Alphabetical, Alphashmetical

Okay boys and girls, time to get analytical! 

The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms defines structure as “the arrangement of the material in a work, that is, the ordering of its component parts…”. With this understanding of structure it is easy to assume that alphabetical order is an assignment that presents order and structure. However, in Percival Everett’s Re: f(gesture) this notion is challenged through the poem Zulus

In my blog post titled The Beasts (linked below) I said “The poem Zulus is a poem ‘organized’ in alphabetical order.”. The reason I placed “organized” in quotation marks was, in a sense, as a foreshadowing to this post. The fact that Zulus is in alphabetical order challenges the idea of structure based on name. Although the poem adheres to alphabetical order at face value, the actual content of the poem has little structure. For example as each letter progresses ideas jump from one to another. In the F section it talks about how “F is for fuck” then immediatly is followed by the latin phrase “finis coronat opus”, then Frankenstein. Although it is possible I just cannot see the structure the poem is creating, it seems that Zulus is pointing out the absurdity of alphabetical order as a form of structure, as it only organizes by name, not content.

This relates to an activity our class pursued some weeks ago. The activity was simple, we were to order ourselves in alphabetical order by last name and then repeated the process by first names.  As I stood in my place and looked next to me to see who was next to me, I was struck with the realization that the people to the left and right to me were so different from myself. I am a tallish white man in a sleeveless black band t-shirt, and the people next to me were not the same genre of person as I was. This idea lead me to the point Zulus emphasizes about this false structure of order. When one reads the poem and see the subject matter that lies next to one another it is clear that many of them have nothing to do with each other.

What Zulus also does at some points is shift from alphabetical “order” to order of thought/ content. For example in the G section the alphabetical order is ditched to give actual order to the sentences stated. “G is for sodomy. G is for Goya, who knew.” (Everett 21). Alphabetical order gives a false sense of structure and order. It is based in name only, not the content of the subject. There is no reason that ketchup should be paired next to kete (a new zealand woven hand basket) in the alphabet if one looks at how the objects relate to one another. The only reason it is because some of the letters are the same. 

Alphabetical order isn’t universal either. The word for a cat here in the U.S is not the same as it is in Italy, there for their alphabetical order is different than ours. There are few things in the world in this world that are free from human “order” or perspective. One of these things is number. If me and a man from another country with a different language sat down and attempted to organize animals by name alphabetically, we would have completely different orders. However, the number of the animals could be agreed upon. Numbers seem to move past human perspective and cultural norms. Re: f(gesture) also touches upon this idea in Logic. “Seven men lost, but not seven. Seven is, will be.”(70). Although alphabetical order does not present actual concrete structure, number does. 


What are we to do with this concept of structure? In our society we sent standards, we expect everyone to adhere to. It is not wrong of us to exist in this way, but it does raise opportunity for conflict. When someone doesn’t adhere to these societal structures, we bring scorn upon them. When someone doesn’t act just, and so we shame them. We must ask ourselves if there is any real, tangible reason to bring scorn against people all because they did not abide by the fabrications our society has created. Zulus’ discussion of alphabetical order is a small example of the false standards of order and structure we set in our society. If we try to be understanding of those who don’t follow our structural standards, there will be less conflict.

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