The Importance of Erasing the Rift

Percival Everett’s “Body” intervenes in the kind of disciplinary tension that Joe Moran outlines in “Science, Space and Nature.” More specifically, the poems may be understood as arguing that it is essential for the divide between the realms of sciences and humanities be erased in order for further understanding of both to be achieved. 

In order to better explain this need, reading even one of the poems included in this part of Everett’s book is enough. Each of the poems describe various parts of the body through less than traditional means, favoring to describe them with several figures of speech and references to either other parts of the body or jargon that sits outside of the average English lexicon. An example of this can be found in the poem The Astragalus, a poem which I assumed to be describing a part of the body. This ‘Astragalus’ is pictured as, “The footfalls down the grade are heavy strides,/ so receive the blows, the echoes throughout,/ through the triangular facet, concave for/ articulation with the external part the connection.” (45) From the given description, it is not entirely clear exactly what ‘Astragalus’ is, what its function is, or where in the body it’s located. In my case, I didn’t understand the picture that the poem was trying to create until I looked up what the title actually meant. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, Astragalus is actually a type of plant that has been used as a Chinese medicine for centuries, and can be used as a dietary supplement. Had I not gone out of my way to find out what the title meant, I may have never even known that the Astragalus was a plant rather than a part of the body. However, if I had had a better background knowledge of the scientific terms utilized in the poem, I would have had an easier time in figuring out what it meant. My understanding would have been greater had I taken the interdisciplinary approach that Joe Moran describes—the approach that many refuse to take. 

In chapter 5 of Moran’s novel, Interdisciplinarity, he lists and describes the different views that professionals have about the divide that exists between the sciences and humanities. According to the chapter, both sides view the other as lesser, seeing themselves as being well versed in the more important field. According to a lecture Moran references by C.P. Snow, which was delivered in Cambridge in 1959, “Those in the sciences still tend to criticize humanities scholars for disregarding empirical methods and relying on subjective interpretations; those in the humanities attack scientists, in turn, for a misguided faith in the possibility of absolute objectivity, a narrow conception of useful knowl- edge and an unwillingness to interrogate the broader social, political and cultural implications of their work.” (150) The two spheres of thought oppose each other, but Everett’s “Body” poems exemplify how important it is to consider both. In order to properly understand the poems, one must understand the definition of the words involved, such as the word ‘Astragalus’ that is used in the previous poem. And in order to understand these words, a background in the sciences is required. Likewise, in order for the figures of speech that populate the poems to be comprehended, like the metaphor used when describing the ‘footfalls’, a background in the humanities is required. By formatting his poems in this way, Everett has created a prime example of how confusing literature can get without properly acknowledging these two spheres of thought. 

In addition to simply displaying the necessity of understanding these two fields, I believe that Everett is making a statement by using this confusing style of poem writing. Though it’s never explicitly stated, I interpreted these poems as ways of showing how to make sense out of nonsense. When first looking at these poems at a surface level, they were quite daunting for me. There were several terms thrown at me in each poem that were either completely foreign to me or that I couldn’t understand in their current context. And yet, as I took the time to look up and understand each part of the poem, the picture became clearer to me. I was able to envision the image of the body parts that each poem was trying to invoke as I went back to read them with my newfound vocabulary knowledge. Had I given up after my first glance at what I assumed to be a mess of distracting vocabulary, I would have never understood what each poem had been trying to show me. By forcing readers to take the time to dig into each poem in order to attain a proper understanding, I feel that the poems send a strong message of how there can and will always be reason hidden within chaos. And through the use of the interdisciplinary approach that Joe Moran describes, along with the determination to use that approach, that reason is within reach. 

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.