There is snow on the ground. Those walking outside without mittens, jackets, and scarves might physically develop a condition known as “frostbite.” I know that to acquire frostbite is to have the tissue under one’s skin frozen. It’s a condition that could land one in a hospital. That’s science. That’s just how my body works. It’s my irrational mind that tells me to put on flip-flops while leaving my dorm. My brain is part of me that decides to make risky decisions that the spirit of frostbite (which hovers ten feet above Geneseo in November) loves. But is my brain not a part of my body? And although my actions are irrational, can they be separated from the organ that creates my risk taking behavior?
Percival Everett’s Body intervenes in the kind of disciplinary tensions that Joe Moran outlines in “Science, Space, and Nature.” More specifically, the poems may be understood as suggesting the inseparability of science and emotion.
Dualism is a belief that “to life and structure an immaterial soul is superadded” (D’Oyly 1). Dualism means that the body is a structure, and the human soul and emotions do not come from the physical mind. It is a belief championed by scientists and those invested in scientific discovery, such as George D’Oyly, with a religious motivation. Dualism does not rely on Empirical evidence. Body takes on an opposing (called a “materialist”) approach, conflating the body with the emotional effects it creates.
In Body, Percival Everett describes the “four base processes” as being “prolonged to the outer skin where the irrevocable dreams evaporate” (Everett 56). The language of “irrevocable dreams” is not that of typical scientific writing. Percival Everett simultaneously describes the physical structure of the Dura Mater and how it fits with other parts of the body while also describing how these body parts function in tandem. The Dura Mater is the shell of the brain that holds the cerebrospinal fluid, and the “processes” occur within that shell. The brain does not leave the shell, and the “irrevocable dreams” conceived by the brain will physically be unable to pass through the shell. The “outer skin” is therefore associated with “irrevocable dreams.” However, the physical nature of the brain is its emotional nature, as the brain creates those emotions. Emotion arises from the physical mind, but Percival Everett removes the guise of scientific neutrality regarding the subject.
Percival Everett’s Frenzy also manifests as a work driven by emotional concepts in the package of logical ones. Dionysus is a god who lives in the infinite amount of space between two set points. Like all human beings, he has a fixed point of birth, and one of death. However, his situation differs in that he experiences all the points in his life between those two points at the same time. This situation is not just a fact to be known, but a reality to be experienced. Dionysus’ emotional state is a specific extrapolation of his seemingly endless, recursive life, and is therefore just an exploration of the potential effect of that situation on a being. Like Frenzy, Body’s materialism relies on life being recursive.
Percival Everett’s personal interpretation of the body in Body is similarly not a rejection of the features of the body, but a celebration of its effects. Body explores the continuity of the physical form. The Fissure of Rolando, for example, allows him to have control of “the tongue she tells me she loves near, and in, and on, and around her sweet fissure” (Everett 58). By creating a parallel structure between the two “fissure”s, Body suggests that there is no precise stopping point for the body part described, and that a finite end is socially constructed. The fissures do not exist in a vacuum, but their separate features allow for them to become connected.
If I were to acquire frostbite, my body and mind would accomplish this painful feat by working in tandem. However, the effects extend to the world beyond my mind and body. If my toes were to become frostbitten, the medical bill would likely hold an influence over my family for a long time to come. In a similar manner, Percival Everett’s Body explores the omnipresence of the body. Each part serves its function within the whole of the structure, and that structure extends to the activities in which the body participates. While those activities are emotional, personal, and individually meaningful, they are derived from the same body that can be characterized in a neutral, distant manner. Structure and emotion feed off of and create one another.
Percival Everett therefore indicates that the divide between individual characteristics and a greater whole is impossible to quantify. Body is but a single part of re: f (gesture), a work that could be divided in a myriad of different ways, or considered to be a part of an even larger whole. In a similar manner, the body in Body is established as being both a composite and a part of the larger whole that is the body’s relation to another body.