Dictionaries & Dionysus

Nina Avallone-Serra

Within the first few lines of the Bacchae I was immediately brought back to my first reading of the syllabus. Specifically, Percival Everett’s short but sweet quote, “It’s incredible that a sentence is ever understood.”

The experience of my introduction to the inaugural text of this class can be described in no less than four open tabs detailing the various definitions and lore of a handful of Greek mythological terms (dirce, Bactria, Tmolus, etc). I struggled to contextualize the world of the Bacchae with my limited knowledge of Greek plays and mythology and the language eluded me. My in-class experience mirrored this as well: much of it involved defining terms and contextualizing class concepts and new Bedford vocabulary. In my mind I edited Everett’s quote: “It’s incredible that a sentence is ever understood…without a dictionary.”

My difficulty (if not wonder) at these new terms and concepts both in and out of the Bacchae presented a turning point for me in the way I digest literature. Placing such emphasis on terms and context and their varying meanings shattered my view of literary interpretation and analysis. Dr. McCoy’s article “New Critical Formalism”, breaking down the origins and methodology of New Criticism (which was previously my only tool for analyzing texts) made me think critically about my criticism. Have I been interpreting texts fairly and within the contextualization (and intertextuality) the author intended? And should I have been interpreting even outside of the author’s intention and establishing emotional and cultural connections based on my own view of their work?

All of these questions, of course, only complicated the quote in my head: “It’s incredible a sentence is ever understood…without a dictionary or high school curriculum New Criticism.”

As I move forward in this class, I hope no longer to feel baffled by the Bacchae or by new terms and New old Criticism; rather I hope to learn to adopt an appreciation and perhaps even a healthy sense of wonder about Greek mythology, new vocab, intertextuality, analysis, and how I can learn from or contribute to each. I hope also to adopt Percival Everett’s sense of fascination, despite the bafflement, with language and its construction and apply these wonders to my studies both within ENGL 203 Percival Everett & Intertextuality and beyond.

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