Beyond the Bedford

Near the midpoint of Percival Everett Intertextuality, I was arguing with my classmates. Rather than arguing to learn more about our differing perspectives, I argued to win. I felt as if I were trapped in high school, when learning was a competition, and only one right answer, in one right format, could be accepted. It is during such times that I feel as if I “stand like a specimen before these strangely unstrange faces,” feeling both that I am betraying myself for the ideals of others, and that I have become trapped in myself, causing my classmates to hit a brick wall when attempting to build with me.

In the process of attempting to reduce my ego, I became more capable of appreciating diverse opinions. In Frenzy, the characters similarly have a variety of motivations, goals, and opinions. However, they are connected through the style of their thought processes. While Semele, Pentheus, and Agave seek limitless love, meaning, and escape from society respectively, they are bound by a desire to be more than what they are. Semele chooses to see Zeus’ true form even though she knows she cannot process it, because “the limits of [her] morality are excruciating, [her] wanting to give and give, and [her] power being finite” (Everett 14). Similarly, Pentheus seeks meaning, “in this dimension and in some others as well,” seeking a release from the confines of his mind (Everett 27). Agave wants Dionysos to “turn her free into the infinite dance of [his] spirit,” providing her a reprieve from her roles as “the mother of that king, the daughter of that king,” limits placed upon her due to her gender (Everett 44). All three of them want to reach beyond themselves and their roles. However, they each ignore the motivations of others, causing their fates. Their blind, individualistic determination causes each of them to suffer. For example, Agave ignores the fact that Dionysos will not protect her, and her belief that she and the Bacchants “are all free, and…are powerful” proves ironic when she is uninfluenced by Dionysos, but toppled by Kadmos (Everett 160). Agave would have more freedom if she were able to recognize Kadmos’ motivation to blame her for Pentheus’ death, and Dionysos’ lack of motivation to serve her needs. In the same way, I have been determined to succeed without considering my classmates’ similar motivations. We understood that we all wanted to gain knowledge, but I did not make enough room for their differing methods of achieving the goal of wanting to leave the class as more than what they had when they came in. If I had paid more attention to my classmates, I could have used more of our discussions as springboards for deeper analyses. 

I, like Pentheus, am sometimes trapped between ruminating about my life (or more specifically, my flaws), and believing that I alone can complete my goals. As Pentheus wishes to express to Kadmos, “be warned that finally you will die because I live and not in spite of it,” my confidence in my ability to succeed on my own merits often borders on hubris (Everett 27). In a sense, these feelings are accurate. I am flawed, and so is my work, but I am the only person who will ever complete my own goals. In order to succeed, I have to value my contributions. It is therefore difficult to work with others on the same piece, because we each have our defining goals and flaws that belong to us alone, even if we might be experiencing somewhat universal emotions. These flaws, strengths, and motivators define our work, so it is difficult for me to hand over something that has my stamp on it for someone else to flesh out. 

The consequence of my protectiveness over my work is that I ignore that writing is inherently an act of cooperation. It is impossible for a text to exist independently, as “its language inevitably contains common points of reference with other texts (Murfin and Ray 215). Novels such as I Am Not Sidney Poitier are in constant dialogue with other texts. Everett constantly alludes to movies in which Sidney Poitier has acted, such as The Defiant Ones (46), Lilies of the Field (Everett 170), and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (Everett 153). The titular character, Not Sidney, is impossible to separate from the non-fictional Sidney Poitier, as he is constantly defined by the society within the novel by this connection (Everett 102). Eventually, he begins to view himself through the lens of society, calling himself “Sidney” (Everett 185). Although “[a] politically and aesthetically avant-garde cinema is now possible…, it can still only exist as a counterpoint,” and recognizing the ways in which I Am Not Sidney Poitier is a counterpoint to Sidney Poitier’s works is vital to understanding the themes of race and self present in the novel (Mulvey 59). To read I Am Not Sidney Poitier from a New Critical perspective and ignore the ways in which Not Sidney is Sidney Poitier’s Eidolon would be to lose the novel’s multi-faceted narrative. In order to write about I Am Not Sidney Poitier appropriately, it is necessary to view the act of creating as an act of borrowing materials to build something else. There is no work that stands alone; although many do not borrow ideas from other texts as blatantly as Percival Everett does, everything that is written is connected to culture outside the text. It would be plagiarism to claim that my works are the uninfluenced exception to this rule. I could not work on this essay alone; not only am I responding to the dialogue between me and my classmates, but I am also taking components of Percival Everett’s work and using them as tools for reflection.

I therefore want to not be myself while also genuinely expressing my views. In being “NOT MYSELF,” I allow myself to be in dialogue with different works, opinions, and time periods. However, I do not have to lose my own perspective in order to allow different factors to refine it. Through accepting that I can build off of others, I am able to create flexible paradigms that help me to better comprehend the breadth of the human experience.

It would be appropriate for me to slow down while discussing with others. I have a responsibility to take the time I need to fully form my ideas and understand what has influenced them. If I “unpack,” which is to explain one’s thought process and connect the points that it is comprised of for the sake of an audience, I will be able to shape evidence into a cohesive argument. Being patient with my writing process helps my peers to understand my perspective, so that we will be able to discuss our interpretations transparently. Transparency is vital to productive group conversations. Expressing one’s argument in a way that does not outline how one came to a conclusion often leads to group members to argue over similar interpretations in different packages. When I recognize what I am trying to convey and am clear about my thought process, my group has more opportunity to constructively respond to me. By unpacking, I will be better able to acknowledge my classmates’ substantially different perspectives and how their interpretations might open new avenues of understanding both a text and the world.

I hope to invert the way in which I am “NOT MYSELF TODAY.” Instead of feeling trapped by the varying opinions and standards of my peers and retreating into myself for answers, I will work toward cooperating with others and incorporating an accountability for my limited knowledge into my practice. While my peers cannot achieve my goal of insightfully dealing with literature for me, an awareness of outside perspectives helps me deal with the challenge. As displayed in Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle (Williams, Woolliams, and Spiro 91), the process of reflecting is that of being able to describe a concept before attempting to analyze and apply it. Instead of seeking individuality by means of focusing on my own perspective, I recognize that I am my viewpoints are not autochthonous, and that they have been created through my interactions with society. Instead of immediately rejecting perspectives that oppose the paradigm I have unconsciously developed, I will reflect on my others’ interpretations and analyze them, leaving myself the possibility of incorporating these interpretations as bases for further analysis. In doing so, I can deepen my comprehension of texts by accepting perspectives I would not have considered on my own into my works. I will reach beyond myself and make interpretations that are more than the sum of their parts.

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