Random Intertextuality

Percival Everett seems to keep the readers guessing in his writing. In the beginning of English 203, we read the old Greek play The Bacchae, and after that we went straight into Frenzy; a novel by Percival Everett retelling The Bacchae. Percival Everett wrote Frenzy in 1997. In 2006, he wrote a series of free verse poems entitled re: f(gesture). Throughout the poems under the first section; (Zulus), Everett goes through every letter of the alphabet in a seemingly meaningless way. After all, Everett does seem to occasionally put things in a story that are, or rather seem, to have no meaning. In some of the poems in that section, Everett brings up Greek mythology. He begins by bringing up Greek philosophers like Plato and Aristotle in the poem A. He brings Plato up again in C, and the poem H is for Hades. However he also brings up Jesus in poems C and L. So, it seems that none of these poems, even the ones with common themes, actually relate to each other. Under closer examination though, it becomes apparent that they do.

After taking another look a poems F and K, a connection of family begins to form, beginning with F. “F is for the feathered dust of twins. Leda never felt a thing…”.  According to Greek mythology, Leda, the wife of Spartan king, Tyndareus, birthed twins Castor and Pollux. However, Castor was the mortal son of Tyndareus, and Pollux was a son of Zeus. As for the part of Leda not feeling anything, they were hatched? “…penetrated by the force majeure, a trick in the air. F is for fuck”. Force Majeure is french for an irresistible greater force. Zeus transformed himself into a swan and through a trick and his godly powers, seduced and Leda. and produced an egg. “Finis coronat opus”; this is Latin for ‘The ends justify the means’. Castor and Pollux joined the famous Greek ship “Argo” for a journey, during which Pollux beat King Amycus, the king of the Bebryces, in a boxing match. After the journey, they went to Iolcus to kill the power hungry king, Pelias. For Zeus, having a son who went on to do these great things, the ends really did justify the means…I guess.

The relating poem to F would be K. “K is for kiss and what a kiss from the beautiful twin”. When Zeus and Leda had their encounter, Castor and Pollux were not the only results. Although the myth is disputed, it seems that Castor and Clytemnestra, Helen’s sister, were hatched from one egg, the mortal egg. Meanwhile there was a second egg, one of Zeus’ children which contained Pollux and Helen. Therefore, Helen must be the beautiful twin.  In fact, the next line is “Sweet Helen, make me immortal…”, ignoring any information about that quote, it would seem like another connection to the legend of Castor and Pollux. When Castor was struck by a spear, Zeus offered Pollux the choice of immortality on Olympus, or Sharing his immortality with his brother. Of course, he chose so split it. However, that quote is both in the poem K, and a line taken from Doctor Faustus, an Elizabethan tragedy play by Christopher Marlowe based in Germany. Again, Percival Everett is using random intertextuality; however, the effect remains the same; K is a poem about the Trojan war. When Paris, a prince of Troy, stole Helen from Sparta, with “loaded warmth about the heart, an awful weight and a bad idea,” he caused the launch of a thousand ships, all headed to destroy Troy. Taking Helen really was a bad idea, “Hades would agree”. After all, “K is for killing…K is for Kiss”. 

So some poems in (Zulus) do relate to each other, but some do not at all. Again, Percival Everett keeps the readers guessing. Everett tends to randomly use intertextuality in his writing. Besides retelling The Bacchae, using a part of Homer’s Iliad in his poems, and also randomly inserting a quote about a German doctor, he does it even more. In his novel I am Not Sidney Poitier, he takes the plot of three Sidney Poitier movies, defiant ones, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and lilies in the field, and makes his character, Not Sidney Poitier, go through the same situations. Not to mention, he repeatedly dreams that he is in the middle of other movies starring Sidney Poitier, including Buck the Preacher and Band of Angels. Everett enjoys letting other people’s work influence his own, but he does it in a strange way where sometimes it does not even seem intentional. Percival Everett himself wrote himself into I am Not Sidney Poitier as the professor of the philosophy of nonsense. During his lectures, nothing he said really made sense; Not Sidney described it as “utter gibberish”. When he later confronts Professor Everett and asks him to make sense of the notes, Everett tells him that he’s a fraud. When Not Sidney asks if it’s meaningless, and if he’s actually saying something, Everett replies with, “I  didn’t say that…my mouth was moving and I was making sounds”. So, he is technically saying something, and he does not say it’s meaningless, but he does call it fake. Maybe Percival Everett just wants people to understand his writings differently based on how much they know of older texts and movies. After all, he does say “It’s incredible that a sentence is ever understood.”

Leave a Reply

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