At the beginning of the semester we were learning many new terms from The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms, one of them being the word epigraph. Within the text it defines the word epigraph as, “A passage printed on the title page or first page of a literary work or at the beginning of a section of such a work. Epigraphs, which tend to set the tone or establish the theme of what follows, are generally taken from earlier, influential texts by other authors” (Murfin and Ray, 309)”. For our first essay, we had to pick from our course epigraphs and write how we relate it to this class. I chose the epigraph from Percival Everett’s book Erasure, “It’s incredible that a sentence is ever understood. Mere sounds strung together by some agent attempting to mean some thing, but the meaning need not and does not confine itself to that intention”(Everett). I thought this epigraph was really interesting as it made me truly think deeply about what the author was trying to claim.We had just finished reading The Bacchae which I also related back to our course epigraph. I related the epigraph mainly to myself as well as the expectations and perspectives in this class. In my essay I wrote about how expectations for this class could be perceived differently by each student including myself. For example, I spoke about how Professor McCoy had made it clear she wanted honesty from her students. In my essay titled “Finding Goals Through Perspective” I interpreted Professor McCoy’s expectations with honesty in a different way, “This involved being honest when missing class or asking for an extension. When I first heard her explain how she wanted us to be honest with her I just assumed since this is an english class, she meant do not plagiarize. This is an example of how I took what she was saying about being honest and saw it from a different perspective”(Donahue). Professor McCoy had stated that she meant that she wanted us to be honest with her in so many other aspects. I found it interesting once she clarified her expectations. I questioned if I would have truly understood what she meant without her clarification in my writing,“It is interesting to me that if my professor never further explained what she meant by being honest with her, if I would have ever come to the conclusion that she meant in every aspect and not just with my writing. This is a great example of what Percival Everett was talking about in his epigraph” (Donahue). I also wondered if my peers had understood her or if they viewed her ideas from a different perspective than me. By talking about this I realized that perspective is a huge part of this class and life. The course epigraph that I chose explained the ideas behind differing perspectives well with the insanity of a sentence ever being understood. When I first read that epigraph I did not interpret it the same way I would after reading it multiple times. Just like anything in life, my interpretation changed over time. I eventually saw it from different perspectives and was able to relate that to more than one idea in this course. In my first essay, I truly emphasized perspective through my chosen epigraph. I found that Percival Everett’s epigraph about the incredibleness of the comprehension of any sentence, helped me see how important perspective is to this course through interpretation of texts and discussions with peers.
After reading multiple pieces of Everett’s collection, I have come to new interpretations on what his writings could mean. The course epigraph that I chose forms a through line for all of the text that we have read in this course as it truly emphasizes the intentions of a speaker and perspective of a listener. Oftentimes when reading Everett’s work, the readers can get lost in communication. While analyzing his work with my classmates, we learned that Everett’s writing can sometimes be interpreted as nonsense. This idea later tied into his book I am Not Sidney Poitier, as it is the title of the course taught by the character Percival Everett. In the book I am Not Sidney Poiter, Everett writes about Percival Everett, the character, in the book rambling in his lecture, “I suppose what we’re talking about in this class is art. If it’s not, then I’m lost, but of course I’m lost anyway. At least I’ve been lost before and it looks just like this. Let’s consider art as a kind of desacralization, perhaps a sort of epistemological discontinuity that is undoubtedly connected or at the very least traceable to an amalgam of very common yet highly unusual sociohistorical factors” (Everett, 100). Getting lost in translation could also be a common occurrence when first reading some of Everett’s texts and can be seen in this quote. When in small groups, we would discuss how he liked to ramble. He would go off on tangents and we would sometimes get lost in his way of communicating. We saw this a lot in I am Not Sidney Poitier.
When reading re: f (gesture) on my own, I found myself very lost due to the terminology being used. In the book, there is a chapter titled “Body” that consists of nineteen different poems. Each poem is an unfamiliar name for a body part. The terminology caused a lot of confusion initially. For example in the poem “The Astragalus”, I was unaware of what the word Astragalus meant. This poem briefly explains what the astragalus is by stating, “Bolster the tibia, that vertical post, support all of it, pushing against gravity. The footfalls down the grade are heavy strides, so receive the blows, the echoes throughout,” (Everett, 45). When I first read this statement, I initially thought it was the leg but after the class discussion and some outside research I was able to learn that the astragalus is the ankle. Once we read together as a class and analyzed each poem piece by piece, it was much easier to interpret but I did notice my perspective changing with help from the class. When I read this the first time I interpreted it completely differently than when we read it as a class.
Although we did not read Erasure in this course, the epigraph from that book may help Everett’s readers interpret and understand him as a writer. This specific epigraph forms a through line for all of the text we have read in this course due to the emphasis on perspective as a reader and the writer. After reading The Bacchae, Frenzy, and I am Not Sidney Poitier, we often went into small groups to discuss what we read and how we interpreted it. In our small group we would talk about how sometimes we were confused by the wording. This relates back to the epigraph as it explains that a sentence is not always understood in the way it is meant to be. For example, when we first started reading I am Not Sidney Poitier, I found myself lost on differentiating the two characters Not Sidney and Sidney especially within discussions with peers. In the book, Everett writes about a situation where the name Not Sidney can be confusing, “ ‘My name is Not Sidney.’ ‘Okay, Not Sidney.’ she rather nicely said. ‘Just what kind of name is Not Sidney’ ”(Everett, 21). I felt that my classmates grasped onto this idea much easier than I did. I found that sometimes my classmates had such differing perspectives of what they read. The epigraph that prefaces the book Erasure, emphasizes how words can be understood so differently depending on the reader. Everett also wrote about how incredible it is that stringing sounds together can somehow make sense yet it does not always meet the intentions of the speaker, “Mere sounds strung together by some agent attempting to mean some thing, but the meaning need not and does not confine itself to that intention”(Everett). Since all of the text for this course could be perplexing at times, it is important for the reader to be aware of their perspective and how others may differ.
This specific epigraph can be connected to many texts but relates to Everett’s as they can often be miscommunicated. The epigraph from Erasure allows the readers to start thinking about how it relates to themselves, the text they are reading, and even life. I felt that this epigraph was chosen as one of our course epigraphs due to its prominence in so many of the texts we read in this class, as well as the constant communication occurring between classmates and the professor. The reason I chose this epigraph is because I felt it was so universal to all of the texts we have read and learned about in this course. Having this as one of the course epigraphs allowed me to reflect on my interpretation of its meaning at the beginning of the semester and now at the end. SUNY Geneseo has stated that one of their learning outcomes is to, “reflect upon changes in learning and outlook over time”. I reached this goal of reflection through writing the first essay and comparing it to this essay. After drafting ideas for this essay, I was able to reflect on my perspective of the epigraph changing. Reflection is a crucial part of any class but was extremely beneficial for me in this course as it helped me see how much my perspective changed over the semester.
Donahue, Brianna. “Finding Goals Through Perspective.” Reader and Text- September 16, 2022 readerandtext.sunygeneseoenglish.org/wp-admin/post.php?post=5681&action=edit.
Everett, Percival. Re: F (Gesture). Red Hen Press / Black Goat, 2006.
Everett, Percival. I Am Not Sidney Poitier. Graywolf Press, U.S., 2010.
Murfin Ross and Ray Supryia, Bedford Glossary of Critical & Literary Terms, 2017.
“Globe: Geneseo Learning Outcomes for a Baccalaureate Education.” SUNY Geneseo, www.geneseo.edu/gened/learning-outcomes.