assigned for Professor McCoy’s English 203 class. We had been instructed that since this (the post you are reading) would be our first blog post of the semester we had to use an epigraph as the basis of our writing. I lethargically skimmed through the epigraphs my professor provided. On the verge of sleep, I read something in the epigraphs that caught my eye. “I have learned that my name is not my name. It seems you all know me and nothing could be further from the truth and yet you know me better than I know myself, perhaps better than I can know myself. “(Percival Everett). I noticed immediately how Everett expresses a fascination with perception. He is intrigued by the fact that everyone’s vision of him is unique. He knows himself in one sense, yet others know him in a way he might never know. Everett doesn’t only show this fascination in this one quote, he also shows it through his literature.
Everett’s book Frenzy is a call back to a classic greek play, The Bacchae, using many of the same characters and essentially the same story arc. In Frenzy, Dionysus, the god of wine, shows a keen interest in how others perceive the world and himself. His interest is so significant that he creates an entity called Vlepo (an Everett created character) to see into the minds of others, to understand their perception. Vlepo, strangely enough, is ancient greek for “to see”. At one point Dionysus expresses his interest in perception to Vlepo. “I want to know how I make a woman feel. I watch the Bakkhanal unfold and I watch them love each other, and often I see, not the same excited completion I can make in them, but something else, perhaps something more.” (Everett 17). This idea could be a blog post itself, but for the sake of brevity I simply use this to state the point that Everett’s writing is evidence of his fascination with perception. From the fact that Everett creates a character named “to see”, to the fact that Dionysus has a deep desire to understand how he is seen, Everett clearly has a fascination with perception, even within his literature. If one simply looks at the idea of Frenzy conceptually it is itself a modern perception of The Bacchae through the lens of Percival Everett’s mind. Perception is an interesting concept, sure, but why is it significant? This is a huge question to answer. If one just looks at its effect on literature, one can find a more digestible answer.
This brings me to the revelation I had lazy eyed in my bed after struggling with a song. The revelation was simply that everything has already been written. Every emotion has been had before, every story has been told, and every idea has been thought. Moreover, what makes literature a timeless art is not that there are infinite concepts to write about, but finite concepts that can be perceived through unique lenses. Every human is different, each of us with a mind that is like no other. Consider the idea that if we were put in front of two images one filled green and another red, we can never know for certain that we are seeing the green or red in the exact same way. Perception is a beautiful key, invaluable to what it means to be human and, for our purposes, what it means to be literature. It does not matter what we write about, but how we write it. It doesn’t matter that Everett wrote a retelling of The Bacchae it matters how he wrote it.
This idea rang in my head like a rousing bell. This is just what I needed to understand. Of course the song I was writing had been said before, it didn’t matter. What did matter is it hadn’t been said by me. So, my advice to my fellow classmates is simple. Do not fret and worry about what you write about, just make sure you write true to yourself. In turn, you will find that your voice is what people want to read.
After scraping up a few hours of sleep the night before, I found myself in McCoy’s classroom discussing my revelation with her. Once I had finished my piece she sat, an intrigued look in her eye. She said that my idea was interesting, but I needed to ask how it connected with my goals for this course. I told her that my goal for the course was to be able to see when and how an author’s unique lense is altering a familiar concept. Many times it is hard to see an author’s perception of a story because we are so caught up in our own interpretations and ideas. My goal is to be able to read a work of literature and see the lens which the author is using to perceive an idea that has been said before. I believe that Percival Everett’s passion for perception will facilitate my growth as I seek out new perceptions and lenses.