The Course Epigraph, Intertextuality, and a Budding Religion

With the final essay looming around the corner, I figured I should get some practice working with the epigraph I am going to revolve said essay around. In the beginning of the semester I chose to work with the epigraph regarding irony by Percival Everett. Whereas now, I am going to play around with the other epigraph by Everett — the one taken from the final page of his novel I Am Not Sidney Poitier. Not Sidney, the novel’s protagonist, is receiving an award, and he gives an acceptance speech that is as follows:

 “Thank you,” I said. “I came back to this place to find something, to connect with something lost, to reunite if not with my whole self, then with a piece of it. What I’ve discovered is that this thing is not here. In fact, it is nowhere. 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. My mother is buried not far from this auditorium, and there are no words on her headstone. As I glance out now, as I feel the weight of this trophy in my hands, as I stand like a specimen before these strangely unstrange faces, I know finally what should be written on that stone. It should say what mine will say:

I AM NOT MYSELF TODAY.

This acceptance speech is in essence, a brief reflection on the circumstances that led Not Sidney to his point of triumph and enlightenment. Immediately, Not Sidney’s reflection on his past experiences brought to mind the literary ideology of Intertextuality. Particularly, how intertextuality could be used not only as a method of studying texts, but as a method to live one’s life. Intertextuality advocates for the study of a piece of literature as a combination of the author’s own work, and the inspiration beyond the work; whether that be the time period, geography, the author’s personal life, or the texts preceding it (those which contain commonalities.) To sum up, Intertextuality glorifies the exposure of a text to a variety of different influencers, so as to promote the furtherment of ideas. This could also be a valid strategy for pursuing a fulfilling life. 

Not Sidney states in the beginning of his speech: “I came back to this place to find something, to connect with something lost, to reunite if not with my whole self, then with a piece of it.” The personification of “self,” as something tangible to be “reunited,” allows this sentence to express the irony found throughout the novel — often yourself is something we travel long and far to find. Prior to this, in the clause “I came back to this place to find something, to connect with something lost,” the need for one to leave one’s home, or break the fetters of monotony, is insinuated by “I came back to this place.” In this allusion to Not Sidney’s hometown (or at least the place of his mother’s grave) Everett also emphasizes the importance of coming full-circle in one’s life. Whether that be via returning to one’s hometown, or by finally getting closure after a particularly painful break-up, a conclusion is necessary. Parallel thinking can be applied literary works as well. Assume that the themes of “Text A,” are oneself. Upon reading the first chapter or two of the text, most likely the themes are not very apparent. However, as one continues to read, analyze, and think, the themes became increasingly obvious. This of course takes time, and is no-simple task. If the text is especially stubborn, one can conduct an investigation as to the background of the author, and perhaps related texts that came before it, in order to facilitate understanding. Then as information is gained, and understanding subsequently augmented, one can return to the original text and better comprehend it — just as Not Sidney returned home after meandering on his misadventures. The process of taking the time to dissect a text, and allowing oneself to diverge from the material to do so, draws parallels with Not Sidney’s journey into introspection.

Onward, Not Sidney communicates that: “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.” The juxtaposition presented by “It seems you all know me and nothing could be further from the truth and yet you know me better than I know myself,” not only exposes the entertaining diction and syntax of Percival Everett, but also emphasizes the interconnectedness that we inherently share as human beings. It could be argued that the crowd listening to Not Sidney knows him because of the Sidney Poitier movies, which the story parodies (as it is intimated before the epigraph that Not Sidney also accepts the name “Sidney”). I prefer to think of it, on the other hand, as the unspoken intimacy we subconsciously share. Also, the irony presented in the clause “Perhaps better than I know myself,” accentuates the idea that one never truly “knows,” oneself. Perhaps upon every new experience, one, like the paradox of infinity, approaches enlightenment but never touches it, no matter how close one may come. Congruently, applying Intertextuality can uncover the subtle similarities between texts in terms of theme, and formal or stylistic features. Moreover, Intertextuality is an effective tool for investigation, but it is impossible to extract every literary device, motif, theme, and so on from a work. Firstly, because different people will have conflicting perspectives of the text or sections of the text. Secondly, because one is not, and can not be, inside of an author’s mind, and considering that writing is thought manifested, there will inherently be a few overlooked items. In short, just as texts may be more related than originally thought, and more involved than one can perceive; we as a species are more connected than we give ourselves credit for, and we are deeper beings than our egos lead us to believe (as depicted by the Freudian iceberg).  

Lastly, the final sentence, which reads: “I AM NOT MYSELF TODAY,” captures the beauty of literature studies, and their various mechanisms such as Intertextuality, or even its nemesis New Criticism. To elaborate, the appeal of literature studies is in its inclusiveness to everyone of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, hair colors, and toenail lengths. No matter one’s personality, one can gain a message from a text, even if it was not the author’s intended message. For example, Catcher in the Rye inspired a mentally-maligned Mark Chapman to murder John Lennon. Surely J.D. Salinger did not even suggest such a horror, but nevertheless, meaning was derived. As a side note, there were definitely more positive examples, but there is nothing to draw attention like mentioning a death; as we always sit a little more upright when the news mentions someone’s untimely demise. Carrying on, a book, once it leaves the hands of its creator, is no longer itself. It becomes whatever the audience needs, or wants it to be. Chapman needed a reason to shoot John Lennon, and found the catalyst within Catcher in the Rye. The irony of the line: “I AM NOT MYSELF TODAY,” demonstrates to Everett’s audience the concept of change within oneself — reflection. Who one was yesterday is not who one is today, and is not who one will be tomorrow. This is because one’s experiences mold them, similarly to how Not Sidney’s trek through the terrifyingly obscure, shaped him. As Intertextuality is investigated in relation to a work, more moving mechanisms become present, and the text has the possibility to become entirely different than the one originally observed. Intertextuality as a lifestyle choice that embraces the diversity of experiences could well be the Christianity of tomorrow; I shall be a preacher and lead us in prayer:

 “I AM NOT MYSELF TODAY.”

“AND WE ARE NOT OURSELVES.”

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