From Rags To Rats

When looking at the terms intertextuality and New Criticism, on the surface they seem like basic literature language, but by looking deeper into the meaning of those terms, we can see that although they may seem simple and even possibly related, they are the exact opposite. Supriya Ray defines intertextuality in The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms as “the condition of interconnectedness among texts, or the concept that any text is an amalgam of others”. Ray also defines New Criticism in the Bedford as “a type of formalist literary criticism characterized by close textual analysis”. When looking at both of these definitions side by side, we can see just how different these terms are from each other. Intertextuality uses the idea of references within texts to make connections to other texts, while New Criticism introduces the idea of looking solely at one piece of text and interpreting it based on just the text in front of the reader. Both of these literary terms are effective in their own ways, and we can see that when we look into pieces of work by Percival Everett. Everett seems to have a way of connecting everything that he writes. We can see this intertextuality in his novel, I am Not Sidney Poitier, and how he relates different scenes in this novel to the films The Defiant Ones, and Lillies of the Field. Everett’s art of using intertextuality also runs into his collection of poems, re: f (gesture), and we can see that in his first two sets of poems titled Zulus and Body. Although, when we look into his last set of poems titled Logic, Everett seems to take on a New Critical way of writing for these pieces, and I want to look into the importance of that stylistic choice.

I want to first evaluate the intertextuality of the poems in Zulus and Body. A lot of the poems in Zulus seem to have specific names or references, such as Anaximander, who happened to be a greek philosopher. One of the poems also mentions “G is for Ganymede” (Everett) and Ganymede is one of the moons that orbits Jupiter, and also a divine hero in greel mythology. By using these references in this set of poems, Everett is relating each poem to one another and to things that, if not already known by the reader, must be researched for further understanding of the poems. The set of poems in Zulus offer so many outside references that it is almost impossible to look at the pieces with a New Critical lense. Looking into another set of Everetts poetry titled Body, we can see all the interconnectedness of these pieces as well. The poems are all titled with different parts of the body, for example one poem is titled “Palmar Fascia” (Everett) and it goes on to describe this part of the body. Each of these poems seems to connect to one another, since each one is about a different part of the body. One can clearly see the intertextuality in this way, but also the fact that most of the terms listed are not common knowledge, I had to look them up to fully understand the pieces as a whole. New Criticism could not be used easily for these poems in Body because the point is to show the interconnectedness of each part of the body, and doing this in a New Critical kind of way would defeat the whole purpose of the poems themselves. Both sets of poems can be easily be interpreted using intertextuality, but they are hard to look at in a New Critical way because of all the names and references used throughout all the pieces. 

Everett seems to stray away from his intertextual roots in his set of poems titled Logic. It is much easier to interpret these poems with a New Critical lens; they lack any certain references or names, unlike the first two sets of poems. When we look at the fourth poem in this collection, we can clearly interpret what it means solely by reading just the text. For example, it has the lines “There are samples of- colors somewhere in a case”(Everett) we can interpret this in a New Critical sense, and we do not need to look anything else up in order to understand it, which stands for the poem in its entirety. Although the poems in Logic are mainly interpreted using New Criticism, my classmate Liz made a comment on the line “From rags and dust, a rat is formed in the cellar. It was not there before. Only rags and dust.” (Everett). Liz had commented that this poem reminded her of the spontaneous generation theory, which is a theory that living creatures could arise from non-living matter, which is in fact a very intertextual way of thinking of this poem. Although these poems have one intertextual aspect, it would most likely be interpreted in a New Critical type of thinking. New Criticism offers a new way of interpreting a piece, and also a more focused point of view that you can’t get through intertextuality. New Criticism also does not allow readers to insert their own feelings into the pieces that they are reading, so the poems in Logic are not as emotionally fulfilling as they would be if they were interpreted intertextually.

So what does all of this mean? The use of intertextuality and New Criticism is essential in Percival Everett’s poems in re: f (gesture), and can better our understanding of each piece. Although New Criticism can be helpful, I personally believe that interpreting something using intertextuality is much more effective. You can draw on so many more things using intertextuality, which I think is very important for analyzing literature. In general, many humans naturally connect things in their brains, so the concept of New Criticism is often hard to grasp and also do properly. The emotional connections that can be associated with intertextuality are also overlooked when one interprets it New Critically, which can hinder the experience of the piece.

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